Thursday, September 30, 2010

Punching Hippies for Fun and Profit

Jane Hamsher writes at length about the Obama administration's defensiveness, and attacks on the left. Digby with a shorter remark, and a reminder to vote anyway. Reports are that the Obama administration is genuinely disappointed with lack of support from the left, and does not understand it. (Commentator Peter Daou writes on this, also on the impact of the liberal blogosphere. I think he overestimates our influence.) But I wonder. I remember the Obama campaign's "inch to the right of Hilary Clinton" electoral strategy. I wonder if the administration isn’t stirring up conflict in the hope of getting media attention and getting turnout. I think that makes sense, and may even be a workable strategy. It also moves the Democratic Party further to the right.

Perhaps, perhaps. The Obama administration has proven surprisingly politically inept. It appears that they do not understand the motivations of the people who elected them, nor their party's own activists. The administration is skillful at persuading a broad public that they are what the public wants, but they seem to lack of the complementary skill of finding out what the public wants and satisfying those desires. To win an elected office, one has to build a constituency, but to last in politics, one has to satisfy a constituency. This seems so basic that I'm surprised to find a need to state it. So it's hard for me to believe that the hippie-punching is conscious strategy. Still, conscious strategy or not, it might work. Most of the public does not vote on policy, after all.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Revolution: Reagan, Bush, Obama

A very long time ago, in 1987, I wrote an article on social change comparing the Reagan Revolution with the Russian Revolution. At the time, I commented that the real disaster of that revolution was that it paved the way for Stalin. The phrase I remember using was, "Stalin was waiting in the wings," and I wondered then if the Reagan Revolution would have its Stalin. Now, over 20 years later, I believe I can say that the answer was yes: it was Bush II and Cheney.

Lenin was not the brutal mass-murderer that Stalin was. The Soviet Union under Lenin had some liberal tendencies. it was Stalin who turned the Soviet Union into a brutal hell. Stalin's death did not end the hell. Instead, after a period of conflict, Molotov, Stalin's old political ally, came to power. He implemented some liberalizations but generally maintained the Stalinist model. It was left to Khrushchev to finally abandon Stalinism. And, in like manner, it appears to me that Obama, an admirer of Reagan, is maintaining the Reagan/Bush/Cheney political model. He is not going to bring about the great restoration of liberty and justice many on the left had hoped for, and even this cynical bird has been surprised at the Obama administration's defense of some of the worst civil rights policies of Bush II. At the same time, as I've written before, he has undertaken some genuine liberalizations in less-public corners of the government.

What, therefore, are liberals to do in these times? It seems to me that, if anything, we must look towards a future when younger people, who are more liberal by inclination, begin to take power. We must also recognize that we will not "win" in any final sense. Too much of the United States will adopt progressive policies only grudgingly and the USA will continue to have a faction of wealthy reactionaries. But matters can be improved, and I believe our heirs will do so. I like to speculate about the nature of the new radicalism. For it will be radical: the United States has never been moderate in its politics. I think the broad outlines are clear enough: intense regulation of wealth and the wealthy, environmentalism, social libertarianism. In ten years new production technologies based on information technology will be making themselves felt, giving rise to new economic possibilities.

It all promises to be very interesting!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

"Hope and Change" or "What Brung Them, Part IV."

I was drinking with Darryl of Hominid Views two nights ago when Darryl asked why there was so much complaining about the Obama administration. He pointed out that the administration had made good on all that Obama had promised.

I think it's buyer's remorse. The public had seen their own hopes for change in Obama's "hope and change" campaign rhetoric. Obama does not seem to realize that the public would see Obama as embodying their own hopes for change. This, Obama has not delivered. Hasn't even tried to find out how the public interpreted the message, as far as I can tell. Once Obama was in power, it was same-old same-old, even as the economy tanked, the USA lost in Afghanistan, oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico, and torture became a norm of policing practice.

I am reminded of Clark Clifford's account of the Truman administration (Clifford was Truman's solicitor general), when authoritarian policies became the rule for the next decade. The liberals were right, but they were silenced for 10 years, as the USA went through one of its authoritarian periods and--unprecedented in US history--the military did not stand down. 70 years later, the military has not stood down, though a huge standing army tempts our militarists into expensive, pointless wars, and the concentration on military production hollows out our civilian economy, just as it did in the Soviet Union.

The Democrats may or may not do well in the next election. Midterm elections are usually bad for the party in power and right now the Democrats are polling abysmally. Darryl (a demographer) and I suspect that the Dems will pick up quite a few votes before the elections: despite huge infusions of cash from the far right, the Tea Party Republicans aren't very popular. But whether or not they do, remember: whatever hope and change comes from the Democrats will come from their despised and marginalized left.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

WtF, Obama?

As a result of Ian Welsh's discussion of Obama's failings on Virtually Speaking (you can hear it here, and read the article it was based on here) and further discussions with an SL friend, I ended up wondering how it is that Obama can make excellent cabinet and judicial appointments like Stephen Chu and Sonia Sotomayor, and yet make such awful decisions on the economy, civil rights, and war and peace. I came to a couple of tentative conclusions. First, is that Obama is better at picking people than he is at understanding policy. At some level it is as if he thinks that the jaw-jaw of politics is more real than the tangible results in the lives of the public. Second, It seems that he cares more about the Supreme Court and the Department of Energy than he does about the economy, the military, and whether or not people who want jobs can get them, and what those jobs consist of. I have rather the impression that Obama is paying his best attention to things he cares the most about, and letting the Democratic Party's conservative leadership make the rest of the decisions.

I don't think this is a effective way to be President. It is much more typical of successful Senators. Whether or not November is going to be a disaster for the Democrats, as some polling says (for instance, here), it is a deeply unpopular and undemocratic way to govern.