The Case for Distrust

by: Chris Bowers

Thu Apr 09, 2009 at 14:54

Do you trust the Obama administration, or not? For progressives, in many ways this is the fundamental economic and political question of our times.

For example, it isn't difficult to find Nobel laureates, distinguished, progressive blog-friendly economics Ph.D.s, and even people who saw the financial crisis coming who think that the Obama administration's Wall Street bailout plan is a good idea that will probably work. At the same time, it isn't difficult to find Nobel laureates, distinguished, progressive blog-firendly economics PhD.s, and people who saw the financial crisis coming who think the Obama administration's bailout plan is a bad idea. As such, faith in the bailout plan really isn't a question of analytic and scholastic ability, having clean hands on the financial crisis, or whether or not someone comes from an elite world of Villagers. It is simply a matter of trust in the people executing the plan.

Much the same can be said for the Afghanistan escalation, long-term social investment spending, torture and detainment policies, the new defense budget, the value of post-partisanship, the degree of progressivism in Obama administration appointments, and much more. The debate within progressive circles we are experiencing over these issues is primarily based on a question of trust, and only to a lesser extent on analysis, research and facts. It is a debate with which almost anyone who consumes progressive media is familiar: give President Obama a chance, aka trust the Obama administration and stop criticizing it, versus make him do it, aka President Obama's administration will only pursue a progressive policy direction if it is forced to do so by popular pressure. Within progressive circles, these attitudes are demonstrative of either a fundamental trust or distrust of the intentions of the Obama administration.

This morning, Matthew Yglesias summed up this attitudinal difference in so far as it relates to the bailout plan:

The more I've followed the back-and-forth on this, the less actual disagreement about the facts I think I'm hearing. What the critics are saying is that Geithner's plan couldn't possibly recapitalize the banks in an adequate way unless it was implemented as a horrible giveaways. What the defenders are saying is that if you implement the plan the correct way, it will be a helpful step toward resolving the situation at a time when it's difficult to imagine the congress appropriating the volume of extra funds necessary to full resolve the issue.

Ultimately, these two points aren't in conflict with one another. They're different interpretations of the situation that are based on different assumptions about the competence and good will of the people involved. If you assume that the key policymakers are smart people doing their best, then you're going to line up with Spence. You'll predict a degree of success from the Geithner Plan followed by the need for additional action. And you'll be concerned that over-the-top criticism of Geithner and the Treasury Team is going to undermine the political support that will be needed for further action. But if you assume that the key policymakers are inept, or unduly under the sway of big finance, you'll see that a sound implementation of the Geithner Plan wouldn't generate the needed volume of money, so the plan "must" be for a large giveaway.

There is very little to disagree with here. One might take issue with policymakers being "smart" or not as relevant, since very smart people can also be under the sway of big finance and / or not generally have the public interest at heart. Still, overall, given the intra-progressive arguments of the last five months, and also the incompatibility of "expert" predictions on the outcome of various policies, it is difficult not to conclude that one's degree of trust in the Obama administration specifically, and the leaders of our powerful financial, media, cultural and political institutions more generally, is the fundamental source of disagreement about the efficacy of many of the policies that are being implemented in response to the many crises the country, and the world, must face.

Given all of this, perhaps we should step back from debating the future efficacy of policies for a moment, and instead have a discussion about why or why not progressives should trust the Obama administration. Such a debate is important not just in terms of theoretical orientation, but also in whether or not it is best for progressive activists to spend their time primarily supporting, or pressuring, the Obama administration.

It probably comes as no surprise to Open Left readers that I place myself in the "distrust." Or, at least "more distrust than trust" camp, as obviously there are degrees of trust and mistrust. (For example, I clearly trust the Obama administration more than I trust the Bush administration or John McCain. There are degrees of everything.) As such, in the extended entry, I provide the case for distrust. Since I am well aware that this is not a one-sided issue, I am eager for comments to supply counter-arguments for the "trust" camp. Tomorrow, I will work to compile such arguments, and offer up an article that serves as a rebuttal to this one: "the Case for Trust."

For now, I will start things off in the extended entry by providing the case for distrust, and a largely pressure oriented activist stance.

Chris Bowers :: The Case for Distrust
Here are the primary reasons why I largely fall into the "distrust and pressure" camp rather than the "trust and support" camp:

  1. Because it isn't just the Obama administration we are dealing with: Before I even address my lack of trust in the Obama administration itself, it first must be emphasized that in finding ways to solve the economic crisis, we are dealing with a lot more than just the Obama administration. Outside of a few top executives, and the governments of Iceland and the United States, the greatest worldwide financial crisis since at least 1948 is being handled by the same individuals and institutions who brought us the crisis in the first place. Generally speaking, the same administrations, the same financial institutions, the same executives, the same policymakers, the same "experts," the same media pundits, the same pretty much everything that f*cked the people of the world is now in charge of unf*cking the people of the world. In fact, many of these players have actually become even more powerful then they were before they caused the crisis.

    While the Obama administration is a highly visible change in the leadership of elite institutions, given the global scope of the crisis, as well as the role played in causing the crisis by non-governmental institutions, it actually isn't a very big change. As such, even if you assume the Obama administration has nothing but the best intentions and public interest at heart, it is still nearly impossible to fathom how they could possibly change everything all by themselves. To again quote Matthew Yglesias, this time from yesterday (emphasis in the original).

    Whenever there's a suggestion that there's a need for housecleaning and clean hands, apologists for the status quo immediately leap in with the point that you need some veteran people with hands-on experience. And surely you do. But there's a huge middle ground between firing everyone associated with this fiasco and firing nobody.

    And we've done the reverse! Lurking beneath the amusing John Stewart versus Jim Cramer faceoff was the reality that even though CNBC is in a sense more discredited than ever, the financial crisis has made it a more influential news source, not a less influential one. Major financial institution CEOs seem to have more access and influence to high-level policymakers than they did before rather than less. And it's not just that the top levels of economic policymaking haven't been filled with people who were prescient about the severity of this crisis, nobody at all who was prescient about it seems to have been brought on board.

    And it's not just in the United States. We at least managed to have a change of administrations scheduled for a propitious moment. But outside of Iceland there have been basically no topplings of incumbent governments, no resignations of key officials, no nothing. The behavior is as if the financial system has, like Italy, been struck by a terrible earthquake and now the officials in office need to deal with it. Even the popularity of the term "black swan" seems to entrench the notion that some wild and unpredictable occurrence happened. But while this turn of events is pretty wild, it was unpredictable-plenty of people predicted something similar. And while I don't think you ever should expect a wholesale turnover in elites and powerful institutions, if a shock this big doesn't produce some kind of discernable change then I'm not sure what would or could.

    Overall, on a global scale that considers more than just governmental institutions, there has been virtually no change in power as a result of the economic crisis. If anything, the people and institutions who caused the crisis are more powerful than ever. That is a major reason for distrust, pessimism, and continued pressure as any.

  2. Because there are too many dirty hands: Now, taking a more Obama-administration specific viewpoint, the primary reason for my lack of trust comes from the dirty hands of many key administration players in causing the financial crisis in the first place. As someone who preferred Obama to Clinton largely because President Obama had shown the good judgment to oppose the war in Iraq before it began, it is particularly grating and worrying that he did not consider the same judgment on economic matters to be a worthwhile criteria in choosing his economic team.

