George W. Obama?

David Bromwich of TomDispatch has a long, thoughtful piece about the many disturbing places where the Obama administration has either directly continued or expanded upon policies with regard to war, surveillance, and government fealty to private corporations that were once considered unspeakably bad unto evil or unAmerican. While they policies have not improved with age under a Democratic President, it’s important that people pay attention to these things. What was outrageous eight or even three years ago is now unremarkable and accepted. This is a terrifying development and one which speaks to how truly damaging the Obama presidency has been.

The Bromwich piece is very long and worth a read, but I’ll highlight a passage that Glenn Greenwald has also highlighted:

The usual turn from unsatisfying wars abroad to happier domestic conditions, however, no longer seems tenable. In these August days, Americans are rubbing their eyes, still wondering what has befallen us with the president’s “debt deal” — a shifting of tectonic plates beneath the economy of a sort Dick Cheney might have dreamed of, but which Barack Obama and the House Republicans together brought to fruition. A redistribution of wealth and power more than three decades in the making has now been carved into the system and given the stamp of permanence. Only a Democratic president, and only one associated in the public mind (however wrongly) with the fortunes of the poor, could have accomplished such a reversal with such sickening completeness.

Greenwald responds:

Economic suffering and anxiety — and anger over it and the flamboyant prosperity of the elites who caused it — is only going to worsen. So, too, will the refusal of the Western citizenry to meekly accept their predicament. As that happens, who it is who controls the Internet and the flow of information and communications takes on greater importance. Those who are devoted to preserving the current system of prerogatives certainly know that, and that is what explains this obsession with expanding the Surveillance State and secrecy powers, maintaining control over the dissemination of information, and harshly punishing those who threaten it. That’s also why there are few conflicts, if there are any, of greater import than this one.

I think this is spot-on. There is a confluence of activism happening – from historically oppressed people or communities joining with young people and workers, all joining with and being aided by highly informed and capable technological activists like Anonymous and WikiLeaks. The continuity of policies from Bush to Obama has meant that things which could have gotten better are either staying the same or being made drastically worse. There’s no way to say that all of this is happening in a vacuum, with a sanguine and approving public. Instead, people are informed and they’re angry. What that means will be seen, but I certainly wouldn’t presume that the US will escape the sort of public protests that we’ve seen throughout Europe, especially if the administration, Congress, and the elites they serve continue to preserve or enhance Bush-era policies.

What was prevented?

Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story includes a speech by President George W. Bush, September 24, 2008, in which he says:

The government’s top economic experts warn that, without immediate action by Congress, America could slip into a financial panic and a distressing scenario would unfold.

More banks could fail, including some in your community. The stock market would drop even more, which would reduce the value of your retirement account. The value of your home could plummet. Foreclosures would rise dramatically.

And if you own a business or a farm, you would find it harder and more expensive to get credit. More businesses would close their doors, and millions of Americans could lose their jobs.

Even if you have good credit history, it would be more difficult for you to get the loans you need to buy a car or send your children to college. And, ultimately, our country could experience a long and painful recession.

Fellow citizens, we must not let this happen. I appreciate the work of leaders from both parties in both houses of Congress to address this problem and to make improvements to the proposal my administration sent to them.

Looking at this passage from President Bush’s speech explaining giving at least $700 billion to the financial secretary, I just thought it worth noting that all of the things that Bush said action would prevent from happening happened anyway. We did experience financial panic. Banks failed, both huge institutions and many more community banks. The stock market dropped (though it’s now back). Foreclosures were and are epidemic. Businesses closed and even today we have over 14 million people unemployed. It’s hard for individuals and small businesses to get loans. And we are in the midst of a long and painful recession. Oh and instead of $700 billion, more realistic explanations of all the various ways the federal government bailed out Wall Street banks is closer to $13 trillion dollars. The only thing that was prevented was the degradation of Wall Street profits and bonuses. Not only did this fail to come with the preservation of an economy that worked for the bottom 99% of America, but it didn’t even come in exchange for a meaningful increase in regulation and oversight of the financial industry. What an epic, hurtful, damning disaster.

