Saturday, November 06, 2010

Bonfire of the liberals

Many commentators are now weighing in on the big Republican wins in last Tuesday's elections. Besides taking the House of Representatives Republicans took over 18 state legislatures. Conventional media wisdom is already buying the narrative that President Obama and the Democrats moved too far to the left and abandoned independents. That narrative is palpably false. Obama has run a presidency that primarily benefits corporations and the wealthy - the same powers that have run Washington for decades. For the president, and his liberal supporters, his governance has been both a policy and political loser.

Obama has never even tried to govern from the left. Nor was he ever the "change" agent that his campaign made him out to be. As Glenn Greenwald has written, Obama's path to power, since he was young, has always been to accommodate and not threaten the institutions he belonged to. He instead is an accommodater, a compromiser, with existing power. After the 2008 election Obama immediately tacked to the corporate side, seeking bipartisanship with an opposition that not only did not want to cooperate with him but overtly sought his failure.

Glenn Greenwald and Cenk Uygur discussed "whither progressives" on the Dylan Ratigan show.

Obama's political calculation did not acknowledge that the real dividing line in America today is between the interests of the corporate and the rich and the rest of the country. While the Republicans constantly cite "freedom" as their rallying cry, the real freedom that people want is freedom from the dominance of corporations. Obama might have taken a different course - he could have played to his base, taken on the power of corporations, the plutocrats, and the military-industrial-media complex. Of course the right would still have demonized him, but how would that have been different than what they did when he tried a conciliatory stance? If Obama had operated as a true liberal he would at least have had his own base with him, and he would have been able to draw clear lines between the American people and their oppressors, perhaps avoiding the political bloodbath he has just experienced. But that's not the course he chose.

Obama's opportunity has turned into an incredible failure; he has wasted a once-in-a-generation opportunity to turn back the civilizational decline that has afflicted America since the 1980s. The litany of the Obama administration's catering to the interests of the rich and corporate is embarrassingly long. Is there any base constituency of the Democratic Party who Obama didn't stick it to? It is truly a sick joke that the right and portions of the media still call him a liberal. He is in fact a corporate Democrat who is in the process of shattering what is left of his party.

The Obama administration created its own doom, making deals with corporations that sold out the American people in a misguided attempt to nibble around the edges of the gaping holes in our society. Obama's approach to governing was a double loser: politically, his attempts at conciliation with opponents did not soften them up, but gained their further enmity and dissembling about the true nature of his governance, labeling him a socialist, communist, and worse. Meanwhile, the compromises he made, and the steps he took, strengthened the corporations that dominate our lives while providing no meaningful relief for hurting Americans. It's no wonder that marginalized demographic groups that helped elect him, such as women, gays, the elderly, the young, and racial minorities showed up in smaller numbers in 2010 than in 2008.

What, exactly, is "liberal" in expanding a pointless war in Afghanistan? Not only has Obama not reversed Bush's imperial policies, he has expanded them with new wars in Pakistan and Yemen. He has continued some of the Bush Administration's policies of torture and rendition. He has continued military tribunals that convict children of terrorism for fighting foreign invaders on their own soil.  Obama has even gone beyond the brazenness of president Bush in asserting presidential "sovereign immunity" to allow the government to illegally spy on its own citizens. He continued and expanded Bush's bailout of Wall Street, while doing virtually nothing to stand up for dispossessed home owners. Obama pushed through a politically costly stimulus program that was both too small and laden with unproductive tax cuts.

He promised to end the don't-ask-don't tell policy of discrimination against gays in the military, but then deferred to pentagon brass. When a court ruled the policy illegal, the Obama administration actually appealed the judge's ruling, recently gaining a permanent stay of the judge's order. Obama has betrayed America's teachers and their schools by boosting conservative philanthropy funded Teach for America, while shutting down public schools in favor of failed non-union charter schools supported by billionaires. When a school serving the poor and minorities in Rhode Island engaged in mass teacher firings, Obama and his sadistic education secretary Arne Duncan literally cheered. To demonstrate the absurdity of Obama's education policy, consider that Duncan toured the country with Al Sharpton and noted education expert (not!) Newt Gingrich touting it.

Perhaps the most egregious Obama failure has been health care, where the president literally lied to his own constituencies for months about his secret deals with drug manufacturers and hospital associations. Piles of political capital was wasted on rube-goldberg health care reform that promised no relief for four years, while making permanent the centrality of corporate power in the providing of health care insurance, while doing almost nothing to control costs. The spectacle of an Obama supporter selling a signed letter from him in order to pay her health care bills was a little-remarked iconic moment of the fall campaign.

