Obama: recent blog posts about his role in the deficit crisis

Taibbi: The Debt Ceiling Deal—Democrats take a dive

This is just starting to make the rounds, and it should. It presents the other frame to the “poor Obama is just too weak” story that gives him such a pass among his much-abused base.

That other frame, for what it’s worth, is “clever Obama is really good at convincing his base he’s actually on their side.”

Love it or hate it, intellectual honesty (if not electoral safety) requires both frames be considered.

So in service of intellectual honesty, here’s Matt Taibbi, telling the Frame 2 story, the “clever Obama” tale. His title is “Debt Ceiling Deal: The Democrats Take a Dive” and it makes the case.

(In case you don’t know, the phrase “takes a dive” comes from prize-fighting. A fighter takes a dive when he puts up just enough fight to fool his fans — backers and bettors — then throws the fight to his opponent by falling down to a weak late-round punch. For this deception he is paid extra.)

From the article (my emphasis everywhere):

The general consensus is that for the second time in three years, a gang of financial terrorists has successfully extorted the congress and the White House, threatening to blow up the planet if they didn’t get what they wanted. … Commentators everywhere are killing the president for his seemingly astonishing level of ball-less-ness. … The popular take is that Obama is a weak leader of a weak party who was pushed around by canny right-wing extremists.

But, according to Taibbi:

The Democrats aren’t failing to stand up to Republicans and failing to enact sensible reforms that benefit the middle class because they genuinely believe there’s political hay to be made moving to the right. They’re doing it because they do not represent any actual voters. I know I’ve said this before, but they are not a progressive political party, not even secretly, deep inside. They just play one on television.

For evidence, all you have to do is look at this latest fiasco.

For evidence, Taibbi points to the tons of money that Obama is collecting for his 2012 ad campaign (er, re-election effort). If Obama’s really a loser, that’s a lot of smart money chasing a really bad candidate. Or, you could look at it this way:

Who spends hundreds of millions of dollars for what looks, on the outside, like rank incompetence?

It strains the imagination to think that the country’s smartest businessmen keep paying top dollar for such lousy performance. Is it possible that by “surrendering” at the 11th hour and signing off on a deal that presages deep cuts in spending for the middle class, but avoids tax increases for the rich, Obama is doing exactly what was expected of him?

This game is for keeps, as I’m sure you’ve figured out, and we’re at a Herbert Hoover moment. It’s 1932 and if Obama is not FDR, but Hoover in disguise, the consequences of not knowing that are huge, possibly world-historical.

And if that’s true, if we’re the mark in this planet-killing game, it would be horribly self-indulgent to want to stay ignorant, wouldn’t it.

Austerity = moral renovation

from LBO News from Doug Henwood by Doug Henwood

Writing in today’s New York Times, Jennifer Steinhauer explains the politics of the debt melodrama: the parties are “jousting over the moral high ground on imposing austerity, with seemingly none of the political or practical motivations that have historically driven legislation.” Leaving aside the fact that half of one party (the Dems) have happily embraced the premises of the other—and also leaving aside the fact that the “high ground,” moral or otherwise, hasn’t much in evidence during this idiotic fight—Steinhauer is inadvertently onto something.

Over the centuries, the period after the bursting of a bubble has often been time of self-reproach, a time of self-questioning and even self-flagellation. Those have notably been absent in the U.S. during the post-bubble periods of the early 1990s and early 2000s. Now we’re apparently getting some of it, but it’s looking like the austerity party plans to punish people other than those who profited during the bubble. Will Goldman Sachs partners be taxed to repair the damage? Heavens no: the victims of this program of moral renovation through austerity will be such notorious high livers as the poor, the chronically ill, and graduate students. Moral renovation is always more fun when you’re prescribing it for the other guy.

Oh, and apparently this is only the beginning. The austerity party is already pushing for more.

