Tea Party & the Auto Bailout

Duncan Black:

While our liberal media coddled and adored them, the truth was that the Tea Party never actually had anything to be angry about. Obama didn’t take their guns, or raise their taxes, or give free Cadillacs to strapping young bucks. He did continue to be black, so there’s that I guess. They couldn’t be mad at the Wall Street bailout, because that’s who was funding them. The only thing that kinda sorta made ideological sense was the auto bailout. So that became their thing.

Duncan’s link goes to a post at Media Matters by Eric Boehlert around rightwing hatred of the auto bailout and the electoral consequences of it for Mitt Romney.

There is something really bizarre about the frontal assault on the auto bailout from the right. It’s one of the most tangible and consequentially good moves of the Obama administration. Unlike the healthcare bill, it’s something that is fully realized today.

The Arguments Against Obama

As we approach the presidential election, there has been a new flurry of articles from radical and progressive leftwing writers on why not to vote for Obama, from various particular frameworks.

Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic had already been the focus of much of the earlier phases of this debate when he, a libertarian, identified lines in the sand that he viewed Obama as crossing regarding the President’s bombing campaign in Pakistan, his authorization of extrajudicial killing of American citizens, and his decision to wage a war in Libya without Congressional approval.

Over the weekend, Matt Stoller offered up a progressive case against Obama, a thorough and thoughtful look at the reasons, particularly in economic and housing policies, not to vote for the President. Stoller identifies the ways in which Obama has created a less equal society and solidified power in the hands of elites. Much of this critique is not new to Stoller, but this is piece is a comprehensive assembly of different threads of criticism into one larger argument.

Stoller’s piece relied in part on the arguments of philosopher and feminist Falguni Sheth, who argues against Obama from a framework built around criticism of his failures for women of color both in the US and around the world. This is an expressly more expansive framework of criticism than the often deployed one in defense of Democrats regarding the importance of the Supreme Court to protect reproductive rights.

Chris Hedges provides an argument for why he is voting Green that is also worth reading. He relies heavily on the statements and positions of Green Party candidate Jill Stein, as well as highlights the importance third parties have played in driving progressive political and social change movements in American history.

What should be clear to any thinking citizen is that there are ample reasons to decide to not vote for President Obama, just as there are even more reasons to not vote for Mitt Romney. The people making these arguments against Obama are doing so in good faith and opening themselves to massive amounts of criticism in doing so.

It’s unfortunate that the recent history in America includes Al Gore’s loss in 2000 – something many people have blamed on Ralph Nader. For a country that strongly favors narratives of personal responsibility, I’ve always found this fairly bizarre. But nonetheless, the debacle of 2000 is commonly viewed as a case against citizens voting for the politician they most agree with and instead limiting themselves to choosing one of the two major parties. The 2000 election and the conventional wisdom which emerged from it is undoubtedly poisoning much of the discourse offered by critics listed above (and others) about what the American left should do with their vote in this election.

Voting is a moral act. The vote you cast represents the normative view you have of our country. With your vote you will that your fellow citizens vote the same way. In my view you have zero obligation to vote for someone you don’t support. Given the way our electoral college makes all but a small handful of states competitive, I think this is especially true if you are in a non-swing state.

There are plenty of arguments to vote for President Obama and plenty of arguments that weigh heavily on electoral game theory for strength. But there are also strong, coherent, good faith arguments for progressives, radicals, liberals and even Democrats to note vote for President Obama. I really wish the public space was capable of handling these facts in an honest and forthright way, as they are fundamentally debates about who we are and what we believe in. Sadly, when I see the vitriol leveled at critics like Stoller, Friedersdorf, or Glenn Greenwald, I don’t think such a debate is too likely to happen in earnest. The meaning of these criticisms is too great and looking at them honestly is too hard for many people.

Taibbi on Obama & TBTF

Matt Taibbi responds to President Obama’s criticism of Rolling Stone’s coverage of his accomplishments, or lack there of, in passing effective financial reform. Specifically Taibbi goes after Obama for not addressing the problem of Too Big To Fail banks in an adequate way. He concludes:

The sum total of all of this is that Obama didn’t really do anything to alleviate the dangers of Too-Big-To-Fail. If anything, we now live in a world that is more concentrated and dangerous than it was before 2008. TBTF companies like Chase and Wells Fargo and Bank of America are even bigger and less-able-to-fail-ier than they were when he took office. This is why Obama’s answer to our interview question is so disappointing. If I’m understanding the president correctly, he basically says he doesn’t think Glass-Steagall should be re-instated, and beyond that, he just thinks Wall Street needs to self-regulate better.

That’s a pretty depressing take, at a time when even Sandy Weill – the bellicose Wall Street braggart who willed the now-infamous Citigroup merger into being and was a driving force behind Glass-Steagall – thinks that Too-Big-To-Fail companies should be broken up. The only hope we really have to fix many of these problems is to do just that, and we will need the chief executive’s help there. But President Obama apparently still isn’t willing to take that step, which is really too bad.

Dean Baker on Social Security

Dean Baker’s piece in The Guardian on the politics and economics of Social Security is must-read.

The story here is a simple one: while social security may enjoy overwhelming support across the political spectrum, it does not poll nearly as well among the wealthy people – who finance political campaigns and own major news outlets. The predominant philosophy among this group is that a dollar in a workers’ pocket is a dollar that could be in a rich person’s pocket – and these people see social security putting lots of dollars in the pockets of people who are not rich.

For this reason, a candidate who comes out for protecting social security can expect to see a hit to their campaign contributions. They also can anticipate being beaten up in both the opinion and news sections of major media outlets. While, in principle, these are supposed to be kept strictly separate, the owners and/or top management of most news outlets feel no qualms about removing this separation when it comes to social security – and using news space to attack those who defend social security.