If you couldn't tell Obama's true attitude towards liberals from his actions, consider the statements made by people from his administration about what they call "the professional left," people, I take, like the ones at DailyKos, Firedoglake, OpenLeft, David Sirota and the Young Turks, to name just a few. These are the people who saw Obama for what he was from the beginning, and warned the president repeatedly to follow through on his campaign's central theme of change. In return Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said in March 2010 that  "...those people ought to be drug tested" for suggesting that Obama was pursuing a similar course as George W. Bush, which he actually has done in many areas.

Earlier Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel had called liberals "fucking retarded" for planned primary campaigns against the Blue Dog Democrats who blocked liberal action. Ironically, those same Blue Dogs are the ones most hurt by the administration's corporate politics, losing 50 percent of their congressional caucus last week.

Why would an administration say such things about a group that has led a resurgence in liberal and political thought, and brought together progressives in a hopeful, positive fashion to attempt to bring real change. The Netroots -  as it's known - is a true grassroots phenomenon, sprung from the rise of the Internet in the late 1990s to the explosion of blogs in the early aughts. The Netroots was divided during the presidential primaries, but got behind Obama for the general election. If anyone deserved props from Obama it was the Netroots, but instead they were mocked - dubbed "the professional left" by Gibbs. Yes - administration officials - even the president - occasionally met with groups of these bloggers. The administration may have listened, but it didn't act. The rift has been growing.

Now with Republican sweeps in the elections the Netroots has got its ire up, thinking they were right all along, and Obama's policies which favor the rich and the corporate have been both policy and political losers. They're right. But in Obama's press conference the other day the president said his problem has been one of salesmanship and not of policy. That is delusional. The reality is that most people have seen the entrenchment of the corporations and plutocracy that oppress them, when they had been promised hope and change. Many are now extra disillusioned, feeling they were fools to once again believe in a politician, and that's a shame.

Simultaneously the predictable argument has broken out over what the president should do: tack to the "center" - which in practice always means Democrats capitulating to Republicans - or turn to his base, as George W. Bush did? The signs are pointing to capitulation, and the Netroots knows that liberal goals like tax equity, Social Security and public education are on the block.

The prospects for liberals don't look good. Obama has created a deficit reduction commission, dubbed "The Catfood Commission" by the professional left for its members professed preferences for raiding Social Security, even though the program is self-funding. They conveniently won't report their recommendations until December. Obama and the Republicans actually have a shared attitude towards public education. The only difference is Republicans want to spend less. They both want policies that weaken teachers' unions and privatize public education. There are already signs that Obama will cave in and allow the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy to be extended.

Ironically Obama's greatest asset is the crazy right, and its crazier media. By comparison the president looks positively sane and moderate, obscuring his corporatist and plutocratic policies. But he's made a terrible political mistake by forsaking his own base, and by not making an overarching argument about the kind of freedom people want: freedom from domination. Traditional media seems to have recognized that a fight is breaking out on the right between the tea party extremists and the rational right. What they haven't really noticed is that the left is heading for an even bigger fight between disillusioned liberals and their corporatist president.

If Oprah was speaking as a billionaire when she proclaimed Obama "The One" she was right, but if she was speaking as a progressive, she was tragically wrong. Unless Obama radically changes course, which seems unlikely, to say the least, liberals will have to seek real change without him.


Phoenix said...

The standard media framing is that the HCR bill was Obama kowtowing to liberals, when in fact it was written by and for industry executives: <span></span>

The plan was to lock down health-lobby backing for Democrats (and for the industry to forego its traditional backing of Republicans) for the 2010 cycle.  But of course the industry reneged on its end of the deal:

The Dems would be sitting pretty if Obama had, right from the start, passed a $2T <span>stimulus package</span> in January or February of 2009 -- which he could have done using reconciliation.

Ah, yes, reconciliation.

Remember how, as part of keeping the deal referenced above, they and their tame media contacts pretended they couldn't use it to get a public option in the HCR bill (, but when Scott Brown took Teddy's seat suddenly they admitted that reconciliation was possible?).  Still waiting for Nate Silver and others to apologize for columns like this one:

blogspotdog said...

Here's the timetable for the liberal train over the next couple of cycles:

2012 - After going "all collaborator all the time," caving on the tax cuts, and dithering on every other progressive issue in sight -- DADT, etc. -- Mitch McConnell gets his wish and Barack Obama is a one-term president. But liberals will hardly notice.