    Consider the following article from November 5th, 1999, when President Obama's top economic advisor, Larry Summers, praised an easing of bank regulations that helped lead to the current disaster. In particular, check out how Summers praised the easing of regulations in terminology that sounds exactly like Obmaa administration calls for new regulations. Emphasis mine:

    Congress approved landmark legislation on Thursday that opens the door for a new era on Wall Street in which commercial banks, securities houses and insurers will find it easier and cheaper to enter one another's businesses.

    The measure, considered by many the most important banking legislation in 66 years, was approved in the Senate by a vote of 90 to 8 and in the House Thursday night by 362 to 57. The bill will now be sent to the president, who is expected to sign it, aides said.

    It would become one of the most significant achievements this year by the White House and the Republicans leading the 106th Congress.

    "Today Congress voted to update the rules that have governed financial services since the Great Depression and replace them with a system for the 21st century," Treasury Secretary Lawrence H. Summers said. "This historic legislation will better enable American companies to compete in the new economy."

    21st century regulations, eh? That sounds familiar:

    "We can no longer sustain 21st-century markets with 20th-century regulations," Obama said following an Oval Office meeting with his top lieutenants and the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate panels overseeing the financial industry.

    Why on Earth should I trust an administration's dealings with Wall Street when that administration's top economic advisor praised a regulatory re-write that help allow Wall Street create our current economic disaster only a few years later? This is especially since the Obama administration is now saying we need new financial regulations for the 21st century, even though its top economic advisor told us we achieved just that ten years ago. Color me extremely skeptical when I hear this talk again, ten years later.

    Further, it isn't just a few key advisors in the Obama administration who have dirty hands on leading to this crisis. Back in 1999, the Clinton administration pushed for the lax regulations, and only seven Democratic Senators voted against them. Among the 37 Democratic Senators who voted in favor were Joe Biden, who is now Vice-President, Harry Reid, who is now Senate Majority Leader, Chris Dodd, who now heads the Banking Committee, and Kent Conrad, who heads the Budget Committee. Almost everyone's hands on dirty on this one. Virtually everyone still in power favored a pro-Wall Street reworking of the financial regulatory regime, which in turn played a huge role in our financial crisis. Among Senators, the lone remaining dissenters are Barbara Boxer, Byron Dorgan, Russ Feingold, Tom Harkin, Barbara Mikulski and, surprisingly, Republican Richard Shelby of Alabama.

    There was a broad, pro-Wall Street consensus in the 1990's. Virtually everyone in power bought into it. There are dirty hands everyone, and I don't trust them.

  3. Because they keep telling us to tone down the pressure on CEO's and Blue Dogs. One caveat to the previous bullet point is that while almost everyone has dirty hands in the financial and economic crisis, some hands are certainly dirtier than others. Wall Street financial institutions, along with most Republicans and conservative Democrats, played a larger role in causing the financial crisis than say, average Americans and most progressives.

    This brings me to my second reason for distrust: the Obama administration keeps telling people to ratchet down their criticism of the players who were most responsible for the crisis. In particular, the Obama administration has recently toned down its anti-Wall Street rhetoric, and told certain progressive groups to stop criticizing Blue Dogs. Further, Obama's anti-partisan language that at least partially implies Democrats should criticize Republicans less frequently and / or vehemently, is quite famous.

    Some might argue that the President Obama and the Obama administration urge a reduction in angry rhetoric toward the players most responsible for the crisis not because they largely side with those people and institutions, but either out of political necessity or a desire to change political culture. However, I do not agree with this. The AIG bonus scandal demonstrated that massive public anger can push even most Blue Dogs and Republicans into supporting some pretty strong anti-Wall Street policies pretty quickly. Given the information and resources at its disposal, the Obama administration could regularly fuel such public anger and use it as a means to pressure Congress into passing sweeping policy reforms. For example, the Obama administration could even have broken the AIG bonus scandal itself a couple months ago, and used the resulting outrage to hammer through sweeping financial regulations.

    Instead of political necessity, I worry that the Obama administration is trying to ratchet down rhetoric against Wall Street and Blue Dogs largely because it considers those groups to be more valuable allies than the people who are vehemently criticizing those groups. Given its vast political capital, the Obama administration could seize the current populist sentiment to pressure those groups. Instead, the Obama administration is bowing to pressure from those groups to try and reduce the level of public criticism they receive. They aren't pressuring the groups that caused the crisis, but are pressuring the groups that are criticizing the people who caused the crisis. And I don't trust that.

  4. Because I don't trust anti-partisan and anti-ideological rhetoric: From the Obama campaign to the Obama transition to the Obama administration, anti-partisan and anti-ideological rhetoric has been a staple of its public persona. The bottom line for me is that I do not, and probably will never, trust anti-partisan and anti-ideological language. During my entire adult lifetime, Democrats who use such language have consistently done so not in the interest of holding good-faith discussions with Republicans and conservatives, but rather to pressure progressive Democrats to cave to Republican and conservative positions. Over the last twenty years, the "non-ideological" and "bipartisan" position has always meant unanimous Republican support couple with substantial, but still minority, Democratic support. Back in December, Matt and I posted about 20 examples of this pattern on key policy fights over the last ten years.

    When I hear "let's get beyond ideology and partisanship," it doesn't mean "reach out, sit down, and have a good faith discussion." Instead, it means "let's cave to Republicans on economic issues, foreign policy issues, and gay rights." I just don't trust Democrats who use language like that. Twenty times burned, thirty times shy, I suppose.

  5. Because I don't trust the Obama administration more than I trust other Democrats: Quite a few progressives who trust the Obama administration do not trust congressional Democrats. For example, according to a recent Pew poll, 70% of the country trusts President Obama on the economy either "a great deal" or "a fair amount," but only 55% trust congressional Democrats to the same degree. This is an attitude I do not grasp as all. Given that President Obama came from the Democratic congressional caucus, and voted with them the vast majority of the time, it isn't clear to me why President Obama should be viewed as noticeably different from congressional Democrats at all. He is probably somewhere to the left of Harry Reid and the right of Nancy Pelosi, and thus not substantially different from the legislation the Democratic Congress passes.

    This has been a longstanding pattern. Right after the election, even though Democrats in Congress had actually won over 53% of the vote, slightly larger than President Obama's total, according to a CNN poll, 59% of the country would trust President Obama when he disagreed with the Democratic Congress, while only 24% said they would side with the Democrats. Part of this might have been fueled by Republicans reflexively wanting to oppose Democrats in Congress, but it still shows that there are a lot of people who trust President Obama, but do not trust Democrats in Congress. By contrast, it really isn't clear to me at all how President Obama is noticeably distinct from Democrats in Congress.

  6. Because President Obama flip-flopped on FISA: Finally, I don't trust President Obama himself because he flip-flopped on FISA due to right-wing pressure in the campaign. During the primaries, he vowed to fight telecom immunity tooth and nail, but once the primaries were over, he just flat-out flipped his position. This was a straightforward case where President Obama changed a position as a result of shifting political pressure. The conclusion I drew from that event is that it is possible to change Obama's public positions if there was enough political pressure for him to change, and that such pressure was necessary because he was willing to cave into right-wing demands if they applied enough pressure.

    In short, FISA was the "distrust and pressure" object lesson for me. From that point on, there could be no benefit of the doubt. If you wanted Obama to side with you, simply trusting him and supporting him would not suffice. Distrust and pressure became requirements.

And that's it. Thanks for reading this far, as it is the longest article I have written in about five or six months. I hope you found it a useful insight or compendium into why I, and many other progressive bloggers, fall more into the "distrust and pressure" camp than the "trust and support."

