Friday, July 22, 2011

Barack Obama as statesman of conventional wisdom

Paul Krugman in Conceder in Chief 07/22/2011 makes three observations about President Obama, based on his performance so far and presumably informed by his personal discussions with him:

  1. Obama really just isn't that into Democratic priorities. He really doesn’t much care about preserving Medicare for all seniors, keeping Social Security intact, and so on.
  2. What he is into is his vision of himself as a figure who can transcend the partisan divide. He imagines that he can be the one who brings about a big transformation that settles disputes for decades to come - and has been unwilling to drop that vision no matter how many times the GOP shows itself utterly uninterested in anything except gaining the upper hand.
  3. As a result, he can't or won't see what's obvious to everyone else: that any Grand Bargain will last precisely as long as Democrats control the Senate and the White House, and will be torn up in favor of privatization and big tax cuts for the wealthy as soon as the GOP has the chance. [my emphasis]
All three observations seem entirely plausible to me. And all account for the strangest things we've seen from the Democratic side in the debacle of the debt-ceiling limit. None of hose three points implies anything cynical or foolish from a conventional wisdom viewpoint. After all, those who Krugman calls the "Serious People" are agreed that gutting Social Security and Medicare, Democrats conceding to Republicans across the board even when Democrats have a solid mandate for their own program, and the now-legendary Broderian moderation (after the late David Broder) are all the height of statesmanship and "political courage." For a Democratic President.

Still, Obama and his White House team seem to be poor negotiators in comparison with the Republicans. The White House seems to be trying to make a deal based on Herbert Hoover/neoliberal economic assumptions. The Republicans are trying to destroy Obama's Presidency. As always with this debt-limit negotiation, it makes little sense if we don't keep in mind that it was Obama's choice to add other issues to the debt ceiling. The debt ceiling has to be raised. Republican leaders in both parties had stated before the negotiations began that they knew the debt ceiling had to be raised. He wanted to use a negotiation over the debt limit as political cover for taking a giant step toward his cherished Grand Bargain.

Krugman starts off by linking to a post by Amanda Marcotte in which he repents of her youthful idealism of 2000 when she was impressed by Ralph Nader's third-party candidacy. Here she shows her mature wisdom by observing that the Republican Party is way, way, worse than the Democratic Party from a progressive point of view.

Her post is interesting to me in that it is an example of how progressive activists who want to have credibility within the Democratic Party can misread the effect of a Democratic President opposing Social Security and Medicare. The electoral problem that creates is not that labor and other progressive base voters will swarm to candidates of some obscure third-party with no hope of winning office in 2012. (I stress  the electoral problem here to distinguish it from the very real problems Obama's proposed cuts to Social Security and Medicare will create for large numbers of recipients.)

The electoral danger it creates is that ordinary voters who are highly emotionally engaged in politics generally and who might be inclined to vote for the Democrats will have a lower turnout. And the Republicans will campaign against Obama for having proposed cuts in Social Security and Medicare. They will win some significant number of votes because of that. That campaign theme will also discourage even some voters who wouldn't dream of voting Republican. I'm purposely avoiding discussing it as a matter of "independents" because the problem is considerably broader than that. Some voters who have been loyal Democrats will vote Republican in 2012 over the Social Security and Medicare issues.

Put another way, almost no voter who on July 21, 2012 isn't already committed to voting for a third party in 2012 is going to change their minds to vote for a third-party instead of for the Democrats. But while an activist and blogger like Amanda Marcotte is looking at a wide range of issues in the context of a binary choice between Democrats and Republicans, a significant numbers of voters are looking at that same binary choice with particular attention to one or two issues. Unemployment, Social Security and Medicare are all issues that a lot of voters care a lot about. And Obama has put the Democratic Party on what will look to many voters like the wrong side of all three of those issues for 2012.

Conversely, Social Security and Medicare have been two of the best electoral issues the Democratic Party has had going for it generally. For decades. After President Bush's abortive attempt to privatize Social Security in 2005, the Democrats gained new credibility as the defenders of those programs that really are vital to what Americans think of a "middle-class" life. Obama has now tossed that advantage to Republicans. And there will be a lot more voters in 2012 who aren't as current about the real state of the two parties' positions as Amanda is, who will cast their votes thinking that the Republicans will do a better job of defending Social Security and Medicare.

And if you are someone who wants to see Social Security and Medicare preserved, then it's unrealistic at this point to see how that will happen unless "the left" can assert pressure to do so on the Democratic Party. And in July 2011, "the left" as it is used by the punditocracy at this point pretty much includes anyone who supports Social Security and Medicare.

Tags: ,

| +Save/Share | |

Links to this post:

Create a Link


"It is the logic of our times
No subject for immortal verse
That we who lived by honest dreams
Defend the bad against the worse."

-- Cecil Day-Lewis from Where Are The War Poets?


  • What is the Blue Voice?
  • Bruce Miller
  • Fdtate
  • Marcia Ellen (on hiatus)
  • Marigolds2
  • Neil
  • Tankwoman
  • Wonky Muse


  • Michele Bachmann, the Village punditocracy and the...
  • Imagining Obama's proposals to Social Security and...
  • Tom Ferguson on the dangers of austerity politics ...
  • Rupert Murdoch's troubles
  • President Obama on the Emancipation Proclamation -...
  • John Kenneth Galbraith on civilization and war
  • The downward spiral of democracy in America
  • John Steinbeck on war and the Second World War (3 ...
  • John Steinbeck on war and the Second World War (2 ...
  • John Steinbeck on war and the Second World War (1 ...



    [Tip: Point cursor to any comment to see title of post being discussed.]
    www TBV




    Environmental Links
    Gay/Lesbian Links
    News & Media Links
    Organization Links
    Political Links
    Religious Links
    Watchdog Links



    Atom/XML Feed
    Blogarama - Blog Directory
    Blogwise - blog directory



    hits since 06-13-2005

    site design: wonky muse