Also in 2012, the referendum on the gay marriage ban will be on the ballot in Minnesota, thanks to the loss of both houses of the legislature. (Constitutional amendments go directly to the ballot without the need for the approval of the governor.) It will pass, but probably as important, it will bring out conservatives in droves, cementing the Republican control of the legislature in Minnesota, and maybe casting the state's electoral votes for the Republican candidate for president.

2014 - Governor Mark Dayton, whose term as governor was crippled by Republican obstruction, made worse by the 2012 election, fails to gain a second term.

At some point, we can't be sure of the exact time table at the moment, the president elected in 2012 and probably 2016, gets enough nominations to the US Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade.

The blame for the scenario belongs to President Obama, as Rob lays it out: there were 29 million Obama no-shows in the election.

Alec Timmerman said...

What happens if Dayton says, a la TPaw, I will not sign a budget bill that does not have a tax increase on the wealthy? Can he force a Republican legislature to raise taxes, just as TPaw forced a Democratic one not to? Ready, and, answer!

Tom said...

So what we're saying is that John McCain would have done all the same things.  That President McCain would have rammed all of the same policies through with his Democrat majorities.  How nice to know, courtesy of the Phoenix, that the Democrats passed the healthcare bill with the sole purpose of locking down 2010 votes.  It is especially refreshing to know, that like Mr. Krugman, we should have increased the national debt even more, with no proof (other than we said it worked) that the economy would have gotten any better.

President Obama will be re-elected easily barring some major scandal as Americans are a very forgiving people and in hopes that the "Bush's fault" does have an expiration date.  No way in hell MN ever supports the Republican candidate for President.

Governor Dayton will gain or lose his 2nd term on his own, and I'm afraid that he may well give up on his own as he realizes that wanting and having are two very different things (much like the U.S. Senate).

I really wish that people would stop assuming the death of various Supreme Court members (I mean seriously, the Democrats people insisted that Roe vs. Wade would be overturned if Bush were elected, twice, and it didn't happen).

No, I don't think that Governor Dayton can force the Legislature to raise taxes on only a certain group of Minnesotans.  I also don't think that he will be able to keep his promise to raise education spending "in real dollars" every year that he is Governor. 

I do hope the Mr. Emmer will eventually ask that no recount be implemented both to save taxpayer dollars and since the end result will be the same.  There really is little to be gained outside of pointing out the various abnormalities in routine State voting.

blogspotdog said...

And it's "Democratic," Tom; get it right or spend some time in the penalty box. I'm not kidding.

blogspotdog said...

I forgot a couple of items in the now to 2012 frame. Redistricting is manifestly more difficult for the Democrats because of the shifts in a number of state legislatures. Second, Katherine Kersten lays off the Muslims for a while so she can go "all anti-gay marriage, all the time."

The latter item may prove the most odious of all.

Alec Timmerman said...

Instead we should lower the tax rate for the wealthy, which we know will increase the debt, and we also know it does not create very many jobs?

blogspotdog said...

Sigh. It's time for me to let it out a little, Tom. Don't be such a self-absorbed putz. Higher income people benefit much more from government services than the poor do.

Tax incidence studies show that middle income people pay a higher percentage of their income in total tax (sales, property and income) than the wealthy do.

You sound like the "bunch of hard done by victims" that Keith Ellison talked about: privileged people full of grievance and resentment, afraid that the wrong people will vote.

Do us all a favor; move to Florida. Don't let the door hit you on the butt.

Tom said...

In the House, for the next two years, it's Republicanic majority.  Got it.  Message recieved.

Tom said...

Where did I say that?  Lowering the tax rate for everyone else increases the debt even more and again does not create many jobs.  Keep the tax rates the same, or increase them all.  If tax cuts are a bad idea, they must be a bad idea for everyone.  Or you can be a hypocrite.  Your choice.

Alec Timmerman said...

In other words, please, please, please "stick it to me" like we've been sticking it to the rich!

Actually, I could care less about being rich. I'd just like to see a level playing field.

DiscordianStooge said...

You can't force action. If he doesn't sign a budget, the governement shuts down. That doesn't bothers conservatives.

Tom said...

I assume that you refer to State tax incidence studies.  If you add in Federal taxes, how to the percentages look?  Please cite your studies showing how the wealthy benefit more from government services (Medicare, public assistance, Social Security, health care, public education, police/fire protection, etc.).

