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Judging Obama

by Jerome a Paris Tue Aug 17th, 2010 at 04:12:44 AM EST

Originally posted on DailyKos, where it has been astonishingly well received and spawned a largely civil, if really big, thread

The debate on whether it is more appropriate to say that Obama has done a lot or that he has done too little regularly divides DailyKos, and I'd like to tackle it from a slightly different perspective, to say that this is not really about Obama, but about the views of the different groups about our civilisation.

I would like to propose that those who think that Obama has not done enough consider that the current system is profoundly failing, and that it is time for systemic changes, instead of the tinkering they see Obama doing, whereas those that tend to focus on what Obama has done think that the system is flawed, but mendable, and that Obama is doing just that, moving things back in the right direction.

And the fact is - we don't know yet what group is right, and we may not know for a few more years.


First, I think there is a number of things that most here agree with:

  1. Obama inherited a mess, and he has no responsibility in creating it. The financial meltdown, the economic recession, the budget crisis, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were all created by the policies of the Bush years (or the policies run since the Reagan revolution, if you want to look at the bigger picture);

  2. he is facing a nastily partisan Republican party backed by a well-run and highly effective media / noise machine. They were bullies while in power, and they have adapted similarly shamelessly ugly behavior now that they are in opposition;

  3. Obama ran on "change" - including a change in the way politics were run in Washington - that included going back to listening to actual experts rather than hacks, and it also included trying to move away from partisanship and trying to reconcile opposing view points. He's done both of these

Now here's a list of the points where fundamental disagreement pop up:

  1. the bank bailout, however distasteful, was necessary to save the economy, and Obama was right to support it (alternatively: the bailout of the banks is the original sin of this administration: it has not solved anything and wasted massive amounts of money; the economy is still in the doldrums while bankers make even more money than before);
  2. the stimulus plan was unprecedented in its scope and content, and it worked to support the economy at the worst time, and things are now improving (the stimulus was far too small and the economy is now on the verge of collapsing again, the administration does not seem to care about the incredibly widespread and persistent unemployment) ;
  3. the troops are leaving Iraq; the fight in Afghanistan, while incredibly difficult, was and is the right thing to do because leaving would create new dangers (Iraq is still occupied, Afghanistan is a lost cause, draining massive resources which can ill be afforded, Guantanamo is still open );
  4. the healthcare bill is a massive improvement for many American families and sets in tone the principle that everybody has a right to healthcare coverage (it's a massive giveaway to insurance companies which will find their way around the new rules, meanwhile healthcare costs continue to increase);
  5. Obama did that, and a lot more (2 competent women in the Supreme Court and many more) despite the systematic and outright evil opposition of the Republicans at every step (Obama has failed to use the bully pulpit to push for his preferred options, choosing backroom negotiations with lobbies and giving up too much too early, and watering down policies for the sake of illusory bipartisanship);

Fundamentally, such contrasting opinions on the meaning of basic facts (which are themselves not really in dispute) can only be explained by profound differences on deeply held beliefs about where we are going.

Those who are happy about Obama consider that the what matters is that things are back in the right direction, and, while the departure point is far out and the current position not satisfactory in itself (thanks to all that was done under Bush), it is only a matter of time until things get back to normal. In that perspective, Obama will also be a transformative president, thanks to the foundations created by the healthcare bill, the Supreme Court nominations and the return to a competent, serious presidential behavior. Within the system, he is pushing things back in a progressive, more enlighened direction, which is exactly the (good) thing one can expect from a Democratic president, and he is doing it well.

Those who are disappointed by him are really worried that the crisis we are facing is more profound, and that he is not tackling the underlying causes. They despair of Obama's willingness to play within the existing mindset - whether economic, strategic or political. They consider that the economic crisis is not a (deeper than usual) run-of-the-mill recession which can be tackled by traditional instruments, but a sign of fundamental flaws in the way our economy is managed - or rather mismanaged and looted - by an out-of-control oligarchy; that the political context is one of total warfare by the Republicans rather than one of principled disagreements to be ironed out by negotiation; and that the climate change and resource constraints are systemic emergencies which require massive action today rather than the small steps taken so far by the Obama administration.

And the fact is, we don't know yet if the economy will move back to growth soon; we don't know for sure if the financial system is back on its feet or just zombie-like; we don't know how climate change will affect each of us and our civilisation even if we accept that change is on the way; we don't really see how we would do without oil ; and we don't really know how to move away from the financial optimisation logic which drive everything today - or let alone agree whether it is a good thing to do so.

But all of this suggests that we should discuss our future rather than trying to judge Obama - as that judgement depends a lot more on our vision for the future than on our assessment of what he has done.

Display:
That is a statesmanlike post, Jerome. Kudos.

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson
by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Tue Aug 17th, 2010 at 04:56:18 AM EST
Brilliant post. I reformatted it and sent it to about fifty people, and have received many thanks for it.

Jerome for President!

Align culture with our nature.

by ormondotvos (ormond no spam lmi net no spam) on Tue Aug 17th, 2010 at 05:17:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
European Tribune - Judging Obama
But all of this suggests that we should discuss our future rather than trying to judge Obama - as that judgement depends a lot more on our vision for the future than on our assessment of what he has done.
In other words, let's leave Obama's legacy to history. But people are already busy with framing Obama's legacy and we're not even past the first midterm election!

PBS Newshour: Health Care May Grant Obama Legacy as 'Reformer' (March 30, 2010)

The New York Review of Books: Obama's Legacy: Afghanistan

Most presidents start wondering--or, more often, worrying--about their "legacy" well into their first term. Or, if they have a second term, they worry even more feverishly about what posterity will think of them. Obama need not wonder about his legacy, even this early. It is already fixed, and in one word: Afghanistan. He took on what he made America's longest war and what may turn out to be its most disastrous one.

Salon.com: Will eco-disasters destroy Obama's legacy?