 

Varieties of exhaustion

from LBO News from Doug Henwood by Doug Henwood

Having become the de facto leader of the Republican party, at least when it comes to fiscal policy, Obama is now turning—again (didn’t he do this before? I recall some nonsense about a “hard pivot”)—to job creation. And he’s going to do what needs to be done: take a bus tour of the Midwest and do a few photo ops at factories. You might think that with a stalling economy and a high unemployment rate that could start drifting higher any month now, that he might want to try something more aggressive than hopping a ’hound. But no: “Mr. Obama is unlikely to unveil any major new stimulus proposals, since he has exhausted most of the obvious policy options.”

A very obvious option would be a jobs program. But no—the de facto leader of the Republican party can’t even mention that. The best he can do is more free trade agreements and patent law reform. This guy makes you nostalgic for Bill Clinton—or at least the late 1990s. The dot.com era was nuts, but it was a helluva lot more fun than this hair shirt epoch.

 

The Hostage Crisis Continues: Why Obama Can’t Pivot to Jobs and Growth

from Robert Reich

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With the hostage crisis behind him, the President is now ready to talk about the nation’s real problem.

Nine paragraphs into his remarks today announcing the nation has paid most of the ransom the radical right demanded as a condition for maintaining the full faith and credit of the United States (he didn’t use these exact words), the President pivoted to the agenda he should have been talking about all along:

“And in the coming months I’ll continue also to fight for what the American people care most about: new jobs, higher wages, and faster economic growth.”

But what precisely will he fight for now that the debt deal has tied his hands?

He says he wants to extend tax cuts for middle class families and make sure the jobless get unemployment benefits.

Fine, but the new deal won’t let him. He’ll have to go back to Congress after the recess (five weeks from now) and round up enough votes to override the budget caps that now restrict spending. What are the odds? Maybe a little higher than zero.

He says he wants an “infrastructure bank” that would borrow money from private capital markets to pay private contractors to rebuild our nations roads, bridges, airports, and everything else that’s falling apart.

Fine, but the new deal he just signed may not let him do this either – if the infrastructure bank relies on federal funds or even federal loan guarantees to attract private money. The only way he could create an infrastructure bank without sweetening the pot would be by privatizing all the new infrastructure. That means toll roads and toll bridges, user-fee airports, and entry fees everywhere else.

Apart from its potential unfairness to lower-income people, such a privatized infrastructure would have the same effect as a tax increase. After paying more for roads and bridges and all other infrastructure, Americans would have less cash for to spend on goods and services. That means no boost to the economy.

The President also wants to complete trade deals and reform the patent process. These may make the economy slightly more efficient, but they’re not going to have any perceptible positive impact on the lives of the 26 million Americans who are now either looking for work, working in part-time jobs but needing full-time ones, or have given up looking.

More importantly, the deal he just signed makes it impossible for the President and Democrats to launch any major jobs program – no WPA or Civilian Conservation Corps, no major lending program to cash-starved states and locales, no new help for distressed homeowners, and so on. Nada.

“We’ve got to do everything in our power to grow this economy and put America back to work,” the President says, now that the hostage crisis is over.

But the sad truth is he and the nation remain hostage to the ideology of right-wing Republicans who won’t let the government spend more money. Yet if the government can’t spend more – at least this year and next, until the pump is primed and the economy is growing again – we won’t see job growth. And without job growth, the economy will remain anemic.

That’s why even the stock market is reacting badly to the end of the hostage crisis.

If you hadn’t noticed, the number of people unemployed or underemployed keeps growing. (We’ll know Friday how many it added in July, but remember it needs to add 125,000 a month just to keep up with the growth of the labor force. Anything below 125,000 means we continue to slide backward.)

The reason: Consumers, who are 70 percent of the economy, haven’t been able to pick up the slack. That’s because they’re still deep in debt. Their homes have plummeted in value. They can’t borrow. Their jobs are on the line and their wages are dropping.

