Monday, November 03, 2008

Opportunity Emperiled

Last February, I riffed on a Krugman column in my post It's the Missed Opportunities, Stupid. In it, I wrote about the difference between an election victory and taking advanatge of political opportunities:

What the campaign lacks, however, and why it cannot achieve what Bill Clinton did, is an unswerving dedication to bettering the lives of ordinary people. It is trading on the most shallow of all political impulses (Oh, please, stop arguing about stuff and making me feel uncomfortable! Stop with the partisan bickering! Won't somebody think of the children?) and deliberately sidesteps the tough work of coalition building. Saying that you will seek common ground with the right - who wants no such thing - builds no coalition to promote progressive causes. It just gets you an inside track with David Broder and the Blogger Boyz who all want to become the next Tim Russert. Getting a bunch of college students with free time to swarm caucuses is not building a coalition, either, btw. ...

Movement Conservatism has been thoroughly discredited by the Bush II administration, but that doesn't mean the liberal cause has an open road ahead of it. The radicals on the right are entrenched in government, they command popular media, and they have no compunction against using the most crude and visceral attacks they can conjure up to sway public opinion. To take back the nation, the Democrats are going to have to mount their own concerted attack, doing right by ordinary citizens and insisting on accountable, rational government. That means deploying effective policies despite the entrenched right wing hacks, appointing liberal judges, and getting significant legislation passed over determined opposition.

Today, I see two posts, one on Suburban Guerilla, one on Corrente, where the Obamacans are signaling as hard as possible that they have no intention of straying very far from the economic policies of the Bush crowd. From the link to Dick Polman on Suburban Guerilla:

But just because Americans want something different, that doesn’t mean the nation is trending leftward; indeed, as top Obama strategist David Axelrod remarked in Newsweek the other day, “I think right now people are in a pragmatic mood, not an ideological mood.” In other words, Obama is well-positioned to win not because of his liberal profile, but in spite of it.

This year, Obama - mindful that contemporary America is slightly right of center - has been talking up tax cuts, invoking God and traditional values, and voicing his determination to kill terrorists. Meanwhile, he sidesteps the traditional liberal issues. He tries not to utter the phrases gun control or gay marriage. He defends abortion rights when asked to do so, but stresses his desire to reduce the number of abortions. He defends capital punishment. And he steers clear of the liberal camp's concerns about post-9/11 government surveillance.

Obama's caution suggests that he is attuned to the dangers of overreaching, that he and Axelrod are keen not to mistake a solid win for a sweeping ideological agenda. Barring an unforeseeable landslide (60 percent of the popular vote, more than 400 electoral votes), victory would present Obama with an opportunity, not a mandate. Swing voters would be entrusting him to govern competently, using good ideas from both sides of the aisle. No longer would he be judged favorably in contrast to McCain or Bush; that's the easy part. Within a year or two, Obama (and the Democratic Congress) would be judged solely on the size of the gap between promise and performance.

Some liberal commentators, citing demographic trends, have long been predicting a major party realignment that would benefit the Democrats. For instance, Ruy Teixeira and John Judis contended 17 months ago that a new Democratic president, working with a Democratic Congress in 2009, would have the opportunity to lock in Democratic dominance for years to come, by enacting “popular landmark legislation. The passage of Social Security legislation (in 1935) helped keep New Deal Democrats in power for decades. The creation of an effective national health insurance program (in 2009), despite Republican opposition, might do the same for today’s Democrats.” But they cautioned that such an achievement would not be easy, since even Democrats would “have difficulty agreeing among themselves on new, large government programs that may require higher taxes.”

Nothing new. No "over-reaching". Nothing daring or visionary. Just a rewarmed, cautious, bland version of the worst of the watered down policies Bill Clinton was trying to get past the Republican controlled Congress in 1999, but actively seeking out Republican approval desoite having a legislative majority. This is not the stance of someone who sees an opportunity, such as the ability to get UHC passed (craft it in 2008 & 2009, use it to sell electoral gains in 2010) , but someone who intends to follow The Village's lead and be an ever so Serious Person. Look at the Villager spin in the sentence "mindful that contemporary America is slightly right of center". Uh, NO, there is no proof of that. There is plenty of proof that the High Borderists occupy that political landscape, but rank and file voters want some good old fashioned FDR New Deal kinds of deals - starting with mortgage relief and guaranteed health insurance.

Then, on Corrente, Lambert takes on a deeply dishonest op-ed by Robert Rubin that tries to lay the ground work for undermining and dissolving Social Security. Lambert notes the presence of code words for Social Security and the absense of anything hinting at UHC:

What problem is Rubin solving here, exactly?

Every child among us knows that “individualized account” is focus-grouped code for the Village’s dream of gutting Social Security and latching onto a new revenue stream from the commissions on the individual accounts. And gawd knows Wall Street needs a new revenue stream.

How, at this point is anything private going to provide more “security” than Social Security? It won’t.

And the dog that didn’t bark in the Op-Ed?

Health care.

Rubin’s completely silent about it, when Medicare is in real trouble, unlike Social Security, and we can’t afford not to go to single payer

So, as usual with finance guys like Paulson, Rubin, et al, it’s all about the fees. Not us.
Oh, and the last paragraph is priceless:

We have no choice but to move beyond such false dichotomies and toward a balanced pragmatism whose goal is broadly shared prosperity and increased economic security.

See? No shock at all. You won’t feel a thing. It’s balanced pragmatism. With a big fat infestment banker’s thumb right on the scales.

NOTE Rubin’s sketchy scheme is not a carve out or a clawback, where Social Security revenues are diverted to individual accounts; that’s why he says “appropriate revenue measures. Rather, like Medicare Part D, it’s a private system in parallel to a public one. That undermines the social contract behind the system ...

UPDATE The increasingly valuable James Galbraith called his shot on this one back in 2006. In The Guardian, of course:

Rubin is the leading light of an initiative called The Hamilton Project

Deficit-fetishism also underscores and bolsters a long standing insider campaign to cut and partially privatize the Social Security System. The Hamilton Project strategy document doesn’t mention Social Security by name. But it is riddled with codewords about the “long term entitlement problem” which, it avers, can only be solved by a “bipartisan commission” acting on well-known options, behind closed doors.

The Hamilton Project’s promise to deal with these issues by “bi-partisan consensus” behind closed doors is a promise to exclude the voices of labour, the elderly, the poor, and loudmouths like me. I will resist. The correct policy toward Social Security is, and remains, what the late Robert Eisner always recommended: leave it alone.

There you go. Unity has to be good for something.

This is the combination of policy timidity and vagueness combined with overt contempt for the lower economic (and cultural) classes that has plagued The Precious since day one.

The Spousal Unit and me were talking this over on our way to Costco today (yes, we really do have conversations like this while out shopping), and SU said he thinks that while this is the desire of the Obamacan Unity Democrats, to be the ruling party of The Villagers, that events may be in the saddle because of the severity of the economic crisis, and they may not have a choice about taking advantage of the "opportunities" that total systemic collapse drops in their lap. I am not as optomistic.

What I do know is that the Unity Democrats are moving solidly away from the traditional base of the party and shedding even the pretense of defending liberal causes and institutions.

And they haven't even moved into the trashed frat house yet.


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