Now, I want to hear from you. Please offer up reasons as to why you fall more into the "trust and support" camp than the "distrust and pressure" camp. This is the fundamental divide for progressive right now. As such, we all might do well to just air our feeling out.  

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Trust and Pressure (4.00 / 1)
 You have given us only two options:  Obama is either  well-intentioned and right or he has ill-intentions and is wrong.  There is, I believe, a third camp.   I think he is well-intentioned and sometimes wrong.  I get the impression that you think people that trust him simply want to play dead when he does something we disagree with.  I trust Obama, but feel it is critical that we continue to pressure him for our progressive priorities.  

there are degrees (4.00 / 4)
Obviously, there can be degrees of trust or mistrust, and it isn't entirely an either / or. I tried to make that clear in the post on several occasions.

It is not as though I entirely distrust the Obama administration. Obviously, I trust it a lot more than the Bush administration, just as I trust Barack Obama personally more than John McCain, or Democrats more than Republicans.

What I am asking people to do here is try and come up with reasons why someone might trust or distrust him. The point isn't to determine a final, correct answer, but to explore the degrees involved in either direction.

Tomorrow, I will have a "The Case for Trust" article.

[ Parent ]
Comfort level (4.00 / 3)
I think a lot of people aren't comfortable about the idea of "distrusting" Obama.  To really sell your point, I think you need to give people space to think it isn't really about trust; or at least doesn't have to be about trust.

[ Parent ]
I came down into the comments to say exactly this (4.00 / 7)
I trust Obama is trying to do the right thing, but believe applying pressure is very important.  After all, others are applying pressure in the other direction.

Also, Obama strongly believes that consensus is the best way to achieve positive results.  (Which, BTW, is a very liberal notion in the abstract.)  It is important for him to see when consensus does not exist on the left.

It gets back to the Overton Window.  We need to create as much space on the left as possible.  That is true regardless of trust.

[ Parent ]
Except For When (4.00 / 4)
Also, Obama strongly believes that consensus is the best way to achieve positive results.  

80% or so oppose his bailouts. Then he laughs, and says, of those who are part of his 'consensus,' "It's not a high number."

Oh well. At least he didn't say, "I'm the decider."

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Just like a Populist! (4.00 / 1)
You really think high public opinion and consensus are the same thing?  Or even related?  Sheesh.

I'm threading the needle between being completely serious and joking, but consensus means getting all the power players and smart people in the room to agree, at least when it comes to wonky technical stuff.  What's up with this "people" thing?

In all seriousness, if public opinion was highly in favor of something, this would be a pretty good counter point.  But from what I can tell, people are just sick of the whole thing and want the problem to go away.  All the options look bad and no one really understands any of them.

Go sponsor a poll where people are told receivership would cost much more than the bailout currently attempted and ask them if they'd rather try the bailout first or use receivership now.  Sure, I'd go for receivership, but I don't think we'd reach close to the 80%.

[ Parent ]
There is one good point peeping out from the bushes (small b) here (4.00 / 1)
Most of the reason that we're having to walk uphill now is that for forty years we've been lazy, and let Republican ideologues have their way with us. If we want the opinions of the left to be taken seriously, we have to make sure that everyone has heard them. More than simply the opinions themselves, we have to make sure that everyone has heard -- in the current political context -- why we hold them, and why they should be seriously considered.

This everyone obviously includes President Obama, who clearly has been listening to the wrong people for a long time. The pressure part, it seems to me, is simply an added benefit of the process of letting him and everyone else know what's been missing in his civic education.

[ Parent ]
I think the general public (4.00 / 1)
just always gives the President a honeymoon.  I don't think most pay any attention to things. They were wrong on Iraq and on this.

My blog  

Is it really a dichotomy? (0.00 / 0)
Can someone take a stance of trust but pressure (or distrust but support)?

Things You Don't Talk About in Polite Company: Religion, Politics, the Occasional Intersection of Both

I admit to not caring about this question (4.00 / 3)
I never support anyone based on slogans and promises.  I always distrust until given to trust.

My blog  

[ Parent ]
Why trust? (4.00 / 3)
The history of Presidents over the past 40+ years leads me to distrust.  LBJ, after all, was the peace candidate in 1964 but in 1965 he began sending massive numbers of Americans to Vietnam.  Nixon?  "Peace with Honor"/ secret plan, Nixon?  Ford?  Pardon Nixon, fire Rockefeller Ford?  Carter?  Nice man but his administration seemed a big mess.  Reagan?  He made up statistics, violated laws with immpunity, favored the rich and the very rich and somehow got away with everything.  Reagan sucked.  Second opinion, Reagan really sucked.  GHW Bush?  Won't raise taxes?  Half a President.  Ok on foreign polict clueless on the economy.  No connection with real people.  Clinton?  I acually liked him.  NAFTA was disappointing and I would have fought Janet Reno and made her clamp down on that damned Louis Freeh leaking like crazy from the FBI.  W. Nuff said.

Well, that'd not a lot to build trust on.  Surprisingly, I trust Pelosi somewhat and Durbin somewhat.  That's it for the whole of elected government.  

[ Parent ]
I'm with you. (4.00 / 3)
History shows there is no basis for it.   I also watched Obama campaign in MI.  Trust me, he never promised to put GM into bankruptcy.  

[ Parent ]
If you trust someone, (4.00 / 2)
then what is the point in pressuring them?

I think it is a dichotomy.

However, there may be certain policy areas or topics where there is trust, and certain areas where there isn't. So, that might be one way they are mixed.

[ Parent ]
Wording Matters (4.00 / 1)
We pressure friends we trust all the time.  ("Come on, let's go out!")  Yes, you could say you don't trust your friend to make the correct decision in a particular instance, but you wouldn't generically say you don't trust your friend.

[ Parent ]
Which is what I mean (4.00 / 1)
There can be instances where you trust your friend to make the right decision  and / or the one you want him to make, and there can be instances where you feel pressure needs to be applied to your friend in order achieve the desired outcome.

There are degrees. There are different contexts. I'm not asking if someone should trust or distrust the Obama administration 100% of the time, but looking for a justifiable degree and frequency of trust.

[ Parent ]
Trust (0.00 / 0)
Your friend analogy only works if you think your friend is actively trying to make the wrong decision.

This goes back to my original argument which I did not express very well.

I think your definition of trust is too broad in that it intertwines the people who believe Obama wants to do the right thing but somtimes doesn't and the people who believe Obama is actively screwing us.

Many people on openleft assume the worst of Obama and believe he is actively making bad decisions that hurt the country.  They distrust him.

I, on the other hand, trust that Obama is trying to make the right decisions that will best move the country in the right direction.  I do not trust him to always make the right decision and he has and will continue to make decisions I disagree with.  Therefore, we should pressure him so that he sees and adopts our perspective, making the right decisions more often.

[ Parent ]
The Case for Pressure (0.00 / 0)
I understand what you mean.  I switched my responses from being my own reaction to suggestions to you and the community on how best to sell the idea.  The more I think about it, the more I think "The Case for Distrust" is a bad way to sell the idea.  "The Case for Pressure" is much better and much more appealing.

You are using the word "trust" in a perfectly reasonable, technically correct way.  But I think the image of distrusting Obama is too big for some to get past.

[ Parent ]
Because they will be pressured by many other powerful interests (4.00 / 9)
What Obama would do if he were free to act as he pleases has no real world bearing.  