So where will the demand come from if not government? The radical right points to the alleged “failure” of the stimulus program as evidence that government spending doesn’t work. The fact is it did work – it saved at least 3 million jobs, and would have saved far more if the stimulus was on the scale needed and directed to job creation.

To be sure, pump-priming is more difficult when the well is almost dry, as it is now. And widening inequality – the rich taking home an increasing share of the nation’s total income and wealth – has left the vast middle class with even less purchasing power.

But the pump still needs to be primed.

And the well has to be filled: The nation must also push for real tax reform that reverses the surge toward inequality – raising taxes on the wealthy, cutting them for the middle, and expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit for the poor.

To do this, though, requires that Americans understand the truth. But where will they learn it?

The radical right has not only captured the federal budget. In convincing so many Americans the problem is the size of government rather than their shrinking paychecks and growing economic insecurity, the radical right has also captured the American mind.

 

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Boycott the 2012 Election

from Ted Rall’s Rallblog by Ted Rall

Hey Liberals! Time to Stop Getting Rolled

We might as well have defaulted.

Regardless of where you stand politically, the deal to raise the federal debt limit came too late for the U.S. to achieve its main objective, avoiding the downgrading of debt issued by the U.S. Treasury that would have followed a default.

“The political and financial world surely thinks less of us now, and one demonstration of that will likely be a downgrading of the credit rating of the U.S., probably imposed in the next few months,” writes John Keefe of CBS’s Moneywatch. “The net result will be higher interest rates on U.S. government debt, which is likely to bleed through ultimately to higher costs for all sorts of other interest rates.”

The buzz on Wall Street says that Standard & Poor’s will soon downgrade T-Notes from a sterling “AAA” either to “AA+” or “AA”, the same as Slovakia. That’s exactly what would have happened had there been a default.

It is true: Our leaders are idiots.

“I have a home in Nevada that I haven’t seen in months,” said Majority Leader Harry Reid on the floor of the Senate. “My pomegranate trees are, I’m told, blossoming.” Too bad. He missed his pretty flowers for nothing.

Liberals got rolled.

Just like on healthcare.

Just like on everything else.

Everything about the way this deal went down, from the initial posturing to a compromise that will make the Great Depression of 2008-? even worse, along with Congress’ total lack of concern for the hardships being faced by the 20 percent-plus of Americans who are unemployed, has people disgusted.

“The big loser after this exercise is Washington,” Republican strategist Scott Reed tells The New York Times. The 2012 election “has the potential to be an anti-incumbent feeling in both parties.” Gee, ya think?

If any good comes out of the debt limit fiasco, it’s that this embarrassing showdown could serve as a long overdue wake-up call to liberals who still have faith in the Democratic Party. Maybe, just maybe, these ideological rubes will finally accept the obvious truth:

Those corrupt corporate-backed pigs just aren’t that into us.

So boycott the pigs. It is time for Real Liberals to kick Team Democrats to the curb. It isn’t hard. Next November all you have to do is…

Nothing.

Just.

Don’t.

Vote.

In other countries voter boycotts have a long and proud tradition as a way to effect pressure on a non-responsive political system. Think the politicians won’t care if you don’t vote? History proves you wrong. Even in dictatorships where only one candidate appears on the ballot, regimes go to desperate lengths to get people to turn out to vote. Why? It proves the government’s legitimacy.

Samuel Huntington cites the example of apartheid-era South Africa in his book “The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century”: “In the 1988 municipal elections, the [pro-apartheid] South African government…clamped down on pro-boycott opposition groups and made it unlawful for individuals to urge a boycott.” The African National Congress then upped the ante, declaring its intent to “use revolutionary violence to prevent blacks from collaborating [by casting a vote].”

Extreme, perhaps. Effective, definitely. The ANC is now the majority incumbent party in post-apartheid South Africa.

Are you Real? Or do you play for a Team?

