Thursday, July 28, 2011

Tomasky on Obama's postpartisan utopianism

The one time I heard the late great Molly Ivins speak live and in person was in the mid-1990s. She told about her first encounter with a bunch of Rush Limbaugh cultists. It was at a town meeting for some Democratic Congressman in the Texas panhandle. A bunch of Limbaughists were blasting him for supporting a budget compromise than involved a tax increase. The Congressman was fruitlessly trying to explain that he was doing his best to make an intelligent decision on behalf of the country and the district.

One of the Limbaugh fans responded, "We didn't send you to Washington to make intelligent decisions! We sent you there to represent us!!

That's how I've come to feel about Obama playing Mr. Reasonable when his opposition on the debt-ceiling negotiations are acting like a bunch of chattering trolls who are more interested in burning down the building than in discussing what kind of new paint job it needs.

Mr. President, we sent you to the White House to protect Social Security and Medicare from the Republican Wrecker Party. We didn't send you there to give the bobbleheads of the punditocracy thrills up their legs by proposing slashing Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. And all in the nominal pursuit of an agreement with an opposition party who clearly has no intent of doing anything but wrecking your Presidency.

Michael Tomasky, Obama Should Stop Being Reasonable Daily Beast 07/28/2011 admits to having been a believer in Obama's postpartisan imagery. But know he's burnt out on the whole rigamorole:

I was with him at the beginning — his conviction that politics could be better and more deliberative was one of the things I found appealing about the man. But that ship sailed long ago, and Obama’s position has declined from admirable principle to indefensible fetish.
Tomasky is definitely one of the more substantive journalists and commentators who gets big play in the mainstream press.

But how did such a large proportion of the commentariat settle on the goofy idea that you can gave democratic politics without partisan conflict?

The conflicts in American society and politics are real. Wall Street gamblers won't full freedom to gamble with impunity and public bailouts if their bets go badly wrong. Most people want to have some reasonable assurance that their jobs and savings won't evaporate because some unaccountable hedge fund manager or investment banking CEO did some reckless and stupid.

Oil companies want to be free to do offshore drilling at minimal cost and not suffer any financial or legal consequences when their carelessness makes an oil rig blow up, kills a number of workers and pollutes the entire Gulf of Mexico. Most people would rather than oil multinationals subject to sensible legal restrictions and also would rather not have a bizillion barrels of oil screwing up the Gulf of Mexico for years or decades.

Those are real, substantive differences. If one side gets their way, the other side loses. A good-faith negotiation over one of them might produce a solution that contains something both sides like. But the differences are real. If financial speculators are allowed to run wild with no accountability, it will screw up the economy for everyone else. If there are reasonable regulations to stop financial buccaneers and fraudsters from crashing the whole financial system, financial buccaneers and fraudsters may miss some opportunities to steal and defraud. Even the famous Solomonic solution wound up with one side winning, the other losing.

While Tomasky's main points seem to be valid, Obama has a responsibility as head of state, head of government and leader of the Democratic Party. It was a failure on all three fronts to stage a budget negotiation in the context of the debt ceiling limit. And to attempt to use that debt ceiling limit as political cover for himself and as a political club against his own Party and base to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

The Republicans are acting as a wrecker party. But they've been doing that for the last twenty years, including when they held the Presidency. But Obama recklessly facilitated their irresponsibility in this situation.

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