Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Obama and the Left

(The last version of this, mostly written for comments in Balloon Juice. I think it is clearer and more concise than the three posts that have gone before.)

Obama raised progressive hopes for real positive change, did not pursue what seem to progressives obvious opportunities to do so, and we will be living with the consequences of his failures for years. Obama's failure to adequately address unemployment and the mortgage crisis have cost the Democratic Party and the Progressive movement, such as it is, hugely. These failures (and others) in turn spring from two central failures:
  1. A failure to respond in any effective way—or even to show an interest in responding—to the huge expansion of the power of wealth and the expansion of the gap between rich & poor. Two of Obama’s much-touted successes—health care reform and the extension of unemployment benefits—came at the cost of huge concessions to very wealthy businesses and individuals.
  2. A failure to use the “bully pulpit” of the Presidency to change public discourse. The President is the only elected public official who the national media consistently pay attention to. Obama could have said: “Social Security is not in major trouble.” He could have said “Austerity budgets don’t improve the economy.” He could have said, “Government is not the problem.” Instead, he allowed the Republicans to set the agenda, and now that they have come to cut Social Security and put the USA on an austerity budget during a depression, he has no way to make his case with the public.
Obama had a great opportunity, has fallen far short of it, and most progressives believe that those who are not rich and powerful are going to pay a huge price. Many progressives who supported Obama during his campaign also feel betrayed. Of course they are critical of him!


(Edited slightly on day of publication. Dropped verb added a year and a half later.)

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Short Notes

  1. I think Dancing Anarchist Party would be a cool name for a political party...or perhaps a dance club. (Thank you Emma Goldman.)
  2. The Islamic use of the word "jihad" is perhaps more understandable if we consider the US use of the phrase "drug war."
  3. Obama's pattern of first trying to get the left on his side and then have other administration officials badmouth the left very much resembles that of a manipulative suitor sending flowers after jilting his fiancé and then, when she demurs, badmouthing her. Keep it classy, O.

Obama and the Bully Pulpit

The President is the only elected official which commands national media attention. Had Obama wanted to, he could have told the public:
  1. That the main cause of unemployment was the corruption (or business practices, if he preferred less inflammatory language) of the major banks and that this could be addressed by government.
  2. The disaster in residential real estate is also a result of banking practices which could be addressed by government.
  3. That Social Security is not in financial trouble and that minor tweaks could maintain the system's solvency indefinitely.
  4. That medical cost growth is a huge and real budget problem, and could be addressed by policy.
Had he done so, he would be a much better position to fight off the program of austerity and bigotry that the Republicans are going to try to implement in the next two years. He would also have told the truth, but that doesn't seem to rank very high with hominid leaders.

Obama Didn't...

Continuing in the explication of objections to Obama on the left:
  1. Adequately address unemployment. Considering that the Obama administration asked for an inadequate stimulus to begin with, rather than let Congress bargain them down, Obama can hardly say this is a result of Republican obstruction.
  2. Address the corruption and exploitation (dday, passim.) of the residential real estate market.
  3. Failure to adequately address banking reform. The problems which led us into this new depression are still there, and it will be all to do again when the system fails again, which it will.
  4. Failure to adequately address health care costs. (Sorry--no link today. Maybe link tomorrow.)
These are all, at bottom, a single failure: a failure to respond in any effective way—or even to show an interest in responding—to the huge expansion of the power of wealth and the expansion of the gap between rich & poor. The failures to adequately address unemployment and the residential real estate market are probably the two most significant reasons which the Democratic Party did so poorly in the 2010 elections.

Friday, December 24, 2010

"Obama accomplished a lot"

 I've been hearing this a lot and, since I don't want to spend the time writing some real posts, I'll post this bit of cranky fluff.

Did he close Gitmo? Um, no. Get the US out of Iraq? Only if you don't count "contractors." Pass the DREAM act? Um, no. Fix the banking system? Um... Well, he did pass a health care bill. And get unemployment extended again. And pass the beginning of DADT repeal. Which three things sound really impressive until one looks a little closer and realize that the first two of them were done by giving huge amounts of money to very wealthy businesses and individuals, and the third is financially neutral and seems to have mostly come from the Senate, anyway. See, you can get a health care bill through the Senate if you give the health insurance companies a mandate and weak regulation. And giving the very rich a huge tax cut and the ability to set up dynasties also gets the Senators of the very rich to vote with you. The problem with this approach is, sooner or later, and later is sooner, there's nothing left to give to the rich.

I wonder if Obama realizes. His supporters don't seem to.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Policy Deafness and Converse

About a month back, I wrote: "[Obama] does not seem capable of recognizing a policy failure, imagining a policy success, or understanding why policy success might lead to political success." & this is still the case with his horrific huge-tax-cuts-for-small-stimulus deal. It represents, I think, growth for Obama: it has at last dawned on him that policy affects elections. He still hasn't gotten important points: as Krugman points out, this proposal sets his administration up for hard times in the 2012 campaign.

The work of the Presidency, surely, is not educating the President?

If Obama is, perhaps, learning to listen, many of his supporters are still deaf. I've read a lot of this over at Balloon Juice, which is a home for Obama supporters who still love the man regardless of the consequences of his policies. It's as I said previously: if the Democrats keep making large concessions to the rich, while only getting small concessions for the rest of the public, the end result is an impoverished nation. Yet many of Obama's supporters do not see this. I'm struck by the attitude of one strident black woman who sees all policy criticism of Obama as rooted in racism. That is only the most extreme version of the attitude, though: Obama has plenty of other supporters, white and black, who take any criticism of the man's policies as disloyalty to be opposed, regardless of the consequences of those policies in their lives. It is not, really, any different from the "working-class" supporters of Republicans or the Tea Partiers, voting against their own interests. And then it dawned on me: like Obama, these supporters do not see policy as the result of politics. For these people, to a greater or lesser extent, politics is about fighting for the team, and there is little attention to what the team captain is fighting for, or how well the team's goals are being achieved.

This is, of course, nothing new. It is implicit in Converse's results. A substantial faction of participants in a democracy are making their political decisions based on personal loyalties, or dislike of persons. If  candidates for public office were as they presented themselves, this would not be a problem, but of course they are not. Many politicians only pretend to represent their constituencies, represent at most a faction of their constituencies, or lack sufficient policy insight to pursue political goals with any success. How, then, is democracy to be ordered so as to result in, "Government of the people, by the people, for the people?" Because that is not what it is producing now, not in most of the world. How are leaders to be worthy of the loyalty of their supporters to be found?

[2010.12.18: one awkward word removed.]

A brief note on the proposed tax-and-unemployment deal

Lots has already been said about it, for instance Krugman. I'd just like to add that if Obama keeps making large concessions to the rich, and while extracting only small concessions for everyone else, the time is going to come when there will be no more to trade, and all but the rich will be impoverished.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


(Everyone's writing about it, so why not me?)

I have little doubt that this has been turned into a public matter because Assange has embarrassed powerful people--people whose own lives and affairs do not bear close scrutiny.  Whatever Assange and his sexual partners did, they did.  It is for them and the courts to deal with, not a planet-full of busybodies.

The published stories change day by day.  I wonder if even Assange and his partners know what happened any more: memory is malleable, and never moreso when a story is told over and over, in many different versions.  Another account, from Reuters 

Much of the discussion I have seen says more about the participants than about Assange.  To those excusing rape: "no" means "no" and "stop" means "stop." To those who want to pursue assassination: that's illegal, and for good reason.