MaxSpeak vs. Lawyers, Guns, and Money

Taking Scott’s points in order:

To all the commenters who have gotten their backs up, remember I say at the outset I mostly agree with PK. OK? It ain’t North Korea, OK? It’s the hippie punching I most object to. I got fewer complaints when I attacked Republicans. Now people say what happened to poor MaxSpeak. Go figure.

Whether Obama campaigned as a progressive is somewhat in the eye of the beholder. You are either familiar with progressive dog-whistles or you aren’t. I wouldn’t say he campaigned as an ultra-liberal, but I would argue as more than a centrist. For instance, I’m so old I remember he said he would fix Social Security with a higher payroll tax. That isn’t exactly super-liberal, but it is left-er than fixing SS by reducing benefits with the so-called chained price index.

On ACA (which I see as an advance), yes some complained bitterly and unrealistically about the failure to do single-payer, which I agree was not politically feasible, at least in the short- or medium-term. I would say PK has at least some obligation to tackle the best critical arguments, not the fish-in-a-barrel. One better argument re: ACA was we could have seen a bit more rhetorical love for the public option.

As for the ACA being “neo-liberal,” that criticism clearly pertains to the exchanges, not to the Medicaid expansion. That doesn’t mean ACA wasn’t worth doing in the end. Those of us in the far-out left worry about bogus exaltation of markets. A neo-liberal reform isn’t necessarily not worth doing, if you can’t get anything better. But it is good to avoid getting into the habit of staking everything on the use of private, for-profit vendors to deliver social services. Everybody here knows why.

I don’t doubt the public option could not have passed. Nor do I think it would have been world-shaking if it had been enacted. But it could have been talked up more for the sake of public intellectual hygiene.

This leads to the bully-pulpit issue. I do not think Obama can rule by decree, nor do I blame him for the constraints he faced as far as domestic legislation is concerned. (Foreign policy and law enforcement are another thing entirely, but my post was not mostly about Obama, it was mostly about PK’s reductionism of progressive critiques of Obama.) That aside, Obama could be more educational for the sake of the longer term. For instance, he could have stressed all along that a public option and a bigger stimulus may not have been politically doable, but they would be worth doing. Instead the White House boasts of reducing the deficit when we still have too much unemployment. We need bigger deficits, not smaller ones. This is Macro-Econ 101. They’re making people stupid.

I did not write about Obama’s dubious negotiating practices. That is salient to Obama’s competence but not especially a matter of progressive critique.

Bottom line: why talk up stuff you can’t pass right away? If you don’t, it will never ever happen, that’s why. I think the crazy right understands that.


MaxSpeak vs. Lawyers, Guns, and Money — 10 Comments

  1. Two extremely important issues in the final progressive accounting of B. Obama, highly overlooked, are a) the sequester deal – incredibly horrible in a decade-defining way – and b) the complete failure to pass, or think about passing, or try to pass, permanent pro-democrat electoral reform in 2009-10: my favorite would have been a national voting holiday, or maybe forced standardization of state and federal elections.

  2. Obama never appeared at one labor rally or strike. He went once that I recall to a place where there were pot holes in the street. He did not make a sustained set of speeches and go to places to make any case for infrastructure. Liberal apologists for Obama say Oh no you can’t use a bully pulpit and be effective. When Republican governors took over after the 2010 elections, they made the issue of public employee unions by using the bully pulpit and changed the public discourse and put unions on the defensive. Obama has no clue about this. FDR went to the Dust Bowl and spoke directly to farmers who had not even voted for him in ’32. He went to the CCC camps. He went to speak to labor people. And he was physically limited yet did these things. And when he couldn’t appear somewhere, Eleanor did. It makes a difference when you are rallying the nation to think a different way. He promised transformation and only the right wing continues to believe that, and that mostly because of his skin color and funny sounding name (at least to them).

  3. FRD didn’t have Ted Cruz shutting down the government over the debt ceiling.

    I think Krugman and Obama defenders cut him slack because the Teabaggers have gone completely Shite Baptist loco. He didn’t give in to their blackmail demands. He didn’t have a silly scandal with an intern. He didn’t deregulate as Clinton did. He nominated Yellen instead of Greenspan. Krugman says he’s been better than Clinton, it’s a low but real bar. Cornel West, who I love, seems to ignore that. Clinton didn’t get health care reform through. In West’s universe, Republicans don’t exist.

    Obama’s poll numbers are low because he didn’t raise income levels as happened during Reagan’s and Clinton’s time. One is the “Sound finance” deficit reduction nonsense. The other is not making appointments to the FOMC a priority. Things could turn out better if Yellen is slow to raise rates. She was quoted in Time as saying she wants wage inflation. We’ll see. We’ll also see how Obama acts out of office.

