Thursday, March 15, 2012

Jerry Brown, Obama and the possibilities of politics

Have we ever seen a headline like this with Barack Obama's name in it instead of Jerry Brown's?

Kevin Yamamura, Jerry Brown changes his tax plan to address concerns of liberal allies Sacramento Bee 03/15/2021

Not that I recall.

As the story explains, Jerry reached a compromise with the state teachers union and progressive activists who preferred to push for a "millionaire's tax" targeted more toward the upper brackets than the tax plan the Governor has been pushing since early in 2011. Yes, I said he reached a compromise with a union federation and progressive activists, not with Republicans. And the agreement involved combining proposals into a ballot initiative that would offer a more progressive tax structure than Brown's original proposal. The new one involves less reliance on sales tax, more on taxes on upper brackets, and produces more revenue that can be used for state services. Here is Yamamura's summary of the new proposal:

The new plan would raise the statewide sales tax by a quarter-cent rather than a half-cent per every dollar. It retains Brown's three-tier income-tax hike starting at $250,000 for singles and $500,000 for couples. But the last two brackets increase by greater amounts than Brown originally proposed, with the highest rate rising to 12.3 percent starting at $500,000 of income for single filers. ...

The compromise didn't leave CFT's [California Federation of Teachers] grass-roots coalition satisfied. Student activists were drawn to the CFT plan because it redirected money from the rich to the state's three higher education systems. Thousands of students rallied last week at the Capitol to protest tuition hikes and massive state budget cuts, many of them holding signs in support of CFT's initiative.

The new proposal instead raises funds for the state budget. Some of the funds could help higher education, but Brown and legislators must first patch a $9.2 billion deficit. The compromise plan contains no earmarks for the University of California or California State University systems.

"We need a guarantee that some of this new revenue is going to go toward reversing tuition hikes," said Charlie Eaton, a UC Berkeley graduate student and campus labor activist. "We don't have that yet, but students intend to get it."
I assume that the comment that the new plan raises "funds for the state budget" means that the provision of the teachers' Millionaire Tax proposal that would have directed a large portion of the funds to local governments. Jerry understandably would see giving the state great flexibility to distribute the additional revenue in the current budget situation.

Given the wild proposals that have been sprouting up in state legislatures lately as part of the intensifying Republican "war on women", the famous characterization of state governments as "laboratories of democracy" has taken on a sarcastic connotation. But this California tax compromise is an example of how states can be constructive laboratories of democracy, as also the recall effort against antilabor Gov. Scott Walker in Wisconsin. This tax agreement is an example of what is commonly called an "inside-outside" effort, with a liberal Democratic Governor agreeing to make his own proposal more progressive due to pressure from groups that are his allies in general but also don't see their role as being simply cheerleaders for whatever the Democratic Governor wants to do. This can be a model for the national government, as well.

But Barack Obama is not Jerry Brown. Jerry has basically progressive instincts. I'm confident in saying that, though I know that some progressive activists like the folks at FireDogLake might argue with me on the general point. He's a hardcore, prolabor Democrat who has goals for changes and a realistic view of the political situation.

Obama, though, is essentially a conservative corporate Democrat, though with the "conservative" label being loudly claimed by the likes of Rick "don't-look-at-my-dog-that-way" Santorum, it sounds a little strange to say so. In Obama's case, that means a preference for reforms like the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that give very favorable terms to business corporations while also addressing a real problem among the public, one that affects our Competitiveness, a word that has become a sacred incantation among the one percent. But Obama is basically suspicious and even contemptuous toward his union and progressive allies. And the change he seems to want the most is to achieve a new postpartisan unity based on a Grand Bargain, in which Democrats accept big cuts to Social Security and Medicare benefits, cuts which would prepare the way for a near-term phaseout of both programs, in exchange for the Republicans agreeing to tax increases on some corporations and the wealthy, taxes which would be quickly offset with other benefits and discarded entirely as soon as a new Republican President takes office. And his obsession with his neoliberal postpartisan utopian goal seems to really blind him to the intransigence and fanaticism of today's Christian Republican White People's Party.

So from Obama, we get things like this. Obama took a popular position on requiring employer-provided health insurance to cover birth control. The Catholic bishops criticized him, and even some alleged liberals joined in the criticism. On the one hand, there was Obama defending women's rights and women's health with a large majority in favor of his position. On the other was a subset of people who would never consider voting for Obama anyway, plus a few hapless liberals Pod Pundits. So Obama made a compromise that protected women's rights but was a bit harder to explain and satisfied none of the birth control opponents. Seeing him wavering on the issue, the other side escalated their demands. When Republican Party chief ideologist Rush Limbaugh started once against spewing his hatred of women on the airwaves, that also rebounded to the Democrats' political benefit. Rush's defenders started saying, "Well, uh, what about Democrat types like Bill Maher and stuff?" So what does the Obama Administration do? They start backing down some more: Obama Adviser David Axelrod Pulls Bill Maher Show Appearance (Report)
The Hollywood Reporter 03/14/2012.

Headlines like that, no Democrat is surprised to see these days. Conceding to his enemies is what Obama does in pursuit of the impossible dream of the Grand Bargain and postpartisan harmony. But, again, can anyone imagine this headline: "Barack Obama changes his tax plan to address concerns of liberal allies"?

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