I think this discussion is a good one to have, even though the answer to this question ultimately doesn't matter to me.

If you could prove to me that Obama (or any politician) was 100% trustworthy, and agree with my goals 100%, it would not change how I approach things one iota.  

I want someone who thinks there is political gain from being progressive, who thinks it's worth making a strong public stand for progressive positions, and sees long and short term progressive goals as attainable. Ultimate motives are less of a concern for me.  This is also, incidentally, the one thing that we have some control over.  

Politics is the art of the possible, but that means you have to think about changing what is possible, not that you have to accept it in perpetuity.

[ Parent ]
Trust but verify maybe? n/t (4.00 / 2)

Never understood that one (4.00 / 3)
Honestly, I think that phrase is largely meant as a joke, seeing as it is an oxymoron.

[ Parent ]
The article is too long (4.00 / 1)
You should lookup the word "brevity" in the dictionary. Some of us are actually busy.

That being said, erosion of trust is entropic: once it is gone, it can never grow back.

trying out a new format here (4.00 / 13)
I am aware of its length.

It is part of trying out a new format here on Open Left. I want to stick with longer, more thought provoking posts, plus activist campaigns and election analysis. For breaking news, I'm thinking Quick Hits should suffice.

Personally, I feel better about the longer posts. I'm tired of just chasing the latest breaking story. There really isn't anyway a small website like this can keep up with the bigger outlets on that front. We need to be different.

And my attitude just feels better when I write these. It feels like an accomplishment, rightly or wrongly.

[ Parent ]
To quote the brilliant Billmon (4.00 / 4)
(the gold standard of bloggers in my opinion) when people complained he was too long winded:

"Doesn't anybody read anymore"

[ Parent ]
Not too long, reason for distrust and trust (4.00 / 4)
Very interesting post, and not too long - definitely worth it.  I do read way faster than most people, but still, I'd much rather have 2 or 3 of these a day than 10 short ones.

Additional reason for "distrust" (or rather, pressure): Progressive pressure on the Obama administration is a no-lose situation.  Even if it's not needed, the idea that it will hurt progressives is a canard that too successfully gets trotted out to demobilize progressives and shift debate to the right.

A reason for trust: in cases of uncertainly like this one (and in general with Obama, since he's fairly hard to read and I still believe what I wrote months ago about him being a president who could fall anywhere from FDR to Clinton in terms of progressivism), it's way psychologically healthier to assume the best.  Optimistic people do way better in all kinds of areas, have happier lives, and there's good research showing that this link is causal (though it's also reverse causal).

[ Parent ]
You and Paul especially (4.00 / 6)
write thought provoking pieces.  It's quality thinking that is not always seen at other blogs that follow the "outrage" of the moment.

I like the deep analysis and long post.  

It wil help Open Left stand out.  Already, the blog has a voice that is left of many others that have been longer at it.  (A brand in market-speak)

But it's not just left.  It's intelligent.

Thank you for respecting your audience.  There are blogs where this would be attacked merely on its title or just scroll by because it was too long, but this blog is different and it appeals to an audience that takes this seriously.  

[ Parent ]
Good Post (4.00 / 8)
For this is only party related to the Obama administration, which in this area deserves special mistrust because the people trying to solve the crisis helped to create the crisis. For me, it's more about my general mistrust in politicians and my fervent belief in Lord Acton's dictum: power corrupts. We simply can't afford to rely on the good will of people in power, especially when money is up for grabs, which is why this a good bailout plan--indeed every reform plan in every area--should focus on dispersing power.

Moreover, the plan isn't just reliant on the good will of Obama's hires. Here's Businessweek:

It has been a little less than two weeks since Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner unveiled the details of his project to restore banks to financial health. But analysts say hedge funds and investment banks are already looking for ways to exploit the complex web of auctions, public-private partnerships, and government guarantees proposed by Treasury to cleanse banks' books of toxic assets. "It's a highly gameable system," says H. Peyton Young, an Oxford University economist and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington. "It's very difficult to write rules that are going to prevent self-dealing behavior."

Now, who among us doesn't think that investors won't "exploit" the plan?

that is always why I haven't trusted the bailout (4.00 / 5)
Really, that is always why I haven't trusted the bailout. How is working with the same people who caused the crisis, with no additional legal regulations on their behavior, possibly lead to a better result? Maybe it will, but I freely admit to not trusting it at all.

I don't think we should have handed out any money until the new regulations were in place. Also, I like nationalization because it removed many of the people I don't trust: the executives of the banks. So, even before the bailout plan was announced, I didn't really trust it, for most of the reasons I listed above.

We need the guarantees first. Second, we need to get new people. Only then should we start doling out the money. Your quote offers a perfect example for why we should have followed that course.

[ Parent ]
. (0.00 / 1)
Really, that is always why I haven't trusted the bailout. How is working with the same people who caused the crisis, with no additional legal regulations on their behavior, possibly lead to a better result?

Because those people have America's wealth. And nationalization doesn't really remove shit. It just plays musical chairs on the titanic.

I think it was Jane Hamsher that made this idiotic post profiling some criminal finance guy as a reason for why we need to nationalize... but incidentally this guy happens to be currently getting rich running a new company that bought assets off the FDIC. (i.e. helped clean up a bank that's been nationalized)

There's no magic pills here. Distrust doesn't change external conditions.

[ Parent ]
That's why you have to be very careful (4.00 / 4)
about "nationalizing."

There's a smart way of doing it, with safeguards, and a way of doing it that just enriches the same old suspects.

In any case, it's one thing if investors make money and the crisis is solved; quite another if investors make money as the crisis deepens.

[ Parent ]
One more thing (4.00 / 8)
While I agree that you can find experts on both sides of the issue, the vast majority (all?) of the people who saw the crisis coming are opposed to it, whereas those who Dean Baker (who saw the bubble for what it was in 2002) calls EWMB (Experts Who Missed the Bubble) are more inclined to support the plan. All experts are not created equal.

The new consensus among the experts who missed the housing bubble (EMHB) is that Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner's plan to subsidize the purchase of junk mortgages and their derivatives will help alleviate the stress on the banking system. That's good news.

These geniuses have devised a plan that for $1 trillion (approximately equal to 300 million kid-years of SCHIP, the State Child Health Insurance Program) can alleviate the stress on the banking system. Note that no one claims that $1 trillion spent on the Geithner plan will actually clean up the banking system - that would be asking too much. The EMHB only assure us that this $1 trillion (more than enough to have energy conserving retrofits for every building in the country) will make things better. Isn't that enough?

[ Parent ]
. (1.33 / 3)
Cynicism is a luxury of people that need to look for shit to be pissed off about.

There are a lot of people (4.00 / 6)
There are a lot of people who have very real problems in their lives who are also very cynical.

The notion that only the well-off are cynical is not only obviously untrue, but also backed up by extensive polling. Lower income brackets tend to be the most cynical.

In reality, cynicism typically arises from experience, not whining.

[ Parent ]
What a cynical attitude towards the critics of Obama (4.00 / 4)
Generally, I am optimistic about the world. Like ML King, I see that "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice". But I have also been around long enough to see that even the best person makes mistakes and can be swayed by destructive events and internal drives (drugs, lust, greed, fear, etc.).

So I try to look on the bright side of things and assume the best of people, but I also want there to be safeguards and regulations that restrain people from doing really bad things and that encourage them to do good things. And I am wary of anyone who has screwed up a bunch of times (like Summers, Geithner). I'm also wary of all politicians since one of the requirements of being a good politician seems to be to -- at least implicitly-- lie to a lot of people about your positions so they will support you.

