Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Co-Opting of a President

     I hope President Obama has noticed Kevin Baker's article listing the ways he has broken campaign promises, because he really should think about what he is doing. While I am sure he is thinking, and carefully, about his decisions, I have also noticed too much continuity with the previous administration's perspective on secrecy, economics and military action.
     Moreover, the Democrat party needs to also read and ponder this article; ideally, they would have an epiphany and maybe even turn back into the Democratic party.
     Last night on C-SPAN, I happened to see Obama and former President Clinton speak at a Democratic Leadership Council event. (When did everyone else forget that there's only one POTUS at a time?) Anyway, Obama told some funny in-jokes, roasting various political players, and then Clinton talked about how wonderful the DLC has been for getting Democrats elected.
     While this may be true, it's less clear that the DLC is actually that wonderful for a lot of ordinary Democratic voters. Moving the party to the center may get more centrists elected, but thinking that populism is obsolete or that the grassroots activists don't matter leaves the party without a vision. Democratic leadership needs to listen to leftist prophets like John Todd or Noam Chomsky, because if they don't they'll just end up being anti-Republicans rather than pro-progressive.
     But, while Obama seems to be following the same split-the-difference political navigation that the DLC pushes, most Congressional Democrats are just as frozen in the headlights. 
     So we still have far more government secrecy than in 2000, part of a trajectory that really got going in WWI. Meanwhile, we see glacial progress on getting out of Iraq, and plans to beef up the war on Afghanis, both a poor way to win hearts and minds. If Pakistanis are outraged by a video of Taliban vigilantes terrorizing women who show a shred of independence, how can anyone imagine that videos of collateral damage by our soldiers and mercenaries will get us anywhere? Our mercenaries should be cashiered, the National Guard should return home, and the soldiers should be transferred to another service.
     The veteran Wall-Streeters in charge of economic policy still think that financial institutions, rather than the ordinary livelihoods of ordinary people, are what keeps the economy going, . There can be no other explanation for the fact that none of the banks that received bailout money are willing to reduce the principal on any of the unsustainable loans they have on their books. They would rather use the bailout money to pay for all the costs of eviction, repossession, maintenance and insurance on an empty house, and then the cost to resell the house for a lower price, when they could have just reduced the price for the original homeowner who is now probably homeless. 
     The financial pyramid is built on the livelihoods of ordinary people, and allowing ordinary lives to crumble strengthens nothing. Will Obama and Congress manage to think outside the box? 
     Baker's article concludes by noting that "all of Obama's major proposals ... are labyrinthine solutions designed mainly to avoid conflict." Marginal changes will likely not suffice. "Obama will have to directly attack the fortified bastions of the newest  "new class" - the makers of the paper economy in which he came of age - if he is to accomplish anything. These interests did not spend 50 years shipping the greatest industrial economy in the history of the world overseas only to be challenged by a newly empowered, green-economy working class. They did not spend much of the past two decades gobbling up previously public sectors such as health care, education, and transportation only to have to compete with a reinvigorated public sector. They mean, even now, to use the bailout to make the government their helpless junior partner, and if they can they will devour every federal dollar available to recoup their own losses, and thereby preclude the use of any monies for the rest of Barack Obama's splendid vision."

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