Republican Amnesia

Rudy Giuliani, 1/9/10:

“What [Obama] should be doing is following the right things Bush did. One of the right things he did was treat this as a war on terror. We had no domestic attacks under Bush. We’ve had one under Obama,” Giuliani said.

Former Bush Press Secretary Dana Perino, 11/24/09:

“We did not have a terrorist attack on our country during President Bush’s term”

Clearly the GOP knows that if they repeat the same lie enough times, it will become the truth. What’s so bizarre about this selective form of amnesia is that the imminent and present threat of terrorist attacks within the United States is a driving force for the Republican raison d’etre in the early 21st century. Without 9/11, the Republican security state and war machine can’t get rolling, let alone stay rolling. Without the threat of Al Qaeda, the GOP would only be able to foster fear in the US populace with the threat of a gay man marrying your son.

What’s so depressing is that it looks like the hosts of Today let Rudy get away with as bald-faced a lie as can be told in America today. George Stephanopoulos let’s it go un-rebutted and even his blog entry on the exchange does not point out the Giuliani lied to him and to his audience.  Your media, ladies and gentlemen, still not liberal.

Aravosis on Bush v Obama

I’m traveling for work this week and totally booked in meetings, so my blogging is going to be very light.

But I wanted to flag John Aravosis’s post from earlier today, “The GOP had at most 55 Senators during Bush’s presidency.” Aravosis is providing an important reminder that legislation, even controversial legislation or legislation relating to life and death, war and peace, can be passed in the absence of a super majority. Obama and Reid are dealing with more seats in their caucus than Bush ever had.

Aravosis  writes:

What the GOP lacked in numbers, they made up for in backbone, cunning and leadership. Say what you will about George Bush, he wasn’t afraid of a fight. If anything, the Bush administration, and the Republicans in Congress, seemed to relish taking on Democrats, and seeing just how far they could get Democratic members of Congress to cave on their promises and their principles. Hell, even Senator Barack Obama, who once famously promised to lead a filibuster against the FISA domestic eavesdropping bill, suddenly changed his mind and actually voted for the legislation. Such is the power of a president and a congressional leadership with balls and smarts.

How did they do it? Bush was willing to use his bully pulpit to create an environment in which the opposition party feared taking him on, feared challenging his agenda, lest they be seen as unpatriotic and extreme. By going public, early and often, with his beliefs, Bush was able to fracture the Democratic opposition (and any potential dissent in his own party) and forestall any effort to mount a filibuster against the most important items in his agenda.

It’s not about the votes, people. It’s about leadership. The current occupant of the White House doesn’t like to fight, and the leadership in Congress has never been as good at their jobs, at marshaling their own party, as the Republicans were when they were in the majority. The President is supposed to rally the country, effectively putting pressure on opposition members of Congress to sit down and shut up. And the congressional leadership is supposed to rally its members to hold the line, and get the 51 votes necessary for passing legislation in a climate where the minority is too afraid to use the filibuster. When you have a President who is constitutionally, or intellectually, unable to stand for anything, and a congressional leadership that, rather than disciplining its own members and forging ahead with its own agenda, cedes legislative authority to a president who refuses to lead, you have a recipe for exactly what happened last night. Weakness, chaos, and failure.

This is a pretty brutal assessment.  But the difference is stark. Bush showed unflinching conviction that his agenda was the right course and he made damned sure Congress was with him, at least during his first term. Obama has not forced or led Congress to be where he needs.

Of course, this also gets at the Democrats’ fundamental inability to use procedure to their advantage. We got whipped under Bush and now are getting beat at a game in which the same rules apply. We just never used the rules we had to strengthen the minority when we were in the minority. As a result, looking at 2000-2009, there is a real contrast to what counts in the Senate. It only takes 51 votes to pass a piece of Republican legislation, while it takes 60 votes to pass a piece of liberal legislation. Because their leaders know how to play the game and our leaders want to rise above the game in glorious, yet unattainable, post-partisan unity.

