07 January 2011

Portrait of a Failed Politician?

“If you widen the lens, the public is being sold a big lie — that our problems owe to unions and the size of government and not to fraud and deregulation and vast concentration of wealth. Obama’s failure is that he won’t challenge this Republican narrative, and give people a story that helps them connect the dots and understand where we’re going.”~ Robert Reich
Just so. Obama has lost the political battle. Indeed, he never actually engaged it. Rather than challenge the right wing account of political and economic world, he capitulated to it. The result is more or less total failure. And other "liberals" - like Andrew Cuomo, for instance - are following in his footsteps. But that does not mean Obama failed; he is doing precisely what he aims to do. The result is - not "will be," but "is" - a disaster for working class and poor Americans.

So, where might Obama (and his mini-me Andrew Cuomo) start if they wanted to tell a different tale instead of simply embracing the right wing view? It is not all that difficult! Consider a passage from this essay in The Guardian:
"No one is denying that this is a time for belt-tightening. Or that some unions have problems. Or that some union contracts look over-generous in austerity America. But the fundamental truth remains: powerful and reckless unions did not cause the Great Recession by rampant speculation. Nor did an out-of-control labour movement cause or burst the housing bubble. It was not union bosses who packaged up complex derivatives to sell in their millions and thus wrecked the economy and put millions out of work. Nor was it union bosses who awarded (and continue to award) themselves salaries worth hundreds of millions of dollars for doing nothing of social value. Neither was it the union movement that was bailed out by the taxpayer and then refused to change its habits.

All that was the work of the finance industry.

Yet, as America continues to search for solutions to its economic problems, it is the labour movement, and not the banking sector, that is getting it in the neck. This is despite the fact that many unions, especially in such cases as the bailout of Detroit's automakers, have proved themselves highly flexible in sacrificing wages and long-held workers' rights in order to preserve jobs. Meanwhile, the finance industry, where true and meaningful reform has failed to happen, still squeals as if President Obama were a raving socialist."
In other words, accurately identifying culprits is a reasonable place to start. And the anti-union story about the sources of our economic disaster simply holds no water.

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Blogger Colin Penter said...

Thanks Jim

Great piece. I will put an intro to your piece and a link to it on my blog. Thanks for all your hard work and thinking. Always something to savour.

Colin Penter

08 January, 2011 06:29  
Blogger Joe Zammit-Lucia said...

Happy New Year.

Maybe trying to find some balanced analysis is an even better place to start than identifying culprits simply based on one's own political biases (whichever way those biases lie). That the financial services industry was reckless, greedy and insufficiently regulated is (probably) beyond debate - or as far beyond debate as anything ever can be. That it does 'nothing of social value' is, at the very least, somewhat more debatable. That the industry sold easy credit is true. That almost every working man and woman (including union bosses and unionized workers) gobbled up that easy credit to live beyond their means and in the pursuit of the 'get rich quick and for nothing' delusion is also true.

Maybe it's time to get past the simplistic 'blue=good; red=bad' (or vice versa) stereotypes, shallow - and, frankly, tedious arguments and the arrogant belief that only the few enlightened geniuses on either side of the political spectrum (eg Robert Reich) are the ones who really 'understand what's going on'.

And why has the President adapted his approach? Because he's a wuss? Or an idiot? Or because he has realized that certain positions make him and his party unelectable - and that an unelectable politician is a pretty useless one.

08 January, 2011 14:39  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...


I do not think Obama is an idiot. And I do not think he is a wuss. I think he is simply pursuing his own political preferences. Those are barely liberal, let alone socialist. (The fact is that lots of people accuse him of being a socialist. That is a joke.)

Obama presented himself as the purveyor of hope and change - but he meant not substantive change, just change in process. I htink people misunderstood that. They thought he was a populist of a lefty of some sort. He is not and has never been.

The Republicans have, in any case, stuffed that consensus/bi-partisanship theme more or less completely down his throat.

In substantive terms he is pursuing a center right set of policies because he wants to. Those are the policies he prefers. And his administration is staffed primarily by center right people who are more concerned for the rich than for the working people of the country.

I suspect that his policies are precisely going to get the Dems nowhere in 2012. He might get elected, but the Congress will go further right. Why? Not because voters cannot be moved in a progressive direction, but because no one is making the effort to do so. In other words, while he neither an idiot nor a wus, his politics are going to be a disaster for the Dems in the future as they have been just now.

And that means the republicans will be able to resuscitate what only 18 months ago looked like a wholly moribund party.

I don't like that prospect and feel like Saying so. I will keep doing so, too! I hope you'll keep complaining when I do.


08 January, 2011 23:00  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

PS: Joe - I think it is most succinct to say that I think Obama is wrong his politics are bad news and they are based on a faulty assessment of our political-economic situation and how to remedy it. Jim

08 January, 2011 23:18  
Blogger Joe Zammit-Lucia said...


I, too, find the prospect of a revived and successful Republican party a dismal prospect - especially so soon after GWB and with its recent lurch towards the lunatics.

However, I am not so pessimistic as you are. I believe that the Republicans will not remain as much in the ascendancy as they are now - largely because the country has no appetite for extremes. I also, however, believe that that lack of appetite applies to perceived extremes on either side of the political spectrum. Coming from Europe, the idea that Obama is a 'socialist' is, of course, laughable. Whether his current stance is center right or center or could be moved somewhat center left is a matter that can reasonably be debated. And we will all have our own political biases but I fail to be convinced that anyone's political biases(including my own) can be portrayed as the bleedingly obvious right answer to the country's issues.

If the Democrats fail in 2012 it is, in my opinion, unlikely to be due to Obama but rather to an unwillingness to look at themselves and see what it takes to make them electable. Keeping unpopular leaders such as Pelosi in place is one piece of evidence of such unwillingness. It seems to me that most parties in power move from success to arrogance to hubris. The Democrats seem to have done it in record time.

To state the obvious, to be electable, there is little point in simply appealing to your base. They are already convinced - and they have nowhere to go (except that they can stay home). As always, it's only the wavering middle that matters and it's not clear to me that the wavering middle in America has any appetite for anything that is further to the left that Obama's current policies.

Margaret Thatcher used to say that the primary duty of a political party is to be electable. Ideology must be shaped and made flexible enough so as not to interfere with that primary duty.

09 January, 2011 07:41  

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