So why, if his Presidency has been such an unmitigated disaster, is he continuing to pursue this reckless course. My theory is that the key to the Obama administration’s political strategy is not compromise or incrementalism. It is, quite simply, fooling liberals. When you look at Obama’s governing role, he is clearly a servant of American oligarchs. But obviously he can’t explicitly tell liberals this (unlike Republicans, who are explicit in saying they favor “job creators”), because liberals like to think of themselves as favoring economic justice. So how do you acquire support from liberals, as he did in the primaries in 2008 and will need to do again in 2012, while pursuing oligarch-friendly policies?It has become absolutely clear over the last two years that the Obama sold to the electorate is not the Obama who is governing. The 2008 election appeared to be a clear choice between right and left on the political spectrum. But in reality Obama has delivered a centre-right administration, so voters only had a choice between a radical right and a centre-right. In both cases, this means that govdernment caters to the top 1% while ignoring the needs of the bottom 90%.
You do it by ensuring that liberals only focus on the ceremonial non-governmental aspects of the Presidency. You do it by making sure that they focus only on the televised aspects of the Presidency.
When Obama is criticized as not fighting Republicans hard enough, it’s an implicit endorsement of the “legislator-in-chief” role. As such, the blame for illiberal policies like bailouts, poorly designed health care plans, cuts to entitlements – well, these are the Republicans fault. Obama is simply helpless before the onslaught. Similarly, every time an establishment liberal says in the newspaper that “Obama’s policy choices are jeopardizing his reelection chances”, they are implicitly endorsing the narrator-in-chief role, and ignoring his role as an incompetent and highly radical President causing enormous damage to millions of people. Again, he’s helpless before a mean-spirited press corps and Republican establishment bent on his destruction. This is easy to show on TV – just pop up some video of mean Republicans.
It is only by focusing on the governor-in-chief role that one sees a different focus of the Presidency. It is absolutely the case, as Krugman notes, that Republican detachment from reality is a threat to democracy. But it is worth noting that in ascribing to this the sole cause of our political situation is to diminish the notion that creatively using power can achieve good things for people. For instance, it’s true that having a press corps with more balance about the goals of Republicans and Democrats would create a healthier democratic society – but then, it’s probably also true that a real foreclosure prevention plan in 2009 would have dramatically restored faith in government by touching the lives of millions of people in an affirmatively positive instead of malevolent way.
All of this is to say that how one sees government is critical to how one judges Obama. And if the only consideration is the boundaries of television, then of course, Obama is going to look like a mediocre narrator-in-chief constrained by wild forces he cannot control. Of course, Congress will make him seem like a somewhat inept but well-meaning legislative leader or party leader. It is only in turning off the boundaries set by a narrow TV-dominated discourse that one truly sees Obama’s real handiwork – the wars, the bailouts, and most tragically, what could have been but never was.
Monday, August 1, 2011
What Role is Obama Playing?
Here is an assessment by Matt Stoller, who worked on the Dodd-Frank financial reform law and Federal Reserve transparency issues as a staffer for Rep. Alan Grayson. This is the key bit from a post in Yves Smith's Naked Capitalism blog: