If you are looking not only for clues into Barack Obama’s character but for a definition of what his presidency will mean to the country, then the speech on fiscal policy that he delivered at George Washington University the Wednesday before last is the most significant one he has ever given. It is, in its own way, an astonishing document, alive with the themes that undergirded his Philadelphia speech on race and his Nobel Prize acceptance, on the tragic enmeshment of American limitations and American strength. Obama was responding mostly to the Republican budget plan, and he understood exactly what its author, Representative Paul Ryan, had in his sights: “This vision,” Obama said, “is less about reducing the deficit than it is about changing the basic social compact in America.”Go read the whole article.
And yet, having defined the fight so starkly, Obama delivered a plea for compromise. He ended a stirring defense of the welfare state by explaining his plans to gut it. Then he said that even this proposed $2 trillion cut in government spending was only a starting point for negotiation: “I don’t expect the details in any final agreement to look exactly like the approach I laid out today,” he said. “This is a democracy; that’s not how things work.” There were notes of deference, and passivity: If Obama believed that his vision of society was at stake, why place it so squarely on the partisan bargaining table—or why not at least begin with a stronger gambit? This was, at any rate, the point of view of one particular strain of liberal reaction, whose position was summed up with poignant resignation by New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. “I could live with this as an end result,” he wrote. “If this becomes the left pole, and the center is halfway between this and Ryan, then no.”
For the first two years of the Obama administration, Krugman has been building, in his columns and on his blog, not just a critique of this presidency but something grander and more expansively detailed, something closer to an alternate architecture for what Obamaism might be. The project has remade Krugman’s public image, as if he had spent years becoming a chemically isolate form of himself—first a moderate, then an anti-Bush partisan, and now the leading exponent of a kind of liberal purism against which the compromises of the White House might be judged. Krugman’s counterfactual Obama would have provided far more stimulus money and would have nationalized Citigroup and Bank of America. He would have written off Republicans and worked only with Democrats to fashion a health-care reform bill that included a so-called public option. The president of Krugman’s dreams would have made his singular long-term goal the preservation of the welfare state and the middle-class society it was designed to create.
This purism is not a role Krugman is altogether comfortable with, but it is one he has sought: His blog is titled The Conscience of a Liberal. He uses it as a kind of workroom for his column, and it is now, according to Technorati, the most popular single-author blog online—a more statistically rigorous counterpart to Rachel Maddow’s show and the Huffington Post. The comment section has become a repository for a certain form of liberal anguish, and a community unto itself: “His campaign promised a better, more equitable America. Those who believed him feel betrayed,” wrote one commenter in regard to a recent column titled “The President Is Missing.”And another: “Come on, Professor Krugman, will you lead the people out?”
I view Krugman as the modern equivalent of those old Israelite prophets. His message is unpopular, but it is the voice of Truth and Justice. Sadly the people would rather chase after their false gods of Money and political Ideology. Nobody expects the Hand of God to come crashing down to punish the stiff-necked people, but I'm pretty sure that the current path of US politics will lead to a crack-up and crash in the society. The best days of America are behind her because she is unwilling to face up to the terrible path the country is on. That is a "Hand" of something which will sweep across the country and bring the high and proud down to punish them for their stiff-neck refusal to hear the plea for justice and greater social equity.
This bit from the article is very poignant:
You could see something else in the data, too. From 1979 to 2004, the income of the richest one percent of Americans grew by 176 percent, that of the richest one fifth of the country by 69 percent, and that of everyone else by less than 25 percent. Working through the numbers, Krugman came to believe that “only a fraction” of the change was compelled by global forces, which had been the standard explanation. The rest, he concluded, was political.What worries me is that the greed of the wealthy and powerful will cause a class war to break out as the last ditch attempt of the dispossessed to get a fair shake in the society. Don't expect this to break out during the Great Recession. No. It will come when the economy rebounds, when people once again feel a chance for a better life, but see it being snatched from them -- yet again -- by the wealthy and powerful. This kind of rising up of the downtrodden occurs when there is hope but those at the bottom see their chances being taken away from them.
It was Krugman’s Princeton colleague Larry Bartels who made the critical connection, in research Krugman devoured and still cites. Perhaps the most important influence on income inequality, Bartels argued, was something economists had not emphasized: whether a Democrat or a Republican was in the White House. Since World War II, Bartels found, wealthy families in the 95th percentile in income had seen identical income growth under both parties. But for families in the 20th percentile, the difference was astonishing: Under Democratic presidents, their income grew at six times the rate it did under Republican ones. There was, for Krugman, a kind of radicalization implied in this.
The political divide in the US is the most bitter since the divide prior to the American Civil War. When I hear Republicans say that they will refuse to increase the debt limit unless Obama agrees to the cuts they demand, this strikes me as the same absolutist stands that the Southerners took on the issue of extending slavery into the new territories. The lack of real compromise (and a path into the future) is what brought about that great war and all that bloodshed.