WSJ: Obama's Legacy and the Iranian Bomb (Alan M. Dershowitz)

Neville Chamberlain was remembered for appeasing Germany, not his progressive social programs.

CBS News: Obama Seeks Legacy on Reducing World's Nuclear Weapons

This is politics, and what matters is perceptions. Plus it's more fun (and cheaper, and requires no expertise and no homework) to talk about Obama's legacy than about the future direction the world should be taking and why. And we're talking about the guy who got a Nobel Peace Price in his first year in office (talk about early attempts at legacy setting!) for not being Bush and went on to accept it with a "Just War" speech...

By laying out pros and cons we risk inducing people to join the debate, and losing control of a process that only we fully understand. - Alan Greenspan

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Aug 17th, 2010 at 05:12:26 AM EST
Read the article; read many of the comments at dkos.  I'll stick to my guns ... things will continue to deteriorate until we hit the true tipping point ... the fragmentation of the US, the end of the Empire. Till then ... the patient is on life support, slowly sinking.

The good news ... it's only a life sentence. You eventually leave this planet of idiots.
by THE Twank (yatta blah blah @ blah.com) on Tue Aug 17th, 2010 at 06:15:42 AM EST
I think that the problem for the planet is that you are right, the US will keep going as it is until a fracture occurs. But it will keep going until it is probably a complete climate catastrophe that wrecks it, and that may be a long way into the future.

Even the loss of drinking water in the SW is too slow to impact decision making for another 25 years, by which time it will be far far too late.

Rome is burning and the White House is fiddling hard and fast into the long night.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Aug 17th, 2010 at 01:04:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Didn't take a climate catastrophe to end the USSR; plus folks like me have a living memory of what the dismantling of an empire looks like. Still stickin' to my guns.

The good news ... it's only a life sentence. You eventually leave this planet of idiots.
by THE Twank (yatta blah blah @ blah.com) on Tue Aug 17th, 2010 at 06:13:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... and people willing to seize the opportunity ... frequent and steep enough oil price shocks (I think the opportunism can be taken for granted) is enough for the present American Empire.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Tue Aug 17th, 2010 at 06:19:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Your basic thesis is correct. This is why Paul Krugman frames many of his Obama critiques with statements like "at this rate, we can expect employment to return to pre-crisis levels some time in the second term of the Sarah Palin administration."

I always find those little throwaway lines about the future chilling.

As I have said and Helen has diaried, Obama is another Tony Blair in many ways. The defence of incrementalism is based on the idea that we wont't get another Bush after him. But that seems very far from certain to me.

And all this applies even if you think we're not facing (or soon to be facing) system-shaking environmental, energy supply and economic structure challenges.

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Tue Aug 17th, 2010 at 06:18:53 AM EST
Brilliant diary, Jerome.  I've been thinking of doing a meta-analysis of Obama's first 2 years for some time, but your diary more or less does the trick with magisterial simplicity and directness.  You take the wind out of many people's sails by listing the alternate world-views, and most (on the broadly progressive side) will find their POV represented somewhere on the spectrum of alternate views you list.

It generally boils down to two world-views or paradigms:

  1. The system was badly broken by the Reagan/bush era but can be fixed and we are in the process of doing so. This is a broadly conservative world-view which views the Reagan Bush failures as down to incompetence and extremism.  Put good moderate people in charge and most will be well.

  2. The system is no longer capable of being fixed or fit for purpose:  Global corporatism has run amok and broken the state based political system.  Financial behemoths are far more powerful than Governments and are governed by the interests of their owners/managers, and not by popular will. Global resource constraints and warming mean we are moving rapidly towards a global ecological disaster - a mass extinction event - which will gradually also effect huge human populations.  Today's conflicts - with millions of deaths, will soon be replaced by 100's of millions.

In the first world view, Obama is the supremely capable technocrat.  Soon it will be business as usual, and the USA will once again rule the world for the common good.  In the second world-view, it is arguable that fixing the current system will actually make things worse, by delaying the implementation of the really radical solutions that are really needed - Global financial regulation, global Tobin taxes, global carbon taxes, reassertion of political (democratic) rather than corporate (class based) rule, global policing of human rights violations etc.

It is doubtful whether even Obama's progressive critics in the US have a clearly articulated alternative programme - beyond saying that he isn't going far enough in response to forlorn attempts at bipartisanship.  Withdrawing from Afghanistan and Iraq to eliminate the stranglehold that the MIC and Zionist lobby have on US foreign policy.  Regulating the worst excesses of financial engineering doesn't address basic income inequalities.

What I find remarkable about DKOS is the degree to which the interests of the USA - however defined - are the absolute frame of reference for almost all discourse.  There is almost no appreciation of the larger global challenges facing the entire world - most of which the USA is actually making worse in practice even under Obama - if less so in intent.

From that perspective, Obama is destined to be a transitional figure.  Whether he will transform the USA to be a much more functional player within the globe, or whether he will simply provoke a white supremacist corporatist backlash is to early to say.  But the frame of reference hasn't changed, and that is maximising US interests at the expense of everyone else.  I know I risk implementing Godwin's law, but the comparisons with other imperial mindsets seem overwhelming - think Nazi Germany, Imperial Britain pre-apartheid South Africa - an overweening arrogance that we know what's best, and moreover have the power to do it regardless of what anyone else might think.

Only a defeat for the USA could break that mindset - and I don't mean a regional defeat like Vietnam or Afghanistan.  Perhaps the growth of China, India the EU will impose a certain humility without gross bloodshed.  More likely an ever more cut-throat competition for diminishing resources.  It is very hard to paint an optimistic scenario.

You end by claiming neutrality and saying that we don't know the outcome of current near-term trends.  But the longer term objective constraints are ever more menacing.  Obama will ultimately be judged not by the frameworks of today - how well he managed to circumnavigate current political constraints - but by how well he prepared the USA for a very different future.  As Mig has observed - Chamberlain was viewed as a most competent reformer within the context of the dominant narrative of his time.  The problem is his time came to a very abrupt end.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Aug 17th, 2010 at 07:09:34 AM EST
great comment in a great diary...

