"Smart" is not enough: Looking for leadership. Looking for jobs. Obama illusion is wearing thin.

by: Paul Rosenberg

Sun Jan 31, 2010 at 11:00

On Friday, MSNBC replaced Countdown and The Rachel Maddow Show with a 2-hour special on Obama's encounter with the GOP House caucus at their Baltimore retreat, with Kieth and Rachel being joined by Chris Matthews as well.  The consensus of all three was that Obama mopped the floor with the House Republicans.  But as I watched I had more than a nagging feeling that they were somewhat missing the point--even as Rachel kept reminding folks that Obama might well be missing the point.  Although not addressing them specifically, Paul Krugman brought things down to Earth when he wrote:

Look, Obama is a terrific speaker and a very smart guy. He really showed up the Republicans in the now-famous give-and-take. But we knew that. What's now in question isn't his ability to talk, it's his ability to lead.

The problem is not just "leadership skills"--though those are problematic enough.  It's having even the vaguest notion of what our goals and direction need to be.  In the same blog post, Krugman points out:

It's all very well to say "we're going to focus on job creation". But what does that mean? At this point, no major economic programs have any chance of getting passed. Think of it this way: a year ago the question was whether the stimulus would be $700 billion or $1.2 trillion, now we're talking about $30 billion jobs tax credits.

And he's not just saying that because he's a liberal.  Brad DeLong links to and quotes from former Bush Administration economist Keith Hennessey saying the same sort of thing:

Paul Rosenberg :: "Smart" is not enough: Looking for leadership. Looking for jobs. Obama illusion is wearing thin.
What does it mean to focus on jobs?: The conventional Beltway logic is that the President used his State of the Union Address to "pivot to focus on job creation."  We have been told for a week or two that job creation is policy priority #1.... Wednesday night the President "pivoted to focus on jobs."
    That is why jobs must be our number one focus in 2010, and that is why I am calling for a new jobs bill tonight.
I have a simple question:  What does it mean to focus on jobs?

I would presume that it means the President would propose new policy changes that are designed to significantly increase employment, and fairly quickly....

My back-of-the-envelope calculation... suggests that the President's new Small Business Jobs and Wages credit will increase full-time employment in 2010 by 165,000 - 297,000 years.  By 2011, it will increase full-time employment by 264,000 - 594,000 years.... For comparison, remember that the U.S. economy has lost 2.7 million jobs since a year ago, and 7.2 million jobs since the beginning of the recession in December 2007.  297,000 is 4.1% of 7.2 million, so you're talking about a policy change that at best would restore fewer than 1 out of 25 jobs lost since the recession began.

Since no one in the Obama Administration is likely to answer Hennessey, I will:  What it means to "focus on jobs" is to focus on talking about jobs... for a few minutes before turning to talk about something else.

THEY JUST DON'T GET IT!  Talking about jobs does not create jobs.  And just about everyone outside of Versailles knows this.

If they somehow think they are "dealing with" the repercussions of the MA Senate race, they are deluding themselves.  The problem is, quite simply that Keynesian economics works.  It's not a matter of ideology, it's a matter of fact.  And Richard Trumka made this point very directly on Bill Moyers Journal Friday night.  He seems to believe that Obama really gets it--and I think he's 100% wrong about that.  But he himself understands what needs to be done:

RICHARD TRUMKA: .... So, I think he's starting to understand and feel the anger. And I think he's willing to work his way through. Now, the question becomes, will he do it on a scale that's necessary or essential to solve the problem.

BILL MOYERS: What kind of scale?

RICHARD TRUMKA: That's the issue. It has to be a large scale. We lost eight million jobs, plus we have two million that we needed for growth. So, we're 10 million jobs in the hole. In order to do that, it's going to take more than a little stimulus package or a little job bill. Because if all we do is the same thing that Japan did in the early '90s. They would spend a little, look like they're coming out of recession. And then stop and it would drop back down.

They did that for a whole decade. They lost a decade. And our country just can't stand that. So, our job is to make sure that his understanding of the anger, translates out into a jobs program of sufficient size to solve the problem.

Boy howdy!  Even more than the FDR trying to balance the budget in 1937, the example of Japan in the 1990s is a major object lesson in what not to do.  One that virtually all of Versailles--including the Obama Administration--seems utterly oblivious to.

I'm really glad that Trumka nailed this--and I'm pleased with other things he went on to say:

BILL MOYERS: So, what are your economists, your experts, your scholars, your academicians telling you we should be spending for the jobs program that you'd like to see, that you think will really make a big contribution to closing the gap.

RICHARD TRUMKA: First of all, we have to extend unemployment benefits. You got almost six million people who have been unemployed for longer than six months. If they lose those benefits, they stop consuming. If they stop consuming, the economy contracts pretty significantly.

So, we have to extend benefits. And we suggested a year's extension, so that everybody knows where they're going to be. Second of all, we needed money for the state and local governments. They are going to have about $178 billion deficit. And if they stop spending, anything we spend on the federal side just negates one another. So, we have to make sure that we don't lose education, like teachers, firemen, police officers, and all those jobs that are necessary. So, we think there should be aid to state and local governments.

We think there ought to be a major investment in infrastructure. We have a $2.2 trillion deficit in this country when it comes to our infrastructure. Bridges are crumbling. Schools are crumbling. Other places, roads are done. So, we need to make a major investment in that. And quite frankly, we think that the government ought to signal or say that they're going to do that over a number of years.

Because if they do that, and say, "We're going to make a ten-year commitment to rebuilding our infrastructure," then they can bring in private funds. We can leverage that money and private funds will come in as well. The fourth thing we think we need in the short term is direct funding of jobs. I'll give you a couple of examples. You go into an area where schools are, where the students are hurting, because of a low tax base. And you say, "I'm going to provide tutors." Now, that creates a job and it helps a student with better schooling, better education, and being able to do better. And then the last thing the President announced he was going to do was that we think that we ought to use the TARP money to give to regional and community banks so that they can lend to small and mid-sized businesses that create that. And we think this year, we need to be on the range of at least $400 billion. That will get us about 4 million jobs back.