So I think we should always distrust our political allies and pressure them to do the right thing. If they are planning to do the right thing anyway, then it doesn't matter to them if we pressure them and it doesn't require much effort. And if they weren't planning to do the right thing, then all the effort is well worth it.

[ Parent ]
Unfortunately HISTORY is on your side.... (4.00 / 4)
....I, too am distrustful, not necessarily of Obama's Adminsitration personally, but of the "institutionalized" power centered in Washington, DC. Our nation's capital is where great ideas go to die and where potentially great people get co-opted.

This is why I come here. (4.00 / 9)
Excellent article.

I believe Obama is sincere on unions and EFCA.  I have some "trust" on that.

But on many other issues, I am more skeptical.

These points are big with me, but all you said are good:

1.  I don't trust anti-partisan and anti-ideological language

2.  Summers, Geitner, et al.  His economic picks were so bad.  Many of the people who proeached dereg under Clinton.

3.  FISA and NAFTA, but I never trusted him on trade because I saw the Peru vote and knew of his Hamilton Project leanings.  

But this is the most important:

He is probably somewhere to the left of Harry Reid and the right of Nancy Pelosi.

It's why I supported John Edwards in the primaries out of the top three viable candidates.  I was a liberal Democrat in the 1970s.  I am probably to the left of Pelosi.

Since Obama's real politics are to the right of me, there is reason to expect that I will disagree with some that he does.  Like Iraq until December 2011, increasing the defense budget, the Geithner Plan, and a few other things.    

Progressives appear left out of the Obama agenda.  He'll use us for money and grass roots/netroots stuff, but seems uninterested in our agenda. He's a self proclaimed "New Democrat."  I'm not.  We who fought Nixon and Reagan, and both Bushes were right.

Finally, Obama uses the rhetoric of empowerment while creating top/down organizations that actually appear to disempower.  Process matters.    

He's far better than Bush, of course, and better than Bayh.

Had Hillary Clinton won the primaries and election, I'd probably be writing the same things.

The biggest difference I see between the two are that Obama keeps a high approval rating and may be more personally popular.  On the issues, however, they were so close.  

Finally, I think as progressives, leftists, liberals, economic populists, whatever term one uses, we need to always look to allies in government with some, skepticism.  The blind trust I have seen among some folks for Obama is an abdication of critical thinking that destroys a movement.

Anyway, great post, Chris.  Very impressive.

Looking forward to tomorrow's post.

This is why I read Open Left.  

I say we give the new administration a chance to deliver on their promises. (4.00 / 1)
It may not be just the Obama administration we are dealing with, but Obama is highly popular and highly influential around the world -- mostly because, so far, he does have the trust of so many people, at home and abroad.  That is very nearly the definition of political capital, and to abandon him at the beginning of his term means taking away the political capital that gives him a chance to be effective.

Obama is a pragmatist and an insider.  There is a place for idealists and outsiders, and indeed I love the fact that Krugman is pressing the Obama administration to do more.  That's the best role for Krugman, as he himself admits -- he functions best as an outsider.  Let the insiders do what they do best from inside, and the outsiders do what they do best from outside.

You don't think Obama is pressuring the CEOs and Blue Dogs?  I disagree.  He fired the CEO of GM to send a message, and he campaigned for the stimulus in a way that put extreme pressure on Blue Dogs.  Maybe you would rather see them all fired or marginalized, but I think it is safer and more realistic to send a firm message to get in line with the program, and then keep a majority on your side.

Democrats have compromised more than Republicans because during the Clinton and Bush adminstrations, Democrats were weaker than Republicans.  Republicans usually controlled Congress and often controlled the White House.  This is the first time since the Johnson administration, perhaps, that Democrats have had so much political control of national government.  Under the present circumstances, Obama is negotiating from a position of power, and when he genuinely offers bipartisan dialogue the Republicans just look bad when they continually refuse and grow increasingly shrill.

Obama is different from the Democrats in Congress because he was elected by all the people, not just some of the people.  The House is deeply partisan because the districts are gerrymandered so effectively that few representatives have an incentive to be bipartisan.  The Senate is less partisan, but is constructed to put breaks on action rather than promote action.  In the U.S. power, for better or worse, is concentrated in the executive branch much more so than it is, for example, in a parliamentary system.  

Obama needs to act in the interest of the country as a whole because he represents the country as a whole, and can act far more decisively and effectively than Congress.  Yet Obama has, wisely, enlisted former members of Congress to work with the legislature to get laws through Congress.  When Congress threatens to stand in his way, though, Obama can appeal directly to the people, as he did with the stimulus plan.

Obama is capable of changing his position.  He is not an ideologue.  But he does have a plan and in general I believe it is a good plan, although of course I do worry about whether it is bold enough.  I think he has a firm grasp of what is politically doable, though, and is determined not to sacrifice the possible on the cross of unyielding ideology.  He is on record regarding most of his promises and cannot afford to break too many of those promises.  Too many people (like are keeping track.

As you note, it isn't really a choice between trust or distrust, but a spectrum of choices.  I think that in general we should give a new president we elected our support for at least the first year, or until he builds up a record of betraying our trust, which he hasn't yet, despite the FISA flip-flop.  At the same time, we should insist that he keep his promises, and protest when he doesn't, without marginalizing ourselves by giving up on the administration too soon.

I fundamentally trust the Obama adminstration. (4.00 / 1)
I think that they have been proceeding slowly given the magnitude of the issues before them; but they have put forth several progressive policies. Similarly, I feel like that administration is facing a coup-like threat from the financial sector that is complicated by the fact that several democrats are lined with Republicans on this issue. They can not fully report the issues and facts at hand because they risk a deterioration of the system IMO.  This fragility puts them in an awkward place; I feel like they're just starting to stop making nice.

I think that the administration is going to take a stronger hand with the financial sector. I think that they're making necessary steps with the auto industry. I am encouraged by the budget proposal that was put forth.

This administration I think has taken away a serious lesson from the stimulus fight: their allies are all on the House and they've got to plan for an intractable senate. I think Pelosi has been Obama's best friend to date legislatively which gives me more hope.

I worry. But at this point the only thing I think activists can do is focus on the senate (because I think the house is very liberal and will easily move the president's agenda) and focus on selling the progressive policies within the budget.

Health care is job one IMO.

Bailouts and working to weaken the power of the financial industrial complex and the industrial military complex is job two.

These are the fights facing us as we enter the budget. And immigration and cap and trade are teed up for 2010.

So IMO the question isn't whether you trust the president; the question is what the hell are you doing to make a path for him towards progressive ideals.

Take the Pentagon budget: TPM has done excellent work on exposing the cuts meme used to stop President Obama before he starts trying to rejigger the Defense budget. Why? Because this is the first step towards actual cuts; breaking the back of the contractors which is what Gates is attempting to do here by using a 4% increase in total DOD spending as sweetener. But beyond TPM, I haven't seen the fact that these are reasonable reallocations and NOT cuts being trumpeted.

It seems to me we need more shoulder to the wheel than distrust.

Obama's what we got; the best thing progressives can do is build the progressive road he can travel on. That means commercials, that means building support for POLICIES throughout with independents and democrats. That's how we get blue dogs and the Bayh Independents at the end of the day.

No one seems to be out their fighting that fight IMO.

