Tuesday, July 22, 2014


Kevin Drum responds to Thomas Frank's assertion that Barack Obama made it his mission as president to saving the economic elite, an effort that prevented transformative progressive change:
Back in 2009, was Obama really the only thing that stood between bankers and the howling mob? Don't be silly. Americans were barely even upset, let alone ready for revolution. Those pathetic demonstrations outside the headquarters of AIG were about a hundredth the size that even a half-ass political organization can muster for a routine anti-abortion rally. After a few days the AIG protestors got bored and went home without so much as throwing a few bottles at cops. Even the Greeks managed that much.

Why were Americans so obviously not enraged? Because -- duh -- the hated neoliberal system worked. We didn't have a second Great Depression. The Fed intervened, the banking system was saved, and a stimulus bill was passed. Did bankers get treated too well? Oh yes indeed. Was the stimulus too small? You bet. Nevertheless, was America saved from an epic collapse? It sure was. Instead of a massive meltdown, we got a really bad recession and a weak recovery, and even that was cushioned by a safety net that, although inadequate, was more than enough to keep the pitchforks off the streets.
Is that what happened? Not exactly. The American people were screwed by the financial meltdown and its aftermath. Americans were upset -- and continue to be upset. But the people who wanted our policies to move in a leftward direction, and who hoped to see more bankers punished, thought they'd already done the work that needed to be done by electing Barack Obama and a Democratic Congress. They didn't understand that they'd need to keep fighting, against both the centrist impulses of prominent Democrats and an organized, well-funded right.

The rank-and-file right avoided a second Great Recession, too, but the right was out in the street with pitchforks anyway. The grabbing of pitchforks isn't strictly a function of the how bad things are in the country. People grab pitchforks because rabble-rousers successfully rouse them. We didn't have any such rabble-rousers. We'd elected Obama. That's all we thought we needed to do.

Drum goes on to acknowledge this; he writes the following, and I don't know if he realizes that he's contradicting the passage I've already quoted:
All of us who do what Thomas Frank does -- what I do -- have failed. Our goal was to persuade the public to move in a liberal direction, and that didn't happen. In the end, we didn't persuade much of anyone. It's natural to want to avoid facing that humiliating truth, and equally natural to look for someone else to blame instead. That's human nature. So fine. Blame Obama if it makes you feel better. That's what we elect presidents for: to take the blame.

But he only deserves his share. The rest of us, who were unable to take advantage of an epic financial collapse to get the public firmly in favor of pitchforks and universal health care, deserve most of it. The mirror doesn't lie.
It isn't just the pundits who are to blame, of course. No activist leaders emerged -- even from Occupy Wall Street, which was pathologically averse to the idea of leadership. And, frankly, there was no money in it -- investing in the tea party seemed shrewd to certain right-wing billionaires (for good reason), and other forms of right-wing demagoguery (e.g., Wayne LaPierre's) fill organizational coffers, but people with money don't have a selfish reason to bankroll progressive change.

We could have taken the streets if we'd really been motivated to do so, but we thought we didn't need to -- and we're not goaded to do so the way right-wingers were in 2009 and 2010.

And Thomas Frank embodies the problem himself -- he thinks Barack Obama should have been able to move the country significantly to the left all by himself. It's that sort of thinking that always lulls us. Starting on Election Night 2008, we should have realized that a new war was just beginning.

(Drum link via Reality Chex.)


Never Ben Better said...

Bully pulpit! BULLY PULPIT!!!!

If I had a nickel for every time some keyboard warrior typed that in the course of trashing Obama as a sellout failure, I could pay off my damned mortgage.

Anonymous said...

I will not give Barack Obama a pass for those things he could have done, and that's quite a lot.

And yes, some it involves that damned Bully Pulpit. He was elected to be a leader. He purported to have ideas.

Many of the ideas he espoused during the 2008 campaign were shitcanned as soon as he walked into the Oval Office. Some were deep-sixed well before, i.e., "I will not support a FISA bill that includes telecom immunity."

One of the things he could have done, even in the face of Republican Flying Monkeys, was to appoint people who weren't the very people responsible for the financial meltdown in the first place. Can we say, "Larry Summers? Tim Geithner? Every Wall St. hack in sight?"

He campaigned on accountability and essentially gave presidential pardons to every war criminal hatched in the Bush years. He kept the Secretary of Defense. He kept Guantanamo open when it could have been closed by executive order. He shrunk from every controversy and every fight. Was it because he couldn't win or because he just can't stomach a fight? We'll never know because when you don't fight, you'll never win.

FDR led his country and knew how to shape public opinion. So did JFK, Nixon and that blithering idiot Reagan. Other presidents knew how to blackmail and/or persuade recalcitrant members of their own party into supporting presidential legislation. LBJ certainly did. The Republicans hold their caucus together with fear. Democrats aren't afraid of Obama and they aren't afraid of us. That's something that has to change.

