Monday, August 01, 2011

The President May Have Surrendered, But We Don't Have To

There aren't many options left to progressives after this craven pact with the devil was struck by the President with Republican extortionists. Ironically, President Obama may have been adept and committed at hunting down and killing Osama Bin Laden, but when it came to dealing — metaphorically, let me be clear — with factional political terrorists in a political entity representing the narrow slice of America's ruling class, Wall Street, the corporations, and right wing extremists, literally fewer than 30 percent of the voting population, the President caved like a bottomless sinkhole.

Why he's done it is a question for "psychosocial" historians, to coin a term from a Tea Party sympathizer. We've all got our own ideas, but it's really irrelevant, when the evidence is in the deeds more than the words. The President laid Social Security bare when it was not implicated in this despicable travesty, this manufactured crisis. He negotiated with Republican leaders behind closed doors and away from the cleansing sunshine of transparency. He betrayed our trust on Medicare, too, by accepting the Coburn-Lieberman proposal to raise the eligibility age from 65 to 67. And the so-called "modest adjustments" to the cost of living calculation in Social Security will result in thousands of fewer dollars in the pockets of beneficiaries who rely primarily on fixed incomes and benefits from Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid to live.

The President's sang froid, so ably demonstrated in the killing of Osama and when he plays military commander-in-chief which he clearly loves, carries over to his constituents. Intellectually he may feel it, but "no drama Obama" seems incapable of demonstrating compassion, empathy, or outrage as Paul Krugman noted, when the situation clearly demands it. He reminds me of a highly skilled heart or brain surgeon who cannot afford to become emotionally attached to any of his patients.

The President failed to push back against the relentless assault of extremist Republicans bent on destroying every vestige of the New Deal and the labor unions, which created the foundation for our prosperous middle class, every vestige of government itself. Today, incredibly, he is collaborating in the downsizing of government, ultimately to "drown it in the tub." President Obama failed, at every turn, to present the Democratic narrative rich in American history and culture and decency as an alternative to this monstrous Republican vision of plutocratic, autocratic, undemocratic, unconstitutional, anti-government rule. (Why the hell is Harry Reid so enthused about a "Super Congress" which will render the larger body a rubber stamp status of the kind which defined banana republics?)

One explanation for the President's passivity, for his reluctance to fight for the high values and ideals which have distinguished the Democratic Party, and which coincided with our nation's prosperity in the 20th century, is that President Obama does not believe in them. Another is his calculation that this is what he needs to do in order to win reelection in 2012. He is wrong. But to accept the alternative that past is future, that great public works projects of FDR scope and targeted jobs jobs jobs programs to fix our crumbling infrastructure and reinvigorate our manufacturing base, means to take risks and engage the opposition in open political warfare. FDR and Truman relished it.

This President abhors it. He wants to be liked by all, especially his worst detractors, not realizing that as Albert Fried who wrote FDR And His Enemies said, "the legacy of a public figure is largely defined by the quality and number of his enemies." Even more distressing, President Obama has rejected Keynesian economics in favor of doubling down on the failed policies of the past 30 years. That is President Obama's biggest sin. He bought into the ideology of Reaganomics, of 30 years of declining wages, jobs, of a decimated manufacturing base, brought on by a "trickle-down" farce written on a napkin.

President Obama's posture toward his political opponents is less that of the most powerful leader in the world, and more akin to a community organizer seeking creative ways to extract a few concessions from powerful interests who held (in his mind) the strongest hand. The President has constantly pushed back against critics in his own party by stressing the limits of his power, seldom contemplating the use of the "bully pulpit" to, in effect, bully his opponents into submitting to his will. It's all about a one-way street named "Conciliation And Compromise" — and his opponents know and exploit it. Republicans "should be dancing in the streets," said the Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, who called the deal a "Satan sandwich" because as one exuberant GOPer spiked, Boehner got a lot more out of this deal than he could have possibly hoped for only a few weeks ago.

Robert Kuttner dissects the President's capitulation to a small extremist faction and its consequences:
The United States is now reminiscent of countries that at various periods of their history have been either been paralyzed by minority extremist groups; or worse, have elected them to office.

The rise of the Tea Party right is a classic case of how a small, extremist faction seizes control when the political mainstream fails to solve deep national problems. It is an amalgam of a far-right that has always hovered around one-fifth of the electorate, swollen by the frustrations of previously apolitical people.

In much of Europe today, far-right populist parties now typically get 20 or 25 percent of the vote. With Europe's parliamentary and multiparty system, however, they don't get to govern, but in several countries they are now the second of third most popular party.

These parties represent about the same share of public opinion as the Tea Party in the U.S. But in America, with our two-party system and our constitutional machinery of blockage, if a determined minority gains control of one party it can bring responsible government to a halt. That is what has now occurred, and it will color our politics between now and the 2012 election, and quite possibly beyond.

