Saturday, October 23, 2010

How Obama Comes up Short

From Brad DeLong's blog, here is nice, simple, to-the-point critique of why the enthusiasm for Obama has melted away:
When it turned out that "post-partisanship" actually meant creating a consensus among wealthy people about how best to repair the damage of the Bush years without in any other way disturbing the status quo—well, who could blame independent voters for being disappointed?
People were sold the idea of "hope" and "change you can believe in" and got a political wheeler-dealer who put more effort into finding "middle ground" with intransigent Republicans than in actually leading the US out of the worst economic catastrophe since the Great Depression.

The surprise was that somebody who went from law school to be a "community organizer" could turn his back on the poor and unemployed. Most voters thought that by voting in the US's first black president they would get somebody who was for the underdog, somebody who understood that they system was tilted too far against the working and middle classes. It ends up that a guy born with a silver spoon in his mouth -- FDR -- had more sense of duty to the poor and disadvantaged than Obama, the son of a poor white woman who only got his Ivy college education through aid and favours from the elite. It ends up when he became president he was more interested in returning the favours to the elite than he was to help out those he grew up with. Tragic. Obama had a chance to become one of a handful of great American presidents. Instead, he will be remembered as mediocre-to-fair.

My fundamental complaint about Obama is that he isn't a leader. He hasn't shown a way forward from the current mess.

Here's a bit from a post by the economist Mark Thoma that substantiates my claim. The key bit is bolded:
I started this blog shortly after George Bush was reelected, and though many people assume that it was the presence of Republicans in power that was the primary motivation, that isn't the whole story. That was part of the motivation, no doubt, but there were two other factors that were more important. The first was how economic issues such as Social Security and tax cuts were being portrayed in the media, for example the false perceptions being generated about Social Security's long-run stability and the silly idea that tax cuts would pay for themselves that I heard so often.

But the biggest factor was that I felt Democrats were being misrepresented in the media. CNN in particular comes to mind. In the run-up to the election, it was the same people day after day representing Democrats in the media, and I did not feel they were doing a good job -- at all -- of representing the Party's views on economics or anything else. The voices I heard most often were far, far to the left of me, and, I thought, far too easy to dismiss. I wasn't persuaded by their arguments -- often wanting to tear my hair out when they didn't make the obvious rebuttal to crazy claims from the other side, and instead often sounded a bit crazy themselves -- so how could people on the fence be convinced that Democrats had better ideas? It was as though the TV shows would pick the most clueless, outlandish, easiest people to dismiss whenever they interviewed Democrats or pitted Democrats against Republicans. If only people knew who we really are, I would think, and what we actually stand for, certainly they would be persuaded. I never thought it would go anywhere, but starting the blog was part of the reaction to the feeling that Democrats in the silent majority needed to start speaking up and making their voices heard.

Now I'm frustrated again. Though I didn't always agree with it, prior to the Bush reelection at least there was a voice representing Democrats. Right now, there is no voice, at least not one I can hear. There are plenty of Democrats talking with loud voices, more than ever I'd guess, but there is no leadership to coordinate those voices and pull them into an harmonious whole with broad based appeal. We finally have control of the ship, and the captain is wandering aimlessly. What is Obama's vision? Where are we trying to go? What is the grander goal that is being served by the polices and strategies he is pursuing? Yes, he gives good speeches, but what is the single theme that runs through them all to coordinate and steer the party toward this larger vision? What is the big idea behind it all that is supposed to unite us? Without effective leadership, the unified vision the party needs to be successful will not emerge from the many strong voices seeking to provide the direction the party seems to lack.

The problem, however, is that I don't know if the centrist, bipartisan seeking, compromising Obama we have seen to date can actually embrace an encompassing vision. He seems afraid to be a Democrat, as though standing uncompromisingly for an idea will scare people away rather than attract them, and that needs to change.
Go read Thoma's blog. It's focus is on economics and it is excellent.

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