Thursday, July 07, 2011

Are we in the post-Obama era?

How does that saying go, prophecy is difficult, especially if it's about the future? Sounds like something John Maynard Keynes said, or should have said.

Still, after seeing that depressing headline yesterday about the Democratic President offering up cuts in Social Security, I'm feeling at the moment like we've entered the post-Obama era. For better or worse. Paul Krugman wrote a week ago in alarm over Obama's performance in the debt-limit negotiations:

Republicans believe, in short, that they’ve got Mr. Obama's number, that he may still live in the White House but that for practical purposes his presidency is already over. It's time — indeed, long past time — for him to prove them wrong.
Things have gotten worse since then.

True, the White House tried to gently backpedal the offer of Social Security cuts, which are effectively the beginning of Social Security phaseout: Obama Aide On Social Security Cut Story: It 'Overshoots The Runway' Huffington Post 07/07/2011. But it was hardly a rousing defense of Social Security against Republican barbarians at the gates:

"The story overshoots the runway," said a senior administration official. "The President said in the State of the Union that he wanted a bipartisan process to strengthen Social Security in a balanced way that preserves the promise of the program and doesn't slash benefits."

"While it is definitely not a driver of the deficit," the official added, "it does need to be strengthened."
The official White House spokesman Jay Carney bravely went on the record with more mealy-mouthing:

"There is no news here," Carney said. "The President has always said that while social security is not a major driver of the deficit, we do need to strengthen the program and the President said in the State of the Union Address that he wanted to work with both parties to do so in a balanced way that preserves the promise of the program and doesn't slash benefits."
Michael Kazin writes in Man Without a Plan: Obama’s Shortsighted View of U.S. Politics Dissent 07/06/2011:

Obama has made little attempt to challenge conventional political wisdom and stand firmly behind those policies and institutions most critical to American liberalism. While his studied pragmatism is preferable to the ideological rigidity of his predecessor, Obama neither tangibly defines "winning the future," much less "hope and change," nor rallies Americans to his opinions and his side. Obama clearly understands that Keynesian stimuli, strict regulation of the financial industry, and decent health care benefits are the only policies, here and abroad, that can stabilize a capitalist economy and boost the morale and life-chances of the populace. But, as long as he refrains from making a strong and repeated case for these and other progressive ideals, Grover Norquist and his pledge-happy disciples will keep filling the vacuum with a dogma Grover Cleveland would have shared. [my emphasis]
But does Obama think "that Keynesian stimuli" and "strict regulation of the financial industry" are necessary policies? By all appearances, he does not. It seems more likely based on his actual record that he essentially thought that stabilizing the financial system in the short-term would be enough to set the confidence fairies flying and fix the rest of what ailed the economy. He was willing to bail out General Motors, as opposed to the Republicans' willingness to let it go under completely to reduce the power of the United Auto Workers Union and to reduce competition to the foreign auto companies based in "red" states like Alabama. But at this point, there is little indication that he has any serious doubts about the cut-the-deficit, Herbert Hoover economics he's overtly advocating.

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