Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Serious frenemies: Obama and the Democratic base

David Dayen provides this video in his post, Union Coalition Promotes “Jobs Not Cuts,” Directly Targets Democratic Senators FDL News 11/20/2012.

David explains the background of the ad:

The coalition, which is spending upwards of six figures on the ads, is made up of AFSCME, the National Education Association, and SEIU. The targets in the TV ads include Senators in Colorado, Missouri and Virginia – which includes Democrats Mark Udall, Michael Bennet, Claire McCaskill, Jim Webb and Mark Warner. ...

Obviously, the days right after an election are among the worst times to exert pressure on lawmakers. But you can see this more as a signal, identifying those in the Democratic coalition most disposed to backing social insurance cuts, and pointing out that this union coalition fully plans to make them pay a price for such activities. It shows that the unions plan to keep up their outside game, though I’m sure this isn’t exactly what President Obama had in mind when he sought help on the fiscal slope negotiations. It shows that unions, for now, plan to keep an independent voice, focused on the core issue of the need for a growth strategy rather than an austerity strategy for the US in the coming years. [my emphasis]
This is what progressives and labor have to do to prevent the Democratic Party from turning completely into a corporate-dominated party with mildly socially liberal inclinations: make Democrats who vote against vital programs like Social Security pay a serious political price, particularly in the form of primary challenges for their choices against labor and the elderly.

This is a 48-minute segment of The Point that deals with, among other things, the perennially troubled relationship between Obama and progressives, i.e., the Democratic base. It features Alyona Minkovski of HuffPostLive, Progressives & Obama, Pundit Accountability, and Petraeus' Media Circus 11/16/2012:

Matt Stoller of the Roosevelt Institute appears at the first of that video. Matt has been a persistent critic of President Obama from the left, which inevitably annoyed some of Obama's more faithful liberal supporters. I don't share his enthusiasm for the idea of a third party. But his criticisms of the Obama Administration are usually well thought out. He blogs at Naked Captialism. He laid out some of his priority concerns in Obama’s second term: Can liberals trust the president? Salon 11/10/2012, including one of the Democrats' major accomplishments during Obama's first term, the Dodd-Frank financial regulation law:

The biggest institutional change wrought by Dodd-Frank was the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Since Elizabeth Warren is now a senator and Obama won reelection, it’s unlikely that the CFPB will be changed in any significant way for the next two years. Aside from that, Dodd-Frank mandated that various regulatory agencies write new rules for the financial system. How these rules are written is largely up to the next treasury secretary. Should this person put focus on tax/budget issues, as is likely, then Dodd-Frank implementation will happen at the staff level, without significant political capital invested. As a former high-level administration official told me, this “will make it easier for the big banks and players to manipulate and control the process.”
Jeff Faux also elaborates some progressive criticisms of this Administration, Election Over: 5 Hard Realities Progressive Have to Face About Obama AlterNet 11/18/2012. AlterNet seems to really like numbered-list stories for some reason. This is one of Faux' particular concerns:

With no new substantial source of stimulus, our trajectory is toward a further erosion of living standards for the majority of Americans. Off-shoring and automation will continue to shed jobs with no offsetting increase in the demand for labor. Budget cuts—including cuts to Medicare and Medicaid—will widen the holes in the social safety net and further limit investments in education, infrastructure and technology upon which any chance at future prosperity depends. And the White House’s indifference to the dramatic erosion of organized labor (e.g., its reneging on promises to reduce the barriers to organizing) will continue to undercut the bargaining power of all workers—union and non-union alike.

The president’s Council of Economic Advisers will not admit it, but their default strategy for growth is to let American wages drop far enough to undercut foreign competition. That is the only possible policy rationale for Obama’s enthusiasm for the Trans Pacific Partnership, a further deregulation of trade that will strip away the last protections for American workers against a brutal global marketplace of dog-eat-dog. [my emphasis]
The Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement would, based on past history and leaks from the current negotiations, override a lot of critically important labor law in the US. Defeating that is not only important but a practical goal. He also has some good observations on the potential problems with "Obamacare." It has enough gaps that parts of it could become seriously unpopular, and would be open to weakening by a Republican President, just as Republican Governors are already trying to weaken it at the state level.

And then there's Citizens United, in which the Supreme Court decided to give American democracy over to be bought and sold by today's Money Power, to borrow a Jacksonian term. Charlie Pierce writes in Tom Udall's Bold Solution to Overturn Citizens United Esquire Politics Blog 11-20-2012:

The Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission has become so iconic in the three years since it was handed down that it has come to be as much representative of the overall corruption and incompetence inherent in how we run our elections in this country, so much so that the diabolical cleverness of the decision itself sometimes gets lost in all the justified hooting about how Citizens United completed the process of legalizing bribery in this country. It is a shrewd piece of work. The decision was so carefully written that it contains within it language that guarantees that the decision will prevail over any piece of legislation, either nationally or in the states — which is how Montana's century-old law banning corporate political contributions was thrown out by the Supreme Court, which relied on CU to declare the Montana law unconstitutional — that seeks to mitigate its obvious impact. It is a constitutional doomsday machine set loose in the area of campaign finance. There is no remedy to it except to bring it down from the outside.
President Obama himself at the time of the ruling said, "This ruling strikes at our democracy itself." And, "I can't think of anything more devastating to the public interest." As so often is the case, his subsequent actions showed he wasn't especially serious about his words. But this is an issue on which he can probably be pushed effectively by the base. Although, as Pierce indicates, it will likely take a Constitutional Amendment to fix it.

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