This should not be surprising.  Labor has routinely had a much better sense of what's needed economically than anyone else--and for good reason: They represent the vast majority of people who can't make out like bandits regardless of what happens to everyone else.  This forces a high degree of realism--something that virtually everyone else in Versailles is utterly immune to.

Now, I do have one problem with Trumka, and that's that he seems to believe that Obama has gotten the message, and understands what needs to be done.  But nothing in his performance with the GOP House Caucus gives any inkling of that.  His basic line could be rendered as: "Hey, I'm to the right of Dwight Eisenhower.  What more do you want?"  And the GOP House Caucus shot back: "Eisenhower was a Commie dupe!"

They want to the right of Attila the Hun.

One thing, though, should be coming increasingly clear:  More and more, progressives generally, and netroots activists in particular, are going to have gain a new appreciation for the basic soundness, soberness and importance of labor thinking on economics and labor's importance as a major force in setting this country back on the right track.  Too many younger activists, especially those with an online focus, have little understanding of labor that's not badly distorted by the same delusional Versailles CW that they readily see through in almost every other area.  Labor is far from perfect, of course.  And it's had its own problems from being too influenced by the thinking of Versailles.  But it has enormous under-recognized strengths as well, and if we're going to weather the difficult struggles ahead, then forging strong bonds between the netroots and labor is going to be an absolute necessity.  There's just no one else who's got any sort of power who's remotely close to having a clue what's going on and what is needed for America, as opposed to Wall Street and Versailles.


On a related matter, Digby warns that progressives are fooling themselves to think that Obama did a good job in talking to the GOP reps:

It would appear people are extremely happy that Obama hit it out of the park yesterday in his appearance at the Republican retreat yesterday, so I'm in a minority of those who think it wasn't all that. It's not that I don't think he performed well.  He always performs well. And he's smart as can be, so I expect him to be able to parry lugubrious misrepresentations from idiots without any trouble at all. We liberals love that stuff.

Certainly, it is a welcome thing if he was able to please his supporters because they have been sorely disappointed lately and they deserved something to cheer about so I don't mean to rain on anyone's parade.  Morale is important and if he made people feel charged up that's all to the good.

However, I remain concerned that the message is not as clear to the rest of the country as his supporters think it was. ("Don't mess with Obama.") I watched Clinton do this type of thing over and over again and it didn't change the dynamic at all. He was personally successful, but liberal ideology was degraded every time he conceded something like "I think we raised taxes too much" or "the era of big government is over." People loved his ability to out talk his accusers (in his case it was a real high wire act) but the agenda suffered greatly from his ceaseless efforts to cajole a psychotically  hostile opposition into working with him. It resulted in passage of center right policies and his own impeachment. But then he didn't have a huge majority in congress either.

I suspect that average voters don't see Obama being persecuted as Clinton was, or subject to non-stop calumny by a rabid Republican majority. The Republicans aren't doing anything (and that's the problem.) I think people see Obama conceding that he hasn't been bipartisan enough and that he intends to keep trying.  And that will never be a winner for our side because all the Republicans have to do is continue to obstruct to prove him a failure.

That's it precisely.  Instead of addressing the real problems that Krugman, Trumka, and even Bush's economist point out, Obama gives us a Clinton rerun that needlessly compounds the folly of Clinton's failed approach, and virtually assures its own failure.  And this is supposed to be smart?

Call it "outsmarting yourself", call it "too clever by half," call it whatever, but in the end, the smart thing to do is never to be smart, anyways.

The smart thing to do is to be wise.

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The average idiot (4.00 / 2)
doesn't vote GOP because they are smart or good. They do so because they are overwhelmed with hate.

Being unemployed, underemployed, déclassé, what have you... and looking up and seeing the Party of FDR hasn't done a damn thing for jobs...

Like Wiemar, this cannot end well.

What galls me is how predictable this is when you start with the hypothesis of extreme elite arrogance.

It explains it all.

Pride cometh before the fall.

Will We Be Worse Off Under Republican Rule? (4.00 / 1)
This is a serious question. I'm not really sure what's worse here, to reelect Obama and this moderate Democrat Congress -- and be endlessly betrayed -- or else watch full blown reactionary Republicans take control and run us right back into the ditch full speed!

PRO DEMS: My instinct is all to say that "things can always be worse" -- remember the 1933 German Presidential election between Hindenburg and Hitler which pitted an autocratic Prussian militarist -- against Adolf Hitler. Not really a great choice right? But, what a difference!

ANTI-DEMS: But, Bush faced a united opposition to destroying Social Security. Will Obama undermine everything by joining with Republicans to pass Social Security and Medicare cuts as  "entitlement reform" and provide enough political cover to pass it? Just the way Clinton passed NAFTA? Could we really stop such "entitlement reform" if a right-wing government was in power and had to take responsibility the way we stopped the destruction of Social Security?

That's really the question. Whether "liberals" in office merely pose as poster-boys to get reactionary policies passed that no conservative Republican could pass.

PRO-DEMS: But, what's the alternative? Some tea-bagger like Sen. Scott Brown (who has Bush III written all over him -- he's EXACTLY like Bush II, which is why the right wing loves him)? He's perfect -- photogenic and charming and empty headed and a great liar! Not easy given the corporate media to expose the lie of "compassionate conservatism."

ANTI-DEMS: We get 4 years of triangulating and "kicking the hippies" until the left is so beaten down and discouraged that America is ready to elect a true right-winger for another 4 to 8 years of greedy looting.

PRO-DEMS: But, are the elites really ready for a conservative to take power yet? If a Republican were in charge and tried to enact their usual B.S. in the current economic climate the entire economy would almost certainly collapse. Then THEY'D have to take the responsibility the way Bush did -- only worse. It would be a second Hoover administration and it took Republicans about 40 years to recover from THAT disaster! Wouldn't it have been MUCH better for Republicans to have elected a moderate Democrat in 1928 and let him take the fall for the Depression?

