Your Choice

If this is true, then there are two choices:

1.  Obama is a Democrat, and he is a political moron.

2.  Obama is a Republican, and he is a political genius.

Your mileage may vary.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

64 thoughts on “Your Choice”

  1. Ummm … how about #3:

    Obama is a much, much sharper politician – and bargainer – than anyone with posting privileges on the RBC, and completely snookered the Republicans by offering them a huge poison pill: something he absolutely knew they absolutely couldn’t take.

    But of course if Jonathan wants to help the Republicans by doing what he can to shatter the Democratic coalition, it’s a free country.

  2. Oh, yeah, it’s Jonathan, who is shattering the Democratic coalition. uh huh okaaay hmmm

  3. And that does what exactly, Mark? If the Republicans just cave at the last second, then I’ll admit I was wrong. Obama’s 11-dimensional chess obviously worked well last November, didn’t it? Now, Obama has undercut the Democrats’ main issue next year, and will be able to run on an economy that is going horribly. What is far more likely is that we will get a debt ceiling deal at some point that just involves cuts in spending. Nice work.

    Obama hasn’t offered anything on jobs since early 2009. He’s bought into Republican frames on everything. He’s gambled that he if sounds reasonable, then David Brooks will like him and everything will be okay.

    In any event, I don’t need to try to shatter the Democratic coalition. Obama has been working hard on that all by himself.

  4. Mark- For years now we’ve had to try and read Obama’s real position using the same kinds of indirect clues we used to use interpreting the Soviet Politburo. Who is ahead? What is the real agenda? etc. Remember the health care debate?

    Obama has led on nothing, stuck his neck out on nothing, shown passion on nothing.

    As far as I can tell, he’s a personally decent nihilist lacking any moral compass whatsoever. I’ll still vote for the jerk given the competition, but he’s a perfect example of the moral and policy degeneracy of the post Clinton Democratic Party.

  5. Jonathan Zasloff,

    I respectfully disagree in regards to your claim that Obama has undercut the Democrats’ main issue next year. For one thing, the Affordable Care Act already has Medicare cuts, which are reasonable ones. There’s probably decent support on the left for premium support a la Henry Aaron, or at least talking about it, but that’s not the same thing as the crap that Ryan is offering. Drawing the appropriate distinction–that Republicans want to privatize Medicare and the Democrats do not–will require Democrats to demagogue the issue relentlessly, but that’s fine.

    Your other complaints are more valid. Still, I can’t help but think that any sort of entitlement changes outside of those to providers would need to be accompanied by revenue increases, which most Republicans show no sign of going along with. Perhaps Obama is thinking that he can try to get respect from the media, which unfortunately does matter, by offering these cuts, because he knows that there’s no way that they will ever be accepted. This doesn’t have to conflict with his desire for an overall deal, by the way.

    As far as jobs go, he needs to do more, at least rhetorically. I happen to think that, in addition to trying to push for a new (temporary?) payroll tax cut, he and Democrats should take the lead on tax reform in the form of a progressive consumption tax. I plan to write a longer e-mail to you and Mark on the subject, but suffice it to say that if the numbers can be worked out so that there’s a tax cut, even a small one, for the middle class, he’d be a fool not to pursue this. It hits all of the right political notes–saving and investing and so on–while also likely giving us better incentives for the long run. But he also needs to talk about infrastructure and other things like that which can put people back to more more directly and perhaps sooner. If the Republicans go along with it, great, but if not, then they give him something to run on.

  6. Jonathan, your analysis is simplistic and reductive. Politics, as we should always remember is an extremely nuanced and fragile game in which bargains and compromises must always be made. Often, no one likes these bargains because they don’t match one’s own “pure” ideological values.

    Your comment assumes that we still have today a kind of Lyndon Johnson era Democratic coalition (and a Lyndon Johnson-esque president.) But we’re living in a much different age, in which radical Republicans control the House, and a cadre of conservative Democrats and conservative Republicans control the Senate. In this situation, a progressive option does not exist. Let me repeat: we cannot enact progressive policy given our current political arrangement. It is impossible.

    To please progressives, Obama could simply refuse to negotiate, dig his heels in, and wait for nothing to happen. Progressives would like this, because Obama would appear “pure” and ideologically liberal. But we would default, shattering our country’s historic AAA rating, and the country would spiral downward, perhaps forever.

