Tuesday, January 28, 2014

THERE'S NOT MUCH OBAMA CAN DO, BUT THIS WON'T BE BROADLY POPULAR

President Obama can't get anything through Congress, and that's not likely to change between now and the end of his term, so he's going the executive-order route. One proposal:
President Obama plans to sign an executive order requiring that janitors, construction workers and others working for federal contractors be paid at least $10.10 an hour, using his own power to enact a more limited version of a policy that he has yet to push through Congress.

The order, which Mr. Obama will highlight in his annual State of the Union address on Tuesday night, is meant to underscore an increasing willingness by the president to bypass Congress if lawmakers continue to resist his agenda, aides said....

With prospects for congressional action still slim, Mr. Obama is using the executive order covering federal contractors to go as far as he can go on his own....
I'd love to think this would be broadly popular. I'd love to think that the Americans who now overwhelmingly favor an increase in the minimum wage will see this as a doing the right thing for at least some people.

But I suspect this won't be popular. Because neither the mainstream press nor the Democratic Party will explain to the public that Republicans are the cause of our political dysfunction -- though some people have begun to figure it out -- there's still the myth that the president could get more if he'd just lead harder (or, alternately, that he could have done a better job getting what he wanted if he'd done more outreach to the GOP, but now he's poisoned the well). If you don't really understand the extent of right-wing intransigence, this looks like a failure on Obama's part, a half-measure when he should be able to get an across-the-board minimum wage hike passed.

It also looks like a special deal for History's Greatest Monsters -- public sector workers, the same people Scott Walker (now polling quite well in his reelection bid) and Chris Christie (still getting decent job approval ratings in his state) made their careers attacking.

The permanent squeeze on ordinary citizens takes its toll on empathy -- hell, polls even show that Christie's ratings are higher among people who don't use the George Washington Bridge. New Jersey residents don't even have fellow feeling for victims of deliberate traffic sabotage on a route they happen not to take.

On the Fox/talk-radio right, of course, Obama's plan to use executive orders is described as pure fascism. (Charles Krauthammer on Obama's efforts to bypass Congress: "This is how they do it in Venezuela.") I don't know how much that viewpoint is going to influence what people in the center are thinking, but I'm sure it has an impact, even though it's 180 degrees removed from the view of Obama as a guy who can't get bills through Congress. (Barack Obama: impotent and fascistic!)

The right will respond to this by selling the image of struggling, overwhelmingly white small businessmen who contract with the federal government and are now losing sleep, the poor dears, wondering how they'll cope with this horrible edict. The right has this propaganda down to a science. I suppose it's no different from the propaganda against a minimum wage increase in general, and that isn't working anymore, but if this is for just one group of workers -- government workers, paid with your tax dollars! -- there'll be some impact.

I'm not saying that this will be a serious problem for Obama. I'm just saying that if he thinks this will be widely cheered, he may be in for a disappointment.

10 comments:

Victor said...

On the other hand, increasing the minimum wage has to start SOMEWHERE!

I understand your point, though, Steve.
I'll just hope for the best.

The Conservatives will ride this 'ObaMauMau is a Fascist Dictator' meme for a while.

Then, when it suits them, they'll fit him into the 'Obumbler' meme.

And then, later, the 'Odumber, that N-word's worthless without a teleprompter' meme.

peabody nobis said...

It works out pretty well for me, at least. I just started a job as custodian at a local middle school a few weeks back. They started me at $8 bucks an hour, so the extra couple bucks an hour will certainly be welcome.
It's a shame that a large portion of the electorate can't identify the cause of our political and economic dysfunction. At least the Dem reps are starting to push back a tiny bit, pointing out that Obama's policies haven't had a chance to fail; he hasn't been allowed to implement them.

Victor said...

Good luck at the new job, Peabody!

biz5th said...

Here's a crazy thought - maybe Obama is just trying to do the right thing.


Sometimes we overthink the triple-bankshot political implications.

aimai said...

I really think of all the things one can accuse Obama of --unwarranted expectations of being wildly cheered by people who are on record with wanting to have him and his family killed is not one of them. The guy is more willing to do what is right with ZERO hope of electoral or popular approval than any political figure I can think of other than Bernie Sanders.

The New York Crank said...

Well, the president has cranky approval on this one. Sometimes doing the right thing can sway us, one voter at the time.

(I don't really know what that means, but it felt good to write it.)

Yours crankily,
The New York Crank

Chris Andersen said...

One of the great propaganda coups of the last few years has been the right-wing meme that public sector workers are getting special benefits. What they are getting are the same benefits that we wish everyone was getting and would get were the private sector not so intransigent. But it is the public sector who gets blame for getting more instead of the private sector who gets blamed for giving less.

Pedro Alberto Arroyo said...

I'm not going to let the GOP off the hook for their intransigence, but Obama doesn't get a pass either. Elected Republicans seem to hate him, and certainly seem to benefit from opposing him - he's not going to convince them by inviting them over for tea. But he could have done a better job of making it politically untenable for them to oppose him on everything.

The GOP finds it so easy to obstruct him because Obama can't figure out a way to punish them for doing so. That's his failing.

Pete said...

Bottom-end wages have been eroded by inflation. This is a great way to put pressure on Congress to raise the minimum at least back to where it used to be. I suspect they can resist that pressure ... but hell, it's the right thing to do, and related Living Wage campaigns have actually been successfully at state and local levels.

peabody nobis said...

Thank you, Victor.