Friday, December 06, 2013

Is Obama making a progressive policy turn? "We'll see"

President Obama is the head of the Democratic Party and won election in 2008 and re-election in 2012 running on progressive campaign themes, though less so in 2012 than 2008.

So he should stop preaching the neoliberal gospel of austerity and cutting benefits and Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid (the "Grand Bargain") in order to appease the angry gods of the Herbert Hoover/Heinrich Brüning/Angela Merkel faith and from here on out act and sound like a real progressive.

So if that's what he's really doing this week and going forward, hurrah!!!

The White House has decided to start putting on an affirmative defense for the ACA, at least for the moment. This is a good speech in which he does just that, President Obama Speaks on the Affordable Care Act 12/03/2013:

The text is here.

This piece by Garance Franke-Ruta reads a bit like stenography but it explains what is presumably the White House's preferred version of this: Obama Goes on Offense on Healthcare The Atlantic 12/03/2013.

PBS Newshour has a this-side-says-the-other-side-says discussion on it, of course without the moderator making any comment on the factual accuracy of the claims, Obama's health care offensive's effect on midterm elections 12/03/2013:

Transcript here.

The problem is that with the Obama Administration, when they come out swinging on something the Democratic base actually likes, you have to simultaneously worry that it isn't a prelude to again offering up benefit cuts on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in the coming-very-soon next round of fights on the sequester and the debt ceiling.

We've been before several times over the last five years of the Obama Presidency.

One of the most dramatic examples came with the Roberts Court's 2010 decision in Citizens United, whose results the President characterized this way: "I can't think of anything more devastating to the public interest."

That was a remarkable statement from a President of the United States. And while he made at least a half-hearted attempt to get Congress to remedy the situation legislatively, we haven't heard much from the President in the nearly four years since that statement about the decision that he characterized in such a memorable way.

And there was Obama's Second Inaugural Address 11 months ago. That was also an inspiring speech with a strong progressive tone. Afterwards, he proceeded to spend months trying to get Republicans to agree to the Grand Bargain to cut benefits on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Obama has had a five-year pattern of making pretty rhetorical speeches to please the Democratic base on occasion. But the subsequent actions on his part typically fall short. It's as though he assumes that his base should be and will be happy with the occasional Democratic-sounding speech, while he governs on the basis of the national security state, including the extreme NSA spying, and austerity economics, including proposing repeatedly to cut benefits on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

He made the base happy again this week with a notable speech on the real problem of economic inequality in America, President Obama Speaks on Economic Mobility 12/04/2013:

Several of my favorite progressive commentators responded with some level of enthusiasm to that speech. Paul Krugman, Obama Gets Real New York Times 12/05/013:

And there was this: "When it comes to our budget, we should not be stuck in a stale debate from two years ago or three years ago. A relentlessly growing deficit of opportunity is a bigger threat to our future than our rapidly shrinking fiscal deficit." Finally! Our political class has spent years obsessed with a fake problem — worrying about debt and deficits that never posed any threat to the nation’s future — while showing no interest in unemployment and stagnating wages. Mr. Obama, I'm sorry to say, bought into that diversion. Now, however, he’s moving on.
Charlie Pierce, Obama (Finally) Makes An Important Speech on Inequality Esquire Politics Blog 12/05/2013:

This was an important speech and the way you know it was an important speech is by how thoroughly it was ignored, and by what distances its basic point was missed, by the members of our courtier press, and by the wise elders of what has become known as The Village. It was received as just another tactical bit of rhetoric from the White House, one speech among many and not anywhere near as important to the events of the day as the fact that Paul Ryan and Patty Murray failed to come to a "deal" on the economy, and deal that, even in the rosiest scenario possible, will do absolutely nothing to correct the serious crisis that the president tried to address. ...

We did not talk seriously about class in our politics for a very long time. Perhaps the most lasting effect of the McCarthy-McCarran redbaiting of the 1950's was that it took class-based rhetoric -- and most of the people who engaged in it -- off the board at the same time that the economy was booming generally in the years after World War II. To talk about class division in this country became the very definition of being un-American. We still are not comfortable talking about it, but the effects of a deepening class divide are becoming too obvious to ignore. We have the most oligarchically inclined (and the most corporate-friendly) Supreme Court since the 1880's, and it has been handing down decisions -- Citizens United, Shelby County -- all of which have the effect to choking off solutions to the crisis that might be found through the vehicle of elections. In a time of recession, and of unsupportable unemployment, we are arguing about how much to cut the food-stamp program, and yapping forever about The Deficit at a time when interest rates are subterranean and the infrastructure on which most of the country depends is falling apart. The notion that the country is rigged for the rich is a perfect anesthetic by which to deaden the enthusiasm for a class-based politics -- the courtier media is, of course, hopeless in this regard -- and that is a deliberately calculated result, too.
Joan Walsh comes closer to my own cautious attitude at this point (Bye-bye, fake liberals: The Warren Democrats are winning! Salon 12/05/2013):

Which brings me to the president’s speech. He gave a similar one in the wake of the Occupy uprising, in Osawatomie, Kan., two years ago this Friday, and yet it’s been hard to translate his rhetoric into change. I find it hard these days to get excited about speeches, and yet, given the Republican extremism that’s led to gridlock, that bully pulpit is one of Obama’s most effective tools, and he doesn’t always use it to advantage. He did on Wednesday.

Obama called the “growing deficit of opportunity” a greater threat than the "rapidly shrinking" fiscal deficit. That’s important as Democrats face down Republicans in budget talks. And more vividly than before, he showed how the country’s post-World War II investments in building a middle class created a wider prosperity, while our current 40-year experiment with austerity and tax cuts has cut the heart out of the American dream.

Republicans and Fox News are already attacking the president’s speech as “class warfare,” and that’s fine. We’ve been living through class war for the last few decades, but only one side bothered to fight. For a time they enlisted a lot of Democrats, including Obama. Most people — not only progressives, even some Tea Partyers who aren’t driven by racism — know that Obama’s administration bailed out banks, but not their victims. Yet pampered CEO crybabies responded to the president’s mild chiding over their obscene bonuses and renewed profiteering by comparing him to Hitler and funneling their cash to Mitt Romney.

Now, with income inequality continuing to worsen on Obama’s watch, he has to pick a different side in the class war if he cares about his legacy. I hope that's what the speech Wednesday was about. I trust that an energized progressive movement, and its congressional allies, can hold him to it. We'll see. [my emphasis]
"We'll see" is a good perspective on this.

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