    Now he seems to be taking one for the team for Senate candidates. I was for him since Iowa. Early on in an interview with BusinessWeek, he foreshadowed Piketty and explicitly pointed out that except for a brief time in the 90s, labor hasn’t shared with productivity gains. It isn’t fair. He knows but didn’t do much about it.

  4. Also he raised taxes a little on the rich: one the expiration of the Bush tax cuts and two, Obamacare.

    What was Cliton’s tax record. Didn’t he cut capital gains? He also balanced the budget, more sound finance nonsense, which let GSE-backed mortgage securities to be the new safe assets of the shadow bank system. That didn’t turn out well.

  5. “Obama could be more educational for the sake of the longer term. ”

    To my knowledge Democrats do not believe in the long term. Politics consists of a desperate year of campaigning for the lesser evil followed by a year of rest.

  6. Let’s remember that if General Smedley Butler is to be believed, there was real talk among the Morgan organization, including Thomas Lamont, a top Morgan adviser, in 1935 to overthrow FDR. That’s pretty intense. And Republicans and rich folks across America hated FDR so much that they would refer to him as “that man in the White House.” He was still not a black man, but they hated him pretty well. FDR, however, said he welcomed their hatred and kept on giving people jobs. He got the 1934 mid-terms in his favor because he took care of people when he had his first Democratic Party majorities in both houses of Congress. Unlike Obama.

  7. The line that struck me most in Krugman’s piece was “I don’t care about the golden dreams of 2008.” Why should he? He’s fine either way. It’s reasonable, though, for people who were suckered to be disappointed if their circumstances haven’t changed or have worsened. That’s a lot of people.

    Regarding the Medicaid expansion — the program is increasingly coming to resemble the exchanges, with federal money (and state money) going to managed care organizations, which are themselves increasingly owned by large insurance companies. The Obama administration is comfortable with Medicaid privatization, which is not an especially progressive development.

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  9. My take – 2 weeks late but I didn’t learn of the MaxSpeak resurrection until yesterday:

    1. I’m less critical of Krugman here than y’all. He has made the strategic choice to do what he can to prevent a GOP takeover of Congress and to do so by providing a glass-half-full picture of the Obama years to motivate those who read his columns whenever they come out to at least vote. Since I intend to vote similarly, I can’t be completely hostile to this effort. (And Max, I do understand that your take is also not completely hostile.)

    2. Re: Lawyers, Guns and Money’s reply to you, this is a bad piece of business all the way around. Max, while you were gone, I searched for a site that provided the sanity-inducing qualities of the former MaxSpeak. That search was in vain. I’m neither an economist nor an academic, so EconoSpeak was never going to cut it for me. I lingered for awhile on Open Left, but that place drove me nuts. It was a place to fight over rival assessments of Obama. Is he a neoliberal or a staunch progressive? Ad nauseam. As if we were a bunch of historians 50 years out instead of people actively trying to make a difference in real time. I do not miss Open Left.

    But here we are, 6 years into the Obama years and once again fighting about the assessment of Obama. Back to LGM, I do find intolerable the smug dismissals of anyone to the left of Obama. They are not as solidly hinged to reality as they think they are.

    In Kansas, the loyal beating heart of MSNBC, is thrilled, just thrilled, with the news that the Democrats may just hold the Senate due to the brilliant strategy of the DP in pulling its Kansas nominee from the ballot in favor of a self-financed gazillionaire who may, just may – he himself isn’t saying – caucus with the Democrats.

    In Kentucky, the principal posters at Daily Kos are quite happy with the decision of Allison Lundergan Grimes to refuse to state whether or not she voted for Obama, or to make any effort to defend Obamacare in a state where it’s actually quite popular as long as it isn’t called that. This is the big fucking deal accomplishment of the Administration and yet it can’t be taken advantage of? This is a healthy party?

    Many of the Obama defenders at LGM defend him by pointing to the less than reliable support he had within his own party. This is all true, but it doesn’t matter so much if the target of the analysis is what we do now (Obama’s turn is up in two years no matter how we or anyone else assess him) rather than a retrospective assessment.

    The problem still is that Wall Street rules both parties. In the GOP, this means that they will be sufficiently funded no matter what they say to their batshit base, giving them the freedom to care for and feed their base publicly and without shame. For the Democrats, however, this means that the funding base is in a constant state of warfare with the voting base.

    Thus we see the weakening of the Democratic base through two terms of a Democratic president and the acceptance as an immutable law that our base only comes out in Presidential years. A base feeding strategy that helped Labor for example, might have helped prevent this. But that would have been “unseemly”. Tell that to the GOP vote suppressors. They don’t care. They grab, we cower. And LGM is happy with this state of affairs?

    And so damn right we need a glass-half-empty assessment at the same time I plan to vote for the party of Quinn, Durbin, and Schakowsky. I do not buy the inevitability of Hillary’s 2016 victory as long as Republicans feel free to reshape an electoral map that doesn’t favor them, while Democrats cower in fear and clutch demographic rosary beads to reassure themselves.

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