Frank Schnittger:

In the first world view, Obama is the supremely capable technocrat.  Soon it will be business as usual, and the USA will once again rule the world for the common good.  

this is my take. it seems delusional, but that might be from too much ET!

as well as supremely capable technocrat, he is a 'golden child', with a sunny and disarming personality, staying light in a maelstrom of dark forces, making it look easy, grace under pressure, as amiable as he is competent.

but even the most competent leader can quail before impossible odds, and the perfect storm likely to hit will take extremely nimble thinking and decisions to stay so sunny through.

I loved this diary for how it leverages a bigger picture through gravitas into the dkos flamefest, now i'll go read it at the orangerie.

considering how often you have got your kicks throwing apples of discord-like diaries about taxing fossil fuels/gasoline over there, it's really nice to see you dispensing balsam like this, heh.

"We can all be prosperous but we can't all be rich." Ian Welsh

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Tue Aug 17th, 2010 at 10:52:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Point 2. Exactly.

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Aug 17th, 2010 at 01:04:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Mr Obama is one curious figure of a vast bureaucracy. He makes it easy for innerboobs consumers and their commentators to forget their representatives in Congress and their representatives in state assemblies who, believe it or not, enacted

  1. TARP
  2. ARRA
  3. 10 consecutive years of "supplemental" funding
  4. PPA

(No. 5, let's assume, marks Mr Obama's actual perview which is executive branch administration --bursary, agency rules, e.g. DADT, and agency appointments, e.g. Office of Faith-based Initiatives.)

This group of individuals --whose tenures frequently approach generational periods-- constitute the American "oligarchy" which nominated Mr Obama and which he has come to represent in the minds of those who voted him into office.

This group of individuals is a fixture of the future, that much is sure.

Diversity is the key to economic and political evolution.

by Cat on Tue Aug 17th, 2010 at 08:17:51 AM EST
This group of individuals is a fixture of the future, that much is sure.

the short term future, unfortunately yes, because they are the navigators and have their map and destination goal in mind.

but we're slipping into the swamp, and thus these navigators will soon be dethroned, and they'll have to put their shoulders into digging us all out with the rest.

who wants navigators that lead you into a swamp, long term?


"We can all be prosperous but we can't all be rich." Ian Welsh

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Tue Aug 17th, 2010 at 10:43:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
lol. That's a righteous read! and wildly optimistic. Have you looked at the tenures of US senators lately. Or do you wait until press obit or the "ethics" committee's indictment.

day-am, baby. MIKULSKI, for example, is up for her FIFTH TERM this year. Can I get an IM-HO-TEP, IM-HO-TEP?

Diversity is the key to economic and political evolution.

by Cat on Tue Aug 17th, 2010 at 10:56:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
'The Internet interprets Senators as damage and routes around them.'

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson
by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Tue Aug 17th, 2010 at 11:25:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
the harder they come...

"We can all be prosperous but we can't all be rich." Ian Welsh
by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Tue Aug 17th, 2010 at 05:42:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
So, how well one thinks Obama is doing is related to how broken one thinks the system is.
by Magnifico on Tue Aug 17th, 2010 at 10:46:12 AM EST
nice snapshot, Magnifico.

"We can all be prosperous but we can't all be rich." Ian Welsh
by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Tue Aug 17th, 2010 at 10:54:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Here's Warren Buffett's perspective on how broken Obama sees the system. Buffett was speaking in 2007 about both Obama and Clinton:

Buffett: Well I think they both understand what's made this country as prosperous as is. They are not going to kill the golden goose.

Every now and then you get a candidate who thinks... who doesn't understand that.

They know we have a wonderful country and a wonderful economic machine. And so they will build on that, but they will look to an American that, in my view, that makes more people share in that prosperity without in any way dampening it.

The key phrase is "not going to kill the golden goose" and that's the problem with Obama relativity. Likely, Obama does not see the United States as systemically broken and therefore, I think he believes he's doing a pretty awesome job. Obama is the product of the system and it worked for him. So, how could it be broken?

He will tinker and adjust, but not make any wholesale changes that many think are needed. Of course, it begs the question too for people, such as myself, who see the system as broken why replacing the head of the broken system would lead to its fixing?

by Magnifico on Tue Aug 17th, 2010 at 11:04:16 AM EST
Obama does not see the United States as systemically broken and therefore, I think he believes he's doing a pretty awesome job. Obama is the product of the system and it worked for him. So, how could it be broken?

There's a new article out in Vanity Fair by Todd Purdum that paints a picture of Obama realizing Washington is broken, but doesn't think he can do anything about it, so he's just going to plow ahead with what he thinks is right and hopes history will prove him right (because of course history is never written by people with an ax to grind).

I'm with you on this, Magnifico. A much better article was this one by John Judis, "The Unnecessary Fall," noting the many shortcomings of the Obama Administration. My reaction to that article was very much along the lines of what you just wrote.

Obama doesn't see the US as systematically broken. He just thinks it needs the right technocrat in charge. It's not just that Obama believes in elite individuals - he believes in elite institutions. He believes the supposedly "collegial" Senate processes are good and should be respected (which was the content of his only appearance at Daily Kos, back in 2005 to chide the netroots for criticizing the Senate's acquiescence to the John Roberts nomination).

He believes the financial industry is inherently good and should be respected - sure, there were some reforms that were needed, but those reforms were intended to help the existing financial industry continue to do what it is doing. He believe health insurance and pharmaceutical companies can play a constructive role in health care delivery and that we shouldn't try to cut them out of the process.

All of this speaks to someone whose political instincts and values stopped evolving sometime around 1996. He hasn't accepted that each of those elite institutions have completely failed and need either dramatic overhaul or outright abolition, since he still believes in these elite institutions and the individuals who run them.