Conclusion: Are the elites really short-sighted enough that they want another Republican to come in and immediately blow another giant hole in the deficit with their insane tax cuts for the rich?  Or would they prefer that a Democrat take the blame for fixing the economy -- and THEN bring in Bush III and start the party all over again?

And under what set of circumstances do Progressives prosper the best? Being undercut by your friends or attacked and crushed by your enemies?  

[ Parent ]
I'm firmly in the pro-Dem camp. (4.00 / 9)
At one of my jobs I had a Bosnian refugee co-worker. He was very sweet and very sad, and one thing he said to me was "Never think that it can't get any worse". He'd lost his property, his career, and his whole family.

If you look at Limbaugh and Beck, and the Blackwater team, and Cheney and his crew, and some of the teabaggers, and the militia types, there's really no bottom to this.

Part of the story in Germany was that the Hindenberg types ended up passively but totally supporting Hitler. They had a militant Communist Party to excuse them, but the mainstream Republicans of today have no excuse. They're willing to let Sarah Palin take power just for the sake of a few perentage points on the upper-bracket tax rate.

And Sarah is frightening, not ridiculous. If she's elected she'll be sure to find her Cheney

[ Parent ]
Blackwater contracts (0.00 / 0)
> If you look at Limbaugh and Beck, and the
> Blackwater team, and Cheney and his crew, and
> some of the teabaggers, and the militia types,
> there's really no bottom to this.

Except that the Obama Administration has been renewing and expanding the Blackwater contracts.  Which is the type of thing Cudgel notes.


[ Parent ]
It's about who gets the final say to any Presidents agenda.. (4.00 / 2)
It's been clear from the Clinton years until now that small blocs of Moderates/Blue Dogs can control the agendas in either chamber of Congress regardless of who's in the White House. On the other hand, the progressive side in the House is almost large enough - if they hold firm - to counter their actions when needed.

The net roots must focus like a laser these next months on finding and throwing all our money to loyal Progressive candidates, be they Independents, Greens or Democrats.
CNN reported this morning the House is one vote short of passing HCR??
Rahm and Reid thought it would be easy sailing to roll their bad Senate bill over the House.  They thought wrong.

We can't change much now, but with just a few more Progressives we sure as hell can stop Wall Street from buying all the votes.


Nationalism is not the same thing as terrorism, and an adversary is not the same thing as an enemy.

[ Parent ]
Is this Administration capable of bold policy action? (4.00 / 4)
Economic circumstances require bold policy actions such as what Mr. Trumka talked about but is this Administration capable of proposing such action?  Does the President have the courage or leadership ability to do that?

Look at his advisers - mostly Clinton retreads.  It's basically the same tired thinking.  The only person who may have a clue as to what it will take to get us out - Christina Romer - is probably being ignored.  

BTW, Keynesian economics does work and that is why those with power and money don't like it.  

RebelCapitalist - Financial Information for the Rest of Us.

What does it mean? .. (4.00 / 2)
It's all very well to say "we're going to focus on job creation". But what does that mean?

I'd be willing to bet that they don't even know .. maybe they haven't had the "Come to Jesus" moment Greenspan had after the start of this present mess we are going through .. but neo-liberal policies are being shown to be a failure .. it's just a matter of time when they recognize that .. and if it is too late or not

What I think of Obama at this point (4.00 / 11)
He put together a great campaign organization and ran a great campaign. He can give a great speech. He's great at messaging and controlling the message, granted the toxic media environment and his own lack of ideas.

But apparently whatever policy ideas he has are the same old DLC centrist hodgepodge, and based on what he's said, he seems to have no understanding either of economics or of the political importance of unemployment. So far, to my knowledge, he's never been in office and expected to come up with results before, especially economic results, and the whole concept is apparently foreign to him.

I'm really just groping in the dark. I waver between the conspiracy theory and the incompetence theory, and Obama is so sharp in some respects that I find the incompetence theory implausible.

Unless I'm completely wrong, though, I just can't see this turning out well.

Something happened between campaign and first day in office (4.00 / 4)
You are right about messaging DURING the campaign but while in office it has been horrible. Just look at a few days ago, Axelrod says fight for health care reform, Emanuel says health care on the back burner.  Even during the heat of the summer, we like the public option but it is not that important for health care reform.  What did they want?

Competency could be called into question regarding those who he chose as his advisers.

At this pace, without serious change in direction, this isn't going turn out well.

RebelCapitalist - Financial Information for the Rest of Us.

[ Parent ]
Governing isn't just messaging (4.00 / 2)
It's been a sort of reality check, I think. Suddenly you have to message in the context of the things that you've been doing, and you lose control that way.

Even so, his meeting with the Republican Congressmen was great messaging even though, as Digby, Paul, and I agree, it was defective in substance.

[ Parent ]
He's a true believer in neo-liberalism (4.00 / 11)
Here's a funny video that I love on the subject of what neo-liberalism really is:


The core problem here is that you are asking a true believer in neo-liberalism to lead you from neo-liberalism to a new economic world view. You may as well ask a theocrat to lead a battle for separating church from state.

I would add the Democratic party leadership is mostly neo-liberal. They are all as someone wrote here once 'The Children of Reagan."

So long as that is true, neo-liberalism can never fail the leadership. The leadership can only fail neo-liberalism. It is true that graft, corruption and plutocracy are powerful motivators, but some part of me believes (without any way to prove it) that many would still follow neo-liberalism without. I suppose to proof is amongst those who don't make any money from the system as it is, and still blindly follow it.

His performance was great, but it was really about following a kinder, gentler form of neo-liberalism, and asking the GOP why would they have a problem with that?

This is the problem with partisanship. Or for that matter identity or personality driven politics. They can be trojan horses to the real battle. I expect them to ignore the lessons of MA and OR for exactly the reason they know that the trojan horse can be used to minimize the effect of any popular effort to blunt the advance of their ideological goals.

