I wish I had written that—November 5, 2011

Some favorite paragraphs this week.


Having very publicly passed a very big policy that you promised would revive the economy, the country blames you when the economy does not, in fact, revive. Your policies are discredited and your opponents are emboldened. You lose seats in the next election and your leverage over lawmakers. So you can’t, with any prospect of success, go back to the well and ask for a bigger stimulus or more money to buy up bad mortgages. And then, when the economy gets worse, you’re simultaneously in charge and out of options. You came to Washington promising change and now you’re begging for patience. It’s a crummy situation, and there’s no combination of policy proposals or speeches that can get you out of it. But this is the vise that has tightened around Barack Obama’s presidency.

–Ezra Klein, New York Review of Books, on the President’s predicament.


…sometimes at the Shore, or standing streamside at the Red Man Club as the sun dies and leaves the water black and bottomless, I have looked into his sweet, pale, impertinent boy’s face and known that he squints at a future he’s unsure of, from a vantage point he already knows he doesn’t like, but towards which he soldiers on because he thinks he should and because even though in his heart of hearts he knows we’re not alike, he wishes we were and for that likeness to give him assurance.

–Richard Ford, Independence Day, on a father’s foreboding for his son.

Author: Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He has served on three expert committees of the National Academies of Science. His recent research appears in such journals as Addiction, Journal of the American Medical Association, and American Journal of Public Health. He writes regularly on HIV prevention, crime and drug policy, health reform, and disability policy for American Prospect, tnr.com, and other news outlets. His essay, "Lessons from an Emergency Room Nightmare" was selected for the collection The Best American Medical Writing, 2009. He recently participated, with zero critical acclaim, in the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamentaschen debate.

16 thoughts on “I wish I had written that—November 5, 2011”

  1. > And then, when the economy gets worse, you’re simultaneously in charge
    > and out of options. You came to Washington promising change and now
    > you’re begging for patience. It’s a crummy situation, and there’s
    > no combination of policy proposals or speeches that can get you out of it.

    Is Obama’s Justice Dept shut down for some reason? Not able to conduct (badly needed) high-profile investigations and prosecutions of bezzle’ing banksters? There’s _nothing_ that can be done?


    Oh wait, the Justice Dept is busy. Busy setting up another ex post facto deal under which the mortgage industry will pay no price for destroying the entire mortgage documentation system, failing to pay local taxes, falsely seizing citizens’ houses, etc. No wonder there isn’t time to do “anything”.

  2. Ezra Klein, a hard-working and very, very talented writer, seems to be gradually perfecting the inevitability narrative of Obama’s Presidency. It’s ironically appropriate to a formerly democratic political system, which is, apparently, no longer capable of either identifying choices or making them.

    1. Bruce,

      I don’t see the inevitability narrative. Yes, Klein says it’s “a crummy situation,” but I don’t read him as holding Obama blameless. It’s hard to escape the fact that he should have asked for a bigger stimulus, and raised hell if Congress didn’t give it to him. It’s not like no one knew that at the time.

      1. Respectfully, I think you should read his article, of which the well-crafted passage, is merely the peroration.

        Ezra Klein writes on this theme, frequently, and his theme is that Obama was almostly completely constrained by a variety of factors. It is a narrative framework that allows him to flatter his sources in the Administration (he’s widely regarded as well-plugged-in at the junior staff level at the White House), while marshalling a remarkable command of detail on behalf of his readers, and in those regards it serves him well as a journalist.

        Still, it is not a healthy worldview, for a political journalist in a democracy.

  3. Having very publicly passed a very big policy that you promised would revive the economy, the country blames you when the economy does not, in fact, revive.

    It is actually more dire than that. It is exactly what Krugman predicted:
    The too small stimulus would appear to fail and so empower a new zombie lie to bestride the land.
    And here we are: Keynes is dead. And expansionary austerity is the new way forward. And we’ll run the U.S. government like your household budget…

    And since we are doing “I wish I’d written that”…
    Here is “cranky” bit of Taibbi, every bit as good as Ezra:

    When was the last time the government stepped into help you “avoid losses you might otherwise suffer?” But that’s the reality we live in. When Joe Homeowner bought too much house, essentially betting that home prices would go up, and losing his bet when they dropped, he was an irresponsible putz who shouldn’t whine about being put on the street. But when banks bet billions on a firm like AIG that was heavily invested in mortgages, they were making the same bet that Joe Homeowner made, leaving themselves hugely exposed to a sudden drop in home prices. But instead of being asked to “suck it in and cope” when that bet failed, the banks instead went straight to Washington for a bailout — and got it.

    There is a justifiable rage in this land. The big gonif gets the fat goose, the little gonif the noose. And when a mostly institutional voice like Robert Reich, suddenly writes about a choice between Democracy or Finance(!), and hints at letting the banks fail, one can hear the lapping of the Rubicon:

    …the Bush administration told Congress the nation risked “economic Armageddon” if it didn’t immediately authorize a giant bailout of the Street – with no strings attached. Of course Congress hastily agreed. Hank Paulson, Ben Bernanke, and Tim Geithner (as head of the New York Fed) then doled out the money. And the Obama administration (with Geithner installed as Treasury Secretary) gave out more. So instead of allowing the Street to live with the consequences of its negligence, we bailed it out – and allowed the Main Streets of America to suffer the consequences. If Americans had been consulted about the 2008-2009 Wall Street bailout, I doubt it would have happened the way it did. At the very least, strict conditions would have been placed on the banks in return for the money. The banks would have had to eat the losses of the predatory mortgages they sold, and help homeowners reduce those mortgages. They’d be required to improve the capitalization of small banks in communities across the country. They’d be forced to accept stringent new regulations, including resurrection of Glass-Steagall.