I also believe Judis is right that Obama abhors confrontation - his political philosophy as laid out in "Dreams of my Father" and "Audacity of Hope" make that quite clear - and that fits well with someone who is neither temperamentally or ideologically willing to challenge the elite forces that destroyed our economy. Obama understandably surrounded himself with advisors who shared that view - members of the existing elite. Obama brought on board Geithner, Summers, and Emanuel because they were part of an elite that Obama respected and thought was generally working pretty well.

As a result, Obama has a team of people who reinforce his own instincts - which misjudge the political mood, and which misunderstand the policy needs, of the country.

Judis is right that Obama risks repeating the Carter Administration, and all it'll take is a Romney or someone like that to look at the camera and ask "are you better off now than you were four years ago?" for a president who is out of touch with the public mood and unwilling to challenge a failed elite to not be given a second chance.

And the world will live as one

by Montereyan (robert at calitics dot com) on Tue Aug 17th, 2010 at 11:35:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I see this:
Obama doesn't see the US as systematically broken. He just thinks it needs the right technocrat in charge.

followed shortly thereafter by this:
Judis is right that Obama risks repeating the Carter Administration,

And I wonder if perhaps he's actually risking a repeat of the Gorbachev administration...

Regards
Luke


-- #include witty_sig.h

by silburnl on Wed Aug 18th, 2010 at 12:30:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
silburnl:
I wonder if perhaps he's actually risking a repeat of the Gorbachev administration...

During the last ET meet-up in Paris last year, we had a discussion where I said I thought Obama could be the American Gorbachev. That wouldn't be a bad legacy. Today, I think it would be the best case scenario...  

"Ce qui vient au monde pour ne rien troubler ne mérite ni égards ni patience." René Char

by Melanchthon on Wed Aug 18th, 2010 at 12:46:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And I wonder if perhaps he's actually risking a repeat of the Gorbachev administration...

That depends.

The way the USSR fell apart can be read in several ways. In one reading, it was a disintegration of a coherent political entity, similar to the disintegration of Yugoslavia, the Austro-Hungarian empire or a hypothetical disintegration of the United Kingdoms into Scotland, Wales and England. In another reading, it was the disintegration of an empire, similar to the de-colonisation of the British and French overseas territories in the postwar period - a reality that was obscured by the fact that the Russian colonies were directly bordering the heartland or other colonies, rather than being visually separated by the sea.

I very much doubt that the US will fall apart in the former sense. On the other hand, we are witnessing a disintegration of the American colonial empire, partly by seeing it co-opted by other powers and partly by the collapse of the post-Bretton Woods economic system on which it depends.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sun Aug 22nd, 2010 at 01:51:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Excellent post but going further, let's assume Obama is a 'normie' conventional elite thinker but can see something when it's placed directly in his face. That would necessitate modifying one of your paragraphs as follows:  

He accepts that to get along and move up you need to pretend to believe that the financial industry is inherently good and should be respected - sure, there were some reforms that were needed, but those reforms were intended to help the existing financial industry continue to do what it is doing. He accepts that to get along and move up you need to pretend to believe that health insurance and pharmaceutical companies can play a constructive role in health care delivery and that we shouldn't try to cut them out of the process.

It's probably important to remember that Obama is both a member of the ruling elite and 100% a lawyer, and the basic approach in that industry is serving clients' needs regardless of your own personal beliefs. I'm sure he has personal beliefs on the above, but they're very general/flexible and not particularly important to his job. His job is to survive politically while serving his clients, a word he (like all mainstream politicians) interprets as meaning 'campaign contribution heavy hitters'. And those clients' fundamental demand is to write most of the specifics of laws, including 'reforms', directed at their industries.

fairleft

by fairleft (fairleftatyahoodotcom) on Wed Aug 18th, 2010 at 12:41:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... I find it vaguely disturbing how the insurance and pharmaceutical companies are so often conflated (in the entire debate, not just in your particular post).

Pharmaceutical companies actually make products that enhance the survivability, convenience and comfort of the human condition. Furthermore, pharmaceuticals is a technically sophisticated industry with high capital requirements and long lead times. This being the case, it needs government support, either in the form of direct subsidies, underwriting of risk or some other way to suppress the market mechanisms that are so manifestly ill-equipped to deal with lead times longer than a quarter or so.

The health insurance "industry," on the other hand, is (like the private pension funds "industry") a purely parasitical entity that offers no redeeming features of any kind. Like a rat infestation, it arises because the sovereign puts insufficient or effort into maintaining basic infrastructure, such as hospitals, sewers and retirement benefits.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sun Aug 22nd, 2010 at 02:00:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There's a new article out in Vanity Fair by Todd Purdum that paints a picture of Obama realizing Washington is broken, but doesn't think he can do anything about it, so he's just going to plow ahead with what he thinks is right and hopes history will prove him right (because of course history is never written by people with an ax to grind).

I'm with you on this, Magnifico. A much better article was this one by John Judis, "The Unnecessary Fall," noting the many shortcomings of the Obama Administration. My reaction to that article was very much along the lines of what you just wrote.

Obama doesn't see the US as systematically broken. He just thinks it needs the right technocrat in charge. It's not just that Obama believes in elite individuals - he believes in elite institutions. He believes the supposedly "collegial" Senate processes are good and should be respected (which was the content of his only appearance at Daily Kos, back in 2005 to chide the netroots for criticizing the Senate's acquiescence to the John Roberts nomination).