I think it's interesting (0.00 / 0)
that Obama has been very hard on the auto industry (a favorite enemy of the Republicans because of the unions) but has been cozy with the financial industry, right down to his key advisors.  I personally don't see anything good in that.  I think Obama has done some good things to bring the government closer to its people (opening up the white house, going around the country), but on the critical issues he is not faring so well.  The bank bailout disheartens me, while at the same time I think it is the final showdown as to whether our government returns to serving its citizens or its rich minority.  At least we will know whether there is any hope for our form of government within the next couple of years.  I am as close to leaving the Democratic party (as a life-long Democrat from a family history of all Democrats) as I possibly could be.  So, I fall squarely in the distrust camp, although I wish it were not the case.

[ Parent ]
How does "trust and support" help? (4.00 / 4)
Does muting criticism of the administration from the left really strengthen Obama and provide him with more political maneuverability?  How?  It seems like a counter-intuitive proposition to me.  Does it really hurt him if I decide not to hold my tongue and instead, for instance, campaign for the kind of health care system that I actually believe in?  Why would it hurt him?  What is there to lose by being critical?

Perhaps Chris's upcoming post will address this.

Trust (4.00 / 3)
It must be that my expectations are lower... I was just a kid when Reagan was elected, and every president since then has been essentially a right wing shill... Clinton was a decent goalie protecting the net against right wing loons, but offered little progress on his own (that wasn't foiled)...  Here we have a guy that seems to know what he's doing and moving the window left without hiding it...

Is it left enough for most of the people here, obviously not... but, hell, it's way better than anything we've had in 30 years, and I appreciate it very much.

Obama can't be Dennis Kucinich, 'cos he really needs that 60% approval rating to get anything done...  Republicans will not work with him, so he has to force ideas through.. at the moment, he's pushing health care, tax reform, education, and immigration... If he gets those things through, we will have done more towards the progressive agenda than anyone since LBJ.

I don't expect to agree with him on everything... That's just silly.  He has to run the country with all sorts of problems that don't have an ideological solution, and I'm not one of those people where it's "My way or the highway".  I really could care less about the details of the bank bailouts or whatever... if it keeps us out of a depression and gets us back on track, he can "reward" the bankers as much as he wants as far as I'm concerned... I hate the idea that GM is forced into bankruptcy, but if that's what saves manufacturing in the midwest and the unions are protected as part of the process, I'll trust them to do it...  At least they are doing something positive, as opposed to the opposition, who just wants to see the midwest die...

I trust the guy for two reasons... one, he looks at the long term and focuses on long term solutions as opposed to short term political gain.  That being said, he also is a master politician, who (unlike many democrats) is keenly aware of the political side of policy and makes damn sure that political opposition is neutered...

All these conspiracy theories about robbing taxpayers and such are just BS.  Obama's a pragmatist first, so that doesn't always fit our ideology, but so what... the idea is to get things working and get them right, even if it's not politically correct for us.  I'd rather see the Geithner plan succeed even if it costs more, than the Krugman plan fail 'cos then it certainly would cost more, both money wise and politics wise...

I have to wonder how young some of the naysayers are.... I know that Chris is about my age... I would think that the older folks here would be grateful that we have someone who is considered to be "liberal" yet is very popular at the same time... That hasn't happened in 40 years...  Be grateful that you've got a guy that will at least listen to you and be on the same page as many of our priorities...  I literally don't remember having anyone like that before...

So, yeah, I trust him... He's got enormous skin in this game and he's taking very big risks here...  There is a huge cost of failure, so I trust that he will make sure things work out right for eveyone involved.. including us...

REID: Voting against us was never part of our arrangement!
SPECTER: I am altering the deal! Pray I don't alter it any further!
REID: This deal keeps getting worse all the time!

Support but Pressure (4.00 / 3)
I completely agree that we should not simply trust and support Obama (or any other politician). Even the best politician is under tremendous pressure from the power elite to bend towards them and away from progressive positions. And everyone makes mistakes.

I have been very disappointed with many of Obama's appointees (the same people Hillary probably would have chosen) and with his bank bailout, Iraq and Afghanistan policies, his flip on FISA, his backing off of promise to renegotiate NAFTA, and that on healthcare he started with a moderate position and seems to be bending towards a worthless (pro-insurance company) position.

But on the other hand -- and we need to remember this -- Obama has proposed probably the most progressive overall budget that we've seen come out of Washington in four decades and he seems to be fighting for all of it. Whoever wrote the budget proposal appears steeped in progressive understanding so at least someone in the White House is fighting hard for our positions and having a lot of sway. Moreover, Obama has done a pretty good job of overturning Bush executive orders. And he has done a great job in reaching out to most of our allies and foes -- apparently trying to create a decent foreign policy and mend the fabric of international cooperation that Bush slashed to pieces. These are all very commendable moves.

Those who just completely trash Obama do not give him the credit he deserves, but those who uncritically support his every move give him way too much credit.

what about issues? (4.00 / 2)
There are issues that were major major flash points not so long ago, that I trust Obama's administration on. Racial and gender discrimination in the work place. Reducing nuclear missiles and loose nukes. Stem cell research. Abortion and contraception. Evolution. Global warming. Renewable energy and the electric grid. Energy efficiency. SUPERTRAINS. Urban policy. Science. Diplomacy. Using intelligence to make policy- not your gut and fantasy.

I don't think Obama is going to be perfect on all of those but I trust him to do the best that he thinks is possible.

There are issues I don't trust the Obama administration on- The bank bailout and TARP. Spying powers. Enriching the corporatocracy.

There are issues that Obama has made promises on, but until he delivers things look bad. Some of it is the momentum of the Bush administration that takes time to change. Iraq. Guantanamo. FCC, net neutrality. Food safety. Clean coal. Fair trade. Education. Immigration. Drug policy. Prison-industrial complex. Health care. Wiser military.

I also trust Obama to listen to arguments and admit when he is wrong and change course. He is a proud and determined man and he will not admit errors easily but he will do it. So- our job is not just make him do the right thing, but when he's wrong, prove it.

Case for trust (or not) (0.00 / 0)
I was working on a long-winded comment, but I think I'll just second T Maysle's. Although wrt the last paragraph, I'd say hope more than trust.

Thank you, Chris, for your essay and soliciting the feedback.  Kinda why I'm a lefty, we do that sort of thing and don't just preach.

[ Parent ]
Trust But Verify--D'oh! (4.00 / 8)
Verified in the negative, sorry to say.  Exactly as 200+ years of experience could have told you.

Back to the same old pressure the hell out of 'em strategy that's been necessary with every single administration in US history, from Washington to Jefferson to Jackson to Lincoln to Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt, to JFK and LBJ.  Why anyone would think that Obama would be any different than all the above is utterly beyond me.

Presidents are not your boyfriend. They are not your mother.  And they certainly aren't your dog. They are politicians.

Homer Simpson said it best: Do'h!

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

What does he believe in and what is willing to fight for? (4.00 / 1)
I'd prefer trusting Obama's judgment to my current state of distrust and deepening suspicion that despite this massive economic collapse there is a concerted effort to keep the "Masters of the Universe" as "Masters of the Universe". But the reason I don't is that I am unsure where he personally stands on numerous issues and what principles does he feel are non-negotiable. This has a lot to do with FISA, he campaigned using strong rhetoric against warrentless wiretapping, but as soon as it became a potential political liability he abandoned his righteous rhetoric - and, I would add, principles. Similarly, the health-care and NAFTA debates, during the primaries, were total shams (his campaign actually sent out Harry and Louise type mailers, but now word is that the White House supports universality) that I'm not sure which Obama to believe. I know Clinton was always the super "politically expedient" one, but Obama is too.
I`m not saying he has no principles - I think his are more in line with mine than say Bush or McCain or just about any Republican as can be seen by a number of actions that he has taken since coming into office like closing Guantanamo and producing a budget proposal that refocuses the economic priorities in the country - but sometimes I`m not sure what is just placating rhetoric and what he is really willing to stand up and fight for.

