Bromwich on the SOTU: Obama is "offering himself as the rational corporate alternative to the Tea Party"
I've been impressed with the analyses by David Bromwich that I've seen in the London Review of Books. He has out an evaluation of Obama's State of the Union (SOTU) address, in which he set his initial approach to the next two years of his Presidency, in Obama, IncorporatedNYR Blog 01/28/2011. His basic take on how Obama is positioning himself as shown by the SOTU can be summed in the sentence I quote in the title, "By offering himself as the rational corporate alternative to the Tea Party, Obama is taking a tremendous gamble, but with his party's fortunes more than his own." He elaborates:
The 2011 State of the Union was Obama’s first rhetorical step to seal his new reputation as an anti-government Democrat. It has been said that, facing a determined and hostile Congress, Obama had no choice but to placate and again extol the virtues of bipartisanship. Certainly this was not a moment when he could pretend to speak for liberal reforms. What is surprising is the warmth with which he has embraced the premises of his opponents: in matters affecting public life and the economy, government is now said to be the problem, and private enterprise the solution; and far from deregulation having been a major cause of the financial collapse, the way to a healthy economy now lies through further deregulation. This rhetorical concession, adopted as a tactic, will turn against Obama as a strategy. The enormous budget cuts, for example, which he volunteered to make yet steeper will work against the ventures in job-creation which he has asked for without giving particulars. [my emphasis]
It's hard to argue with Bromwich's judgment, "Every advance that he makes on these lines as a gain to himself is a loss to his party."
He is a critic of Obama's apparent inclination to compromise too quickly, and when the negotiating situation doesn't require it:
Two traits we may now judge to be conspicuous in this president, in fair weather and foul, no matter what the pressure of the occasion. He rarely explains complex matters with a complexity equal to the subject matter; and he hates to be a bearer of bad news. The appreciative words he lavished on the big corporations in November, December, and January, and his appointment of William Daley of Morgan Chase as chief of staff and Jeffrey Immelt of General Electric as chairman of his White House jobs council, also indicate a larger personal tendency. When things are not going his way, Barack Obama tacks the other way farther and faster than most people would. In the process, he speaks words which sound like statements of newfound principles, for which he will not be answerable when the winds shift again. [my emphasis]
Bromwich notes Obama's equivocation on immigration reform:
On immigration, another issue of the mid-term election in which Obama’s liberal position was unpopular, he has gently instructed Congress to conduct a polite debate and try to be decent to honest and hard-working immigrants. He did say children of immigrants, including illegals, hard-working or not, should have equal access to education without "the threat of deportation." And he suggested that foreigners who came here to get advanced degrees should be allowed to stay. But he made no mention of the Dream Act, or any specific policy that would achieve such goals.
The broad meaning of these offsetting trends is clear: with almost no notice to Congress, the American people, various public interest and local law enforcement groups, the Obama administration has implemented a very substantial shift in how it is enforcing federal laws. Four short years ago, slightly more than one-third (36 percent) of federal felony prosecutions were in the five federal districts along the southwest border, while almost two-thirds (64 percent) took place in the rest of the country. Now, while still less than 10 percent of the population lives in those border districts, almost half (47 percent) of all federal felony prosecutions occur there. ...
That left all 89 remaining federal districts — despite having more than 90 percent of the federal population — with only slightly more than half of the federal felony prosecution pie. And because a growing proportion of this declining enforcement effort is focused on immigration matters, there is less and less left over for prosecuting those who are committing all the other types of serious federal crimes. [my emphasis]
Bromwich also addresses Obama's increasingly painful devotion to an illusory "post-partisan" state of things:
Obama wants to win, but he would also like nobody to lose, and he has coined some words to express his difference from the more agonistic proponents of American supremacy. ... "By 2035, 80 percent of America's electricity will come from clean energy sources." All the producers and all the consumers can be happy together: "Some folks want wind and solar. Others want nuclear, clean coal, and natural gas. To meet this goal, we will need them all." All those folks, and all their energies. But at what time, in what place, was the central problem of nuclear energy solved: where to dump the radioactive waste that is lethal for thousands of years? ...
It remains a disturbing evasion in his presidency that Obama has hardly recognized the Tea Party’s existence, and has never attempted to answer its members—-not even where they are most deeply and harmfully mistaken, as in the belief they have taken up that global warming is a "hoax." He prefers to keep the political contest a face-off between his own abstract legitimacy and a nameless and inscrutable heterodoxy. [my emphasis]