This is interesting, given that the first 6 paragraphs of the Vanity Fair article include things like
We think of the presidency as somehow eternal and unchanging, a straight-line progression from 1 to 44, from the first to the latest. And in some respects it is. Except for George Washington, all of the presidents have lived in the White House. They've all taken the same oath to uphold the same constitution. But the modern presidency--Barack Obama's presidency--has become a job of such gargantuan size, speed, and complexity as to be all but unrecognizable to most of the previous chief executives. The sheer growth of the federal government, the paralysis of Congress, the systemic corruption brought on by lobbying, the trivialization of the "news" by the media, the willful disregard for facts and truth--these forces have made today's Washington a depressing and dysfunctional place. They have shaped and at times hobbled the presidency itself.

...

The evidence that Washington cannot function--that it's "broken," as Vice President Joe Biden has said--is all around. For two years after Wall Street brought the country close to economic collapse, regulatory reform languished in partisan gridlock. A bipartisan commission to take on the federal deficit was scuttled by Republican fears in Congress that it could lead to higher taxes, and by Democratic worries about cuts to social programs. Obama was forced to create a mere advisory panel instead. Four years after Congress nearly passed a comprehensive overhaul of immigration laws, the two parties in Washington are farther apart than ever, and hotheaded state legislatures have stepped into the breach. Guantánamo remains an open sore because of fearmongering about the transfer of prisoners to federal prisons on the mainland. What Americans perceive in Washington, as Obama put it in his State of the Union speech, in January, is a "perpetual campaign where the only goal is to see who can get the most embarrassing headlines about the other side--a belief that if you lose, I win." His chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, whose Friday-afternoon mantra has become "Only two more workdays till Monday!," sums up today's Washington in terms both coarser and more succinct. To him, Washington is just "Fucknutsville."

So, I think it is quite likely that the way Obama is painted as aware that Washington is systemically broken is accurate
And so it is. But one can also ask: Even if Washington is broken, is it still partly usable? Is there a way to play the Washington game--on its own ugly terms, and even to play it ferociously, because you have to--and yet transcend the game in some fundamental way? This is the central question of the Obama administration, as its senior officials are well aware--because, in countless ways, their boss has told them so. They all talk candidly about that question, which remains unanswered. But a day in the president's shoes offers a glimpse of the size of the challenge.


By laying out pros and cons we risk inducing people to join the debate, and losing control of a process that only we fully understand. - Alan Greenspan
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Aug 18th, 2010 at 01:49:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
LOL!
Rahm Emanuel recalls that, as a White House aide early in the Clinton administration, he and others compiled a joke binder, full of real and imagined inducements--battleships, bridges, buildings, whatever--that could be offered to members of Congress in exchange for their support of Clinton's effort to pass the North American Free Trade Agreement. They titled it "1-800-NAFTA ('Cause you hafta)," and when he showed it to Clinton in a meeting one day, the president roared with laughter but ordered it destroyed, lest it fall into unfriendly hands or leak to the press. In the health-care debate, Emanuel notes, everybody was asking for Obama "to become Lyndon Johnson" and twist arms. "If we ever did even attempt to do a third of what Lyndon Johnson did--or Ronald Reagan, or Bill Clinton--we couldn't do it." Indeed, Emanuel says, such efforts would probably have prompted not just unflattering stories but a special prosecutor.


By laying out pros and cons we risk inducing people to join the debate, and losing control of a process that only we fully understand. - Alan Greenspan
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Aug 18th, 2010 at 02:05:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The way I read that section - and the article as a whole - was that Obama believes the problem in Washington DC is that it doesn't let the elite technocrats do their jobs. If only people could just sit down, put aside the partisanship and the Fox News-influenced crap, then they could implement a sensible neoliberal agenda.

In other words, Obama sees DC as being fundamentally broken, but is totally misdiagnosing the cause.

I see this all the time here in California in discussions about how to fix this state's crisis. It's all about finding ways to reduce the limits on neoliberals' ability to implement their agenda. "Crisis" gets defined as "the 'center' can't govern."

And the world will live as one

by Montereyan (robert at calitics dot com) on Wed Aug 18th, 2010 at 08:41:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You're equating 'Neoliberal' with 'Center' and both with Obama?

By laying out pros and cons we risk inducing people to join the debate, and losing control of a process that only we fully understand. - Alan Greenspan
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Aug 18th, 2010 at 09:16:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes.

In the US political discourse, "center" is almost always used to describe neoliberal politics and politicians. I'm not using "center" as a neutral term, not as the midpoint between right and left, but to illustrate how someone like Obama or the elite (whose support and affirmation he craves) would see things.

And yes, I strongly believe Obama to be a neoliberal who is convinced he is in the "center" of the US political spectrum.

And the world will live as one

by Montereyan (robert at calitics dot com) on Wed Aug 18th, 2010 at 10:09:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What makes you believe Obama is a neoliberal?

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes
by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Aug 19th, 2010 at 01:25:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Because he does neoliberal.

fairleft
by fairleft (fairleftatyahoodotcom) on Thu Aug 19th, 2010 at 10:52:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That's not an answer, it's a comeback.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes
by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Aug 20th, 2010 at 11:41:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Nevertheless, it strikes to the heart of the Obama paradox; that a man of such fine progressive intentions should enable a wholly neo-liberal policy programme.

But it comes down to what Monterayan was discussing, which is that Obama is a non-confrontational actor who seeks a "centrist" consensus where all of the ground on which this reasonable consensus lies in the neoliberal sphere. Therefore any act to which he commits is neoliberal. that's what he does.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sun Aug 22nd, 2010 at 03:04:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It also comes down to how much discretionary power you view Obama as having. If Obama is effectively a dictator, then it follows that he must believe what he is doing. If Obama operates within sufficiently narrow institutional constraints as to render him effectively an impotent spectator to the policies set in motion by long-dead predecessors, then you can draw no real conclusions about his personal preferences.