I'm not exactly sure what a "hard done by victims" is.  Maybe Rep. Ellison could explain it to me.  I am privileged to be the son of a hard working  father and a stay-at-home-volunteering-for-the-public-good mother.  I am also privileged to be working 50 plus hours a week in a manufacturing job while my wife works in the healthcare industry.  We pay extra for wind-farm electricity to power our our T.V. that I bought in 1985 (it's not a flat screen) and most of our stereo components are older than that.  The homes to either side of us have been foreclosed upon and our property taxes have skyrocketed 52% over the last ten years.  Governor Dayton's tax increase won't even come close to touching us, nor will President Obama's healthcare tax.  We will get a tax increase in January (which we will be privileged to pay) if the 2001/2003 tax cuts are allowed to expire.

I don't think that I have any particular grievances nor do I resent anything that anyone has gotten from hard work, tragedy, luck, or any other reason. 

I really enjoy darkhouse spearing (for which I pay a premium) so moving to Florida is not particularly appealing.  I think that the State of Minnesota needs our tax dollars so I think that we'll stick around awhile. 

They can't even say putz on network T.V. so I hope that your moderator will do a better job of policing the comments.

blogspotdog said...

First, Tom, your original comment was directed to tax decisions to made in Minnesota, and proposals put forth by the man who will be governor, Mark Dayton. Not the feds.

But detouring to federal taxes for just a moment, I encourage you to put this text string in a search engine: equal marginal sacrifice principle of taxation. It is foundation for progressive taxation. A screen shot from the Encyclopedia of Taxation and Tax Policy is included below. Progressive taxation rests on equality of sacrifice. It's obvious a social and political calculation, but there it is.

Progressive taxation is also justifiable on the basis of benefits from government. People get wealthy because of the help they get from the government.

As a further aside, Medicare and Social Security have their own trust funds, and have never gotten any money from the general treasury. In fact, quite the reverse, the federal government owes the trust funds a lot of money. As somebody who paid self-employment taxes for many years, and the employer's portion of employment taxes for employees, I'll be mightily annoyed if the Catfood Commission, the Republicans, and the Obama Administration manage to screw it up.

But back to the general fund budget. The people who benefit the most from civilization are the wealthy. Law enforcement is largely the government's way of protecting private property rights. How long do you think the swells on Lake Minnetonka would last without police protection? Medal of Honor winner Smedley Butler called war a racket to protect business interests.

And you can believe me when I say that the courts are much more into protecting the interests of the big guy than the small one.

blogspotdog said...

And now, let's talk about hard work. There are lots of people who put in those kind of hours, including temp laborers who work two or three jobs and get no benefits. And, I know you won't believe this, but a lot of public school teachers do, too. I know one special education teacher quite well who works routinely ten or eleven hour days. Lawyers work eighty hours week when they're in trial.

You work hard? Good for you. But your story confers no particular nobility. There are a lot of working stiffs.

blogspotdog said...

Tom got a little huffy for me calling him on his "Democrat Party" reference. But the Republicans started doing it as an insult. When Aunt Millicent prefers to be called that, you don't call her Millie. I gave Tom a little taste of name calling, and he didn't like it. See?

James K said...

I can name a couple dozen teachers when I was in high school who were there long before school started and were still there long after school ended for the day.  I know of teachers who paid for school supplies out of their own pocket. 

Yes there are bad teachers and they should be dealt with...but to demonize the entirety of the teaching profession because of a few bad apples is as stupid as demonizing BIll Gates for the actions of the Koch brothers. 

James K said...

Oh and if any conservative here wants to whine about "obama's expansion of the government" I suggest they keep this fact in mind.  Using health care reform as an example.

If the health care industry...especially the health insurance companies had done a better job of providing health care in this country there would have been no need for health care reform.  So don't go blaming the left for health care was your own party's failure to fix the problems, it was the private sector's fault that health care reform became necessary.

Your side loves to preach about responsibility.  So...accept responsibility for the situation that came about because of your sides negligence. 

Tom said...

I offer a glimpse of my personal story only because I thought it demonstrated that I (unlike your comment) might not be as priveleged as you think me to be.  I know that there are a lot of working stiffs, I work right beside them every day.  I have relatives that are teachers and they work long hours too.  Maybe they aren't privileged either.  Most (if not all) work with stiffs who shouldn't be teachers but that has nothing to do with me being a "hard done by victims" as you said.

"Progressive taxation is also justifiable on the basis of benefits from government. People get wealthy because of the help they get from the government."  
I don't believe that I said that I was against progressive taxation, just that when you add in the federal tax burden, the rich aren't skating as much as you say.  And seriously, you don't really believe that the rich got that way BECAUSE of the help they get from government, do you?

blogspotdog said...