Barack Obama came into office with either a cynical agenda of fooling the rubes most of the time while delivering for the corporatists -- after all, nobody forced him to hold biweekly meetings with Big Pharma reps in the White House while delivering nothing but lies and doubletalk about that quaint old "public option" -- or he was just hopelessly clueless and terminally naive.

Who starts a negotiation by ceding half of your position to the adversary before you even sit down? Obama does! Who keeps not just talking but acting as if you are negotiating with honorable people who have the same interests as you do when Every. Single. Time. you get caught like Charlie Brown letting Lucy hold the football? And he still barely understands what happened to his first term.

Here's what Obama could do that he's not doing:

--He could shut down the Keystone XL pipeline speculation.
--He could direct his Justice Department to vigorously pursue cases against the most egregious Wall St. criminal corporations and executives.
--He could stop persecuting whistle-blowers.
--He could place a moratorium on drone attacks.
--He could direct the border agencies and Homeland Security to stop deporting child refugees from Central America and start placing them in foster homes, not animal kennels.
--He could start a roll-back of NSA/CIA/DIA overreach and constitutional violations. He could restore Habeas Corpus and the Fourth Amendment.
--He could have directed his law enforcement agencies to put a stop to the secessionist, nullification style crap represented by the Bundy Ranch standoff.

No, I won't give Obama a pass. Great presidents arise during times of trouble and upheaval. If that doesn't describe the here and now, I don't know what does. But he hasn't risen to the challenge. He's managed to maneuver and backfill here and there, basically shoring up and defending the indefensible. His so-called signature legislation, the ACA (which is basically a deep tongue-kiss for the insurance and for-profit corporate healthcare industries), is being picked apart piece by piece by the Flying Monkeys.

Obama thought he could make lemonade with lemons. He should have just made war with his political enemies.

Steve M. said...

At what point in this process would you have wanted him to declare martial law so he could bypass Congress on all of this? Because that's what he would have needed to do to accomplish everything you think he could have accomplished with a wave of his hand.

Steve M. said...

And please read Scott Lemieux on this:



And here (from 2011).

Anonymous said...

What does Congress have to do with the direction of Executive Branch agencies?

How does Congress demand that the Obama Justice Department not prosecute criminals? How does Congress suddenly obtain Commander-in-Chief powers to direct the DOD? How does Congress direct the State Department to proceed forthwith on the pipeline?

Congress and the Flying Monkeys can squawk, hold hearings non-stop and threaten the pursestrings. They can shut down government in another grand game of chicken. But Obama has presidential power, both real and psychological, that he refuses to tap.

Obama's electoral career is finished. Why does he hesitate to do something that may be unpopular but is undeniably the right thing to do? I can't believe, at this point, it's to save the Democratic Party. It's the party's own feckless timidity and hand-wringing corporatism that's killing it.

Steve M. said...

You know who could have done something in all that time? You, and all your emoprog friends. Where were you when all this was going on? Writing long blog comments. Or marching ion the streets demanding all the change you expected Obama to effortlessly rain down on you?

Anonymous said...

I gave the links a quick read, and sorry, Lemieux is giving Obama a pass. I don't have a great deal of respect for the oh-so-weary and worldly-wise liberals who have so lowered their expectations of what is possible. The overall message is, "Don't bother to try." It's a disgustingly cynical stance.

This quote is representative:

"Um, because he wanted to pass comprehensive health care reform rather than attempt to impress a minority of pundits, and he understands the elementary point that opening proposals far outside the expected negotiating space are guaranteed to fail? And isn’t this a particularly sound choice, since when the 'proper' proposal failed said critics would not give him credit for fighting but accuse him of 'making soaring speeches' while doing nothing, which you just did?"

Just starting with that idiot "Um" is a signal of his presumed superiority to stupid, naive little liberal me.

I start with saying that we don't begin to know the whole of what Obama wanted to pass with the ACA. His story changed daily. We can judge something by what emerged, and that was the indelibly central role of for-profit insurance and medicine for the forseeable future.

I'll never want Lemieux negotiating a contract for me, that's for sure. An opening proposal is just that. It's expected that it will have elements of a wish list and items that can be negotiated and some that can't. You start high to wind up in the middle. You don't start in the middle and expect medals for being reasonable.

I have other things I have to do. I don't really want to trade quips back and forth, and I certainly don't want to resort to silly "angry face" icons.

You don't have to agree with me. I don't agree with you and that's fine.

Anonymous said...

Oooohhh! "Emoprog!" I'm certainly chastened. Jsckass.

Long blog comments? I've been reading your shit for a long time and haven't deigned to comment. I won't again. As for what I did, I wrote actual hard-copy letters, I called, I donated to those who I though could make a difference. If my health allowed it, I'd be out on the picket lines. So don't be so fast to presume you know everything about commenters when you don't like what they say.

Roger said...

Rand Paul/A Pony '16!

Unknown said...

Sometimes I wonder if a lot of these "emoprog" types aren't actually operatives funded by the Koch brothers. They seem to come out in droves during election years. It's pretty easy to parrot the disappointed lefties.