Precisely (4.00 / 6)
His performance was great, but it was really about following a kinder, gentler form of neo-liberalism, and asking the GOP why would they have a problem with that?

And the GOP replied (ala Tina Turner doing "Proud Mary"), "Because we don't do anything kinder and gentler."

"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 ]
One of the more annoying tropes (4.00 / 11)
is that Obama defies ideological categorization.  The NY Times Week of Review section pegged its lead story to the myth. Sure, his rhetoric and marketing obscure the truth, but on both foreign and domestic affairs, he's a conventional neo-liberal.

I also disagree with some progressives who claim Obama doesn't know how to lead. He's not great, certainly, but on several issues--war funding, Bernanke, most notbaly--the White House has twisted arms and gotten what it wanted. But what it wants is usually not what we want.  

[ Parent ]
Well, He DOES Defy Categorization (4.00 / 1)
Defy, deny, it's still a lie.

But isn't that the NYT's job?  To repeatedly amplify each President's central lies?

"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 ]
p.s. (4.00 / 2)
I don't deny his minor anti-progressive victories.  I just don't think they took all that much in the way of leadership.  I never denied they could exert power.  But that's only a component in leadership.

"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 ]
Fair point (4.00 / 3)
But then we can't really determine how effective Obama would be in fighting for progressive bills, because he's never really tried. His not fighting for EFCA, cramdown, a public option (and coming up, financial reform) seems less like incompetence than ideology.  

[ Parent ]
True, We Can't Tell (0.00 / 0)
But wouldn't it be exciting to see him try?

That would violate the "no drama Obama" ethos, though, I guess.  So it's not on the menu.  Who says he's changed since the campaign?

"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 ]
Being non-ideological is a neoliberal cliche (4.00 / 11)
Only their opponents are ideological. Their own ideas are new, original, and bold, even though they've controlled the Democratic Party since 1988. (Dukakis has been classified as a Massachusetts liberal, but actually he was an early neoliberal).

I have to say this every time Dukakis comes up: his family was Greek, but his family was bilingual, members of the Greek Vlach minority, which also speaks a romance language somewhat like Romanian. This makes me like him better, for no particular reason.

[ Parent ]
"You Have An Ideology, I Have Ideas" (4.00 / 1)
I've written about this before.  It's such an obvious con.

The ideas they have are all the same: education is just like making cars.  And in fact, they're right: we can't be bothered with either.

"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 ]
On blocking drug reimportation or pressuring war funding (4.00 / 5)
He had no problem twisting arms on either the Senate or House of Representatives. These were simply measures that fit neo-liberal agenda. So, yes, it is a lie that he can not lead. What it means is that he uses the ineffectual or impotent president as an excuse to continue policies he wants to continue, and when cornered such that the status quo is threatened- he will twist arms of those who threaten the status quo. I agree that it is branding and marketing.  I've been saying this for months. He says one thing, leads another.  

[ Parent ]
Neoliberalism is precisely the problem (4.00 / 3)
And from all evidence to date, Obama is a hardcore Neoliberal ideologue. I've made this point here before that FDR was often not the smartest man in the room when he surrounded himself with advisers, but he was the most nimble in his willingness to try something new when the first one, two or three things didn't work. Our problem is that it appears that Obama doesn't have that nimbleness of thought. He's more like Herbert Hoover than FDR. And it's been said that Hoover wasn't a bad guy, he wanted to fix the economic problems facing his administration, but he couldn't free himself from the traditional laissez faire approach to government and finance. He was too hidebound in his thinking. Obama is proving to be the same.

"Sometimes I wonder whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on, or by imbeciles who really mean it." - Mark Twain

[ Parent ]
Yeah, I thought when he said I am non ideological (4.00 / 9)
I am willing to try good idea, especially if it saves money, that he must be joking.

So, is this why he left the King Kong budget issue of military spending off the table? Is this why he's not raising taxes on the wealthy in a way that could end budgetary deficit issues within a decade?

I mean- he's clearly leaving things off the table that would be effective policies. What he is really saying is that he's willing to consider whatever non-crazy right wing policies that come up rather than including liberal policy making in that  realm of possibility.

This is why I don't b elieve that he or the party will see any lesson in OR. I also don't think they will take the right lesson from MA. To buy that MA was about being conservative, is to argue that MA is veered to the far right. Do any of them buy that? I know a reasonable person would not. But given DC, I would guess they are convincing themselves that MA has veered far right.

[ Parent ]
MA has not veered far to the right( speaking as a MA resident) (4.00 / 2)
MA is pissed off: some about the CHANGE or the idea of what they think is CHANGE and some about the pace of the promised CHANGE which is hardly evident even at a snail's pace.

[ Parent ]
A cloud of unknowing (4.00 / 8)
In talking with my friends and acquaintances, whose political views run roughly from Krugman to Chomsky, this is the question that always comes up.

Why are they doing this? They must see how dangerous (stupid, dysfunctional, etc.) it is.

I've heard it so often, I've given it a name: the why shit where you eat? conundrum. Democratic Senators may be venal, corrupt and lazy, as well as stupid, but it must occur once in a while even to them that if they wreck the country, their own exalted positions within it will be worth far less than they are at present. (Yes, they can take their money and move to Costa Rica, or to the Cayman Islands, but while they'll be still be rich, no one will ever fawn over them again who isn't well-paid for the service.)

President Obama is smart, well-educated, and presumably has read the same books we have. Moreover he gets to talk to Krugman, Stiglitz, Roubini and even Trumka in person whenever he wants to. All he has to do is pick up the phone. So why, exactly, is he so proud of himself, and so blind to the fact that he runs the risk of being the last emperor at the ass end of history?

Paul does a better job of explaining this spectacle than most people, but I have to say that I'm still not convinced. Are they evil? Are they stupid? Do they really only care about short-term optimization of their own power? Didn't their mothers love them? Damned if I know.

