Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Mr. Obama, go through that door!

That's a paraphrase of Ronald Reagan at the Berlin Wall, one of the best moments of his theatrical career.

This door has more to do with Franz Kafka. He wrote a fable called "Before the Law", in which a man wants to go into the Law, which is in this story kind of a vaguely mystical concept and goal. He comes to the open door to the Law. But a gatekeeper is there who tells him he cannot enter.

The man stays there before the door to the Law, year after years. (It's a fable, it didn't deal with how he good food and other provisions.) Time and again, he would ask the gatekeeper if he could go through. Although the gatekeeper said no.

At the very end of his life, as he lay on the floor dying, too weak to go through the door at all, he asked the gatekeeper why, in all these years, no one else had come to try to go through the doorway. Was he the only person who wanted to go to the Law?

The gatekeeper replies, "This entrance was intended only for you. I'm going now to close it."

An unexpected door has opened for Obama. At the risk of being terribly disappointed in a couple of weeks from now - it's happened before - I'm assuming at this point that Obama will win the Presidency. The danger for the Democrats once Obama is elected is not overestimating their opportunities in the current financial and political situation once. Today's Democratic Party seems institutionally incapable of such an error. The danger is that they will fall to appreciate the opportunity before them to achieve substantial policy initiatives and to build a reform coalition that could endure for decades.


The private financial system of the world has failed. Boom, splat, straight-out failed. Even the most devout libertarians can't put lipstick on that pig (to coin a phrase) Already with the last few weeks, the Republican administration in response has made the largest nationalizations done outside the Communist world (Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, AIG). Now Bush has agreed to follow the European program of partial nationalization.

The Republicans talk "free market" dogma, but they stopped practicing anything like that decades ago. The Democrats would be chumps to keep bowing to the altar of the "free market" in this situation.

The Democrats have an opportunity to use the financial crisis to end the Republican approach, which has meant casino capitalism for most of us and crony capitalism for the energy industry, Halliburton, Blackwater and other loyal adherents of the Cheney-Bush administration. Aggressive Democratic oversight is urgently needed. The exposure of the planning quarter-million dollar party for the top execs of AIG, to celebrate their destruction of their company and it's nationalization, is a good example of what the Democrats can do between now and the Obama administration's assumption of power. People understand that sort of thing.

There are already screaming warning signals that the Cheney-Bush predator-state version of partial nationalization will follow their standard practice of plunder before all. Josh Marshall (Public Ownership Watch TPM 10/14/08) notes the indications that Bush intends to nationalize ("inject capital" in our lazy press euphemism) without requiring substantial reforms in the financial institutions' ways of doing business. Maybe buying bank stocks that don't have voting rights.

While this can bridge the situation until Obama assumes office, it would still be an obscenity for Cheney and Bush to put through a predator-state nationalization which essentially gives taxpayer money to financial institutions without insisting that legitimate public purposes be addressed in the process. That approach could even create a new injection of "moral hazard" along with it, if it works out to be just giving more money to the failed institutions to let the failed system keep on doing the things that made it fail.

Don't be fools about this, Dems! If this were a Democratic administration presiding over such monumental disasters, the Republicans would be using every single opportunity to exploit it for partisan purposes so they could use it dismantle Social Security, Medicare and any other program that doesn't primarily benefit the wealthiest.

The financial system has failed. A major worldwide recession is an imminent threat, or may be already in its beginning stages. We're bogged down in two disastrous wars, one of which (Iraq) is extremely unpopular. This is an opportunity like the Democrats haven't had since 1933. They can use the financial rescue program to build momentum for other necessary economic reforms like restricting or banning compensating corporate executives with stock in their companies, which has led to an extreme short-term focus and created and incentive for the senior executives to milk the company for all its worth (usually but not always by legal means) while the company itself suffers or goes down the tubes.

Besides this, the two key thing Obama has to do to exploit this opportunity are (1) providing a workable program to provide universal health insurance coverage, and (2) get American troops out the Iraq War as soon as possible.

Along with that, he needs to use the opportunity to reverse course on his plan to escalate the Afghanistan War. That will destroy his Presidency if he goes ahead with that plan. Remember, the Republicans unlike the Democrats are willing to be an opposition party. Soon after Obama wins the election, they will start furiously bashing the Democrats for everything that goes wrong in Iraq and Afghanistan. I would guess the process will start on November 5. And because our broken press tends to report on those wars according to their level of political controversy, both wars will move back to the front page on a regular basis. The Republicans hoo-ha about any criticism of the administration's war policies is failing to "support the troops" will be forgotten once there's a Democratic administration.

The Establishment demand for Democratic political suicide is already taking shape. Digby in The Village Throws Down 10/12/08 cites David Broder himself, Dean Of All The Pundits, demanding that Obama and Democrats prostate themselves before the altar of deficit reduction and budget cuts for civilian programs, foregoing of course all that useless stuff about health insurance for everyone and similar nonsense.

I've also noticed that a narrative has emerged fairly quickly, not only here but also in Europe, that we need to pull back on plans to combat global warming because of the financial crisis. Which seems to be like stopping drinking water because you're short on food. Obama and the Dems should do what they seem to consider unthinkable: use the financial crisis as a major reason to rightsize the military budget, i.e., drastically reduce it and eliminate world-historical-scale boondoggles like the Star Wars program.

It's probably a good measure to use next year that whenever Dean Broder says that Obama and the Dems are on the right track, they're definitely going down the wrong path.

This is a remarkable door of opportunity for Obama and the Democrats. So, for both Obama and the Congressional Dems, I say go through that door.

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