Friday, August 12, 2011

Big Black Bus of Woe

What a wild few weeks it's been in the world. Stock markets plunging, US credit ratings getting downgraded, riots in the UK, maybe Libya being taken over by rebels? Obama driving around the Midwest in a really bizarre, ugly black bus?

There's an article going around right now that seems to have caught a lot of people's attention, from the New York Times Sunday Review (what happened to the Week in Review?) that takes aim at Obama for failing to tell an overarching story to comfort the American public. Instead of fighting, the president continues to compromise again, and again. The author of the article, Drew Westen, says Obama should have told the nation something like this on his inauguration:

“I know you’re scared and angry. Many of you have lost your jobs, your homes, your hope. This was a disaster, but it was not a natural disaster. It was made by Wall Street gamblers who speculated with your lives and futures. It was made by conservative extremists who told us that if we just eliminated regulations and rewarded greed and recklessness, it would all work out. But it didn’t work out. And it didn’t work out 80 years ago, when the same people sold our grandparents the same bill of goods, with the same results. But we learned something from our grandparents about how to fix it, and we will draw on their wisdom. We will restore business confidence the old-fashioned way: by putting money back in the pockets of working Americans by putting them back to work, and by restoring integrity to our financial markets and demanding it of those who want to run them. I can’t promise that we won’t make mistakes along the way. But I can promise you that they will be honest mistakes, and that your government has your back again.”

What confuses me though, is that this is exactly what Obama has been saying since he took office. Westen claims Obama fails to make clear enemies and place blame on Wall Street and the eight years of the Bush administration, but that's just what he's done time and time again. Whenever Obama talks about "Fat cat Wall Street bankers" or talking about ending the Bush tax cuts, the right accuses him of "class warfare", the latest catch phrase exemplified in an op-ed by Eric Cantor in the Washington Post. A major component that Westen leaves out in his Times piece is the huge opposition to this administration from day one. Westen acknowledges that most Americans hate the government know matter what, but he doesn't talk about an unusually crass political system in which 1/3 will high jack the country's ability to pay for itself like we just saw in the debt ceiling debate. The fact that you have 87 freshman Republicans who have a seething animosity to this president, and who seem to frankly be uneducated on the economy in general, makes a clear progressive victory a huge uphill battle at this point. Divided government is a reality, and the bully pulpit only goes so far.

Westen's most poignant critique of the administration is that the stimulus wasn't good enough, and not only that, the messaging of it was pretty crappy.

"The truly decisive move that broke the arc of history was his handling of the stimulus. The public was desperate for a leader who would speak with confidence, and they were ready to follow wherever the president led. Yet instead of indicting the economic policies and principles that had just eliminated eight million jobs, in the most damaging of the tic-like gestures of compromise that have become the hallmark of his presidency — and against the advice of multiple Nobel-Prize-winning economists — he backed away from his advisers who proposed a big stimulus, and then diluted it with tax cuts that had already been shown to be inert."

Okay, sure, but a bigger stimulus, one in the trillion plus range would have met howls of protest from the Republican minority which had vowed from inauguration day to be obstinate to anything, using the filibuster in ways no congress had before. Even the $878 Billion Stimulus which passed didn't have a single Republican vote in the house. There's only so far democracy gets you. Westen criticized the tax cuts that came with the stimulus, but I don't know. I got my Making Work Pay tax Credit a few weeks ago and it helped my broke ass. Thanks Stimulus.

Westen continuously compares Obama to FDR, who took on the bankers with rage. FDR didn't have Sarah Palin tweeting every few hours about the New Deal, or cameras following him around while he's on vacation. One of the things we loved about Obama during the campaign was he stood up to Bush and the Republicans and wasn't afraid to give these balls out, withering critiques. And that's still there, especially on this bus tour, but speaking out loudly against the other side only gets you so far when you're in power. Regardless, he seems to be getting the message. That's why he's out touring the Midwest in the Death Star, pointing a hard finger at the right now that he's not trying to make any friends to pass any legislation. And let's be clear, the debt ceiling bill was by far the biggest piece of crap he's passed so far, having to totally abandon revenue and give in to huge cuts when the economy needs more spending.

When unemployment remains stubbornly at 9.2% and looks like it won't budge for quite awhile, it's clear something different could've been done. Whether the legion of people he inspired in '08 are going to come out again, and more importantly going to trust and understand what's happened the past few years remains to be seen. I just know it's a hell of a lot less scarier then Rick Perry.