One possible clue (4.00 / 9)
President Obama is smart, well-educated, and presumably has read the same books we have.

It's possible that at various points during his academic and political career he was convinced that there are certain books that ambitious young people should not read. Academic life works this way, and most people I've know with Poli Sci degrees have been steered in the DLC-neoliberal direction.  Law school has a similar bias.

Many successful people have been heavily coached from an early age by patrons and sponsors, and they're not like us. It's very likely that Obama was groomed to become what he is.

[ Parent ]
A minor correction (4.00 / 2)
Make that ...the ass end of American history. I wouldn't want anyone here to get the idea that I think we gringos are the only game in town.  

[ Parent ]
Hence My Reaciton-Formation Thesis (4.00 / 1)
There is no one explanation. There is an interacting stew of cross-reinforcing reasons, the totality of Democratic Versailles, so far, far removed from Democratic (or even democratic) America.  And where Obama rode in as a relative outsider, there are his inner demons at work, precisely the same things that made him appealing to Versailles, which he hid quite successfully in appealing to the rest of us.

"Reaction formation" was my first stab at making sense of these demons, and I'm sure it's an over-simplification.  But I continue to think it's a major factor in why he's not just not resisting the self-destructive forces of Democratic Versailles, but actively feeding them instead.

"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 ]
Well.... (4.00 / 1)
When I was in school, it was abundantly clear that certain otherwise despicable fraternity boys would be the ones running the world twenty years hence. It was as obvious to me as it was to them. The defects of intellect or character which already marked so many of them were rightly understood -- by me as well as by the rest of the world -- as the assets they would one day become in propelling them into positions of power.

The odd thing is that not all of them turned out to be assholes later on, and not all of us shaking our heads at them turned out as well as we would have liked. John Emerson is right about how they're prepared, but ignores the counterexamples. (Admittedly there aren't nearly as many of them as there are of those who followed the predicted path.)

Whatever the merits or flaws in your explanations, Paul, you're clearly right about one thing -- it's complicated.

[ Parent ]
Ha (4.00 / 2)
Well, I assume another book we've all read is The Best and the Brightest, the sequel of which Halberstam sadly isn't around to write.  

[ Parent ]
Community organizer in Chicago (4.00 / 2)
> President Obama is smart, well-educated,
> and presumably has read the same books we have.

I'll say it again: the lesson that community organizers in Chicago have learned for the last 100 years is that while you may have some initial small successes, to get anything significant done you will eventually have to talk to and compromise with the Machine.  And once you start compromising with the Machine, it starts pulling you in slowly and surely.  Re-read Boss; Richard J. Daley's method of handling community activists was to (1) send the police to beat them over the head (2) send representatives in the dark of night, after the police beatings, to offer them low-level jobs at City Hall (Deputy Asst Director of Neighborhood Policy, etc).  Worked well almost every time.  That's the lesson that Obama learned too, methinks.


[ Parent ]
Sorry (4.00 / 1)
Different generation, different books.  I know he didn't read a lot of the books I did and the ones we both read tend to be ones I tossed out as making no sense.

Many of the books that made the biggest impression on me were written well before I went to college or graduate school and some of them were books I have read recently.  

It is quite possible to go back to the original source material and not some ideological rehash that says more about contemporary thought than the thought of past generations.

[ Parent ]
Books, etc. (0.00 / 0)
Didn't we all read the Old Ones? Homer. The Bible. The Bhagavad Gita. Thucydides. Montaigne. Machiavelli. Shakespeare. Voltaire. Locke. The Federalists. Lincoln. Marx. Freud. Gramsci. Eliot. Etcetera, etcetera.

I'm more than 20 years older than President Obama, yes, but what made me what I am pre-dates both of us by decades, by centuries. We stand on the shoulders of giants....

That's the sense in which I meant the same books. If President Obama hasn't read all of these estimable voices from our past, I'd be very much surprised. He could hardly write as eloquently as he does without having read at least some of them.

[ Parent ]
"short-term optimization of their own power" (0.00 / 0)
In addition to President Obama's own individual psychology (see Paul's "reaction formation" post), my answer is "short-term gain, long-term pain" augmented by, at the risk of overgeneralizing an economics term, "cost externalizing"-a lot of the costs (or negative effects or pain) are borne by third parties, not by the participants themselves.

[ Parent ]
It was sad to see the euphoria (4.00 / 8)
in some progressives circles after Obama's fine performance. Even sadder to see some suggest this would alter the political landscape.

Forget action, forget progressivism, hell, forget policies. He beat the GOP politically....for 90 minutes! This is the how Bill Clinton kept many progressives in his camp, by being smarter and savvier than the GOP, 'cept the Dog did it for most of eight years, not for the length of a movie.

Clinton was dazzling (4.00 / 7)
I'd watch him for two or three minutes on the TV and I'd just love him. Then afterwards I'd have to remind myself that he wasn't really on my side. It was like magic, not entirely in a good way.

[ Parent ]
My Sister Used To Say (4.00 / 4)
that this was the one good thing about Clinton--that he would stand up and fight the GOP.  People tend to forget how refreshing and invigorating this was, even though he wasn't really fighting for us.  At least he was fighting back against the worst bullies on the block.

Obama?  Not so much.

"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 ]
Worse than not fighting (4.00 / 4)
he keeps reaching out to them.

And as Digby says, how does it look when you fail to achieve consensus with people you have repeatedly described as good-faith actors? It makes you look weak.

Montani semper liberi

[ Parent ]
various thoughts (4.00 / 10)
via GGreenwald twitter feed:

Speaking on a panel at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Summers said one in five American men aged 25 to 54 are unemployed.

Can anyone say the attraction of teabaggers?  I knew you could.

What does it mean to focus on jobs?

To stare hard at the unemployment numbers and Hope[insert trademark symbol] they don't go higher.  If they do, prepare a sternly worded letter - to someone.