If you’re a Real Liberal, you espouse liberal values and policies that you think would make America a better place. If you’re a partisan of Team Politics, you only care about one thing—whether the Democrats get elected. You couldn’t care less about policy.

Which side are you on?

Like Clinton and Carter before him, Obama has sold out core liberal Democratic principles, such as fighting for the weak and poor and expanding the social safety net, as well as civil liberties. He can’t point to a single major liberal policy achievement. Heck, Obama hasn’t proposed a major liberal bill. Even so, Team Democrats will vote for Obama in 2012. Team Democrats are Democrats first, liberals last.

Real Liberals, on the other hand, have no reason to support the Dems. The debt limit deal makes this painfully clear.

Paul Krugman, the only reason to read The New York Times op/ed page, calls the debt limit deal “a disaster, and not just for President Obama and his party. It will damage an already depressed economy; it will probably make America’s long-run deficit problem worse, not better; and most important, by demonstrating that raw extortion works and carries no political cost, it will take America a long way down the road to banana-republic status.”

Krugman is a Real Liberal. Real Liberals care about liberal policies—defending old liberal victories such as Social Security and Medicare, as well as struggling to achieve new gains like a public-works program to put the unemployed to work.

Real Liberals give Democratic politicians the benefit of the doubt. But after they prove themselves to be a DINO (Democrat In Name Only), Real Liberals withhold their support. Classic example: Joe Lieberman, the senator from Connecticut. Current version: Barack Obama and his allies.

Obama has been locked in an epic showdown with House Republicans for weeks. Matador vs. bull. Scary and exciting.

First and foremost, the debt ceiling debate was ridiculous from the start. The economy is at a standstill. Recent GDP numbers came in at a sub-anemic 1.9 percent, so low that the real unemployment rate of 21 percent will continue to increase. Foreclosures are emptying out whole neighborhoods.

The traditional, historically proven Keynesian response to Depression is for the government to spend more. Members of both major parties know this. Yet here they were, both agreeing to spend less, indeed to slash the budget by historic amounts. If the Democrats had an ounce of sense, much less principle, they would have refused to discuss budget cuts at all. (Although an end to the wars would be nice.)

Obama and Congressional Democrats went along with trillions in cuts, cuts that may lead to Soviet-style collapse. The Dems’ only demand was that a final agreement include tax increases on the wealthy.

In the end, the Hopey Changey matador hopped the fence and fled the stadium. The GOP got their cuts. The Dems didn’t get a cent of taxes on the rich.

OK, Real Liberals. It’s been three years. You know Obama’s record. Obama never fights. When he does, it’s for conservative values, like slashing the federal budget and giving our money to millionaire bankers.

Why would you vote for him, or any Democrat, next year?

I know, I know: the Even More Insane Evil Republicans would take over. Après nous, la deluge. To which I ask, really, truly, no sarcasm—what difference would it make?

What if John McCain had won in 2008? Do you think we’d be at war in more countries than Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia and Libya? Would the Republicans have done less than Obama for the unemployed and homeowners getting evicted from their homes?

How much longer are you going to tolerate the sellout Democrats? How many more times are you going to stand in line to cast a vote for these treacherous scum?

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL

 

The myth of Obama’s “blunders” and “weakness”

from Glenn Greenwald by Glenn Greenwald

With the details of the pending debt deal now emerging (and for a very good explanation of the key terms, see this post by former Biden economic adviser Jared Bernstein), a consensus is solidifying that (1) this is a virtually full-scale victory for the GOP and defeat for the President (who all along insisted on a “balanced” approach that included tax increases), but  (2) the President, as usual, was too weak in standing up to right-wing intransigence — or simply had no options given their willingness to allow default — and was thus forced into this deal against his will.  This depiction of Obama as occupying a largely powerless, toothless office incapable of standing up to Congress — or, at best, that the bad outcome happened because he’s just a weak negotiator who “blundered” — is the one that is invariably trotted out to explain away most of the bad things he does.

