Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Hoping for Obama 2008, and for a pony

What's that saying, "hope dies last"?

Tom Schaller enacts what has become a Democratic progressives' ritual, one that has us periodically hoping against hope and evidence that President Obama will pivot to being what he could have been, a real progressive leader.

Tom's take is in Opportunity knocks for Obama Salon 12/21/2011. He thinks the Republicans' rejection of the payroll tax extension could provide Obama a platform to stand up to the Republicans and condemn them for being perpetual patsies for the 1%.

This is a bit of a sign of desperation on its face, since the payroll tax extension is a deeply flawed policy in its effect on the fight to save Social Security, at a time where better tax-stimulus alternatives that are essentially just as easy to implement are available. Dean Baker is right when he says, "there is zero reason that this tax cut should be tied to social security in any way."

Here's Tom Schaller's fond fantasy about the politics:

Obama’s presidency was supposed to restore some balance to the perverse economic and political power imbalance between the wealthy and the working. His was supposed to be the presidency that would change the way Washington’s political rules and rulers operated. His was supposed to be the presidency that corrected the nation’s economic course. His was supposed to be the presidency that brought together “Democrats, independents and even some Republicans.” His was supposed to be the presidency of hope, the presidency of change.

Well, here’s his big chance to deliver. He shouldn’t let congressional Republicans go home for Christmas without a victory on the payroll tax cut extension. He can’t let their stalling tactics break him. He should call out the radical House Republicans by name, welcome their hatred, and direct Americans’ ire right back at them. Occupy the Capitol, if he must. Because this is not just the fight of his presidency — it could very well be the fight for his presidency.
I'm actually very sympathetic to plea Tom makes here. He wants Obama to be Obama 2008. I want that, too. But can we really picture Obama 2011 welcoming the hatred of the economic royalists as Franklin Roosevelt famously did in 1936?

Like the rest of us who nurture these same hopes, Tom knows that reality casts a grim pale over that pleasant fantasy that has barely enough plausibility to be still thinkable:

Although presidents risk looking petty when targeting opponents by name, this is not a political situation where fingering them squarely will backfire. Both parties know the Tea Party wing of the House Republicans, whose radicalism even House Speaker John Boehner is unable to understand, no less control, is blocking a two-month payroll tax cut extension in order to exact unrelated concessions. So why did he conclude his press briefing Tuesday with plaintive entreaties not to “play brinksmanship” games? To win in politics, sometimes politicians must call their enemies out, and be willing to go to the brink themselves by pointing a finger of blame squarely at those who deserve scorn. Calling out John Boehner is a good start, but the president should go a step further and call out the GOP’s Tea Party wing. [my emphasis]
Could anything short of massive psychiatric intervention to engineer a personality change persuade Barack Obama to act like this appeal envisions? The answer to Tom's bolded question, of course, is that Obama is too committed to one-percenter neoliberal ideology to take a semi-confrontational posture like this without pepper-spraying his own confrontational message in real time.

We saw on the public option for his health care plan that Obama is willing to fight. Fight the base of his own Party, that is. We saw in the fight on extending the Bush one-centers' tax cut, the debt ceiling fight and how many other times how he fights the Republicans.

I wish he were different, too. Maybe, just maybe, his re-election fight will persuade him to act like that fabled creature, Obama 2008. Don't they say that hope dies last?

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"It is the logic of our times
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