26 January 2010

On the Old Saying 'Be Careful what You Hope For'

"Politics means a slow powerful drilling through hard boards, with a mixture of passion and a sense of proportion. It is absolutely true, and our entire historical experience confirms it, that what is possible could never have been achieved unless people had tried again and again to achieve the impossible in this world. But the man who can do this must be a leader, and not only that, he must be a hero - in a very literal sense. And even those who are neither a leader nor a hero must arm themselves with that staunchness of heart that refuses to be daunted by the collapse of all their hopes, for otherwise they will not even be capable of achieving what is possible today." ~ Max Weber (1919)

"I would not be interested in being a consensus leader. I refuse to determine what is right by taking a Gallup poll of the trends of the time. . . . Ultimately, a leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus." ~ Martin Luther King, Jr. (1968)
I have been in class most of the day. That has given me lots of time to think about the travesty of the news leaked this morning that Obama has decided to simply capitulate to the conservatives with his proposed budget freeze. In the process he comes off as either wholly incompetent or remarkably hypocritical - to see why look here.* Between classes I had had the chance to read some of the responses.
Paul Krugman: "It’s appalling on every level." and "Right now, this looks like pure disaster."

Robert Reich: "His three-year freeze on a large portion of discretionary spending will make it impossible for him to do much of anything for the middle class that’s important."

Brad DeLong: "Barack Herbert Hoover Obama?"

Chris Hayes: "It may be a head fake, the fine print may basically have a lot of loopholes, in which case the policy itself won't be terrible, but again it reinforces the enemy's narrative: that government spends too much on "programs," that defense and "security" spending doesn't count for the deficit and that times of economic misery and widespread unemployment the solution is fiscal austerity."

John Judis: ". . . in the past year, [Obama and his administration] have failed utterly to explain to Americans (let alone the bond traders) how deficits function in recessions. Yes, it is hard to do so, but no harder than it was for Ronald Reagan to explain to middle class Americans how regressive tax cuts would actually benefit them. For better or worse--and mostly the latter--Reagan actually tried to explain to Americans what his policies were about. The Obama administration has abdicated. Where are the charts? The graphs? The ads that patiently explain deficits and recessions? The stories, the anecdotes? And it’s not just the budget. It’s the health care plan as well. Or the need for financial regulation."
Not only is the freeze policy bad news substantively, it cedes the debate to the conservatives (and here I mean the so-called 'moderates'). What would I have Obama and his underlings do? How about we end the ridiculously (at least) costly and (at best) questionably justifiable wars? How about we explain why deficit reduction (at best) is a red-herring and (more likely) is actively misguided in the current context [1] [2]? In short, I would have them lead and mold consensus rather than simply search it out. I would have them at least try to extend the bounds of what is possible today. That, it seems, is way too much to hope for!
* Actually, I think what we are seeing is that Obama's ideal point on economic policy is quite right-wing. In that sense he is simply confirming the view that Adolph Reed laid out here.

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Blogger Tom White said...

Someone must have told him what happened to JFK when he tried to go against the grain....

27 January, 2010 10:46  

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