Sweet simplicity

Barack Obama, in Boston today:

You want to go forward, what do you do? You put it your car in ‘D.’ When you go backward, what do you do? You put it in ‘R.’

Barack Obama, in Boston today:

You want to go forward, what do you do? You put it your car in ‘D.’ When you go backward, what do you do? You put it in ‘R.’

Right now, the country seems to be in a retrograde mood. But that won’t last forever.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

15 thoughts on “Sweet simplicity”

  1. The problem is that if you want to go forward, there is no place to put your vote. I'm voting straight Democratic not to go forward – they have proven their inability to do that – but hopefully so as not to go backwards.

  2. Yes, but after you drive backward into a ditch it takes a very big effort to get out of it and back on the road, going forward. Assuming you haven't damaged the car in ways that are expensive/impossible to fix.

  3. We are coming to understand that many single-car accidents involving fixed objects are actually suicides. Next month we may see a rare instance of one of these events in which forensic investigation will reveal that the vehicle was in reverse gear.

  4. Ah yes, 3rd grade humor. It would be funny if it wasn't actually reflective of popular thought. Maybe Obama could do some parlor tricks up there too? Clinton had his wink. G.W. had his megaphone.

  5. Ohio Mom- There is considerable truth in what you say, but on issue after issue the Democrats have not even tried to fulfill their promises.

    Obama could have done something about transparency in government – he did not need Congress for that and it was an explicit promise not kept. Further, transparency is a very important principle in a democracy.

    He could have fought for change rather than bleating constantly about bipartisanship while it beca,e obvious to everyone else that bipartisanship requires a two war street, and the other side was uninterested.

    He could have shown as much concern about his base as he did about Republican feelings. Instead he and his hirelings insulted his base over and over again.

    He could have appointed people like Dawn Johnson as recess appointments.

    He could have – well I think my point is made. For many of us he is a fraud – far better than any Republican, but that is like saying a C- is better than an F.

    As for Harry Reid, so long as the Democrats hold the Senate, I'm rooting for his political demise.

  6. The Drive-Reverse metaphor sounds good on first hearing, but it really only works for those already likely to vote the Democratic ticket. Lots of Republicans and independents want to put the car into reverse.

    Meanwhile, what's the Democrats proposed destination? I suspect a lot of readers here will find the source of the following statement objectionable or even offensive, so I challenge you to address the argument and not the man:

    As liberal commenters scratch their heads over why the Democrats fail to articulate the case for their own perpetual stewardship of all good things here on this green earth forever and ever, praise be, the real mechanism of the factional duopoly is perfectly plain. Party-in-power tradeoffs lend the illusion of democratic legitimacy, and meanwhile, once more for the cheap seats: Republicans drive the empire; Democrats consolidate and rationalize what their partners have wrought. George Bush expands the global gulag; Barack Obama writes the employee handbook. The Republicans promise billions to the banks; the Democrats do the accounting. It's not a competition; it's a partnership.

    But it's a silent partnership, and guys like Tomasky serve an important function. By emphasizing falsely differing interests on either side, they obscure the fundamental collaboration at work. It's a strategy as old as business. Two secret partners negotiate from opposite sides against the poor suckers in the middle, who think they're going to get a good deal playing one side against the other, but who only get played instead.

    Which brings us to a more apt metaphor. The Democrats and Republicans are two sides of the same cowpie. One side is slighty mounded, dry and crusty. The other side is flat, moist and smelly. Either side you consider it's still sh*t. The best possible use for the cowpie requires that it be ground up, composted, then applied to a garden where something beneficial can grow.

  7. I think you could go much further in making your argument, Gus.

    Obama's treatment of the Democratic base is important in shaping the narrative, and making clear the meaning of his increasingly regrettable Presidency. When he insisted on fighting for Blanche Lincoln, a centrist Democrat, who opposed most of his nominal agenda — particularly on health care — and against the unions and the Democratic left, his Chief of Staff called the people, who actually care about the policy outcomes, "retarded" — and, then formally apologized for the comparision . . . apologized to the retarded, that is. But, those kinds of events are symbolic, not substantive — they are meaning, not function. It's the tie from meaning to function, from what he says to what he does, from words to action, that counts.

    So, Obama's insistence on impanelling a Commission on Social Security, and stacking it with people, who favor stealing Social Security benefits to avoid tax increases on the rich — that's symbolic, until the Catfood Commission reports, and a "Democratic" President is leading a "bi-partisan" Congress to make the cuts.

    Similarly, when Obama staged "an end to combat operations in Iraq" (where had we heard that phrase before?), without actually withdrawing U.S. troops, it was a great symbolic moment, covered in full color and stereophonic sound by MSNBC.

    And, when Obama allocated $50 billion for foreclosure relief, and his Treasury dept applied it in the HAMP program in a scheme to allow mortgage servicers to extract additional payments from beleagured home owners, before foreclosing, . . . well, undoubtedly, we should struggle to find a way to blame President Snowe and the Senate filibuster rule, just as we can, with regard to the failure to insist on a "cramdown" for first homes in bankruptcy.

