What is the White House's "Oh, well, only so much we can do" position about?
I'll start this post with a suggestion for Democrats cringing at the continuing fecklessness of the Democratic national leadership in this year's election: listen to some of Jerry Brown's debates with eMeg Whitman. Jerry is a reminder that there still is such a thing as a high-profile Democrat who is willing to straightforwardly defend the rights of labor and immigrants, to attack malfeasant banks and greedy rich people, and to defend public services as vital to society and the economy. Who talks like a real Democrat, in other words. And, at this point, he's leading in the polls despite eMeg's outspending him with $120 million-plus of her own money. Trust me, it will cheer you up.
The Obama Administration, on the other hand, continues to make the Democratic base wonder what the [Cheney] they are doing.
There is their decision to drop the deepwater drilling moratorium in the Gulf of Mexico over a month early, announced three weeks before the fall elections. That in the face of evidence that the damage of the BP spill is far greater than BP and their partners in the Energy Department are willing to acknowledge. (Kate Shepard, Obama Admin. Drops Drilling MoratoriumMother Jones 10/12/2010; Julia Whitty, BP's Deep SecretsMother Jones Sept-Oct 2010)
Then there is the jaw-dropping Peter Baker article, Education of a PresidentNew York Times Magazine 10/12/2010, based on interviewing Obama and White House officials, in which Obama comes off as resigned to a huge Democratic setback in the November elections and still talking the Pollyanna hope that he can work constructively with the Republicans the next two years. To put it mildly, he's not exactly sounding the charge to beat back the Republicans in the elections less than three weeks away now.
With most of the country reeling from unemployment and foreclosures, with the last year and a half having given dramatic evidence that economists like Paul Krugman who urged Obama to go for a much bigger stimulus more focused on job-creating efforts (aid to states and localities, more emphasis on direct spending and less on tax cuts), here is what Obama regrets about the stimulus, according to Baker's article:
While proud of his record, Obama has already begun thinking about what went wrong — and what he needs to do to change course for the next two years. He has spent what one aide called “a lot of time talking about Obama 2.0” with his new interim chief of staff, Pete Rouse, and his deputy chief of staff, Jim Messina. During our hour together, Obama told me he had no regrets about the broad direction of his presidency. But he did identify what he called "tactical lessons." He let himself look too much like "the same old tax-and-spend liberal Democrat." He realized too late that "there’s no such thing as shovel-ready projects” when it comes to public works. Perhaps he should not have proposed tax breaks as part of his stimulus and instead "let the Republicans insist on the tax cuts" so it could be seen as a bipartisan compromise. [my emphasis]
If it had just looked more bipartisan... Wow! Just, wow!
For a reality check on this big spending binge, see Krugman himself, Hey, Small SpenderNew York Times 10/10/2010.
How can the following not sound like throwing in the towel before the November election?
These days, Obama has been seeking guidance in presidential biographies. He is reading, among others, "The Clinton Tapes," Taylor Branch’s account of his secret interviews with Bill Clinton during the eight years of his presidency. "I was looking over some chronicles of the Clinton years," Obama told me, "and was reminded that in ’94 — when President Clinton’s poll numbers were lower than mine, and obviously the election ended up being bad for Democrats — unemployment was only 6.6 percent. And I don’t think anybody would suggest that Bill Clinton wasn’t a good communicator or was somebody who couldn’t connect with the American people or didn’t show empathy."
In the fall of 1994, things were even better than Obama recalls: unemployment was in fact 5.6 percent. If the feel-your-pain president had trouble when the economy was not nearly as bad as it is now, with 9.6 percent unemployment, then maybe the issue for Obama is not that he is too cool or detached, as some pundits say. When the economy is bad, even the most talented of presidents suffer at the polls. “There is an anti-establishment mood,” Rahm Emanuel, the former Clinton aide who served as Obama’s first White House chief of staff, told me before he stepped down this month. “We just happen to be here when the music is stopping.”
And this kind of talk can't do anything more than feed the shallow minds of star pundits like David Broder, Gail Collins and Maureen Dowd:
In their darkest moments, White House aides wonder aloud whether it is even possible for a modern president to succeed, no matter how many bills he signs. Everything seems to conspire against the idea: an implacable opposition with little if any real interest in collaboration, a news media saturated with triviality and conflict, a culture that demands solutions yesterday, a societal cynicism that holds leadership in low regard.
That sounds like whining even to me. Just imagine where Maureen Dowd will go with that. She'll be making snotty comments about it for the next 10 years.
The Baker article is full of stuff like that. It's headache-inducing to even try to imagine what the White House thought they were doing with this. My worry is that this is a prelude to the December report of the Catfood Commission which is almost certain to recommend Social Security Phaseout. If the White House is looking to lay the groundwork for embracing Social Security Phaseout - to show fiscal responsibility, bipartisan goodwill, yadda yadda - this article helps do that.
But that would not only be the triumph of neoliberal ideology and Beltway Village conventional wisdom at their worst producing a really bad policy. It would also be politically disastrous for the Democrats. As Joan McCarter points out, "an awful lot of Dems are staking their races on protecting Social Security. If they manage to eke out their majorities in 2010 after making the promise to protect it, the surest way to destruction of the party in 2012 is cutting Social Security." (What the Fiscal Commission is supposed to be doingDaily Kos 10/11/2010; see also her post, Pre-catfood commission, Seniors preparing to cut back on food 10/12/2010.)
But in the strange atmosphere in which our star pundits live, Obama looks like a rabid partisan and a flaming class warrior on those occasions when he sounds like a real Democrat: David "Bobo" Brooks and Gail Collins, Obama, the Attack DogNew York Times 10/13/2010. Of all the remarkably clueless things Bobo has written and said over the years, this has to be near the top in terms of cosmic cluelessness: "The second reason Obama’s behavior is depressing is that it shows that the administration is getting mentally captured by the lefty blogosphere." What, is Joe Lieberman posting now at something called Lefty Blog? Lady Collins chimes in that Democrats are weenies, a perennial favorite charge for Beltway Pod Pundits.
For Peter Baker, following the sacred script of High Broderism in which if things are between the alleged extremes of the left and the right, it must be juu-uust right, says:
The policy criticism of Obama can be confusing and deeply contradictory — he is a liberal zealot, in the view of the right; a weak accommodationist, in the view of the left. He is an anticapitalist socialist who is too cozy with Wall Street, a weak-on-defense apologist for America who adopted Bush's unrelenting antiterror tactics at the expense of civil liberties.
Or, maybe one of those side's is talking like stark raving Birchers and crackpots and taking what comes out of Rush Limbaugh's mouth as reality, and the other is, uh, not doing that. The Republicans have become experts at exploiting this shallow-minded weakness of the mainstream press of creating false equivalencies to set up the High Broderist balance they fell is compulsory. Our star reporters and pundits, though, despite imagining themselves as salt-of-the-earth types in touch with the Real Americans, they also love to strike the pose of standing above such petty policy judgments as, say, whether the health care reform can actually work reliably in the absence of a public option.
David Corn comments on the article in Obama's Inconvenient InterviewMother Jones 10/14/2010. I quoted in a previous post from Digby's InclusionHullabaloo 10/13/2010 which deals with Obama's quotes in the interview about the happy prospects of bipartisan cooperation with the Republicans after the November elections.