It appears to be true that the President wanted tax revenues to be part of this deal.  But it is absolutely false that he did not want these brutal budget cuts and was simply forced — either by his own strategic “blunders” or the “weakness” of his office — into accepting them.  The evidence is overwhelming that Obama has long wanted exactly what he got: these severe domestic budget cuts and even ones well beyond these, including Social Security and Medicare, which he is likely to get with the Super-Committee created by this bill (as Robert Reich described the bill:  “No tax increases on rich yet almost certain cuts in Med[icare] and Social Security . . . . Ds can no longer campaign on R’s desire to Medicare and Soc Security, now that O has agreed it”).

Last night, John Cole — along with several others — promoted this weak-helpless-President narrative by askingwhat Obama could possibly have done to secure a better outcome.  Early this morning, I answered him by email, but as I see that this is the claim being pervasively used to explain Obama’s acceptance of this deal — he was forced into it by the Tea Party hostage-takers — I’m reprinting that email I wrote here.  For those who believe this narrative, please confront the evidence there; how anyone can claim in the face of all that evidence that the President was “forced” into making these cuts — as opposed to having eagerly sought them — is mystifying indeed.  And, as I set forth there, there were ample steps he could have taken had he actually wanted leverage against the GOP; the very idea that negotiating steps so obvious to every progressive pundit somehow eluded the President and his vast army of advisers is absurd on its face.   

Here’s The New Republic‘s Jonathan Cohn — who, as he says, with some understatement, is usually “among [Obama’s] staunchest defenders in situations like these” — on what these guaranteed cuts mean (never mind the future cuts likely to come from the Super Committee):

As Robert Greenstein, of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, pointed out in a recent statement about a different proposal, there’s just no way to enact spending reductions of this magnitude without imposing a lot of pain. And contrary to the common understanding in the Washington cocktail party circuit, “pain” does not simply mean offending certain political sensibilities. Pain means more people eating tainted food, more people breathing polluted air, more people pulling their kids out of college, and more people losing their homes — in other words, the hardships people suffer when government can’t do an adequate job of looking out for their interests.

As I wrote back in April when progressive pundits in D.C. were so deeply baffled by Obama’s supposed “tactical mistake” in not insisting on a clean debt ceiling increase, Obama’s so-called “bad negotiating” or “weakness” is actually “shrewd negotiation” because he’s getting what he actually wants (which, shockingly, is not always the same as what he publicly says he wants).  In this case, what he wants — and has long wanted, as he’s said repeatedly in public — are drastic spending cuts.  In other words, he’s willing — eager — to impose the “pain” Cohn describes on those who can least afford to bear it so that he can run for re-election as a compromise-brokering, trans-partisan deficit cutter willing to “take considerable heat from his own party.”

Krugman: “The President Surrenders”

from AMERICAblog: A great nation deserves the truthby Gaius Publius

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We could pretend, or we could tell the truth. (Or we could tell the other truth, that it’s entirely possible that Obama is getting just what he wants, like he usually does.)

Paul Krugman this morning:

[T]he deal itself, given the available information, is a disaster, and not just for President Obama and his party. It will damage an already depressed economy; it will probably make America’s long-run deficit problem worse, not better; and most important, by demonstrating that raw extortion works and carries no political cost, it will take America a long way down the road to banana-republic status.

But wait, there’s more:

[T]hen there are the reported terms of the deal, which amount to an abject surrender on the part of the president. First, there will be big spending cuts, with no increase in revenue. Then a panel will make recommendations for further deficit reduction — and if these recommendations aren’t accepted, there will be more spending cuts.

Republicans will supposedly have an incentive to make concessions the next time around, because defense spending will be among the areas cut. But the G.O.P. has just demonstrated its willingness to risk financial collapse unless it gets everything its most extreme members want. Why expect it to be more reasonable in the next round?