Neither extreme is true, of course. But in a way, it shouldn't really matter which side of the fence you're on: Either the best the Democratic Party machine has to offer is ideologically neoliberal, in which case grassroot effort must go into changing the institutional system in a way that makes it impossible for the office of the president to push neoliberal policies. Or else the office of the President is irrelevant, and grassroot effort must go into changing the institutional system in a way that makes it impossible for it to direct the office of the president into neoliberal policies.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sun Aug 22nd, 2010 at 03:55:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think you misinterpret what Buffett says about the Golden Goose. He's talking about the big very succesful American transnational corporations, which indeed are world class. Companies like Walmart, Kraft Foods, ExxonMobile, Coca Cola, McDonalds, Pfizer and so on.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Thu Aug 19th, 2010 at 08:29:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Part of this goes back to the education gap in unemployment ...

... which goes back to the Florida fantasy I refer to in my last Sunday Train and the fantasy that "the new Knowledge Economy" as presently constituted in the United States is actually enough in its own right to base the economy on.

Things are not so bad for the chattering classes yet, except for those of use right on the front line of trying to build the learning skills of that "no college" cohort so they can find a way to keep their heads above water in this brutal job market.

And since its "someone else who we don't know" who are experiencing conditions over halfway to the depth of the Great Depression, and worse than the temporary respite just before the Roosevelt Recession during the Great Depression ... its not something that the chattering classes feels in its gut ...

... yet.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Tue Aug 17th, 2010 at 03:49:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Goodness gracious, I detest that Florida fellow and the way he's lionized in Swedish academia. I need to go and read that article of yours.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Thu Aug 19th, 2010 at 08:31:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
We needed an FDR and got a Carter with better speech writers and delivery.

The facts that Stimulus II is precedented when even unprecedented could have fallen short, that the Court has moved to the right, that the administration not merely accepted but worked hard to flip its promises of no individual mandate and a public option into no public option and an individual mandate ...

... would be less of a big deal if America was not facing a massive systemic crisis in the decade ahead as we pass over the Peak Oil plateau and start the downward slide.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Tue Aug 17th, 2010 at 03:43:22 PM EST
People must remember a different Jimmy Carter than the one I lived through. I have/had no complaints with Carter.

The good news ... it's only a life sentence. You eventually leave this planet of idiots.
by THE Twank (yatta blah blah @ blah.com) on Tue Aug 17th, 2010 at 07:34:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
He did some things well, some things poorly, was not great at speechifying, and was running for re-election against a candidate willing to engage in treason in pursuit of election.

As a President he was mediocre, but we had more leeway in the late 70's then we do now. Mediocre steps in the right direction would have carried us a long way in the 80's.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Tue Aug 17th, 2010 at 07:48:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
As a President he was mediocre ...

As compared to ...?  In this instance ...?  Educate me.

The good news ... it's only a life sentence. You eventually leave this planet of idiots.

by THE Twank (yatta blah blah @ blah.com) on Tue Aug 17th, 2010 at 07:52:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The CSPAN historians rankings of Presidents are more on effectiveness and less on whether that effect was in a desirable direction ... given that views on effectiveness are more likely to generate consensus than policy direction. They have:

  1. Lincoln
  2. Washington
  3. FDR
  4. Teddy Roosevelt
  5. Truman
  6. Kennedy
  7. Jefferson
  8. Eisenhower
  9. Wilson
  10. Reagan
  11. Johnson
  12. Polk
  13. Jackson
  14. Monroe
  15. Clinton
...
25. Carter

So compared to FDR, Truman and Eisenhower.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Tue Aug 17th, 2010 at 08:17:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And CSPAN historians should be listened to ... why?

The good news ... it's only a life sentence. You eventually leave this planet of idiots.
by THE Twank (yatta blah blah @ blah.com) on Tue Aug 17th, 2010 at 08:24:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You mean, "Historians should be listened to why?", they are not "the historians working for CSPAN", they are presidential historians surveyed by CSPAN.

You reject my personal observation from the time. You reject the assessment of historians.

Well, turn it around: what other than Camp David did the Carter administration accomplish? It had lots of good intentions on energy, mixed in with pro-coal, pro-nukes, and pro-agrobusiness ethanol, but of course far fewer long term accomplishments on that front, in large part because a one-term administration finds its policy initiatives more easily over-turned than a two-term administration.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Tue Aug 17th, 2010 at 08:52:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
OK, this is my point of view.  I'm not a historian but I do have a memory of what I've lived through. My "Presidential Memory" begins with the assassination of JFK (I'm 11 years old; wasn't paying attention to world affairs, etc. at that time; just knew the guy was dead, so JFK doesn't count ... you always get brownie points for dying on the job) and then follows:

  1. LBJ ... war-profiteering scumbag

  2. Nixon ... don't get me started

  3. Ford ... son of don't get me started

  4. Carter ... the only bright light in my memory

  5. Reagan ... the true beginning of the end

  6. Bush I ... senior sack of shit

  7. Clinton ... the sociopathic set-up man for

  8. Bush Jr. ... and here we are.

These are the Presidents that I compare Carter to.  Go ahead ... you rank them.  Let me know how that works out.

The good news ... it's only a life sentence. You eventually leave this planet of idiots.
by THE Twank (yatta blah blah @ blah.com) on Wed Aug 18th, 2010 at 05:58:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Carter gets a bad press because the dominant narrative of the time (and since) was that he was ineffective and weak - an impression generated largely by the Iranian Hostage drama.  But when you have US intelligence conspiring to keep the hostages locked up until after the election, that's puts a different light on the narrative.  He was also primaried by the poster boy of the left (Teddy Kennedy) which probably did for his re-election chances in 1980.

If only Ted could have been more patient and run instead against Reagan in 1984, the history of the US and the world might have been very different.

Also, sometimes an ineffective President can be a lot better than an ineffective one.  Carter didn't start any wars, didn't escalate the arms race, and didn't ruin the economy with deregulation mania. But you don't get brownie points for effectiveness for shit you didn't do.

The problem with Carter is that he didn't have an over-sized ego, didn't project an alpha male image for the USA, and is thus not a suitable candidate for Emperor of the the Reich.