    Or he could negotiate with a difficult opposition and try to forge some agreement in which we don’t default, thus saving the economy but making some sacrifices in the meantime. And he knows progressives will hate him for it, or think he’s a political moron (as you do.) He has no easy solution. But he is thinking, I believe, of a hundred year compromise–if we can save the economy now, however tenuously, we can build it back up again over years and years.

    If Obama gives in to progressives by refusing to negotiate, we default. If he gives in to the Republicans, or allows them to dictate the terms, we default. He is balanced on a razor-thin line between these two, attempting to save the Union in the only way possible. This is what presidents, as opposed to policy wonks, must do.

  7. Shifting the Medicare age would be stupid on its own merits anyway, and probably wouldn’t end up saving money, because people would defer care as long as possible and this would result in their being much sicker when they finally reach 67. Of course, some would just die, which would save some Medicare and Social Security costs. But then again, if more end up in nursing homes, Medicaid for the survivors would eat up all those savings. Playing with people’s lives for financial gain: the Ford Pinto model of politics. Do they have actuaries figuring this stuff out or are they just flying blind?

    Maybe they’re all just attention whores who like the constant attention engendered by their tantrums?

  8. I’m with Mark for once: Anybody who gets elected President is probably a lot better at politics than some guy who’s initials are J.Z. It was a poison pill, intended to never be implemented even if passed. Any cuts more than a year out are totally meaningless: If the will does not exist to cut starting today, it’s not going to exist a year from now, either, and they’ll be repealed before they kick in.

    Everybody else in the room was a lot better at politics than anybody whose initials are J.Z., too, which is why the pill was refused.

    Essentially, the Republicans dare not settle for a “Revenue today, spending cuts tomorrow” illusion, because their base will see right through it, and punish them. The Democrats dare not sign on to any solution that involves real spending cuts, or even an end to spending increases, because their base will punish them.

    There’s no resolving that conflict, the least each side can get away with is a ‘poison pill’ for the other. There’s going to be nothing but deadlock until an election gives Congress to one party or the other. The most we can hope to do is kick the can down the road, and they’re negotiating which side of the road it will be kicked down right now.

  9. I’m less than thrilled with the acceptance some here, and elsewhere, have that Obama’s SS offer was either a brilliant political move, or a transparently cynical one, either way its rejection guaranteed? Would a rational person put a revolver to one’s own head (or allow a family member) to play Russian roulette, as a gag, with their best friend’s assurance (wink, wink) that they had removed the bullets from the chamber?

    There’s something unnerving, to me at least, about the cavalier, universal acceptance that a “poison pill” (revenues) guaranteed “they could never possibly accept it.”

    Just for chuckles, what would the political landscape look like following a Rush Limbaugh phone call to Boehner/Cantor telling them to “take the deal. Four Trillion in cuts, and you suck up a few Billion from our folks who’ve already said it’s no big deal. Are you nuts? Take it! I’ll go on the air and tell the world the brilliance of your move, and drive home what we all know, Obama’s not ready to lead our great country. Do it!”

    I choose Obama’s a (d)emocrat & a moron.

  10. Jonathan’s formulation sums up quite nicely the essence of Obama. He is a Republican not a Marxist or Muslim in disguise. Either that, or he’s the most politically tone deaf politician since Herbert Hoover. Poll after poll shows the liberal-left position on income taxes for those making more than $250K, on Soc Sec and Medicare, is the same as a vast majority of the public. Yet, Obama frittered that advantage away, and from the beginning negotiated with the belief that he would lose if he tried to stand up for those points.

    Mark, we can debate separately whether a third party vote in 2012 makes sense from here in CA, but let’s at least face the fact that Obama is an abject failure as a leader for positions Jonathan, Mark and I hold dear.

  11. What about this:
    1)After the 2010 election, Obama finally recognized that the Republicans will never work with him on substantive issues:
    2)Obama also realized the “brand” that found him success was as someone who was bipartisan;
    3)The constituencies Obama is trying to win over are Conservative Democrats in the Senate and the public at large for his election (and potentially coat tail house members at the same time).
    4)So, recognizing that legislation with a Tea Party House is essentially moot, Obama has been trying to win over moderates while at the same time demonstrating how crazy and unreasonable the Republican caucus is.

