Saturday, November 06, 2010

The Failure of Team Obama

I've added two new blogs to my blog roll in the last week - Peter Daou, of "The Daou Report" and HRC campaigns's Internet director, and New Deal 2.0, "A project of the Roosevelt Institute, ND2.0 brings you commentary from the country’s leading thinkers: economists, historians, political scientists, policy experts and elected officials." Right on cue, Jamie Galbraith posts one of his smart, succinct, devastating critiques to ND 2.0:
Bruce Bartlett says it was a failure to focus. Paul Krugman says it was a failure of nerve. Nancy Pelosi says it was the economy’s failure. Barack Obama says it was his own failure — to explain that he was, in fact, focused on the economy. ...

The original sin of Obama’s presidency was to assign economic policy to a closed circle of bank-friendly economists and Bush carryovers. Larry Summers. Timothy Geithner. Ben Bernanke. These men had no personal commitment to the goal of an early recovery, no stake in the Democratic Party, no interest in the larger success of Barack Obama. Their primary goal, instead, was and remains to protect their own past decisions and their own professional futures

See? Discussion of political actions can be couched in something other than caterwauling about the alleged racism of voters. Of course, that means you'll end up having to discuss what your team is actually doing. First is saying what political action (it may have been about finance, but the choice of action is a political choice) would be in keeping with long term Democratic objectives:
But one cannot defend the actions of Team Obama on taking office. Law, policy and politics all pointed in one direction: turn the systemically dangerous banks over to Sheila Bair and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Insure the depositors, replace the management, fire the lobbyists, audit the books, prosecute the frauds, and restructure and downsize the institutions. The financial system would have been cleaned up. And the big bankers would have been beaten as a political force.

Team Obama did none of these things. ...

The banks threw a party. Reported profits soared, as did bonuses. With free funds, the banks could make money with no risk, by lending back to the Treasury. They could boom the stock market. They could make a mint on proprietary trading. Their losses on mortgages were concealed — until the fact came out that they’d so neglected basic mortgage paperwork, as to be unable to foreclose in many cases, without the help of forged documents and perjured affidavits.
The anger at the failures of the Obama administration is coming directly out of the economic losses ordinary people are still feeling juxtaposed to the business as usual behavior of those who created the mess in the first place: 
These facts were obvious to everybody, fueling rage at “bailouts.” They also underlie the economy’s failure to create jobs. What usually happens (and did, for example, in 1994 - 2000) is that credit growth takes over from Keynesian fiscal expansion. Armed with credit, businesses expand, and with higher incomes, public deficits decline. This cannot happen if the financial sector isn’t working.

Geithner, Summers and Bernanke should have known this. One can be fairly sure that they did know it. But Geithner and Bernanke had cast their lots, with continuity and coverup. And Summers, with his own record of deregulation, could hardly have complained.
Political choices have political outcomes. Failure to act in the long-term interest of the party - which is just another way of saying failure to enact policies and engineer outcomes that will build mass support for continued electoral success - and subsuming party interests to that of elite factions within a party (and even more those elite groups spanning parties) will erode institutional strength:
This is why, in a crisis, you need new people. You must be able to attack past administrations, and override old decisions, without directly crossing those who made them.

President Obama didn’t see this. Or perhaps, he didn’t want to see it. His presidential campaign was, after all, from the beginning financed from Wall Street. He chose his team, knowing exactly who they were. And this tells us what we need to know, about who he really is.
This simple fact - that Obama chose the team he wanted, with full knowledge of who they were and where their loyalties lay - undermines the Obamacan apologists like WKJM who whine on about how we have to give The Precious more time and we aren't being fair and times are tough and any way Clinton lost big at the midterms too and blah blah fucking blah.

This is also why the growing meme of "This is Bill Clinton's old financial team, so really it's all his fault because he started it, and Obama inherited his problems from Clinton, and it's all due to the evil Clinton cabal!" can't hold water. If the economic choices of the Clinton administration were wrong, then Obama should have had the wisdom to chose different advisers. There was time enough to see the long-term effects of those past political choices, with special emphasis on how the loopholes of the legislation (loopholes demanded by both Republicans and Democrats, each in turn guided by that cross-party interest group, Wall Street) were exploited under an out-of-control Republican regime.

This is what Galbraith points to when he says a president has to be able to criticize and reverse previous administrations. Obama should have been able to identify the bad eggs from the last two administrations and give those people largely ceremonial positions (like locking them up in a special commission to look at something and then getting on with the real business while they are otherwise occupied) and put the right people into place. Instead, we get the worst people from Big Dog's collection kowtowing to the worst elements from W, while people like Joe Stiglitz go begging and Elizabeth Warren is treated as an enemy. (Well, on a policy level, she is, but she should have been fending off the detractors, not doing battle with the people in charge.)

