Friday, December 10, 2010

Politics of despair (1): Obama and the prospects for progressive politics

Obama's tax deal with the Republicans gave many activist Democrats the feeling of the bottom falling out. In some cases, it looks like panic. In others, it looks like intense disappointment.

My friend and former professor Bob McElvaine of Millsaps College in this video posted 12/04/2010 gives a lucid expression of the loyal Democratic progressive base version of the phenamenon:

Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks takes an unsympathetic view of Obama's progressive potential in this report:

This piece by Calbuzz looks more like (somewhat affected) cynicism, Obama Circles the Drain 12/04/2010: "Obama seems completely unmoored, as the White House drifts politically amid a sea of ineptitude and bobs disconnected from the economic policy concerns of recession wracked Americans." They even add a Marureen Dowdish touch and bitch about the sound of his voice: "And all the while he just won’t stop droning in that annoying voice of clipped condescension and arrogance that he seems to think makes him sound authoritative."

Despite their nods to Dowdism, I would have to agree with them that this post by Bob Cesca sounds like somebody "looking for the exits": Why Exactly Is President Obama Acting Like George McFly? Huffington Post 12/01/2010. Cesca also goes all MoDo on us, saying of Obama, "He looks like a very smart and very serious ... wimp." And this in the context of depicting Obama as a kid in school being picked on by bullies. What is this, let's all pretend to be Maureen Dowd month?

Jamie Galbraith has a clear head and a good instinct for political and economic developments. And I can't argue with this assessment of his from Whose Side is the White House On? New Deal 2.0 12/06/2010

Recovery begins with realism and there is nothing to be gained by kidding ourselves. On the topics that I know most about, the administration is beyond being a disappointment. It’s beyond inept, unprepared, weak, and ineffective. Four and again two years ago, the people demanded change. As a candidate, the President promised change. In foreign policy and the core economic policies, he delivered continuity instead. That was true on Afghanistan and it was and is true in economic policy, especially in respect to the banks. What we got was George W. Bush’s policies without Bush’s toughness, without his in-your-face refusal to compromise prematurely. Without what he himself calls his understanding that you do not negotiate with yourself. ...

We've learned from Vic Fingerhut and Mike Lux that the administration went down in public esteem when people realized it was working for the banks and not for them. Why did they think this? Why did they go from “blaming Bush and Wall Street to blaming Obama and Wall Street”? Because plainly they could see what was in front of their faces. Except in manner, President Bush never really pretended to be a President for ordinary folks; President Obama did. Bush was who he was; Obama held out, fostered, and promoted vast hopes, mobilizing the American population behind his leadership on that basis. And he disappointed those hopes — to use a very harsh word, one could say he has betrayed those hopes. How can one therefore blame the voters for acting as they have acted?
He calls explicitly for a progressive third party. I'm not ready to go there myself. But Galbraith is someone who deserves to be taken seriously.

Robert Reich asked on 12/06/2010 on Twitter: "Is it time to begin a third party -- a Peoples' Party -- to get Americans back to work & break the lock of Big Money on politics?"

Robert Kuttner, What Now for the Democrats? Huffington Post 12/05/2010: "Let's stop pretending. Barack Obama is a disaster as a crisis president. He has taken an economic collapse that was the result of Republican ideology and Republican policies, and made it the Democrats' fault."

Absent radically different policies, an economic depression will continue indefinitely. This is not a "Great Recession" in the New York Times' cute pun. It's a depression, made up of persistently high unemployment, reduced consumer purchasing power, damaged banks, and business unwillingness to invest, just like the 1930s. Unemployment is not quite as severe, but measured properly it is around 18 percent. And unlike in the 1930s, we don't have a strong Democratic president using activist government to dig our way out.
Other notable early reactions that give a view of the disppointment include:

Clarence Jones, Time to Think the Unthinkable: A Democratic Primary Challenge To Obama's Reelection Huffington Post 12/05/2010

Laurence Lewis takes an overwrought view but one worth reading in President Obama is neither weak nor stupid... nor a progressive Daily Kos 12/05/2010: "It's time to consider that the president accepts centrist and conservative policies because he himself is a centrist or conservative."

Digby, Setting Up The Battle On Their Turf Hullabaloo 12/05/2010
"If they cannot even make a winning argument out of cutting taxes for 98% of the people then I'm not sure what they're good for."

Jacob Heilbrunn, The Incredible Shrinking Obama Presidency Huffington Post 12/06/2010: "No matter how you play it, Obama got rolled."

In my next post, I'll have some thoughts about the implications of all this for politics in the next couple of years.

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