Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Postpartisanship: for Obama, the dream never dies

David Bromwich catches President Obama once again promoting his on-its-face delusional dream of postpartisanship, in which the Republican Party becomes cooperative and agreeable during Obama's second term: The Strange Bipartisanship of 2009, 2011, and 2013 Huffington Post 06/05/2012.

Before I get too far into this, I should emphasize that in many aspects of foreign policy, Obama and the Republicans are in bipartisan harmony. Green Greenwald may overstate the similarities a bit. But his basic point on that is correct, which he lays out in Obama the Warrior Salon 05/29/2012. Obama has continued and extended some of the very worst aspects of the Cheney-Bush foreign and military policies, and the Republicans have supported him in doing so. As Glenn puts it (emphasis his), "Romney has had a hard time identifying Obama’s foreign-policy vulnerabilities because there’s just not that much difference between the two." Tom Engelhardt addresses the same point in Praying at the Church of St. Drone: The President and His Apostles TomDispatch 06/05/2012.

This is important to evaluating Bromwich's analyses of Obama's postpartisan obsession, because his commentaries I've seen tend to ignore it. Bromwich leans heavily toward treating Obama's postpartisanship desire as a character flaw, and he's there's good reason to believe that is the case.

But if Obama is so desperate for bipartisan acceptance on an emotional level, why doesn't he get any particular evident satisfaction from the bipartanship he does get from the Republicans on foreign and military affairs? Why doesn't he hold that up in his speeches as a success of postpartisanship?

What I'm getting at is that there is also some significant amount of political calculation in Obama's insistence on bipartisanship and its alleged value. It's certainly true that on domestic policy, the Republicans have been taking a position of fundamental opposition, obstructionist and destructive. But Obama also supports a Grand Bargain that would seriously cut Social Security and Medicare benefits in exchange for nothing more than bare tokens in concessions from the Republicans. This isn't speculation. He actually did propose that in 2011 and the Republicans turned him down.

But facing a reelection campaign with a weak economy in danger of taking a body blow from European economic problems, he's still trotting out bipartisanship and the Grand Bargain as though anyone but investment bankers and rightwing billionaires support the latter and David Brooks and equally muddled Pod Pundits pine for postpartisanship. (Okay, I almost never do alliteration, but that time I couldn't resist.)

The speech to which Bromwich refers is officially called Remarks by the President at a Campaign Event -- Bachelor Farmer Restaurant, Minneapolis, MN 06/01/2012.

And so a lot of the tussles that we’ve had over the last three and a half years have had to do with this difference in vision, and it will be coming to a head in this election. We’re going to have as stark a contrast as we’ve seen in a very long time between the candidates. I mean, 2008 was a significant election, obviously. But John McCain believed in climate change. (Laughter.) John believed in campaign finance reform. He believed in immigration reform. I mean, there were some areas where you saw some overlap.
Yes, he's talking about McCain like a pundit with a man-crush, pretending that McCain is a Bold Maverick instead of being what he always has been, a nasty old rightwing militarist.

Here's the Grand Bargain, carefully restricted here to "only" Medicare and Medicaid:

In this election, the Republican Party has moved in a fundamentally different direction. The center of gravity for their party has shifted. And so things that we used to be able to take for granted, that’s been more difficult to take for granted over the last three and a half years.

And let’s just take one example: deficit reduction. We have a significant long-term debt that has to be dealt with. Now, our top priority should be putting people to work right now, because if our economy is growing faster, that actually will help reduce the deficit. But there’s no doubt that it’s unsustainable for us to keep on having health care costs in Medicare and Medicaid go up 6, 8, 10 percent, when the overall inflation rate and growth rate are coming in lower. That’s a recipe for long-term disaster.

So what we’ve said is, look, let’s cut out waste; let’s streamline programs; let’s reorganize government where we can. Let’s end the war in Iraq; let’s wind down the war in Afghanistan. Let’s use some of those savings for deficit reduction. Let’s tackle Medicare and Medicaid in an intelligent way that preserves this critical social safety net but also achieves significant savings. And let’s ask those of us who've been most fortunate just to pay a little bit more. And if we put that package together we can achieve $4 trillion of savings and we can pay right now to rebuild our roads and our bridges, and rehire some teachers, and grow the economy right now. We can package that together to make progress. [my emphasis]
Obama would be well advised to just shut up about the deficit. Nobody cares about it, least of all Republicans.

And, yes, this is a Democratic President, elected in what seemed like a minor miracle in 2008 as the first African-American President on a wave of progressive rejection of the Bush Administration, its disastrous economic policies, its anti-government negligence on things like the Katrina disaster, and its two endless wars. And the massive criminality and corruption that went along with all those things. And Obama took office in a severe recession, with the financial system tottering on collapse, with clear signs this could turn into a Japan-style depression. With the possible exceptions of Franklin Roosevelt in 1932 and Lyndon Johnson in 1964,
no American President in the last century has taken office in a better position to press for sweeping domestic reforms.

Yes, the Koch-icized, Bircher-ized and Birther-ized Republican Party would have blocked a lot of it. But Obama largely squandered the chances he did have by his cautious pursuit and failed of bipartisanship on domestic issues. The man is fundamentally conservative. And if "conservative" in the American political vocabulary meant something other than poo-flinging nihilism in domestic policy, it would be common for people to refer to Obama as a conservative Democrat.

For him to be saying things like this is a tough reelection campaign is just sad:

Now, I believe that if we're successful in this election -- when we’re successful in this election -- that the fever may break, because there's a tradition in the Republican Party of more common sense than that. My hope and my expectation is that after the election, now that it turns out the goal of beating Obama doesn’t make much sense because I’m not running again -- (laughter) -- that we can start getting some cooperation again, and we’re not going to have people raising their hands and saying -- or refusing to accept a deal where there’s $10 of cuts for every dollar of tax increases, but that people will accept a balanced plan for deficit reduction. [my emphasis]
I guess that would be nice if anyone actually cared about reducing the deficit right now. Okay, maybe Obama and possible David Brooks actually do. (Though I doubt it.) But none of the Democrats should be worrying about it 2012, least of all the guy at the head of the ticket.

Bromwich has an excellent question about Obama remarkable speculation there:

One sometimes gets a sense of unreality emanating from the White House that is almost a match for the Republicans. Granted the president and his advisers are less savage, less anarchic, and, from the point of view of the public good, less dangerous than the Tea Party which now holds the Republican Party captive. Then again, who is more untethered, the man who stomps around his back yard every night at midnight for 133 weeks, wearing sunglasses and reading the prose of Atlas Shrugged through a megaphone -- or the neighbor who looks on the scene benignly and concludes: "He really seems eminently reasonable underneath. I am sure he'll change and let us sleep next year, now that our kids are school age."
But the bad part is, whether Obama wins or loses, there is a real possibility that in the post-election lame-duck period, he will get Congress to go along with what he offered last year: significant cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid that will put the programs on the track to complete phase-out. If Obama wins, the Democratic base and every voter who wants to keep those programs intact had better turn intense attention to fighting for them just as soon as the polls close on Election Day.

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