Monday, August 27, 2012

Thomas Frank on Obama and the Overton window

Thomas Frank's article "Compromising Positions" in the print edition of Harper's Sept 2012 covers much the same ground he does in the interview in Salon I discussed earlier.

Frank's conclusion in "Compromising Positions" has a bitter edge:

As I watched this upside-down unrest emerge [rightwing Tea Party populism], I used to wonder how long it would take Obama to switch on his inner FDR and start grappling with the nation's problems the way they obviously needed to be grappled with. The years passed, and I finally realized that this was never going to happen. Then a different possibility started to dawn on me: Maybe a second New Deal is precisely what Obama was here to prevent. Maybe that was the hope all along.
But Frank is accurate in the results he describes here:

He [Obama] came to the White House amid circumstances similar to those of 1933, but proceeded to rule like Herbert Hoover. Today the banks are as big as ever, and he has done precious little about it. The regulatory system is falling apart, and he is too ideologically demure to tell us why. Organized labor is crumbling, and he has done almost nothing to help it recover. Meanwhile, the people who told us that finance was king, that the "new economy" changed all the rules, that we didn't really need a strong supervisory state - those people are still riding high, still making their pronouncements from the heights of the op-ed page and the executive branch.[my emphasis]
As that paragraph illustrates, Frank does give more attention to the (neoliberal) ideological aspects of the Obama Administration than his Salon interview showed.

He also gives this descriptions of how the Republicans have exploited Obama's centrist obsession to drive the so-caled Overton window far to the right:

Let's not overlook centrism's perennial promise: that it is the only way to reach the coveted swing voter, who resides, per D.C. superstition, in the very middle of the political spectrum. That committing yourself heart and soul to a bipartisan approach might allow an opposing party to completely reconfigure the political spectrum is not, as far as I know, a part of accepted poli-sci game theory.

And yet that is exactly what has happened over the past four years. When the president said and did all the things I have listed here, he no doubt thought he was reaching across the aisle, as the expression goes. Everyone could see that he had adopted many of the other party's positions, that he was using their rhetoric, that he was showing respect for their values and bowing to their household gods.

Back in the Clinton years, such moves were hailed as a kind of advanced political judo, throwing Republicans off balance. This time, though, the skills are all on the
other side. Republicans have grasped that if the contest is not about issues but the relative position of the two parties, then they are free to move ever rightward, dragging the center with them, always keeping it a few inches away from the president's anxious, conciliatory grasp. [my emphasis in bold]
The great flaw in that linear image of the swing voter on a right-to-left continuum was illustrated dramatically in the debt-ceiling disaster in 2011, when polls showed that Obama's repeated, desperate attempts to compromise with intransigent Republicans damaged him most among independents, the very group that the centrist posturing was supposed to attract.

Speaking of the "Overton window", the Right Wing Watch website of the People for the American Way (PFAW) points out that this particular concept was generated and promoted by a conservative think tank, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Michigan:

The Mackinac Center for Policy Research focuses on advancing government privatization and espousing conservative fiscal policies. The group actively advocates school vouchers and the privatization of the University of Michigan. The Center publishes the Michigan Education Report in support of its policies. In promoting other limited-government, free-market economic principles, the group advocates measures such as privatizing Amtrak and prisons facilities and eliminating government subsidies for arts and culture initiatives. The Center is also anti-union, having pursued initiatives to limit union political spending and attacked mandatory union membership policies. Additionally, the Center's President, Lawrence Reed runs a "think-tank school" on establishing and effectively maintaining state-level conservative think-tanks.

In the last few years, the center has received grants from: Sarah Scaife Foundation, Roe Foundation, Ruth and Lovett Peters Foundation, Rodney Fund, Orville D. and Ruth A. Merillat Foundation, JM Foundation, Earhart Foundation, Charles G. Koch Foundation, Walton Family Foundation, Dick and Betsy Devos Foundation and Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, Inc.
Tags: , ,

| +Save/Share | |


"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


  • Obama prepares for Republican convention by trying...
  • Obama on Medicare in his weekly address
  • Thomas Frank: Obama's bipartisan fixation didn't l...
  • Cute and quirky: the Dems "Romney Bunch" ad
  • Christiane Amanpour reports from 2007 on Islamic a...
  • How Republicans exploit the Medicare savings issue...
  • Glenn Greenwald on the Assange extradition issue
  • Yes, this is the kind of Democratic Party we need;...
  • The shooter at the Family Research Council
  • Todd Akin's rape theology



    [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