    If that sounds pretty cynical, it is. But it’s no more cynical than strong-arming two Supreme Court Justices who were nominated by Presidents from your own party into resigning from the bench so you can appoint your own guys (a la LBJ).

  12. > Jonathan, your analysis is simplistic and reductive. Politics,
    > as we should always remember is an extremely nuanced and
    > fragile game in which bargains and compromises must always
    > be made. Often, no one likes these bargains because they
    > don’t match one’s own “pure” ideological values.

    $4 trillion in federal budget cuts, announced major cuts to Medicare, unannounced cuts to Social Security, no tax increases [1], cementing down the Bush/Greenspan tax cuts for the ultra-wealthy: that sounds as if one part has managed to obtain the desires of its “pure” ideological values to me.


    [1] Tell me again what the tax rates were during (i) WWII (ii) the Korean War? Then tell me what the tax rates are during the Bush-Obama wars? Hmmm….

  13. At the New York Review of Books blog, Ronald Dworkin posted the following:

    Here is Franklin Roosevelt, in Madison Square Garden, in 1936:

    For nearly four years you have had an Administration which instead of twirling its thumbs has rolled up its sleeves. We will keep our sleeves rolled up. We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace—business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering. They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob. Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred. I should like to have it said of my first Administration that in it the forces of selfishness and of lust for power met their match. I should like to have it said of my second Administration that in it these forces met their master.

    President Obama might recall that Roosevelt won re-election by the largest majority before or since.

  14. And if Obama had the electorate that FDR did, he might be able to pull of FDR’s rhetoric and policies (though I doubt it, b/c I think his temperament and preferences are a bit different, seing as he’s a different person).

    FDR was fighting to enact new things that we now have and take for granted. The USA of 2011 is a substantially more progressive place than the USA in 1932 or 1936. There has been, of course, a long-running effort to roll all of that back, but it’s successes have been limited and, accordingly, the population isn’t fighting mad like they were in the 30s.

    Look, I love that quote too, but it’s simply a nice fantasy to imagine Obama using something like that and it working.

  15. Or, How about…

    Obama realizes that he doesn’t actually run the world and that the opinions other people, even dangerous Republicans, must be factored into getting anything done. When he says, everybody has to make painful compromises, he recognizes the actual reality of the situation.

    This is what painful compromise looks like. This is what happens in a world where your fellow citizens vote for tea party lunatics. Barack could remain true to my left-leaning values but, when the country defaults on its debt, anyone will be able to look at him and say, “His leftie intransigence has ruined our country.”

    Instead, he has put a huge amount of pressure on the other side to succeed in doing a deal and, if disaster strikes, they will, in actual truth, be the ones at fault. Not by virtue of appearance but because Barack walks the walk when he says painful compromise is necessary.

  16. > When he says, everybody has to make painful compromises,
    > he recognizes the actual reality of the situation.

    What compromises, exactly, are the Republicans being asked to make? What compromises, exactly, have the Republicans agreed to make? Please reference Mitch McConnell’s openly stated theory of negotiation in your answer. Thanks.


  17. I’d say (c) he’s a conservative who has shrewdly gotten liberals to believe they can’t do any better.

    Matt says that in this situation, a progressive option doesn’t exist. That’s imprecise. In this situation, progressives can’t hope to win elections in the short term. But we do have options that will let us influence events in a positive way for the longer term.

    Conservative Democrats, in which group I emphatically include Obama, think they are entitled to the votes of liberals. The Republican Party is so deeply crazy right now that it’s easy to whip liberals into line by fear alone. In this position we give our votes, in exchange for nothing at all—less than nothing, in fact, since what we have is being taken away by Democrats. Democratic politicians have everything to gain by moving farther to the right, and nothing to lose, since they can take the Democratic base for granted.

    The option for progressives, is to stop supporting Democrats. Find or form a third party and run actual progressive candidates against Democrats. Democrats would howl that we are spoilers, and indeed some Republicans would win as a result. But the Democratic Party will move leftward to get progressives back. If not, they are not the right party for progressives.

  18. If the hike in Medicare eligibility age goes into effect after 2013, then 65- and 66-year-olds will be covered by Obamacare’s mandates—meaning, among other things, that insurance companies won’t be allowed to deny them coverage, and there will be limits to how high they can hike premiums based on age. Even if the Republicans had swallowed the poison pill, I’m not convinced this would have made a significant difference in the welfare of the elderly, especially the elderly poor.