Since this letter to the editor in Harper's is still behind a paywall, I'm going to reproduce the whole thing.  If you never hear from me again, I was struck dead for doing so.  But, it's the best explanation of Obama wrt the economy I've read.  What it portends for the future is not inconsistent with what we are all observing empirically.

Hoover Maneuver?

As a son of the postindustrial Pittsburgh proletariat who received induction into the nation's ruling class in Morningside Heights (and, later, on Capitol Hill) around the same time as Barack Obama did, I find Kevin Baker's musings on the psychohistory of our thirty-first and forty-fourth presidents entirely credible ["Barack Hoover Obama," Essay, July]. Those of us who "grew up as . . . outsider[s] and overcame formidable odds" to obtain an elite education and professional success did so at the cost of internalizing wholesale the values and worldview of our fellow "strivers and achievers." How else could we have come to believe that we belong in their ranks?

Surely, then, it should be no great surprise that our new president has, to date, politely declined to offer a serious challenge to the same corporate and institutional forces that decades ago admitted him to their ranks, with (as always) the proviso that he become one of them. Unlike Herbert Hoover, Bill Clinton, and Obama, the to-themanor-and-manner-born FDR suffered from no such identity crisis and the personal insecurities it tends to engender. The surprise is not that Obama is on the fast road to betraying the radical reformist aspirations that his upbringing and racial background might suggest. It is that anyone who has been paying attention could expect Obama to do anything other than, in Baker's fine phrase, move the country "prudently, carefully, reasonably toward disaster"-in other words, to offer us more of the same.

David Osachy, Park, Fla.

[emphasis mine]

You're on the money (4.00 / 12)
It fits with what I've said. A lot of people who come up from below are overwhelmed with gratitude toward their patrons. Success is not longer attributed to talent and hard work, but to connections and cultivating the right people, and figuring out what they want from you.

This is further in the direction of psychology than I'f wish, but Reagan, Clinton, and Obama all came from marginal, non-standard families with defective or absent fathers. They're all people-pleasers, and they're all (this is my theory) loyal and grateful to their benefactors.

Upward mobility can have a very dark side.

FN. Watching my son's generation (aged 20-40) it really pains me that I can't really offer them anything. My political example leads to unhappiness and frustration. At a certain level of alienation many job tracks are unavailable to you. My Republican niece and nephew have their lives laid out for them and with a little luck can go cheerfully from success to success. The others have to deal with a lot of negativity.

[ Parent ]
Brilliant stuff (4.00 / 1)
At a certain level of alienation many job tracks are unavailable to you.

You and bystander are knocking it out of the park today. A hat tip to you both, and to Paul for setting the table so elegantly.

[ Parent ]
It was brilliant. (4.00 / 2)
Thanks for putting that thought into words.  I just stared at that sentence in wonderment, and scored it a 4.

[ Parent ]
It's not a complex idea (4.00 / 4)
But you seldom see it stated. It's sort of like a forbidden or suppressed way of thinking. Theoretically jobs are non-ideological and you can separate your personal beliefs and your work life, but in reality you just can't. And more and more employers try to read your mind, and try to get you to cheer for their side.

It goes against the liberal myth of neutrality and individual freedom. Just ;like every other society, our society makes the dissident and discontented pay a price.

[ Parent ]
That's just it! (4.00 / 2)
Those ideas that smack you right between the eyes, and knock you over, aren't always complex.  Hidden in plain sight, the person who can call it sees better.  Figure and ground.  You picked figure out of its camouflaged ground.  Don't have to be complex to be effin' brilliant, does it?

[ Parent ]
Proof of what your're saying: Have you read the book "The Trap"? (4.00 / 4)
It's about how so many of the jobs that attract altruistic and progressively-driven young people are extremely low-paying by design. For instance, the book points out that back in the early 1960s public school teachers and stock brokers made about the same amount of money. Now, of course, there's no comparison. The book makes a good argument about how this came to be due to specific economic and political actions by our leadership. I just gave my copy to my 24-year-old nephew so he can understand that there's a structural reason why he's running up against so much frustration in his job search.

Save Our Schools! March & National Call to Action, July 28-31, 2011 in Washington, DC: http://www.saveourschoolsmarch...

[ Parent ]
There's a great book by Jeff Schmidt: "Disciplined Minds" (4.00 / 4)
[ Parent ]
Does anyone know ... (4.00 / 1)
This is further in the direction of psychology than I'f wish, but Reagan, Clinton, and Obama all came from marginal, non-standard families with defective or absent fathers. They're all people-pleasers, and they're all (this is my theory) loyal and grateful to their benefactors.

the dates that Obama's mother worked for Tim Geithner? .. It's kinda telling that even a guy like Obama .. ran across(or his family did) people that would help him(or he helps them) later on .. it's never an accident

[ Parent ]
Bingo! (4.00 / 4)
William's right to highlight this sentence:

At a certain level of alienation many job tracks are unavailable to you.

The Vietnam War is what did it for me.  Without the deep sense of alienation that engendered, I might have gone to grad school at Harvard or something.  And I was anything but alone.  There were hundreds of thousands of us, if not more, who simply could not do the sorts of things with our lives that we had imagined in our mid-teens.

One of my college roomates, for example, had ambitions to be a US Senator.  He came from the DC area, and knew the names of every representative in Congress.  A walking encyclopedia of politics.  But that freshman year, Vietnam War protests exploded far beyond what they'd been the year before, and he came to realize how terrible the war was, how he couldn't possibly not oppose it, and how certainly that meant that his political future was over before it began.

That was just the beginning, however.  A very large "side-effect" of the stratification of American society since the early 1980s has been a multifaceted process that generates alienation on the one hand, while altering job sectors on the other so as to dramatically increase the screening effects that keep the less sociopathically inclined increasingly scrambling for crumbs.

It began with the massive wave of de-industrialization in the late 70s and early 80s, as the job of management increasingly became focused on screwing the front-line workers.  This then spread outward to envolop more and more of the economy.  Remember the tape of the Enron traders?  The only thing worse than a nation of salesmen on the make is a nation of salesmen on the way down... fast.