There is plenty to put at the feet of Obama and Reid in the failures of the health care fight. But many of these problems are more systemic. It’s not that Aravosis is wrong, it’s that he’s talking about a dynamic that extends to liberal Democrats going all the way back to the early 20th century efforts to pass civil rights legislation. The left has always been out-maneuvered in the Senate and now is no different.

Actually, the difference is now Democrats are in a position that should assure them victory with even the most minimally savvy legislative plan of attack. This strategy has not been found. I don’t know if it’s because it’s a simple lack of understanding of legislative procedure, a lack of understanding of the real situation in a caucus that includes Lieberman, Lincoln, Landrieu, and Ben Nelson, an absence of actual liberal beliefs by Obama, or a refusal to lead with conviction by Obama.

The result is that despite massive electoral victories in 2006 and 2008, the Democratic Party has miles upon miles to go before they will defeat the ghosts of incompetence past and the insidious damage a lack of memory inflicts upon their efforts today.

Ivy League

This is just hilarious. In a Washington Post editorial defending Sonia Sotomayor’s distinguished record from attacks on her gender, intelligence, and race, there’s this gem of a quote.

Former Bush adviser Karl Rove implicitly questioned Judge Sotomayor’s intelligence, saying in an interview with PBS host Charlie Rose that “I know lots of stupid people who went to Ivy League schools.”

You don’t say, Karl?

On Political Capital

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what “political capital” means. Conventionally it’s thought of in a fairly similar fashion to gold coins collected in a video game that allow the possessor to buy a bigger sword or magic healing potion. The most dynamic conventional wisdom notes that political capital will disappear if not spent in a reasonable amount of time, but that’s about as close the words “political capital” will ever find themselves to the words “savvy analysis.”

Big Tent Democrat raises a point about the relative influence of George Bush early in his first term as comparted to Obama’s early days.

George Bush, who LOST the popular vote in 2000, had the political juice to pass a 1.2 TRILLION dollar tax cut in 2001. Barack Obama, who won a sweeping victory last November, can barely muster $500 billion in stimulus spending in the face of the Greatest Depression. Some “victory.”

The issue of political capital is raised here in a somewhat roundabout way. What allows Bush, who went into office under the shadow of a constitutional crisis, let alone without winning the popular vote, to achieve a bigger ideological goal out of the gate than Obama? I don’t think there’s any objective use of a subjective measure like “political capital” that would suggest that Bush actually started his term with greater political capital than Obama has.

As far as I can tell, then, “political capital” is really a measure of ones willingness to exert ones will in Washington. It’s not a measure of what has been accrued, but rather who someone really is. You’re either willing to impose your will in a legislative fight or you’re going to enter a fight ready to concede stakes to your opponents.

The challenge facing President Obama is that so much of his campaign has been framed around post-partisan goals. Even since taking office he’s been seen decrying Washington partisanship as a problem we need to overcome (as opposed to, say, Republicans clinging to failed ideas in a time of crisis). When Obama stands up as a fighting Democrat, as he did last week with House Democrats, he is more likely to be painted as partisan than as principled (something Steve Benen noted earlier today).  Obama will have to reframe his agenda around his ideology and his principles, and away from bridging philosophically necessary divides between the Democratic and Republican parties. Only in this way will he begin to have space to exercise his will qua political capital. We can’t expect him to be able to turn electoral mandate into legislation as long as he’s incorrectly identifying the challenges that need to be overcome and who is responsible for them.

Parody, Thy Name Is Andrew Card

It’s really hilarious to listen to someone who helped to douse the Constitution in gasoline and set a match to it complain about how a relaxed dress code in the Oval Office is disrespectful to the Constitution. You know your take on the execute branch is twisted when you care more about baroque codes of dress than the rule of law.

…Adding, Obama’s style of dress was actually a subject of extensive Republican criticism and media discussion during the campaign.  Remember when his penchant for a white shirt with no tie and an open collar led to breathless attacks on him for dressing like Iranian president Ahmadinejad. I would say that much like Obama’s economic policies, Obama’s style of dress was vetted by the public and the public overwhelmingly supported his style of business casual.