  19. By the standards of 1981, Obama is a conservative. By the standards of 2011, he is moderate-to-liberal. As someone who has been a left-winger since before 1981, I regret this state of affairs, but moving the Overton Window in the other direction will take more than one election cycle.

  20. > By the standards of 1981, Obama is a conservative. By
    > the standards of 2011, he is moderate-to-liberal.

    If you want to redefine moderate to mean “just to the right of the DLC and Third Way”, at least from the perspective of the Washington DC Media Village/David Broder consensus I won’t argue with you. But I see no way that anyone, even the late David Broder, could in any way classify an acceptance of the Republican desire to destroy Social Security in a continuous line stretching from Vandenberg to Peterson as “liberal”.


  21. To the folks here who think (b) “Obama is a moron”: what is the correct approach in this case? What solution would cause the US not to default, given the current GOP? If we take the position that many progressives want, stubborn, intractable, we default. If we take the position the GOP wants, we default. The middle road–the only case in which we don’t default–is if Obama attempts a compromise.

    Do you see how clear this is? It is widely acknowledged, even by some conservatives, that the GOP has been taken over by crazies. It is clear that they will not compromise, and that no matter what compromises we ask them to make, they will not. They are crazier than the Democrats, willing to sacrifice the country for an ideological point. If you care about this country, you would not allow it to default and destroy its credit for all time. Obama cares about this country–ergo, he is attempting not to destroy our credit for all time.

    Sure, Olbermann and Zasloff and everyone else can scream about how Obama’s sacrificing this or that progressive value. But this is a choice between staying ideologically pure, or not having the economic integrity of our country destroyed. It is as stark as that.

  22. Seth — Exactly.

    The President has delivered again and again, snookered the GOP again and again (see, e.g., the shutdown deal, Obamacare). He is interested in the long-term trajectory, and again and again bends the long-term cost curve towards a sustainable policy future.

    No, he doesn’t “buy into” the austerity / deficit framing. He’s using it to whip the Republicans with their own framing or force them to act in accordance therewith.

  23. Betsy, at what point do we quit giving him credit for knowing better? It’s one thing to say “The Republicans are wrong but I have to compromise,” it’s another to agree with them on their nonsense economics. I think the simplest interpretation is that he means what he says, and he’s conservative.

  24. Working backward from the conclusions: since Obama is clearly neither a political moron ((a black man elected president of the US, winning some southern states in the process) nor a Republican (ACA), JZ’s logic is evidently wrong.

    The proposed Medicare change is no different substantively than the 1980’s bargain that gave SS a much longer path of sustainable financing in return for a slow rise in the full-rate retirement age to 67. The report in today’s NYT suggests that the proposal would be a rise in the eligibility age of 1 month per year for the next 24 years (that’s my quick reading of the timeline). As Seth notes, thanks to the ACA those younger than the cutoff can get insurance anyway, at least starting in 2014.

    Here’s my thought about the politics of the next year. The thing about the ACA is that its main provisions don’t kick in ’til 2014. Right now, most people have no clue what the ACA will do for them. The just remember “mandates” and “death panels”. In order to survive, the Democrats need to retain at least one legislative veto point. Suppose that Obama plays the same kind of extremist hardball as the GOP. Then, with the economy still in the toilet, the voters kick him out and the senate goes GOP as well. HR1 and S1 in 2013 will be the “Repeal of the Affordable Care Act”. Pres. Romney will sign it while saying something moronic about how it’s right for the states but not for the nation. The greatest progressive success of the last 30+ years will be strangled in its cradle before it even starts to walk (and thereby develops a constituency).

    Give the man some credit.

  25. Foster, if your horizon is January 2013, you are politically irrelevant. If you aren’t willing to let the Democrats lose, if there’s nothing they can ever do to lose your vote, you aren’t a constituent, you’re a pawn.

  26. > The proposed Medicare change is no different substantively
    > than the 1980′s bargain that gave SS a much longer path of
    > sustainable financing in return for a slow rise in the
    > full-rate retirement age to 67.