His final statement is aimed squarely at those who want to excuse or at least minimize the damage Obama has done to the party and the nation, not only the kiss-ass bloggers like WKJM and the full-throated Obama supporters who now are shocked, shocked, to find illiberal policies being pursued (Kos, FDL, HuffPo, Salon, etc.), but also more cautious critics like Krugman and Somerby, who resist going full out against a sitting Democratic president precisely because of the the assaults on Clinton and Gore.

Those of us not blinded by the glorious image of how wonderful we would be if we voted for a black candidate, mostly because we were free of CDS, were pointing out Obama's lack of liberal credentials all along. This is the guy who praised Reagan and encouraged Republicans to do cross-over voting in the primaries rather than try to win votes from Democratic constituents. This is the guy who ran to everyone's right. This is the guy who would not put the word Democrat on his campaign literature. This is the guy who consistently got the biggest bucks from the biggest number of Wall Street contributors. This is the guy who consistently praised Republican policies and precedents.

The biggest problem here is not that Obama pulled the wool over anyone's eyes. He was this way all along and has performed exactly as he said he would - center-right, non-confrontational, go with the status quo, listen to all the Very Serious People, and earnestly pursue bi-partisan capitulation.

The failure lies with those who believed his bullshit in the first place.



Koshem Bos said...

Even Galbraith present the problem as one of bad staffing. I don't buy it. He may be right about the individuals involved but it's really besides the point. It's Obama. Obama didn't want to let Bair deal with Citi. It was Obama who didn't even dream of calling in Holder.

The individuals, who cannot even defend themselves in this debate, are a smoke screen that allow the the Obama baggers to drag Clinton into the debate. Why not drag Reagan, Carter and even FDR?

If Summers is so bad, how come he didn't succeed in burying Clinton?

Obama is quilt of commission and not of omission.

Anglachel said...

Hi Koshem,

Actually, I disagree. Galbraith ends the post "His presidential campaign was, after all, from the beginning financed from Wall Street. He chose his team, knowing exactly who they were. And this tells us what we need to know, about who he really is."

To me, this is saying the guy's "mistakes" are what he really wants to do, these are deliberate choices that have achieved the desired ends.

As we will see over the next two years, as Obama governs the nation into the toilet, the "left" blogosphere and talking heads will all figure out how to make this Clinton's fault. Like the racism charge, it's all they can figure out how to say, and the two go hand in hand.

Blame anyone who isn't one of our socio-economic tribe for the problems, even as the problems are to the benefit of our tribe.


StephenAG said...

Bingo! Double freddie bingo!

Thanks for all of the recent posts. Your voice is needed in this wilderness. Your analysis is spot on and is not based on a particular personality disorder. Your writings have helped me to understand my earlier Stevensonian leanings and creative class conceits.

As you and others have stated before, the signs were there in stark black and white. But the Creative Class, Perfessinal Left and Blogger Boys totally ignored the obvious, while taking comfort in their CDS. The fact that he was a "community organizer", "civil rights attorney" and "taught constitutional law" has really paid off now, has it?

Isn't the core of civil rights wrestling power away from those that have it and handing it to those that do not? I have found out that as I exercise my rights in the workplace it makes some people upset because the law limits the power they have over me and stands to make them accountable for what has been done to me. I truly believe that if civil rights was at the core of Obama's being he would not have continued Clinton's failures and codified Bush's excesses. He wouldn't have handed HIS power to the banks. He would have taken theirs and dared the banks to challenge the First Black President of the United States.

You know, the Creative Class had a zipless wet dream. They imagined they were electing Dolomite or Putney Swope. They got Yo Gabba Gabba instead.

Koshem Bos said...

The mambo jumbo about individuals was from the beginning one of the best excuses of the blogoshpere and the Obama baggers. It was Rahm who did everything, then Geithner and Summers. (Bernake is Bush man.)

Obama was hidden too long behind too many backs. Enough. Don't add fuel to the fake fire and this includes Galbraith. Why does he start with crap?

No one, no matter how real liberal she is, has a license to blow smoke instead of getting to the point.

nycweboy said...

In terms of the elements that failed to address, and surely perpetuated, the worst parts of our financial crisis, I quite agree about the "closed loop" of Obama's Economic team (and find it telling that they were the first element of his Administration that's begun to fll apart). That said, I've been pursuing the argument - which many Democrats and other progressives seem surprisingly resistant - that the failures extend to Congress, and to congressional leadership. On the financial issues that strieks me as the big indictment of both Barney Frank and Chris Dodd, as well as a number of other senior congressional leaders... but also Nancy Pelosi, whose been given a pass, by many progressives, on her own preferences for political power rather than taking up the hard issues - like serious bank regulation or foreclosure measures - that would have helped address the issues people really face. I don't think the striking level of losses Democrats achieved in the Hosue can be separated form the failures to make progress on the big financial and economic issues we have. I doubt a Republican House majority will be any kind of improvement... but I don't think there's been a serious discussion about how the left will do things differently if they ever plan to have more of presence in Congress.

PS - Glad to see you back blogging regularly. You were missed.