An incredulous Tom asks:

<span>And seriously, you don't really believe that the rich got that way BECAUSE of the help they get from government, do you?</span>

Why yes, Tom, I mean exactly that.

In a pure hunter gatherer society, there are no wealthy people. You need a civilization to create wealthy people. As Oliver Wendell Holmes said, taxes buy civilization.

Have you ever stopped to consider, Tom, why there are so many more millionaires per capita in the United States than, say, Papua New Guinea? It has a pretty open free enterprise system, after all. I think you pretty much get to eat what you kill there.

Let's take a guy or gal who wants to make some money. Take away the ability to form a corporation or other limited liability company, obtain capital from banks or the stock market, employ educated workers, purchase energy and raw materials shipped over roads or waterways, or through the air, sell finished goods using these same intrumentalities, and enforce contracts to get paid, and what do you have?

You have a hunter gatherer. Each one of the things I mentioned above requires government agencies and intervention.

Warren Buffet would laugh at you, Tom.

Tom is Exhibit A in describing the pikers and scrubs that the Republican party has become.

Tom said...

<span>"In the House, for the next two years, it's Republicanic majority.  Got it.  Message recieved.</span>"

I agreed to abide your rules.  I'm not sure how this is "huffy" but I can't dispute your opinion.  Was "putz" the name calling?

A liberal is often referred to as a Democrat.  A conservative is often referred to as a Republican.  The party that a Republican belongs to is the Republican Party.  Note the difference (or lack thereof) remains Republican.  The party a Democrat belongs to then logically (or consistently) would be the Democrat party.  For some reason, someone, somewhere, must have incorrectly called the group of Democrats the Democratic party.  The name stuck I guess.   But if y'all want to be George Bush and say new-cul-er it's your party.  If I refer to the Republicanic party in the future you'll know why.

libhomo said...

Does Minnesota have ballot initiatives?

blogspotdog said...

Nope, only referenda for constitutional amendments. Referenda must be proposed by the Legislature, and then placed on the ballot for approval by the voters. Minnesota has no California-style initiatives.

blogspotdog said...

The myth of American exceptonalism and the myth of the self-made man (or woman) are often paired in the same pathology. I didn't say that industriousness and talent had no role in getting ahead; obviously it does.  Warren Buffet and Bill Gates would undoubtedly have at least a couple of huts apiece if they lived in Papua New Guinea, but they surely wouldn't have been able to amass the wealth they did.

And to phrase Robert Young (Marcus Welby), you may not be a Republican, Tom, but you play one on the blogs.

blogspotdog said...

Tom left a response to this comment that was posted three times. I tried to remove two duplicates, but Echo deleted the third one, too. I suspect that the same error in the Echo code that caused the comment to be posted three times caused the multiple deletions. It's a shame too, because I had posted a clever response to Tom that also got deleted.

Tom is invited to repeat his comment.

Tom said...

Does the author (Mr. Levine), like the Speaker-to-be, also want President Obama to be a one-term president given all of his legitimate points?

Lots of people laugh at me, why should Mr. Buffet be any different?

I am not a member of the Republicanic Party so you'll need an Exhibit B.

You are correct that the reason we have so many million and billionaires is because we have the world's largest government.  If we continue to keep growing government we will continue to create more of both of them.

Oh, and I wondered why the rest of us (the non-rich) weren't rich since we enjoy all the same government benefits that you laid out.  I suggest that whatever the difference is might be the reason that they are rich , rather than your claim that the government made them so.

That might be about what I wrote.  I hope that I remembered the part that enables your clever response.  I also hope to hear an answer from Mr. Levine as the 2012 Presidential election begins in about a month although the President is already in campaign mode.

blogspotdog said...

Thanks for your patience, Tom.

The myth of American exceptionalism is usually paired with the myth of the rugged self-made guy or gal in the same pathology. Ever since some religious nut on the Mayflower wrote about a "shining city on a hill," we've been living with these delusions. There is a lot of skill and pluck around here, all right, but there is also dumb luck. Geography and natural resources fall into the dumb luck category.

Tom, you may not be a Republican, but to paraphrase, Robert Young (Marcus Welby), you play one on the internet.

Rob Levine said...

<span>//Does the author (Mr. Levine), like the Speaker-to-be, also want President Obama to be a one-term president given all of his legitimate points?  

It depends on what the choices are in 2012.

Tom said...

Thanks for your reply.