    Except that we are now being told that the outcome of the Greenspan Commission – a $2 trillion surplus in the Social Security Trust fund and solvency through at least 2031 – “doesn’t exist” and that benefits must be cut again. How will making this surplus bigger, or creating a similar pot of Medicare money for Republicans to spend, help in any way?

    Also, we are currently entering into our third year with official unemployment over 9% (and I would say that real unemployment is probably closer to 15%). Capable, experienced professional /in their early 50s/ are unable to get interviews much less jobs; employers are mercilessly laying off people in their supposed mid-career 40s while corporate profits soar. Why does raising the age for full eligibility for Social Security and Medicare make any sense? We should be working to /lower/ the retirement age to 62, not raise it toward an age number which essentially means death before retirement.


  27. Don, he doesn’t “agree with them.” He’s never embraced austerity. If you look at the man’s actual words, he’s focused on debt/deficit reduction over the LONG haul, which, actually, we do need. Nothing he’s proposed has to do with taking money out of the economy in the next two years.

  28. Don, umm… what’s your political horizon? 2050? Seems to me that the long game is won by winning a lot of shorter term skirmishes. Or do you subscribe to the double-plus super-reverse theory that the only way to make things better in the long run is to make them really really bad in the shorter run?

  29. Betsy, let’s look at the man’s actual words then. “Government has to start living within its means, just like families do. We have to cut the spending we can’t afford so we can put the economy on sounder footing, and give our businesses the confidence they need to grow and create jobs.” He joins the Republicans in making the false equivalence between families and government. He joins the Republicans in believing that austerity produces expansion of the economy (or claims to believe it, which is just as bad). He joins the Republicans in believing that spending cuts magically produce “business confidence” that magically produce jobs.

    He should be leading the Democrats in derisive laughter at the people who believe these silly notions. Instead he’s promoting them.

  30. I find myself wondering what Obama would have to do to convince his supporters here that he is not the man they pretend he is?

    Here’s a question for all you ‘left’ bashers: can you name any issue Obama has been a genuine leader on for progressives and liberals where he has risked anything in doing so?

  31. @Matt

    Re: “Obama is a moron”

    I agree that his choices are limited for the situation he finds himself in today. And allowing the country to experience some catastrophic result, regardless of who forced this Rubik’s Cube dilemma, is also not a tenable option.

    But the “moron” label didn’t just pop out of a vacuum today. An appropriate analogy that would compare to Obama’s history of the past several years would be one whereby a successful 100 year old family company is bequeathed to an errant offspring who promptly runs it into the ground.

    The truly incredible gale force wind at Obama’s back at the time of his election was not an illusion. The country could not have spoken more forcefully, with more moral support, and handed him more political weaponry had he been Caesar.

    Only a moron could have misplayed the hand that was dealt him to the point where he finds himself today.

  32. Cranky – Cuts to SS don’t seem to be on the table, so I don’t think that’s an issue. Yeah, you’ll hear someone talk about them here and there, but given the knives that came out for the GOP after they voted for the Ryan budget, I’d be (joyously) stunned if they started pushing changes to Social Security. I don’t think they’re that stupid. And relatively few people are both smart enough to be paying attention and stupid enough to be buying the “the trust fund doesn’t exist” line of BS. Anyway, Medicare is a general budget item, so that argument isn’t even relevant for it.

    As to raising the retirement age, this is one case where the “we can’t afford it” argument starts to have some logic. If the demographics become such that there are just 2 productive workers supporting each retiree, what do you imagine the politics of that scenario will be? How willing will the 30-somethings of that future era be to see a large fraction of their taxes flow to allow perfectly healthy and able 62 year olds plan their next 25 years golfing and fishing?

    The only thing that will make that even remotely possible is huge improvements in productivity, which can only happen through current investment, something Obama has devoted a lot of time to advocating, even if his efforts are stymied by a known-nothing GOP.

  33. > Cranky – Cuts to SS don’t seem to be on the table, so I
    > don’t think that’s an issue. Yeah, you’ll hear someone talk
    > about them here and there, but given the knives that came
    > out for the GOP after they voted for the Ryan budget,
    > I’d be (joyously) stunned if they started pushing changes
    > to Social Security.

    You need to check your referent there – it is Mr. Obama who has already stated that cuts to Social Security are being discussed “because we can”.


  34. Foster, my political horizon is more than several elections out. Like you, I think winning in politics involves a series of small skirmishes. But I’m willing to lose the next skirmish, to build a winning constituency for the one after that.

