His actions, though, have been less reassuring. While committing his administration to the Afghan war, the president has appeared unwilling to fight defense boondoggles down the line, as he did in the case of the F-22, and he's been less than forceful in defending sorely needed financial reforms -- like those for the $592 billion over-the-counter derivatives market -- in the face of Wall Street's lobbying clout.
Once again, this isn't entirely surprising: For all the talk of the flood of small, individual donations to Obama's historic 2008 election campaign, its coffers overflowed with money from financial powerhouses like Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase and corporations like General Electric, Google and Microsoft. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Obama still ranks near the top among all recipients when it comes to contributions from the health, defense, financial and energy industries.
The same goes for Obama's staff. In an interview with Politico.com, Bill Moyers put it vividly. "I think Rahm Emanuel, who is a clever politician, understands that the money for Obama's reelection would come primarily from the health industry, the drug industry and Wall Street, and so he is a corporate Democrat who is destined, determined that there would be something in this legislation," Moyers asserted, that will appease those powerful interests.
If the president's sprawling agenda has revealed anything, it's the extent to which private industries and their foot soldiers on K Street and Capitol Hill influence -- and in some cases dictate -- American policymaking. Right now, about 12,500 federally registered lobbyists make their trade in Washington, but believe it or not, they're only a small slice of the pie. James Thurber, director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University, tells TomDispatch that the number of people in the political advocacy business who aren't registered -- the astroturfers, public relations firms, and strategy groups, among others -- number anywhere from 90,000 to 120,000. Conservatively speaking, that adds up to 168 influence peddlers for every member of Congress.