He was/is a decent human being - not that that counts for much...

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Aug 18th, 2010 at 09:33:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Carter was anti-labor ((just like Clinton and Obama) doing nothing to reverse the Taft-Hartley Act), and created (through Paul Volcker) a massive recession. His unpopularity and the efforts of organized labor got Kennedy to run against him. Kennedy was the last major effort of the New Deal Democrats and the New Deal coalition.

Economic policy-wise, Carter began the Reagan administration. More or less, Carter was Clinton is Obama.

fairleft

by fairleft (fairleftatyahoodotcom) on Wed Aug 18th, 2010 at 01:20:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In a nutshell, 'real' Democrats were damned angry at Volcker/Carter 'using unemployment to fight inflation'. Kennedy's 1980 Democratic Party convention speech:

Let us pledge that we will never misuse unemployment, high interest rates, and human misery as false weapons against inflation.

Let us pledge that employment will be the first priority of our economic policy.

Let us pledge that there will be security for all those who are now at work, and let us pledge that there will be jobs for all who are out of work; and we will not compromise on the issues of jobs.

These are not simplistic pledges. Simply put, they are the heart of our tradition, and they have been the soul of our party across the generations.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/leonce-gaiter/ted-kennedys-best-highlig_b_103054.html

fairleft

by fairleft (fairleftatyahoodotcom) on Wed Aug 18th, 2010 at 01:24:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I wasn't implying he was a progressive,  Arguably no President has been a progressive since FDR.  However he was an awful lot less bad than the Nixon/Ford/Reagan Presidencies he interrupted. Within the framework of his times and power structures he operated within, he may have been almost as progressive as it was possible for a President to be - and even then he was beaten by a far out conservative - despite the advantages of incumbency.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Aug 18th, 2010 at 01:43:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Nixon was more liberal on economic policy than Carter. But, Nixon and Carter were both creatures of their times, carried along by what powerful elites thought was expedient at the time. So Nixon introduced wage and price controls to battle inflation, while Carter used unemployment to battle the same.

fairleft
by fairleft (fairleftatyahoodotcom) on Thu Aug 19th, 2010 at 10:48:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
... on Carter's rating in more broadly based surveys. The conventional wisdom is not that he was a mediocre President, but that he was one of the very worst. I am of course biased regarding the re-evaluation of his administration as mediocre, since that's where I had already arrived.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Wed Aug 18th, 2010 at 06:33:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
LBJ was a scumbag war profiteer who got the civil rights act passed and got Medicare established, and the minimum wage under LBJ reached $10/hr in 2008 dollars.

And what was there that Carter attempted to do that Eisenhower wouldn't have attempted in the same circumstances? Except of course for more competent execution?

His economic policy was successful in going the wrong direction except for energy, failing to go in the right direction.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Thu Aug 19th, 2010 at 11:28:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
He lost Iran. That's the single biggest disaster of the entire cold war. He managed the siutation so incompetently that a considerable fraction of the Iranian exiles believe he supported the Ayatollahs, absurd as it sounds.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Thu Aug 19th, 2010 at 08:33:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Zbignew Brzezinski was his National Security advisor and he admitted encouraging the Islamists against the Socialists in Afghanistan as a way to draw the Soviets in. Boy, did that pay off or what?

But Brzezinski is as much at fault for "losing Iran" as Carter was.

And Iran was not for the US to "lose". What were thry going to do? Send in the Marines to protect the Shah they had installed 20 years earlier?

By laying out pros and cons we risk inducing people to join the debate, and losing control of a process that only we fully understand. - Alan Greenspan

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Aug 20th, 2010 at 04:01:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But all of this suggests that we should discuss our future rather than trying to judge Obama

Anyone wanna try this future thing ?

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Wed Aug 18th, 2010 at 10:44:35 AM EST
I will.

Only global warming and lack of energy transformation is a sistemic problem. The rest can be solved with the proper technocratic people in charge....where by technocratic I mean an Eisenhower Republican (that is , a  radical leftie today).

If the transition to a new energy order is taken as a World War type of effort, the rest, is peanuts and technocratic.

So the future does not looks good, becasue noone seems to consider global warming the catastrophe it is... and the solution to our aggregate demand problem that it is.

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Wed Aug 18th, 2010 at 01:26:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
an Eisenhower Republican (that is , a  radical leftie today)
<sob>

By laying out pros and cons we risk inducing people to join the debate, and losing control of a process that only we fully understand. - Alan Greenspan
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Aug 18th, 2010 at 01:31:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
kcurie:
I will.

Only global warming and lack of energy transformation is a sistemic problem.

thankyou.

it is only when we perceive this that we can be of any use, i believe.

it changes everything...

"We can all be prosperous but we can't all be rich." Ian Welsh

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Fri Aug 20th, 2010 at 06:15:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Anyone wanna try this future thing ?

kcurie is right as to priorities. But to enable us to address our problems with the alacrity which they deserve we need to get the millstone of debt, so much of which is the consequence of counterfeit, from around our necks. This boils down to confronting the political power of those who hold the debt. That is why I wanted to let them die back in late 2008 and early 2009 when they were on life support. We need another such opportunity but we need to take advantage of that opportunity if/when it occurs.

However bad the consequences of the collapse of the existing system might be, the consequences of it continuing are worse.

As the Dutch said while fighting the Spanish: "It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sat Aug 21st, 2010 at 12:40:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The best way to get rid of secured debt is to convent it to equity IMHO.


Just not equity as we know it, Jim


"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Sat Aug 21st, 2010 at 06:36:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The debt-equity swap, IMO, is appropriate for legitimate debt. But that is not really the problem. The problem is counterfeit debt which is indistinguishable, except in the specifics of its origination, from legitimate debt and which is thoroughly mixed into legitimate debt. And the problem extends to the nature of the financial and regulatory system that facilitated the counterfeiting and the resultant size of that system.