    If you want to build constituency X then you run candidates who believe X and talk about X until you gradually convince people that X is important. You don’t pledge your permanent loyalty to candidates who promote not-X. This is not a hard concept for anyone to understand, except American liberals, damfino why.

  35. Personally, I expect Obama to be (perhaps narrowly) reelected, and wonder greatly how his strategery will change then. I have a dream, that someday he will profess atheism and decry the necessity of those with presidential ambitions to go to a Christian church.

    Anyway, I just wanted to jump into this thread about “who is Barack Obama really?” to recall this quote:

    Aaron Altman: I know you care about him. I’ve never seen you like this about anyone, so please don’t take it wrong when I tell you that I believe that Tom, while a very nice guy, is the Devil.
    Jane Craig: This isn’t friendship.
    Aaron Altman: What do you think the Devil is going to look like if he’s around? Nobody is going to be taken in if he has a long, red, pointy tail. No. I’m semi-serious here. He will look attractive and he will be nice and helpful and he will get a job where he influences a great God-fearing nation and he will never do an evil thing… he will just bit by little bit lower standards where they are important. Just coax along flash over substance… Just a tiny bit.

  36. @NYShooter, I don’t think you give enough credit to the forces from the right, which were able to use Senate procedure to block a lot of good proposals. Cap & trade came out of the House and was blocked in the Senate. Obama would have signed it. Dodd-Frank was much stronger before the Senate’s reactionaries watered it down. And remember the screams about “taxpayer bank bailout” for a proposal that would have done exactly the opposite? The CFPB’s formation is being effectively blocked by the GOP. Single-payer was blocked in the Senate

    Those on the left who blame Obama for all the lack of progress seem to think that all of these countervailing forces could have been overridden by some president with better rhetorical skills. That’s magical thinking.

  37. @Cranky, what are you referring to? Here’s an Obama quote I found (on TPM):

    “If you look at the numbers then Medicare in particular will run out of money and we will not be able to sustain that program no matter how much taxes go up,” he said. “It’s not an option for us to just sit by and do nothing. if you’re a progressive that cares about the integrity of Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid … then we have an obligation to make sure that we make those changes required to make this sustainable in the long term.”

    And here’s another older one (from April):
    “Both parties should work together now to strengthen Social Security for future generations,” he said. “But we must do it without putting at risk current retirees, the most vulnerable, or people with disabilities; without slashing benefits for future generations; and without subjecting Americans’ guaranteed retirement income to the whims of the stock market.”

    Sounds pretty progressive to me.

  38. Bears repeating (again and again, to MoveOn and DailyKos and so on): “Those on the left who blame Obama for all the lack of progress seem to think that all of these countervailing forces could have been overridden by some president with better rhetorical skills. That’s magical thinking.”

  39. Good job Matt- Avoid the actual questions and issue “the left” raises and repeat a mantra with no relation to reality to make their impact go away.

    THAT’s magickal thinking.

    NO ONE blames Obama for ALL the lack of progress, like you suggest. You distort thee issue totally.

    I asked Obama’s supporters and defenders a simple question about 8 posts above. Care to answer it?

  40. Presidential press conference, 11 July 2011:

    = = = = =
    Q Thank you, Mr. President. You keep talking about balance, shared sacrifice, but in the $4 trillion deal that you’re talking about roughly, it seems to be now at about four-to-one spending to taxes; we’re talking about $800 billion in taxes, roughly. That doesn’t seem very fair to some Democrats. I’m wondering if you could clarify why we’re at that level. And also, if you could clarify your Social Security position — would any of the money from Social Security, even from just Chained CPI, go toward the deficit as opposed to back into the trust fund?

    THE PRESIDENT: With respect to Social Security, Social Security is not the source of our deficit problems. Social Security, if it is part of a package, would be an issue of how do we make sure Social Security extends its life and is strengthened? So the reason to do Social Security is to strengthen Social Security to make sure that those benefits are there for seniors in the out-years. And the reason to include that potentially in this package is if you’re going to take a bunch of tough votes, you might as well do it now, as opposed to trying to muster up the political will to get something done further down in the future.
    = = = = =

    Let’s repeat that: “‘And the reason to include that [Social Security] potentially in this package is if you’re going to take a bunch of tough votes, you might as well do it now, as opposed to trying to muster up the political will to get something done further down in the future.’ – President Barack Obama”


  41. @Cranky, so your dispute is over using chained-CPI vs. CPI-W? That future retirees’ SS income will be adjusted based on a CPI that reflects changes in the consumer basket rather than a fixed one? This technical point is the basis for an attack on Obama as selling out the progressive cause? Pardon me for thinking that this is not a serious basis for labeling Obama a conservative.