Alienation is our most important product.

"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 ]
Read the book "The Trap." (4.00 / 1)
Upthread I point out to John Emerson it's relevancy.

Save Our Schools! March & National Call to Action, July 28-31, 2011 in Washington, DC: http://www.saveourschoolsmarch...

[ Parent ]
Dude, Where's My Link? (4.00 / 1)

"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 ]
Too subtle (0.00 / 0)
"its relevancy" was the link. Here it is again:

Save Our Schools! March & National Call to Action, July 28-31, 2011 in Washington, DC: http://www.saveourschoolsmarch...

[ Parent ]
Damn! (0.00 / 0)
I thought I cursored over the whole thing.

That's why I always bold mine.

"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 ]
As one of my friends said, early on... (4.00 / 1)
...I resent that fact that I have to become a schizophrenic to keep this job.

Oh, I ain't gonna work on Maggie's farm no more.

If only.... But for that necessity, we mighta been contenders. Which is why, never mind my state-subsidized education (thank you, taxpayers of California) I've always been a blue-collar kinda guy.

[ Parent ]
Persuasive, I think (4.00 / 1)
Especially when you consider his race, which makes him automatically threatening at first blush; hence his overcompensatory effort to reassure.

Weird how little we talk about his race when we talk about this stuff, I guess because we're afraid we'll end up sounding like Ralph Nader doing his Uncle Tom riff.  

[ Parent ]
From on top (4.00 / 1)
Obama's grandmother was part of the elite.  If mom seemed an outsider, she chose to play that game and retained contacts with the very tip top of the American NGO establishment.  Top prep school.  Ivy league college. Ivy league grad school.  Contacts and more contacts.  

Sorry, it is not the same story at all.

[ Parent ]
Yes, But (4.00 / 1)
Then there's that whole community-organizer stint.  Which really makes no sense in terms of being smoothly indoctrinated--a process that's never really that smooth, if any number of novels are to be believed.  Rather, it's novels that chronicle the conflicts involved that make sense of why Obama would turn toward community organizing, not as a cynical career move (though there could well be a thread of that, too), but as an integral necessity.

So, yeah, I'm sure that tells us part of what happened.  But only part.  Like I say elsewhere, it's complicated.  And over-determined.

"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 ]
I'm not sure community organizing argues against (4.00 / 2)
Per my humble experience, it would depend on what kind of community organizer he was, and what kind of community organizing he did.  Quite honestly, I don't know.  Maybe someone else does.  Did he teach it, or did he practice it?  Was community organizing a theoretical abstraction or was it an empirical reality for Obama?  As time goes on, I'm more inclined to see Obama's claim to "community organizing" as having been ephemeral, at best.  And, I see whatever-it-was as less, and less, an asset in terms of what he faces.  In fact, I'm coming to see it as a liability.  He has two sides he cannot bring together based on some mutually felt need.  CO ain't gonna accomplish shit with the "Party of No."  And, what community organizer in his right mind would disassemble his infrastructure on the ground?  No.  Community organization isn't practiced as Obama is practicing it.  IMO, what Obama is doing is antithetical to community organization.

[ Parent ]
Clarification (4.00 / 1)
I'm just saying that if the simplified narrative were all there were to it, then he just would have gone to a high-profile law firm, or taken some other typical elite career path.  Instead he did something that didn't fit with that simplified narrative, whatever you may say about the internal dynamics that lead to and followed that choice.

That's why I say it needs a more novelistic approach to see what was happening with him.  And it's why I don't think it was predetermined that he turn out the way he has.  There certainly was a probabilistic logic to it, no question about that--I agree 100%.  But the individual is never probable. The individuals life is always composed of all sorts of improbable elements.  For the most part, these tend to cancel out in the long run, so there's a regression to the mean, and this certainly seems to have happened to Obama, as his behavior in office seems much more typical of this over-arching narrative than his earlier actions were.  And that's why I distrust relying solely on the over-arching narrative.  It gives you a likely story, but almost certainly hides as much as it reveals.

"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 ]
Not too sure (4.00 / 8)
Then there's that whole community-organizer stint.  Which really makes no sense in terms of being smoothly indoctrinated--a process that's never really that smooth, if any number of novels are to be believed.

I think it very possibly fits quite well; I can point to many people my age and younger who spent a few years kinda getting their hands dirty working at the "grassroots" level--community organizing, promoting environmental justice, etc. only to go on to lucrative and "very important" gigs in the land of the power elite.  The time in the trenches is viewed as one of the essential rites of passage in many quarters (I would assume one of those being an ambition to run for political office in Chicago).  It grants one the cred to speak about their time in the streets, which makes them much more valuable when pushing forward with actions and policies that claim to be lifting all, while never fundamentally challenging the status quo.

Is this always done cynically? Not at all.  Speaking from my own experience, there is still a strong missionary streak of "helping the masses" emanating from these elite institutions and driving this kind of behavior.  I didn't attend an elite institution*, but I did spend a few years "toiling in the fields" before moving to a nice office doing public polity work in Sacramento...that time doing grassroots served me well.

(*Remember, Obama attended school at Punahou, the most elite private school in Hawaii--founded by Christian missionaries in the 1840s, a school that instills both a sense of privilege and a sense of go forth and serve the less fortunate...)

Today, we might see best this in the zeal of young Teach for America recruits, kids graduating from the most elite colleges and universities in the nation who are told they are the best and brightest and as such their talents are needed by poor kids in those awful schools in the inner city or out on the reservations (but only for a couple of years).  Part of the brilliance of the program in its reflection of the zeitgeist is that it appeals to the missionary spirit (in some cases the guilt too), while also explicitly selling the message that this field work will prepare them to assume the leadership roles in forging new educational policy at the highest levels (yes, they are told this during recruiting).   More importantly, it inculcates the message that the true issue with urban education must be the teachers themselves (and of course their unions).   I should also add, it increasingly serves as a temporary place to land for over-educated graduates unable to find positions that mesh with their expensive diplomas...an immediate alternative for UC and Ivy grads to slinging drinks or working at Trader Joe's.