As political scientist Andrew Hacker points out in an important piece in the current New York Review of Books, current House Republicans received a total of 30,799,391 votes in the 2010 midterm election. Barack Obama received more than twice that many, 69,498,215, in the 2008 presidential.

The falloff between 2008 and 2010 was only slightly worse than usual. However in 2010, the people who turned out most intensely were Obama's right-wing opposition. Many of the young and working class voters who came out to cast ballots for Obama in 2008 didn't see any reason to vote in the 2010 mid-term. So Republicans are behaving as if they have a radical mandate that far outstrips the actual support for their tactics and policies -- and Obama is failing to contest them.

How do you invite the radical right to take power? Start with thirty years of stagnant, declining living standards for most people. Then add a financial crisis made on Wall Street. Next, elect a Democratic president who raises hopes, but who turns out to be a close ally of the same forces that caused the collapse. Give that president a temperament that refuses to blame the right, and is mainly about seeking accommodation. The right then gets to put Washington and Wall Street in the same bucket, and blame the Democrats.

So you end up with a weak center unable to deliver recovery or reform, an angry, passionate right, and an enfeebled left reluctant to challenge their president until it is too late.

It is a fearsome time in the history of our Republic. And the politics of extortion by the Tea Party Republicans will not end with this deal. On the contrary, the deal will encourage more of the same.

Meanwhile, the execrable Beltway media, a gaggle of sycophantic pack animals, thoroughly sussed by Paul Krugman, began beating the drum of so-called "moderate" compromise between the Tea Party and, as Jonathan Alter put it, the "left part of the Democratic Party" who will be "marginalized" by this deal. A perfect illustration of the surreal nature of the media coverage and the casual, almost elegant tidbit of misinformation which happens, literally, hundreds of times on any given "news" day, here is NBC's David Gregory from his rarefied perch as host of Meet The Press: "There are going to be Medicare cuts and Social Security cuts —  what are you going to do about the big drivers of the debt?"

When did Social Security, which remains solvent in its current trajectory for the next 26 years, suddenly become a "big driver of the debt"? A: When the Republicans and David Gregory made it so. The Progressive Change Campaign Committee which has escaped the Washington Beltway black hole, and thus speaks truth to power, issued a blunt statement: "Seeing a Democratic president take taxing the rich off the table and instead push a deal that will lead to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefit cuts is like entering a bizarre parallel universe — one with horrific consequences for middle-class families." Indeed, as I said, President Obama risks defining his legacy as the first Democratic president to sink a dagger into the heart of the New Deal. But I think he's okay with that.

Jonathan Alter who, together with Chris Matthews and leading MSNBC fantasist Lawrence O'Donnell, is a total Obama apologist, managed to retain remnants of his journalistic integrity as he tried in vain to provide context to what was unfolding as a horrifying lurch to the right by President Obama delivering Democrats into the grips of right wing terroristic political extortionists.

 When Alter tried to point out that this so-called "crisis" was entirely manufactured by the right wing in the House, which dominates Republican politics, Chuck Todd became most animated about identifying a phantom faction of some 40 or so "moderates" in the Republican caucus. Like the lost 9th Legion of the Roman Empire, that wandered in among the savages beyond the "known world" never to be heard from again. Among his Idiot Punditocracy colleagues, Chuckie obsesses the most with redefining the "center" of American politics to fit his own comfort zone. He's not too comfortable around liberals and progressives. He speaks well of so-called "institutionalists" who will save the day and the pocketbooks of "moderates" like himself.

Presumably, "institutionalists" like Darrell Issa, who is using his chairmanship of Government Oversight to lead a witch hunt against President Obama; or John Mica, Chairman of the Transportation Committee, who refuses to fund the Federal Aviation Administration — because he doesn't like unions — throwing thousands out of work and endangering the traveling public in the process. These are Chuck Todd's "institutionalists." Tell us, Chuck: How many of your lost "moderate" Republican legionnaires voted to defund NPR, terminate women's health services and Planned Parenthood, slash nutrition programs for children, deep-six jobs programs, and kill Medicare in the Ryan "budget" which would add trillions to our debt?

Crooks And Liars mocks Chuckie and his Idiot Punditocracy "Villager" pals "bemoaning the loss of all "those great 'compromisers'" in the House. I was almost expecting Chuckie to recall Chris Matthews' "40-yard line" metaphor — which is closer to the 10-yard line on the far right end of the field after consecutive penalties rolled everyone back to the "dark side." Good on Nancy Pelosi for having the integrity to tell it like it is, even as the President was twisting her arm and bending her to his will. Paul Krugman has been the most eloquent voice in the wilderness, sounding the alarm:
Make no mistake about it, what we’re witnessing here is a catastrophe on multiple levels.

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 they can now act with the confident expectation that he will.

In the long run, however, Democrats won’t be the only losers. What 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.
These are dark days for our nation. A phony "crisis" may have been averted, but in the process we have lost our soul.

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