  42. Foster,
    My dispute is over the belief that Obama has not put Social Security on the table, when he has. The rest is a matter of haggling over the price. It is inconceivable that if Mitch McConnell starts negotiating over SS, with Peter G. Peterson advising Obama, that there won’t be more cuts beyond the deviously painful COLA adjustments already put forth.


  43. Kevin Drum is usually a bit too mushy-middlist for my taste, but he makes a lot of sense here, probably because his mushy-middle perspective allows him to see more clearly:

    = = = = =

    I think that this fundamentally misjudges Obama. Eventually things may come to this, but the fact is that he genuinely wants a deal. If he can’t get one, then obviously he wants to maneuver things so that Republicans get the blame. But that’s a fallback position. His primary position is that he really, truly wants to make a significant deal that includes both large spending cuts and moderate (but still substantial) tax increases. Once you understand this, a lot of seemingly inexplicable things suddenly make sense.

    = = = = =


  44. Foster, I don’t think most progressives think Obama can magically persuade people whose political careers depend on making his Presidency fail. I do think progressives would be entitled (if Obama were progressive) to demand that he promote progressive ideas before he compromises on them.

    Instead of saying that the size of the stimulus was just right, he could have said that he wanted a bigger stimulus but couldn’t get it past the Republicans. Instead of making private insurance his opening bid on health care, he could have made the Republicans give up something in exchange for his giving up single payer. Instead of proposing spending cuts be exchanged for raising the debt ceiling, he could point out the debt ceiling was raised seven times during the Bush administration alone, in exchange for nothing. Instead of joining the Republicans in ignoring all of Keynesian macroeconomics, he could point out that it has a better track record at predicting economic events than all the conservatives put together. Instead of what he’s doing on national security, he could be…distinguishable from George W. Bush.

    But whether to praise or damn Obama is not really what progressives need to decide. They need to decide whether to support the Democratic Party, despite the evidence that doing so is not just useless, but actually counterproductive.

  45. Matt @ 9:42 – It isn’t a question of rhetorical ability, would that he would just try to do some of the things that need to be done.

    But – BUT – I believe that Obama is a Republican through and through. Raised at his grandmother’s knee, learning the economics of a small bank official and has never learned to look further. I’ve even wondered if she extracted promises from him on her death bed. I think he is a Democrat only because he recognized that he had no chance to be elected anything as a Republican. He crafted an approach as a candidate that totally obscured his real beliefs.

    His promises reminded me more of a fundamentalist evangelist who knows that his promises cannot be tested in time. Hillary had his number when she made some comment about the sky opening and the light coming down etc… In this sense I believe that he (Obama) is as evil politically as Bush or Backman and voting for him is no different than voting for either of the other two – it is voting for evil.

    There is a strong desire here (RBC) for moderation (see comments re: Hamsher, Greenwald, and others), but that desire for moderation has become a support for a kind of historic impotence as moderation no longer can work. The belief that Obama is playing it smart is simply a projection of our own desires on to him. That the 4 trillion dollar deal was turned down isn’t because of a poison pill, it is because of Republican stupidity. Anyone who doubts that Obama would have cemented the deal if Boehner had been able to agree is simply delusional. Obama’s history – what he has agreed to and what he has supported over the past 2.5 years gives me no expectation that he isn’t actively engaged in the destruction of the safety net in much the same way that Republicans have been trying to achieve since FDR.

    I see him as a total Republican and a political genius, he has carried much of the Democratic party so far to the right that I will no longer consider myself a Democrat. I know, I am being a bomb thrower in thge church of reason, but there comes a time when bombs are necessary (I hope only verbally). We must move away from the continually implied impotence that DailyKos and others support, largely out of resistance to a recognition of how totally they were snookered. I see that impotence here and it frightens me.