[ Parent ]
I'm Familiar With That Phenomena (4.00 / 1)
But not so much with folks situated where Obama was.  Which is why I think it's a more complicated tale.

"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 ]
If only (4.00 / 11)
we could replace "Teach for America" with "Pay Taxes for America."

I've noticed all the elite schools seem to have gotten on the bandwagon of "service," or what I cynically call "misery tourism," in which cadet members of the ruling class spend time with the less fortunate in order to, what, assuage their privileged guilt, or stifle it completely?

Meanwhile, if their parents merely paid taxes at the same rate they were paying them in the 50's, much of that misery and degradation could be banished overnight.

Montani semper liberi

[ Parent ]
There is absolutely zero evidence that Obama wants this country (4.00 / 5)
to head in any other direction than he has taken it and any pace other than the glacial crawl he has given it. I cannot speak for anyone else but I have the same visceral reaction everytime he comes on the media...will someone please change the channel.  All of this moaning and groaning that he "isn't leading" is a crock; he IS leading. The problem is he is not doing anything we want. Tough. That's what he and his corporate controllers, the village idiots, the military, the national security apparatus all want. If we on the left can't get our heads around a simple and completely transparent fact, then we should stop whining and join one or the other of the Dems or Republicans and get with the program (the program has not changed).
At this point, it should be clear to anyone (even Mike Lux) that Obama is a  determined enemy of all things progressive; he has zero credibility when he frames his sell-outs in progressive or populist terms; his politics are dishonest, opportunist, corporatist, militarist, anti-populist. That is what he is.

If Obama's so smart... (4.00 / 8)
After watching that 90 minutes of 'smartest guy in the room' destruction of GOP talking points I was left wondering, if Obama's so damn smart:

* Why does he have Rahm (every thing I say and do is proven wrong) Emanuel in charge of his White House? Even if you concede neo-liberal compatibility, how does such a smart guy employ someone so demonstrably incompetent?

* How does he suffer and coddle a fool like Ben Nelson? Again, even setting aside ideology, Nelson is just a bumbling idiot. E.g. War Bonds mean less deficit spending.

There are other examples that make you wonder, but these two have stuck with me the last couple of days. That brilliant guy we saw on Friday put Rahm in charge and listens to his advice. He allows a blithering idiot like Ben Nelson into the middle of his legislative strategy. It's a jarring juxtaposition. It's hard to reconcile the two Obamas...

Self-refuting Christine O'Donnell is proof monkeys are still evolving into humans

Self-sabotaging (4.00 / 10)
A lot of what is done makes sense if you think that DLC Democrats would rather lose than empower progressives. Their commitment is to centrism (neo-liberalism), not to the Democratic Party, and still less to the Democratic electorate or the people in general.

I am very suspicious of competence-incompetence arguments. If a big time player seems incompetent to you, maybe you don't understand their real goals. Likewise, someone who claims to be non-ideological but competent almost always is try9ng to slip neo-liberalism past you.  

[ Parent ]
Same goes with the president does not have power argument (4.00 / 5)
That's new to the Obamabots. They will claim Obama has no power to do x,y or z whenever it comes time to address accountability for why we see the policies we see. The same with requiring 60 votes. It is all designed to reinforce right now the status quo with the assumption people will not have any memory day to day of arguments made.  

[ Parent ]
Affirmatively self-sabotaging? (4.00 / 1)
And here I thought Presidents would prefer to build a positive legacy. Silly me.

I can buy your argument for the actions of a Senator or even a group of Senators, where the inaction/failure of the overall body diffuses responsibility. I can buy your argument for Rahm as a centrist strategist in the legislature. But not in the employ and at the pleasure of the President.

Clearly, as Axelrod has confirmed, the 'smartest guy in the room' President and his White House team had no Plan B for health care -- not just for Massachusetts, but for the possibility that something unforeseen could happen to any of the 60. Even if I could accept affirmatively self-sabotaging as plausibly possible the President, it simply doesn't explain this lapse of judgment and foresight. How can the guy on display for 90 minutes on Friday be (and/or allow his team to be) so negligent?

Self-refuting Christine O'Donnell is proof monkeys are still evolving into humans

[ Parent ]
Another great line (0.00 / 0)
A lot of what is done makes sense if you think that DLC Democrats would rather lose than empower progressives.

I've been hammering away at this point for years, usually with a great many more words.  Too often we talk about politics as if there are only two teams competing.  Some of us see it as Dems versus Republicans, others see many Dems as on the same side as Republicans.  The left out part is the competition among the Democrats for control of the party.  Keeping progressives demobilized empowers the Rahms and disempowers the Deans.

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 ]
I Agree With Steve (4.00 / 2)
While your general thesis is sound, it doesn't really explain the President.  For one thing, the DLC Democrats are most willing to lose as a party.  They are much less keen about losing individually.  In fact, sacrificing the party for themselves is pretty much SOP.

"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 ]
A candidate can lose as a candidate.... (0.00 / 0)
....but win as a lobbyist. most of them seem to want to stay in office, but all of any significance have a cushy fall-back.  

[ Parent ]
Still doesn't hold for a President (0.00 / 0)
Failed presidency and failed re-election goes down in history. Scars remain for rest of life. They're going to affirmatively do that just to ensure a cushy lobbying fallback that ex-presidents don't need?  

Self-refuting Christine O'Donnell is proof monkeys are still evolving into humans

[ Parent ]
telling the republicans that he is center right (4.00 / 4)
does not make me, whoop and hollar!  Sorry, but only a dem partisan would appreciate that q and a. A progressive would just dismiss him more, which I did.

My blog  

Jumped the Shark (0.00 / 0)
When the preacher comes to visit, count your spoons.


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