Krugman then talks about all the options Obama had, which he didn’t take. Why not? Krugman nicely doesn’t answer. (But pick me…I know. He does it because he wants to, says my inner Occam’s Switchblade.)

Krugman sees nothing but losers:

It is, of course, a political catastrophe for Democrats, who just a few weeks ago seemed to have Republicans on the run over their plan to dismantle Medicare; now Mr. Obama has thrown all that away. And the damage isn’t over: there will be more choke points where Republicans can threaten to create a crisis unless the president surrenders[.] … [And] [w]hat Republicans have just gotten away with calls our whole system of government into question. After all, how can American democracy work if whichever party is most prepared to be ruthless, to threaten the nation’s economic security, gets to dictate policy? And the answer is, maybe it can’t.

A clean sweep. The death of the Dem party, should the over-under in next year’s headline unemployment be, say, 12% or so; and the death of the Republic (though the jury is out whether Republicans would see that as a loss).

I know I’ll see that as a loss, but I’ve been suffering that loss since Reagan Days — so no news there. Sigh.

Ransom Paid

from Robert Reich

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Anyone who characterizes the deal between the President, Democratic, and Republican leaders as a victory for the American people over partisanship understands neither economics nor politics.

The deal does not raise taxes on America’s wealthy and most fortunate — who are now taking home a larger share of total income and wealth, and whose tax rates are already lower than they have been, in eighty years. Yet it puts the nation’s most important safety nets and public investments on the chopping block.

It also hobbles the capacity of the government to respond to the jobs and growth crisis. Added to the cuts already underway by state and local governments, the deal’s spending cuts increase the odds of a double-dip recession. And the deal strengthens the political hand of the radical right.

Yes, the deal is preferable to the unfolding economic catastrophe of a default on the debt of the U.S. government. The outrage and the shame is it has come to this choice.

More than a year ago, the President could have conditioned his agreement to extend the Bush tax cuts beyond 2010 on Republicans’ agreement not to link a vote on the debt ceiling to the budget deficit. But he did not.

Many months ago, when Republicans first demanded spending cuts and no tax increases as a condition for raising the debt ceiling, the President could have blown their cover. He could have shown the American people why this demand had nothing to do with deficit reduction but everything to do with the GOP’s ideological fixation on shrinking the size of the government — thereby imperiling Medicare, Social Security, education, infrastructure, and everything else Americans depend on. But he did not.

And through it all the President could have explained to Americans that the biggest economic challenge we face is restoring jobs and wages and economic growth, that spending cuts in the next few years will slow the economy even further, and therefore that the Republicans’ demands threaten us all. Again, he did not.

The radical right has now won a huge tactical and strategic victory. Democrats and the White House have proven they have little by way of tactics or strategy.

By putting Medicare and Social Security on the block, they have made it more difficult for Democrats in the upcoming 2012 election cycle to blame Republicans for doing so.

By embracing deficit reduction as their apparent goal – claiming only that they’d seek to do it differently than the GOP – Democrats and the White House now seemingly agree with the GOP that the budget deficit is the biggest obstacle to the nation’s future prosperity.

The budget deficit is not the biggest obstacle to our prosperity. Lack of jobs and growth is. And the largest threat to our democracy is the emergence of a radical right capable of getting most of the ransom it demands.

 

 

Obama and the Left: a problem for the WH?

from Glenn Greenwaldby Glenn Greenwald

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(updated below)

In Salon today, Ed Kilgore argues that the White House ignores liberal dissatisfaction with the President because it is largely confined to the “liberal elite” and “liberal opinion leaders” but has not extended to the average liberal voter to any substantial degree.  To sustain this argument, Kilgore dismisses as statistically aberrational and insignificant a CNN article from last week about its new poll which found Obama’s overall approval rating driven down to 45% “in part by growing dissatisfaction on the left with the president’s track record in office” and “signs of a stirring discontent on the left”; CNN added: “roughly one in four Americans who disapprove of the president say they feel that way because he’s not been liberal enough.”  Kilgore further argues that the White House knows that liberals, no matter how upset they become with Obama, will be scared into voting for him anyway by the GOP candidate, and thus can safely ignore their complaints.

