Open Thread: Some Political Ruminations That Taken Together Offer a Way to Think Coherently About the Present Chaos
I have put together three "commentaries," that pull things together for me as I try to decipher the situation we are facing. I accept the necessity for finding pragmatic solutions to the problems we face as a nation, but in the end I think it is philosophy (n.b. not ideology) that triumphs.
The Knives are Out
Robert Kuttner had an interesting commentary, The Post Partisan President, on Huffington Post this weekend. The short version is: No more time for sweet talking. He discusses the legitimate concerns to progressives that Obama's post-partisan approach will be that all too familiar Democratic cave-in as the Republicans heighten the pressure.
Barack Obama has made it very clear that he intends to govern as a bridge-builder. Ideology is a bad word in Obamaland. He will lead as a pragmatist, and also reach across the aisle to Republicans.
This stance has stimulated a passionate debate among progressives, on HuffingtonPost and elsewhere. For some, this is just the latest disappointing case of a candidate arousing the hopes of the center-left but governing from the center-right (viz. Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Gerhardt Schroeder).
Or, are these worries really uncalled for?
In the new normal, what is pragmatic is actually fairly left wing. If massive public spending, and re-regulation of Wall Street, and green energy, and universal health coverage can be characterized as mere pragmatism, bring it on. We can acknowledge later that we have moved the center to the left and shifted the prevailing ideology. Clever guy, this Obama.
The Republican story is that the best stimulus is more tax cuts, and that the money should be found by reducing the deficit. That leaves no room for more public spending, only for more spending-cuts. And despite the fact that deregulation caused the financial collapse, Republicans still insist that regulation did it--the evil Community Reinvestment Act (which in fact explicitly required that sound lending standards were not to be waived. Most subprime lenders were not even covered by CRA.)
Here is an easy prediction: When President Obama reaches that hand of bipartisanship across the aisle, he will find that the Republicans bite it.
In Kuttner's view the die is cast although the future may not be rosy.
By the end of his first year, either Obama will have put the economy on the path to recovery based on a progressive program that represents a radical ideological shift; if he achieves that, he will have done it with precious little Republican support. Alternatively, much of his program will have been blocked by Republican filibusters enabled by a few conservative Democratic allies.
Let's hope it's the former. And let's hope he has the audacity to call progressivism by its name. Either way, one thing Obama will not be is post-partisan.
A Different Take on the Future in Light of the Recession
Robert Reich wrote a blog Monday that I highly recommend, The Logic of Keynes in Today's World. I will quote only from the end here.
Reich does not suppose that even under the most optimistic scenario the economy will recover to the point that the middle-class spending spree will resume, but he asks is that so bad really.
[E]ven if Americans had the money to keep spending as before, they could do so forever. Yet only the most myopic adherent of free-market capitalism could believe this to be true. The social and environmental costs would soon overwhelm us. Even if climate change were not an imminent threat to the planet, the rest of the world will not allow American consumers to continue to use up a quarter of the planet’s natural resources and generate an even larger share of its toxic wastes and pollutants.
This would be a problem if most of what we consumed during our big-spending years were bare necessities. But much was just stuff. And surely there are limits to how many furnishings and appliances can be crammed into a home, how many hours can be filled manipulating digital devices, and how much happiness can be wrung out of commercial entertainment.
Filling Out The Content
Truth is Roosevelt said it all before. Turning to the speech he gave when he accepted the Democratic nomination in 1932, we see how he addressed the question of Wall Street versus Main Street. One of the accepted commonplaces is that he came to his New Deal program out of necessity once he was in offices and faced the challenges so like the ones that President Obama will be dealing with. Not so as you will see:
The Democratic Party by tradition and by the coninuing logic of history, past and present, is the bearer of liberalism and of progress.
...snip... [he contrasts the philosophy of what today we shorthand with the soundbite Wall Street versus Main Street.]
The first sees to it that a favored few are helped and hopes that some of their prosperity will leak through, sift through, to labor, to the farmer, to the small business man.
...snip...[but that didn't work]
"You know the story. Surpluses invested in unnecessary plants become idle. Men lost hteir jobs. Purchasing Power dried up. Banks because firghtened and started calling loans. Those who had oney were afraid to part with it. Credit contracted. Industry stopped. Commerce declined and unemployment mounted.
[And the two concluding paragraphs]
On the farms, in the large metropolitan areas, in the smaller cities and in the villages, millions of our citizens cherish the hope that their old standards of living and of thought have not gone forever. Those millions cannot and shall not hope in vain.
I pledge you, I pledge myself, to a new deal for the American people. Let us all here assembled constitute ourselves prophets of a new order of competence and of courage. This is more than a political campaign; it is a call to arms. Give me your help, not to win votes alone, but to win in this crusade to restore America to its own people.