I should think that those progressives (0.00 / 0)
who care about principles and policies first would have well concluded already that it should be "distrust and pressure".

But if Obama keeps up the awful work signaled by the corporate serving bailout, and the retention, if not expansion, of the Bush state secrets policy, even that might be too weak an approach.

The correct response might easily escalate to "distrust and primary".

The Founders (4.00 / 9)
devised a form of government on the foundational principle that power cannot be trusted. That's all I need to answer the question of whether or not I "trust" Obama to do the right thing.

Agreed (4.00 / 8)
A citizen's job is not to trust - it's to exercise power, to hold those who hold office accountable.  This is not cynicism, its realism, and understanding one's role in the constitutional system.

Politics is the art of the possible, but that means you have to think about changing what is possible, not that you have to accept it in perpetuity.

[ Parent ]
Rick Warren (4.00 / 4)
delivering the invocation was a big deal to me. It's just not something I can get over very easily. Also I am uneasy about Obama's eagerness to sweep torture under the rug. I see these issues as being related, as a matter of being way too comfortable in the presence of evil. Or maybe being blind to it?

So mark me down in the "distrust" camp, but reluctantly so.

Montani semper liberi

cost/benefit.....what is the tangible upside of trust? (4.00 / 2)
There are tangible benefits in implicitly trusting a friend or family member, but I just don't see what the upside of trusting an elected official could be, besides feeling like you have a warm (albeit one-sided) relationship with that particular person. Our role as citizens is to pressure our elected officials to act in our best interest. Trust seems like a luxury we can't really afford when we're dealing with a representative government, no matter how cuddly the current president may be.

Short Answers (0.00 / 0)
1. Obama has been very consistent on the issues. He was for all of the following things at the beginning of his campaign, in the middle of his campaign and at the beginning of his Presidency: (1) withdrawing from Iraq within an approximately 18 month timeline (2) putting more troops into Afghanistan; (3) drastically expanding access to health care; (4) closing Guantanamo; and (5) investing heavily in green resources. It is particularly important to me that he has budgeted so much money for health care reform and green energy. He has made significant strides towards doing all of those things. FISA was disappointing, but I think it was the exception, and the rule is he has been an unusually honest politician whose only shifts right and left are matters of emphasis and not substance. For the most part I feel like I know what I am getting.

2. I trust Obama more then the Democrats in Congress because he had a better then average record, and had no particular record of obstructing important legislation.

3. I'm less afraid of underreaching and more afraid of overreaching. My fear, which I've seen in health care under Clinton and even Nixon is that an imperfect plan that is better then the status quo will be left on the table because it isn't perfect. I want Obama to drive a hard bargain, but I think it is MORE important, on a lot of these issues that he eventually reach a bargain (even if it is only a starting point). Broadly: government doing something is a win for Democrats (and progressivism) because government can learn how to do it better or more effectively. Government doing nothing is a win for Republicans who would rather it wither and die.

4. I trust post-partisan rhetoric and think it is deeply partisan and effective. The Republican party is driftless and has proven it is unable to govern. As the policies become more and more radical and appeal more and more to the base, for a great majority of more rightward leaning Americans I think one of the only reasons that they would not throw their lot behind Obama is if they feel he is not respectful of them and their values. These are not the people who are going to vote Republican anyway - these are the people who are likely to drift away from voting, or grudgingly vote for whichever Dem or Republican seems "reasonable" without really feeling it. This is the transformational moment when Democrats have a chance to reach these people and bring them into the fold. I'm hopeful his cautious and pragmatic rhetoric will help that and the end result will be progressive legislation. (Kind of like Reagan, but the opposite).

5. My expectations in terms of ideological purity are not terribly high. I never thought that Obama would completely disavow executive power, refrain from issuing a signing statement, deeply debloat the military, and declare war on corporate fat cats and I am not sure that if he did it would be a good thing (partially due to backlash and partially because I think a measured approach is likely to get most issues right).

6. I think what is best for Main Street is also best for Wall Street (or at least that there is no zero sum game where both are competing for the same static piece of the pie). A well regulated, functioning market is in everyone's best interest. So I am not terrified by Summers or Geitner's past ties to Wall Street.  

FISA (4.00 / 1)
You nailed it for me.  Obama's turnaround on FISA left me with a sick feeling that hasn't gone away.  I'm rooting for him...but I haven't really trusted him since.  It was a hell of a thing for a constitutional scholar to do to us and to this country--and you know he knows it was wrong.  It was a soul-selling compromise and sell-out of basic values.  

Why should we trust Obama? (0.00 / 0)
Because he's done just about everything he said he would.

He campaigned on getting us out of Iraq; he is getting us out of Iraq. He campaigned on fighting terrorists in Afghanistan where they actually are; he is taking the fight to terrorists in Afghanistan. He campaigned on green energy and building a green economy; he has already passed the most significant green energy bill (the stimulus) in history. He campaigned on universal health care; he is going to try to pass universal health care. He campaigned on cap and trade; he is going to try and pass cap and trade. He campaigned on working with Republicans; he has tried to work with Republicans. He campaigned on a very centrist economic platform; he has governed with very centrist economic policies. He campaigned on ending torture and closing Guantanomo; he is ending torture and closing Guantanamo. Do I need to go on?

Ask yourself this: when Obama was running for President, did you think he would improve the country if he would win? Well, if you did, then you must believe the country will continue to be improved with Obama as president, because he's governing with the exact same policies on which he campaigned. And by winning, he proved those policies are popular. They may not be the utopia any of us envision - but utopias should be avoided in politics. We need to help Obama make the country a better place by supporting him against Republicans, and the occasional Democrats, who would stand in the way of his agenda. He's proven that he'll be true to the vision he laid out before the American people, so we should trust him.

Chachy, you are a freakin' idiot! (0.00 / 0)
Yes, of course we thought he'd improve the country - from the toilet bowl Bush had dropped it into. And sure, he was obviously better than McCain. But if he doesn't get any pressure from the left, what's to keep him from drifting to the right? If we don't pressure him, there'll be no political cost for him to compromise with Republicans. Hell, in the extreme case, he might as well just become a right-wainger in full regalia if we're just going to trust him no matter what he does.

Sure, he has made good on his promises of a centrist agenda. And sure, that's better than what McCain had to offer. But this is Open Left, not Open Center. If we want universal health care, serious action on global warming, and all the rest, we need to pressure him - and we should never, never trust the people in power; if anything defines conservatism, its trust in the existing power structures. And that is anathema to our goals as progressives.

Open Center. That sounds obscene.

[ Parent ]
The Case for Distrust (0.00 / 0)
Is this the right question? Isn't it more about outcomes? For me , it's not just about the O. admin, it's about the O.A. plus Congress.

Also, is Obama doing what he said he would do? If not, what are we going to do about it? Trust is tangential.

