Friday, January 27, 2012

More on Obama and the SOTU

I don't think either Newt or Willard Romney is Obama's toughest opponent in the 2012 election. It's Angie.

If German Chancellor Angela Merkel keeps successfully pushing through her austerity policies onto other eurozone lands, it's going to make the European recession worse and very possibly set off a new round of financial crises. Those developments could worsen economic conditions in the US, something Obama and the Democrats don't need politically.

This is all the more reason for them to position themselves as advocates for the 99% and as rock-solid defenders of Social Security and Medicare.

Obama's actions have all too often fallen far short of his progressive rhetoric. But it's also true that, after four years and counting of the current economic depression, the national political narrative has clearly shifted in a more progressive direction, focusing on the very real problems of maldistribution of wealth and the serious economic problems affecting millions. Obama's State of the Union (SOTU) address this week certainly reflected that.

As Katrina vanden Heuvel observes in The Occupy Effect The Nation 01/26/2012:

A few short months ago, the corporate media and inside-the-Beltway chatter was all debt and deficits, all the time.

Occupy changed that. It reset the media narrative so it’s more aligned with the true crises of our times—income inequality, downward mobility and economic fairness. It’s also renewed attention to corporate accountability and the corrosive role of corporate money in politics.
We can also question why we're three years into this Administration and still don't have major prosecutions of financial criminals over the actions that brought on the financial crash of 2008. But the fact that a poor settlement that the Justice Department was ready to close with major banks over mortgage issues has been delayed is in itself important. I'm willing to have some hope that the new financial crimes unit will do some real good. Digby writes about Eric Schneidermann and the task force (Ring fencing Hallabaloo 01/26/2012):

The politics suggest to me that while the administration may indeed be trying to "ring-fence" Schneidermann [into being more open to a permissive settlement for the banks], the real purpose is the glaringly obvious: to cover for their failure to settle this. (Isn't the truism in DC that when you can't get something done, form a commission?)The power in that scenario lies exactly where it did before the task force was announced --- with the state AGs, who as far as I can tell are more empowered not less. ... I'm willing to suspend judgment for a while to see if that means Schneidermann is actually a corrupt chameleon who's taken progressives for a wild ride through his entire career in order to sell himself to the highest bidder or whether he believes he can affect this from his perch on the task force.

I don't see this as a sky is falling sort of thing just yet. There are very good reasons to be skeptical and you'd have to be a fool to buy into the premise at face value. But there are worse things than temporarily tabling a bad deal. And there actually are politicians in the world whose self-serving ambitions are dependent upon being perceived as crusaders rather than players. Everything I know of Schneiderman suggests that the former is the path he's chosen.

I guess, for me, it comes down to this: I don't think the administration is nearly as slick as people think and I don't believe that in an election year like this one they will go out of their way to make enemies of their political allies. Everything suggests that they are trying to make at least a rhetorical pivot to a populist(ish) campaign to face the out-of-touch fop, Mitt Romney. It is what it appears to be: plastering lipstick on this pig of a negotiation and pretending they have a path to a cheap settlement in order to keep both the banks and the people on the hook through the election. They are not working with a strong hand.
And she's very right in saying that progressives don't have to back a third party to make a real, constructive impact in this situation: "Even if activists eventually vote for the president, they can cause huge headaches for the campaign in an election year, particularly in individual states. This is when they have maximum leverage and they should use it."

Then there's the military part of his speech, which contained both the strengths and the problems of his foreign policy. Threatening war against Iran is not a good thing.

But he also put on display the problems of the idolatry toward the military that has become a chronic condition of American politics. Our soldiers deserve praise for serving and for doing their jobs well. But all our soldiers and generals are subject to the law and to the critical judgment of the citizenry and their elected representatives.

Charlie Pierce wrote, "Some of the president's base is not going to be happy with a lot of the speech; I'm not overjoyed with the saber-rattling over Iran, or the notion that the American political system is basically supposed to be Seal Team 6." (The State of the Union and a Would-Be 99% Nominee Esquire Politics Blog 01/25/2012) The passage to which he referred was toward the end, where Obama held up the Seals mission that killed Osama bin Laden as some kind of general model for conduct in America: "All that mattered that day was the mission. No one thought about politics. No one thought about themselves."

Obama was probably hoping for not just a feel-good vibe but also making another pitch in his endless and hopeless case to appeal to Republicans and conservatives who hate his guts, even when they actually agree with much of his foreign and military policy, including especially the most dubious parts like targeted assassinations.

Laura Flanders (Not A Peep About President's Praise for War 01/26/2012) points to another complication of holding up soldiers and the military as a general model of good citizenship in civilian society:

Speaking of the troops, President Obama began: "At a time when too many of our institutions have let us down, they exceed all expectations."

Post-show pundits on cable news praised the president's comfort with his commander-in-chief role but none saw fit to mention recent news -- of marines urinating on Afghan corpses, say, or Staff Sgt Wuterich walking free after participating in the killing of 24 unarmed men, women and children in Haditha, Iraq. Accompanying Obama's next phrase, "Imagine what we could accomplish if we followed their example," no one thus far has played vile viral video. The critics have been kind.
And even if there hadn't been so many reports of these kinds of crimes, the whole notion that politics or Congress or the country in general should operate like a small military combat team acting under orders and executing a very specific mission.

This is Obama's "post-partisan" side talking. And his metaphor illustrates how unrealistic that perspective is. We have political differences because people have different interests and different points of view. Some of the worst decisions in American history, like the passage of the USA PATRIOT Act, suffered because of too little debate and discussion and disagreement, not from too much.

It's a very inappropriate metaphor for the proper function of democracy.

Finally, Robert Scheer has a good column on the neoliberal assumptions showing in Obama's SOTU, Obama’s Faux Populism Sounds Like Bill Clinton TruthDig 01/26/2012. I plan to comment on it more in a later post.

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