There are several points worth noting about Kilgore’s argument, one that is commonly held among many D.C. political and media figures.  Initially, Kilgore picked a bad week to depict that CNN poll as aberrational, given today’s new Washington Post/ABC News poll which found, as the Post today put it:

More than a third of Americans now believe that President Obama’s policies are hurting the economy, and confidence in his ability to create jobs is sharply eroding among his base. . . . The Post-ABC poll found that the number of liberal Democrats who strongly support Obama’s record on jobs plunged 22 points from 53 percent last year to 31 percent. The number of African Americans who believe the president’s actions have helped the economy has dropped from 77 percent in October to just over half of those surveyed.

Meanwhile, the latest Gallup poll shows that the President’s approval rating among self-identified “liberals” has dropped to 70% — the lowest it has been in many months (which means, of course, that 30% of liberals refuse to express approval for the Democratic President).  Other polls have found similarly large quantities of dissatisfaction:  “Nearly half of [Obama’s] own base — 45 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents — want someone to challenge him for the Democratic nomination . . . Among pro-Democratic voters who want him challenged: pluralities of women, voters younger than 45, and those without a college degree.”

At this point, the only factor that can lead someone to deny the significance of this trend is willful blindness.  And it’s hard to imagine those numbers going anywhere but down as the realization sets in that it is the President who, now by his own admission, has been working hard to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits, and as the President increasingly pursues what is clearly his 2012 strategy:  casting himself as a trans-partisan centrist (his doing so vindicates, in my view, those of us who have long argued that there was nothing “new” about Obama’s politics; it was just slightly re-branded Clintonian, Third Way triangulation).

Independently, and more to the point, approval ratings is only one of many barometers of a President’s standing with his base — and, at least in Obama’s case, almost certainly not the most important one.  It’s completely unsurprising that the vast majority of Democrats and even “liberals” — when presented with the dichotomous approve/disapprove choice by a pollster regarding their own party’s President — will choose “approve”; that, in essence, is little more than a proxy for declaring one’s tribal identity (which of the two sides are you on?).  But what propelled the Obama campaign in 2008 was not merely the number of people willing to vote for him but, rather, the intensity of his support.

It’s one thing to be willing to go vote for a candidate on Election Day (or, more accurately, against the other candidate); it’s another entirely to be willing to donate scarce money, canvass and evangelize, and infuse the campaign with passion and energy.  That many liberals will still be willing to do the former notwithstanding their dissatisfaction does not mean they will do the latter.  That level of progressive commitment to Obama’s candidacy was vital to his victory in 2008, and its absence could be crippling in 2012 (a dependency on Wall Street cash even greater than 2008 can only take one so far).  Wasn’t that one obvious lesson of 2010: the central role base enthusiasm plays in election outcomes?

Democratic Party supporters can try to put a happy face on this problem by citing approval ratings, but it only masks the serious problem of intense dissatisfaction and lack of enthusiasm (Matt Yglesias and others, for instance, touted a poll from Netroots Nation finding 80% approval for Obama as evidence that the base loves the President, studiously ignoring the much more significant fact that only 27% “strongly approved” of Obama in that poll, while 53% approved only “somewhat,” and 20% expressed some form of disapproval [strong or somewhat]:  a poll of hard-core Democratic activists that finds that only 27% “strongly approve” of their own Party’s president is hardly some sign of a healthy relationship with the base: quite the opposite).