This is the fundamental economics of social security that explains why it has not figured more prominently in the presidential race. If President Obama were to rise in defense of the program, he could count on losing the financial backing of many supporters. He would also get beaten up by the Washington Post and other major news outlets for challenging their agenda.

Earlier in the piece Baker notes that in the first debate President Obama said that he and Mitt Romney have essentially the same position on Social Security. Baker notes that Romney’s position is to have major cuts to Social Security, so this isn’t an admission which amounts to taking the issue off the table, but in fact means there is dangerous consensus to cut Social Security.

Baker’s arguments, quoted above, imply that were it not for the wealth of anti-Social Security donors to political campaigns, President Obama would hold a different position on Social Security. I’m not sure that evidence of this exists. All we know from the President is that he and Romney are in essential agreement when it comes to Social Security. We do not know if this is a craven position driven by the need for re-election cash or if it’s a deeply held belief that coincidentally aligns with his rich donors.


Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic on Robert Gibbs’ defense of the unjustifiable killing of a teenage American citizen by a drone strike.

note that this kid wasn’t killed in the same drone strike as his father. He was hit by a drone strike elsewhere, and by the time he was killed, his father had already been dead for two weeks. Gibbs nevertheless defends the strike, not by arguing that the kid was a threat, or that killing him was an accident, but by saying that his late father irresponsibly joined al Qaeda terrorists. Killing an American citizen without due process on that logic ought to be grounds for impeachment. Is that the real answer? Or would the Obama Administration like to clarify its reasoning? Any Congress that respected its oversight responsibilities would get to the bottom of this.

There are a lot of arguments to be made about how both the Bush and Obama administrations have waged a war against radical Islamic terrorists. But the idea that there is any justification, legal or moral, for the murder of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, a sixteen year-old American citizen without any due process is simply outrageous. This was unjustifiable and it is one of the darkest stains on the Obama presidency.

Change.org & identifying ideology

Yesterday news broke that Change.org, an historically progressive-leaning distributed organizing platform, would shift to working with any advertising client, regardless of political affiliation. The story has been ably covered by Ryan Grim, Jeff Bryant, and Aaron Krager – I highly recommend you read their pieces, all of which hinge around leaked internal Change.org documents that cover this shift.

The documents are well worth reading and have been posted by Krager (all links are PDFs). They include:

As I said, the posts linked above give a good run down of the general problems associated with this shift in policy and values form Change.org. I recommend you read them and the leaked documents, which give a very clear view of the goals and motives behind this shift.

I want to draw attention to one particular aspect of Change.org’s justifications for this move, quoting Jeff Bryant:

What will change is that Change.org will no longer “filter potential advertisers” based on the advertisers’ “values.” Nor will Change.org filter potential advertisers based on any “gut feelings about the content of the ad itself.”

The implication expressed in Change.org’s internal documents, by Change.org’s spokesman Ben Joffe-Walt who Ryan Grim quotes as saying, “Change.org is “not beholden to one community,” and by the talking points circulated by multiple Change.org staff members on progressive email list serves all point to the idea that it’s simply not possible for Change.org to make determinations about which clients are or are not progressive. As a result, they are saying they are now formally stopping to make any attempt to limit who they sell email addresses to based on their “values.”

These talking points are undermined by their expressed strategies for evolving their advertising platform. In a section in their internal FAQ titled, “When will we be able to target ads better?” they have this explanation:

  • Machine learning: we are developing the technology to match action alerts to users, which utilizes everything we know about a user (what petitions they’ve signed, geography, demographics) to match them to petitions they’re most likely to be interested in. This is complicated technology but should bear fruit in 2013. Once that happens, we should be able to repurpose the technology and use everything we know about a user (what petitions they’ve signed, geography, demographics) to match them to the ads (sponsored petitions) they’re most likely to be interested in.
  • Tagging: we want to move from our current 8-cause system to a much more flexible tagging system. Once complete, users and Change.org staff will be able to tag any petition in many different ways, for example as “pro-choice.” We will then be able to show that “pro-choice” advertisement to people who have signed petitions tagged as “pro-choice” while suppressing people who’ve signed “pro-life” petitions. This is technically complicated, and we’re hoping to make significant progress in 2013.

To be clear, what this means is not only that Change.org is saying internally that they are capable of assessing the political orientation of an advertiser or a petition, but that this assessment is something which is critical to their evolved business model.

I raise this point because to me the idea of determining what is or is not in line with the values this company espoused since its founding until this week is completely possible. It’s been done with relative success by Change.org – excepting their work with union busting clients like Students First and Stand for Children – throughout the history of the firm. And most importantly, their ability to determine if a client should target liberal or conservative audiences is central to their future business model. They will be selling organizations and companies this ability – it’s what will make their ads worth money to their clients.

When I look at Change.org’s talking points and internal messaging documents,  I see a lot of sophistry and disingenuous argumentation that I’m not going to go through now. I see statements like they’re not doing this for the money and since I am not a mind reader, I can only speculate whether or not that is true.

But Change.org is telling the public that they are simply incapable of figuring out if their clients are liberal or conservative and as a result must throw up their hands to even trying to make the choice – this is a flat-out lie. Their own technology development and advertising targeting plans reveal it as a lie. Not only are they capable of making a determination as to what a client’s values are, it’s what they are selling their clients to maximize the impact they have as an advertising platform.

There’s a lot to be unhappy about with this devolution at Change.org. I’m sure others will write more about it in coming days and I’m guessing I will too. But the completely cynical use of a lie about their fundamental ability to figure out who they are partnering with when they sell ads is something that I feel compelled to highlight first and foremost.

All with all of my blogging, this post represents my views alone and not that of my employer, Citizen Engagement Lab.