    Which is all to suggest that Ezra’s the country blames you when the economy does not, in fact, revive may well be not entirely undue.


  4. my local paper, the North county Times, No San Diego County, heavy-duty Rep right wing country, prints every letter, limited to 200 words. I’ve had about 150 printed; here’s my latest :
    TITLE : We’re all Keynesians

    Keynes didn’t invent an economic system; his is a theory explaining what’s going on. Just because you don’t understand or agree doesn’t lessen it’s validity. If you believe tax cuts create jobs, you’re Keynesian. Tax cuts are government stimuli, albeit grossly imbalanced. Most government stimulus attempt a balanced approach; tax cuts are low and slow while targeted spending is a quicker and much more effective kick.

    Consumers power our economy. Less spending means less jobs, which means less spending. Government, less than 1/4th of our economy, is the management that balances or even kills this sometimes vicious cycle.

    Keynes theories have been proven both in practice and in the deleterious effects of their absence. FDR attacked the Great Depression using Keynesian principles and it was working until 1937 when the then (and now) retro-Republicans stifled the process and a second wave of depression hit as a direct result. Sound familiar?

    WWII lifted us out of depression, after all, war is a huge Keynesian stimulus. Like many stimuli, WWII required a federal budget deficit. The current Republican blockheads advocating a Constitutional Amendment prohibiting a deficit would hinder America’s reflexive or proactive options, including fixing an ailing economy or winning a war.

  5. Look here you liberal defeatists. The reason the R’s stopped the O-man is because they went all Goldwater. So here comes the Frankenstein scenario. They gotta deliver a Goldwater in ’12 or the base will flip. Limbaugh, Malkin, Coulter & Co have already made that clear.

    Now Barry G. didn’t work out so well the first time around. But this time he’s either selling Pizzas, is a Governor who likes touching 3rd rails for fun and can’t even beat the Pizza Guy, or a Congresswoman married to a first lady with a J.Edgar Hoover complex.

    Then you have one guy who sounds like Noam Chomsky every time he opens his mouth on Foreign policy. How’s that going to look when he stands next the cool calculating killing machine that is POTUS. Bam is Iceman.

    No one wants Maverick anymore. Not after he jumped up on Oprah’s couch, embraced some weirdo religion, and basically looked like a goofball. O (man, not prah) should run on the nickname “The Predator”. Ties into cleantech subsidies too, given the micro-batteries. So, bringing up Solyndra is unpatriotic. How dare you queston the Man who personally killed Bin Laden, Quaddafi, and a whole bunch of other Evildoers.

    What’s my point? This is how the R’s would run if the shoe were on the other foot. LBJ too. I mean, except for the Noam Chomsky guy, the rest of the pack is so unhinged that they all have a Daisy Ad written all over them.

    My advice: Run on the economy. Its all the republicans fault. Proof: Look at foreign policy. No R’s were involved. There, Obama killed all the bad guys like he was Rambo.

    You don’t have to be good. You have to be better than the other guy. Could be a cakewalk give this crew.

    1. You might be right but the republican base won’t vote for him under any circumstances, the democratic base would be uninspired and the mushy middle probably wouldn’t buy it ’cause he just doesn’t have that cold dead look in his eyes. Then again that is the corner he has been painting himself into since he stepped into the office so, in for a penny in for a pound.

      Obama should have put his chips down with the people and told the Banksters to go get bent. And there were enough people screaming it at the time so he sure can’t plead ignorance. No doubt the Rs would have blocked him but if he had raised blody hell he could have prevented the rout in the mid-terms and maybe gotten more. He gave Worm Tongue his ear and now he wants to rally the troops…Hey where did everybody go?

      All the kids who would have been banging doors for the Democrats are camped out at Liberty Plazza saying, “We won’t get fooled again.” The Democrats just kicked another generation to the curb. How’s that triangulation workin’ for you?

  6. Obama’s base is not wavering — his primary base is African American voters and they are standing firm for Obama, because they see him continuing to do his job with dignity under thinly veiled racist attacks.

    The anti-Obama left will have a field day with the Occupy movement, but in the end, it will end up working for Obama. It has made the space for Obama to run on a purely populist anti-finance capital narrative. The post Jobs Bill rhetoric is already working. I’m an old guy with a job, I’m not going down to sleep in a park. What can I do? I’ll make phone calls for Obama.

  7. My prediction at this point is that Obama will win re-election because of the GOP candidate and his (forget “her”) Tea Party platform, plus Bin Laden’s dying gift of immunity on the foreign policy front; but he won’t have long enough coat-tails to get back control of Congress. So the outlook is four more years of stalemate, stagnation, high unemployment, and global warming. Obama won’t be a one-term president, but he may well be a one-achievement president: ACA.

  8. PS: The Brazilian papers reported that at the G-20 meeting, Obama joked to Sarkozy that maybe they should take lessons from Christina Kirchner on how to get re-elected despite the economy. Sarkozy doesn’t need lessons in unscrupulous populism, but it’s an interesting hint on Obama’s thinking. His opponents are forcing him away from Broderism towards “Give em’ hell” New Dealery. How about bringing forward the ACA timetable?

    1. James: The President has asked the SCOTUS to expedite its ruling on ACA instead of following the usual calendar and deciding after the election. That took some moxie!

      1. Not really; a ruling before the election helps the Democratic side. If it’s upheld, it’s proof that it’s constitutional. If not, then use that to show that the GOP judges are scum.

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