    And, when Obama announced a plan to increase deep-water, off-shore oil and gas drilling, claiming that advancing technology would make it safe, that was symbolic. The Macondo blowout — not symbolic. And, the Administration's willingness to cooperate with BP's PR-driven efforts, symbolic. The Administration's failure to measure the rate of spill, or to prohibit the use of poisonous Corexit to obscure the extent of the spill — not symbolic.

    When Obama, presiding over near-10% unemployment and declining median income, responds to Republican complaints about "overpaid" Federal workers, and (quoing the Washington Post news report, Oct 15): "He said his team has examined pay levels, 'and the data we get back indicates that high-skilled workers in government are slightly underpaid. Lower-skilled workers are slightly overpaid relative to the private sector.

    'And that's not surprising,' he added, 'because it's a unionized workforce' in government, while the private sector's typically is not." (endquote) Mr. failed fiscal stimulus then went on confirm the desirability of Federal belt-tightening.

    The official White House line on the upcoming election is not out-right panic, that we might be about to back out of the ditch and off the cliff. Obama and Axelrod have optimistically said that they expect that Republicans, with greater power in Congress will feel greater responsibility to work with the White House. On what? Preventing nationwide foreclosure moratorium that might inconvenience the banksters — that absolute favorite Obama constituency? "Entitlement reform" to continue the squeeze on the middle-class? How about "extending the Bush Tax Cuts" — Obama wasn't able to do that with Democrats in charge in Congress, but he'll have a chance to acquiesce to extending tax cuts for the stinking Rich another two years during the lame duck session. Maybe, we can have a war with Iraq — now there's an idea!

  8. jm: ioz's argument has no point, and having no point, is his point. ioz is basically arguing against arguing over what the laws should be, from the standpoint of someone "advocating" no laws at all. He observes that mass representative democracy can be interpreted as a collaboration. OK. That's true, not because of a silent partnership or conspiracy, but because a great variety (not just two partisan groupings) of cooperating and opposing forces act strategically, and actual policy is a joint outcome, in enactment and execution.

    Tomasky, ioz's immediate target, is, of course, an idiot, no doubt useful to someone, and about that ioz may be correct, without any other implication. Tomasky's argument, in the NYRB, is that policy (and, maybe, policy's consequences . . . Tomasky isn't clear about whether he knows or cares that policy has consequences) is less important than messaging and the persuasive articulation in propaganda of slogans.

    Tomasky is deliberately and explicitly denying that the conflict between liberals and centrists in guiding Democrat's policy choices has mattered to creating an opportunity for Republican, right-wing extremists to return to power, so soon after running the country into that now-proverbial ditch. ioz is denying, by ignoring, that central aspect of Tomasky's argument, in order to make the argument ioz always makes: "it's the f* system, man!"

    The actual policy outcome, from the collaboration of mass representative democracy, however, turns on such dynamics, as whether policy is successful, whether policy is perceived to be successful, and whether corrupt corporate centrists or rational liberals and progressives dictate policy in a Democratic Administration or Congressional caucus, and whether right-wing nutcases or plutocrats dictate policy in a Republican Administration or Congressional caucus.

    Our host keeps insisting it's simple. (So, does ioz, in his way.) I don't think it's simple. I think we may be driving off the cliff, with Obama at the wheel, because Obama keeps adopting stupid, centrist policies and political messaging, while the opposition is able to label those unpopular and failing policies, liberal. Either way, the country seems headed from the ditch toward the cliff. It's not simple. It's tragic.

  9. Gus, you misunderstood me. I was reacting to Mark's optimism. Believe me, I've called and written the White House more than once, telling them I am the base they lost and why. At this point, I am only voting against Republicans — and I have a lot of them to vote against, including but not limited to, Jean Schmidt and the Teabagger running to represent my area in the Ohio House. Such are the joys of living in southwest Ohio.

  10. "Right now, the country seems to be in a retrograde mood."

    Back in 2008, mainstream voters turned against the incumbent Republicans beacause matters foreign and domestic were a mess. A sick economy, endless inconclusive wars, etc. Two years later, it's hard to see improvement. So mainstream voters have turned against the incumbents again … only this time it's the Democrats.

    This explanation seems a lot simpler, and a lot better grounded in history, than supposing that the country was in some mystical "progressive mood" back in 2008 but is in an equally-mystical "retrograde mood" today.

    Of course, thsi explanation puts the blame for failure squarely on the Mr. Obama's administration, so I understand his urge to look elsewhere for explanations.

  11. Thanks Bruce. Well said.

    Being president has two central dimensions. First is getting decent policies passed, but second is acting as a symbol for those who elected him and for the country as a whole. It's a job England mostly divides between the PM and the Queen. Here the president does both.

    Obama is a "F double minus" at the symbol part of his job (I do not see how he could do appreciably worse and still be thought sane) and not very high on the accomplishment part, even in what he could do on his own without congress. IMO he's a fraud.

    And of course I'm voting Democratic.

  12. This isn't new. Back in 2008, I remember hearing the candidate for the Iowa's 4th congressional district, Becky Greenwald AND Tom Harkin to both say this before introducing Obama at a rally in downtown Des Moines.

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