Trust and Pressure (4.00 / 1)
One possible pitfall of the "distrust" stance during a Democratic Administration is that it encourages the cynical belief, "There's no difference between the two parties."  People on the left keep hoping that professing this "no difference" belief will open up space for a leftist third-party alternative that defeats the two-party duopoly, but in practice, it's more likely to lead Democratic-leaning independents to get alienated and opt out of the political system altogether instead of embracing a leftist alternative.  I saw it happen in the 2000 election.  Lots of people insisted that it wouldn't matter whether Gore or Bush were elected, because they were both basically the same.  Instead, Gore went leftward in his retirement from politics, and Bush was the most right-wing president in U.S. history.  

Starting with an a priori assumption that all Democratic politicians want to be "sellouts" is not going to get you anwhere.  The fact that Jimmy Carter and Al Gore have gone leftward, compared to the stances that they held while in public office, suggests that holding political office can put major political constraints on even the most sincere left-of-center politician.  If we keep this in mind, a "trust and pressure" strategy can work by defending Obama, but making it clear that you are defending Obama from the left flank.  For example, in the recent debate over the military budget, why don't I see more publicity from progressive think tanks putting forth their own alternative defense budgets that actually cut the military budget instead of just slowing down the increases?  That way, the right-wing talking points about how Obama's 4 percent increase in the military budget represents a "cut" or even a "gutting" of the military would be exposed for the nonsense that it is.

On the other hand, there are counterexamples, such as Bill Clinton, who has moved rightward, compared to where he was in 1992.  I guess part of the discussion about the relative merits vs. demerits of the "trust" vs. "distrust" strategies hinges on whether Obama is closer to the current version of Bill Clinton or the current version of Carter/Gore.  Obama's defeat of the Clinton machine during the primaries and his endorsement by Carter and Gore are points in his favor.  His appointment of Hillary Clinton to Secretary of State could be a potential warning sign, although I view her as less problematic in her current job than Geithner, for example.      

I don't trust President Obama. I Hope him. (0.00 / 0)
My area of expertise is a focus on actions, belief systems, and interpersonal relationships and conflicts. So I want to speak from this perspective.

I do not trust the Obama administration for many of the reasons you outlined. And your model for beginning a dialogue about trust may be limited but I think it is a very good start. I believe it is not productive to argue the structure of your thesis. I enjoyed reading every word. I like words, they make ideas come alive, they are a sparkly toy.... but I seriously digress.

I do not trust either of the Obamas. But I do Hope them.

1. Barack savaged his opponent in his Chicago bid for the House by pushing her off the ballot. I think this was menacing and shows a willingness to play more dirty then clean. I Hope he can over come this poisonous behavior.

2. The Obama's lovely daughters are too perfect. Yes the little one fools around but she does it to get Daddies attention. And she succeeds. I see Malia hang back, she often looks a little lost in the shuffle. This could merely be style but then there are the pictures and comments from the Obamas that indicate they run a very tight ship. Children can be steered but if it's too heavy handed they become unhappy. I've seen excited Obama children, but not necessarily happy ones. I Hope the Obamas can drop some of that perfectionism.

3. The dog. Too much investment on getting the perfect dog, for all the multitude of reasons bla, bla, bla. If they wanted to get a dog sooner they would have. Further, the time laps between the President's victory in November until said perfect dog arrives has been an eternity to those little girls. Learning patience is fine but their father promised to the nation that his daughters, "have earned the new puppy that's coming with us to the new White House." He said, "puppy that's coming with us". What he said did not occur. I may understand the nature of nuance but that doesn't make it a good thing.
I believe their is a lack of connection between our Presidents promises and his actions and I find it very troubling. If you aren't going to keep promises then don't make them. Integrity 101. And if it's your children, make damn sure you do what you say your going to do. Because that is what they will know and remember. I Hope he learns to stop the grand gestures and focuses on sustainable follow through.

4. President Obama breaks promises. And the way he has handled any criticism to his choices has followed a pattern of: a long silence, a kind of disappearance, followed by a fairly off handed dismissal or a lame excuse. I Hope that our President can gain more humility and live the words he speaks.

5. The President said we were in this together. But then he started throwing parts of his base under the bus. We are not his children to be instructed in suitability of our objections. We are "The" people of the United States and what we say is not being treated respectfully. I Hope, um, see the hope of #4.

6. Rick Warren, Senator Feinstein's cluster fuck at the beginning of the inaugural festivities at the Lincoln Memorial concert, dissing Bishop Gene Robinson by not even arriving for his prayer and failing to role cameras for it.  Big wound and then they threw salt. Enough said. I Hope our President will stop playing the wrong side of the isle.

7. Rahm Emanuel. The Presidents best bud. Jebus! What an embarrassment. What a jerk. Rahm reminds me of the level of maturity and character that is acted out in stylish gay bars by rich gay men with rich gay men's sense of cloying entitlement and studied cynical hubris. They mock the night away. Emanuel seems like a man who takes more pleasure in winning, being the most clever, and extracting or clawing out the most blood. One would think that this would be incompatible with creating and achieving a justice that is cogent. I mean it, if I see one more photo of Emanuel thumbing his nose at someone I'm gonna go off on his a@$. Oh he's not gay he's married to a woman? R i g h t. So I Hope I don't see him act like a spoiled brat again.

7. FISA. Broken promise. Civil rights toileted. Outrage ignored. I hope he will eventually do the right thing. But their is that pliant AG and the dark secrets, and the only moving forward cop out going on. Makes my head hurt. I Hope it is a ploy to keep his hands out of the mix so the AG will be forced to take on his constitutional duties and investigate all of the war criminals. I have a wild imagination in Hope Land.

8. Taking poor women's reproductive power out of the stimulus to appease the GOP. It was the first thing President Obama relinquished. He was on the cover of M.S. Magazine breaking out of his suit to become the new man hero that proclaims, "this is what a feminist looks like".   Um, no.   I Hope that he just knew that the issue for women could be handled on the down low later. That would not be respectful but it is birth control those women could believe in. I said wild Hope didn't I?

I am finding Obama behaving in a disingenuous way that is neglectful and disrespectful to the people who need him the most. I think his character is malleable, he is too impressed with the powerful old white boys club and if he wasn't black he'd be a Republican.

When I say black, I mean he has an ingrained sense of injustice that compels him to verbalize the truth and justice. It is interesting that he choked on his reply about his "outrage" at the AIG bonuses. They all knew about those bonuses a few months before. He did have the decency to choke as he obfuscated.
President Obama was raised in affluent white communities, with his vice president, Banker, grandmother and went to "good schools". Then he went to Harvard. His mother lived in a fringe culture or other culture as soon as she booked it out of her parents house. What an interesting dynamic that all was.
I believe he would necessarily experience internal conflict about his own biracial reality. He keeps white conservatives around him. Their approval is too important. And that is what makes him dangerous to himself and to our country. We need a fire breathing liberal who is calling those rich white f@#$$$s out.

President Obama is one of whitest black men I've seen since Andrew Young. And color matters. (Please don't go, all bogus pc, and white privileged ignorance on me about not seeing color because it doesn't matter, because it does. Alot. Ask black people. I have been a white woman living in the hood in Atlanta for far too long not to speak to this particular reality.)

So how to trust him? I Don't. I Hope Him. I am not really as interested in trashing our President as this post may suggest. And I dislike being disrespectful to the President of the United States. I want him to succeed beyond our dreams. But I will speak to his mistakes and his personal quirks when they effect my country's well-being, and thus mine. And I will write long a$# posts, and send letters, and make phone calls with the Hope that by shoveling through all this horse poo there has got to be, there will be, there is a pony in here somewhere.  Blessings and Peace.


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