  46. I have to admit this is rich and may even have some deep truth to it:

    Raised at his grandmother’s knee, learning the economics of a small bank official and has never learned to look further.


    This is out right crazy talk: I believe that he (Obama) is as evil politically as Bush or Backman and voting for him is no different than voting for either of the other two – it is voting for evil.

    I can name that tune wrong in five syllables: Kagan and Sotomayor. No matter the politics we find ourselves in, having a Dem President in charge of nominating the next Court vacancy, is reason enough for any Dem or Lefty to vote again for The Man from Hopey-Changey. Period.

  47. Brad, I think koreyel makes the ultimate argument as to who I will vote for Obama. But you are also largely right that he is no friend of progressives and liberals, and never has been.

    So what can we do?

    In the short run vote for the guy and give money only to progressive Democrats or progressive primary challenges to the other kind. In the long run we need to change the electoral rules that guarantee only two parties can really ever amount to much. California and other states offer a way out. Push for replacing plurality elections with majority vote elections. The two party system represents three groups very unevenly, and at the cost of showing my bias, they are a corporate oligarchy that now funds both parties but lacks the votes on its own to win, a theocratic and largely nihilistic right wing running on anger and resentment, and those Americans who take our founding principles seriously. Because both parties are controlled by the same money interests, they offer little hope of anything better than choosing the least bad corporatist tool.

    If unions and others who care about American values would push for initiatives in states to allow majority election of candidates they would give third party candidates a chance to be real alternatives rather than ego trips for the occasional celebrity. That would give people a real choice.

    Until then we are stuck with perpetual disappointments and worse, like Obama.

  48. There’s also the possibility, which I consider very likely, that Obama calculated that he could put the idea of raising the Medicare eligibility age on the table while knowing that A) Republicans would reject it and make themselves look even more unwilling to compromise and B) the Democratic caucus and Nancy Pelosi would not accept it. This allows Obama to appear reasonable, compromising, and moderate, without actually having to push to enact a policy that I doubt he actually supports. It doesn’t appear to actually carry very much risk – I think it’s a good deal more savvy than you give him credit for.

    Of course, I could still be eating my words when (if?) the final deal is completed.

  49. Henry: “… Roosevelt won re-election by the largest majority before or since”

    Of course, the economy had been sharply recovering from approximately the moment FDR took office in 1933 to the election in 1936. Based on that record, any incumbent would have won. Obama has a much less impressive record to run on.

    Seth G.: “…moving the Overton Window in the other direction will take more than one election cycle.”

    Quite right. That’s why it is so frustrating that Obama is actually hustling the Overton window FURTHER RIGHT by accepting all of the R-team’s premises.

  50. I’m not buying it. Borrowing (and paraphrasing) the famous phrase from Ollie North’s attorney, Brendan Sullivan, “Is Barack Obama a Potted Plant?” Winning any battle, military, political, or other, is not accomplished, as many here so submissively accept, through clairvoyance: “the Republicans would never accept it; all of these countervailing forces; use Senate procedure to force; etc, etc. So, why is it that some supposedly intelligent Representatives promote some of the most irrational, even insane, proposals one could imagine? Of course, constituent pressure.

    My argument is, and I’m certainly not alone in being bewildered by it, is, why do we do our best Karnak impersonation, assume the worst outcome regarding an important issue, and surrender without the slightest effort to affect the outcome. Have the Obama apologists (I would use the word, appeasers, but that would be unkind) forgotten the position Obama was in post election? An ignorant actor from the 80’s rammed through the most abominable programs imaginable, due in great measure because of his mandate. And, even when a Republican squeaks to a victory (GWB), he governs as if he had a record mandate and also stuffs utterly disgusting, damaging programs down our throats.

    The rap on Barack Obama isn’t his abysmal failures vis-a-vis the Republicans; its his abysmal effort in refusing to fight for the programs we thought we voted for.

    Up thread is a wonderful quote from FDR; Could Obama not even have attempted to influence the outcome of programs so vital for so many of our fellow countrymen. my Lord, his negotiating efoorts would embarrass a 21 year old corporate trainee.

    But, I take back my pejorative snip about his being a moron. He is simply the biggest underachiever to have been honored with the presidency of the United States. The tragic pity is that tens of millions of people will needlessly suffer pain and degradation because of this man’s abject failure to capitalize on the many, many assets he was given.

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