Perhaps the most unconvincing part of Kilgore’s argument is the notion that the White House cares about the views of its liberal base but it is not worried only because there is not pervasive anger among the average base voter.  For more persuasive is the amply-supported argument from this blogger that Obama wants to be attacked by liberals because of the perception that it politically benefits him by making him look centrist, non-partisan and independent; it also endears him to the D.C. media class, which — in its classic anti-democratic style — swoons for any politician who scorns their own voters.  With this strategy, the angrier liberals are with Obama, the better off he is; hence, openly boasting about aggressive efforts to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits, just like publicly chiding liberals for not being more appreciative of him as he repeatedly did before the 2010 election, is designed to highlight this schism.  It’s not merely that he lacks a fear of liberal dissatisfaction; it’s that he affirmatively craves it.

But that’s a dangerous strategy.  U.S. presidential elections are very closely decided affairs, and alienating the Left even to some degree can be lethal for a national Democratic campaign; shouldn’t the 2000 election, along with 2010, have cemented that lesson forever?  Kilgore (and the White House) are almost certainly right that most dissatisfied progressives will end up voting for Obama no matter what.  The 2000 experience has soured many to the notion of supporting a third-party candidate, and the fear-mongering that will undoubtedly replace “hope” as Obama’s re-election strategy will be, like most fear-based campaigns, effective.  The stunning silence in the face of Obama’s efforts to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits (along with his pursuit of a whole slew of other policies ostensibly anathema to liberals) should put to rest any notion that there will be mass defection of liberal voters in 2012 to the GOP or a third party.

But that fact is only a small part of the story.  Even small defections, along with pervasive cynicism, disappointment, and apathy, can sink Obama’s campaign.  Kilgore’s underlying assumption is correct, and it’s one I’ve argued many times: a political constituency that slavishly and unconditionally supports a Party will inevitably be ignored by that Party.  That’s just basic political rationality.  The question is whether the clearly growing discontent on the Left will translate into anything more meaningful than impotent words.  I genuinely don’t know the answer, but the hubristic confidence on the part of the White House, as expressed by Kilgore, seems very unwarranted.

* * * * *

Columbia University’s Jeffrey Sachs has an excellent assessment of the role both parties are playing in America’s decline, along with their competition as to who can be more subservient to Wall Street; he concludes:  “America needs a third-party movement to break the hammerlock of the financial elites. Until that happens, the political class and the media conglomerates will continue to spew lies, American militarism will continue to destabilize a growing swath of the world, and the country will continue its economic decline.”  I highly recommend Sachs’ entire article.

I was on Democracy Now this morning discussing the Oslo attack and reactions to it.  It can be viewed here, beginning at roughly 33:00 (I’ll post the video of the segment once it’s available).

 

UPDATE:  The video of the Democracy Now segment I did this morning is below; a transcript will be posted later today to this page:

 

 

 

Sound and Fury: Americans Actually Lightly Taxed

from Informed Comment by Juan

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The following chart is a slightly shortened version of the one at The Globe and Mail, which demonstrates that US tax rates are among the lowest in the industrialized world.

Tax Revenue as a Percentage of GDP, 2009

world taxesWorld Taxes

There is another chart at the Globe and Mail showing how US taxes have fallen since 1965.

There is obviously no direct connection between low tax rates and a high rate of economic growth in various countries in 2011. Germany is doing well (maybe 3%), the US is doing poorly. Germany’s unemployment is 7%, lower than the US. The argument that raising taxes on the wealthy would hurt growth or employment holds no water.

Moreover, not all eras are the same. With the challenge of global climate change, we are entering an era where government investment in green energy may have a huge downstream impact on future economic growth and well-being. Germany is making that investment. The US mostly is not.

What you may be able to link low rates of taxation (and regressive taxation policy, which is what the US has) to is levels of social violence. Thus, Mexico and the United States are both extremely violent societies compared to those at the top of this list, in part because the government is starved by its stingy wealthy elites of funds to deal with violence, especially in poorer communities.

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This entry was posted in Collapse, Deficit, Health Care Reform, Medicare, Obama, Social Security, US Electoral Politics. Bookmark the permalink.

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