Nov 04 2012

What do you mean “We”?

Why is the left defending Obama?

Matt Stoller, Salon

Saturday, Nov 3, 2012 10:00 AM EDT

The 2012 election is next Tuesday. We face a choice between Barack Obama, a candidate whose Presidency we can examine and evaluate, and Mitt Romney, who is a dangerous cipher. My argument – made last week in “Progressive Case Against Obama“, is that progressives should evaluate these risks honestly, with a clear-headed analysis of Obama’s track record.This piece sparked a massive debate that has had both Obama loyalists and Republicans resort to outlandish name-calling, evidently as a result of their unwillingness or inability to address the issues raised.

It is remarkable to see the level to which Obama defenders have sunk. Let’s start with a basic problem – why is Obama in a tight race? Mitt Romney is more caricature than candidate, a horrifically cartoonish plutocrat whose campaign is staffed by people that allow secret tapings of obviously offensive statements. The Republican base finds Romney uninspiring, and Romney has been unable to provide one good reason to choose him except that he is not the incumbent. Yet, Barack Obama is in a dog fight with this clown. Why? It isn’t because a few critics are writing articles in places like Salon. The answer, if you look at the data, is that Barack Obama has been a terrible President and an enemy to progressives. Unemployment is high. American household income since the recovery started in 2009 has dropped 5%. Poverty has increased substantially. Home equity – the main store of wealth for the middle class – has dropped by $5-7 trillion, in contrast to the increase in financial asset values held by Obama’s friends and donors. And this was done explicitly through Obama’s policies.

Obama came into office with a massive mandate, overwhelming control of Congress, hundreds of billions of TARP money to play with, the ability to prosecute Wall Street executives and break their power, and the opportunity for a massive stimulus. Most importantly, the country was willing to follow – the public believed his calls for change. Yet, instead of restructuring the economy and doing obvious things like hardening infrastructure against global warming, he entrenched oligarchy. This was explicit. Obama broke a whole series of campaign promises that would have helped the middle class. These promises would have reduced household debt, raised the minimum wage, stopped outsourcing, and protected workers. He broke these promises for a reason – Barack Obama uses his power for what he believes in, and Barack Obama is a conservative technocrat. Obama sided with Wall Street. He probably made the foreclosure crisis worse with a series of programs designed to help banks but marketed to help homeowners. These were his policies, they reflected the views of his most valued advisors like Robert Rubin and his Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. Moreover, he’s proud of this record – the only mistake he cites in his first term is inadequately communicating how effective he has been, focusing too much on getting the policy right.

And the result is inequality in income gains that is higher than that under George W. Bush. Most of Obama’s defenders refuse to acknowledge Obama’s role in this policy mess. He deserves credit for the auto bailout, but when it comes to the bank bailouts, hey he’s just one man. What could we possibly expect? Yet, reelecting this man to a Presidency that is hamstrung by the system is the most important thing in the world. In other words, just as they’ve been arguing for years, Obama is both entirely powerless and utterly essential.

In other words, as Glen Ford put it, Obama is not necessarily the lesser of two evils, he may be the “more effective evil“. He puts the left to sleep (whether by defunding progressive groups or allowing the destruction of Occupy encampments), and the left is where the resistance to imperial tendencies currently resides. It is this problem, of how to organize large groups of people into a political force for justice, that should concern us. Otherwise, under Bush or Obama, inequality would continue to increase. And with this, I’d bring us to the argument I made about leverage points, most notably, that policy leverage is apparent during a crisis.

Consider that there is a crisis right now, in the Frankenstorm, Sandy. Parts of lower Manhattan are still without power, and much of the Eastern seaboard will never be the same. Late night comedians, NBC, and even Businessweek are jumping up and down and screaming that this catastrophic storm is a result of climate change. Yet, on Monday, no major environmental groups except Bill McKibben’s 350.org featured Sandy on its home page. These groups, from the Sierra Club to the Environmental Defense Fund – focused instead on the safety of chemicals, saving the Osprey, voting for Obama, or other such problems. As Brad Johnson noted, almost every left-wing journalist or advocate was equivocating as to whether climate change was the cause. This is the moment of leverage, when an organized advocacy space should have been arguing for a massive emergency mitigation and adaptation efforts. Tens of billions of dollars will flow into the Northeast, this money could be used for rebuilding unsustainable Con Ed, or for powering the New York with entirely renewable and robust energy. Instead, the right-wing, including Democrats like MSNBC contributor Ed Rendell, are working to undermine environmental, labor rules in the reconstruction while privatizing rebuilt infrastructure.

Progressives are obsessed with reelecting Obama instead of governing, so there is silence in response to a massive leverage point (except on CNBC, where the anchors are screaming for more refining capacity in response to Sandy). We the people need to protest and demand the solutions that might have a chance at saving our civilization from the many Sandy’s to come. Indeed, global warming fueled Hurricane Katrina killed 3000 people, and we did nothing except allow the privatization of the New Orleans school system. But as we see now, this is not just because of George Bush, it is because our theory of change, of looking to right-wing politicians entrenched in the Democratic Party as an answer, was an utter failure. It is the politics of self-delusion, and catastrophe. Voting third party is a way of indicating, to yourself and your community, that you will not be party to this game any more. Voting third party is a way of showing, to yourself and your community, that you consider Barack Obama an opponent, and that you oppose his policy. This is a profound admission, and it creates the space for real opposition, for real resistance.

Well, you know, so many of them have web infrastructure in New York and are experiencing service disruptions until after the election.

After 35,000 hours what’s a mere 170 or so between “friends?”

(h/t Naked Capitalism)

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