Bob Franken

Last Week’s King Features Column

(Writers note: Per the arrangement with my syndicators my columns appear here a week after their newspaper release. This one was written before the State of the Union address)


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The halfway point of President Barack Obama’s first term easily could inspire another of those GEICO commercials.

You know the ones: The huffy-puffy anchorman type asks in his exaggerated way: “Could switching to GEICO really save you 15 percent or more on car insurance? Has there really been ‘change you can believe in’?”

Cut to a shot of Obama out for a walk with some of his aides. He’s stopped by a man who asks if he can break a buck. “Yes, we can!” shouts the president. “Hey!” the guy complains, “You only gave me 15 cents!” “Sorry,” says Obama, “I inherited the deficit.”

Obviously there has been some change but oftentimes, it’s nickel-and-dime stuff. As massive as health-care-reform legislation was, for instance, it was so diluted that it didn’t really cure the fundamental illness. The insurance companies still run the show, and they will be able to shift tactics to make sure they still get their outlandish financial returns. It’s certainly not the “big f——- deal” Vice President Joe Biden called it.

The same is true for financial reform. While there are new regulations in place, those who gutted our economy with their recklessness and/or fecklessness still finagled ways to come out ahead. Now they are hoarding their subsidies, while millions of people who are unemployed get more desperate by the day, and month, and year. Ask them about change.

Or ask the wealthy, who would have had to pay more taxes if President Obama had managed to live up to Candidate Obama’s promises. He didn’t; they don’t. This isn’t chump change, by the way. They are getting to keep $700 billion that otherwise would have made a dent in the onerous national deficit. Their Republican protectors were plainly and simply able to outmaneuver the Democrats, which wasn’t very hard because the Dems were scattering.

Let’s be fair. Obama did manage to keep his pledge to do away with “don’t ask, don’t tell.” That is a “big f—— deal.” Even so, gay-rights advocates complain that the administration has let them down by its wishy-washy approach to same-sex marriage.

On national security, the military has continued the drawdown of troops from Iraq, but notwithstanding all the planning meetings and reviews, U.S. armed forces are still mired in Afghanistan. And still mired in Guantanamo Bay, which we were assured would be shut down. Unfortunately, all efforts to do so and relocate the detainees have run into a prison wall, guarded by NIMBY members of both parties, as in “Not in my Backyard.”

There are not as many Democrats anymore. The voters bailed on them when they were swept up in a tea party wave. The fundamental policy of the replacements is to be against anything the Obamites are for.

We can never forget how the swearing in was celebrated as a triumph in the United States, a sign we had taken a big step away from the racism of our past. What is so sad to see is that color still tinges the various disputes. It’s not that staunch opponents are bigots, or even that most of them are. There are a few, though, and the problem is that the intolerant are tolerated by the rest.

Two years ago, in his inaugural address, the new president declared, “On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.” We can certainly put that promise in the minus column.

Even though polls show about a 50 percent approval rating for Obama, the battles for political control have gotten more brutally intense.

The participants bring to mind another cast of GEICO characters: the cavemen.

© 2011 Bob Franken

Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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