Call me Javert if you will, but LLoyd Blankfein hardly qualifies as Jean Valjean, nor do very many of his colleagues and independent co-actors in our current, sordid spectacle. I do not think we can get beyond this until and unless we have confronted it as a society. In this way, what has occurred is comparable in monstrosity to other great crimes in our history. For purposes of social narrative, some of the most egregious must be prosecuted, some of the ill-gotten gains must be clawed back and some of the odious debt must be repudiated. Then it might be appropriate to deal with the rest via a debt to equity swap, as you propose. To make a debt-equity swap the only significant response would likely discredit the process.

As the Dutch said while fighting the Spanish: "It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sat Aug 21st, 2010 at 10:16:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
ARGeezer:
For purposes of social narrative, some of the most egregious must be prosecuted, some of the ill-gotten gains must be clawed back and some of the odious debt must be repudiated

As you say.

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Sat Aug 21st, 2010 at 07:05:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... whether secured or unsecured, is to tell the creditors to take a long walk off a short pier.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sun Aug 22nd, 2010 at 02:01:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I wouldn't recommend this policy with some of the people I know. That long walk might be yours and a chicago overcoat might be involved.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Sun Aug 22nd, 2010 at 02:24:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What does reality-based policy making look like, if not Technocracy?

By laying out pros and cons we risk inducing people to join the debate, and losing control of a process that only we fully understand. - Alan Greenspan
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Aug 19th, 2010 at 04:15:47 AM EST
Reality-based policy making is bottom up, and action oriented.

The policy defines the party: the party does not define the policy.

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Thu Aug 19th, 2010 at 05:10:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Reality-based is evidence-based. Evidence gathering and analysis is painful, boring, and precise. Technocratic.

By laying out pros and cons we risk inducing people to join the debate, and losing control of a process that only we fully understand. - Alan Greenspan
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Aug 19th, 2010 at 10:05:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You can have different policies by elite technocrats depending on whether your goal is to maximize overall wealth, wealth captured by the elite, or the general good (setting aside for now the definition of "wealth" and "general good")

French technocrats in the middle of the 20th century, prodded by a strong communist party and backed by a fairly paternalistic rightwing, did a pretty good job of working for the general good, notably by building high quality infrastructure for all.

The tools they have used, and exported to notably the European Commission, still work, but they are now used for less broad objectives.

So you need (1) elite technocrats and (2) the proper goals for them.

Ultimately, you get to the question of how to reward elite technocrats. A recognition of their eliteness goes a long way, but this is undermined in a world where money is the ultimate arbiter of who is really elite, become making money does not necessarily require competence... or at least not the right kind of competences, that build rather than destroy or pilfer.

Wind power

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Aug 19th, 2010 at 05:25:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Also, and more cynically, part of the right-wing side of the technocracy was thoroughly purged in the middle of the '40s. The resulting combination of resistance right-wing and left wing was much more leftish than the technocracy members at any other time. Note that the "resistance generation" remained at the helms of power from the '40s well into the 1980's...

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Thu Aug 19th, 2010 at 03:33:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
One more way in which the world post-WWII was peculiar...

By laying out pros and cons we risk inducing people to join the debate, and losing control of a process that only we fully understand. - Alan Greenspan
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Aug 20th, 2010 at 04:05:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
European Tribune - Obama, John Rawls, and a Defense of the Unreasonable
By doing away with the concepts of right and wrong, Rawls has ensured that the de facto "right" is what most people in power think at any one time.  A government based on overlapping consensus operates within the Overton window -- the range of generally acceptable alternatives on any given issue.  The problem isn't just that alternatives outside the Overton window are automatically devalued; it's that for some issues the objective truth lies outside the Overton window.  Global warming is an excellent example.  Most reasonable people (by the Rawlsian definition) agree that the range of possible alternatives ranges from no action (the Bush administration's choice) to the 5-7% carbon emissions reductions proposed by the Kyoto Protocol (at least theoretically Obama's choice).  But the science clearly shows that only a 50% or greater reduction can stave off environmental holocaust.  In the Rawlsian bizarro-world, the science is wrong because it disagrees with the overlapping consensus.  Rawls gives us no way to move beyond the practical in order to achieve the necessary.

* * * * * * * * *

Sadly, we live in that Rawlsian bizarro-world.  There have been plenty of presidents in our history who have elevated the overlapping consensus to a high art through the ideas of "bipartisanship" and "getting things done" -- think of Bill Clinton's "triangulation" or Eisenhower's inveterate moderacy.  But few (perhaps only John F. Kennedy) have venerated the overlapping consensus as itself the supreme good of the nation in the way Barack Obama does.  Few have failed to spend political capital on expansive policies, not because they feared losing reelection, but because they believed doing so would be breaking a sacred trust -- but Obama is one of those few.

Read his books and you'll see that, despite the fact that Obama holds strikingly liberal views on a variety of issues, his anger at the Bush administration is directed not at its policies, but at its politics.  For Obama, Bush's supreme betrayal was in breaking the Rawlsian consensus.  Bush's extreme partisanship, his utter disregard of the Democratic members of his government, turned Americans against each other and polarized the electorate.  For Obama, that was Bush's greatest crime -- because to the President, we are a nation of consensus before we are a nation of laws or dreams or anything else.

It's the only interpretation that explains Obama's baffling and infuriating rejection of progressives and his embrace of the moderate wing of the Republican party.



By laying out pros and cons we risk inducing people to join the debate, and losing control of a process that only we fully understand. - Alan Greenspan
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Aug 19th, 2010 at 04:27:20 AM EST
I think that the elite are in office but increasingly no longer in power.

The steering wheel has come off in their hands.

At the zero bound Central Banks and their vaunted monetary policy is as much use as a chocolate teapot.

With the existing terminal systemic imbalance of wealth - where 90% are in debt to the other 10% who own all the unencumbered property - then Treasuries' fiscal policy is also as much use as a chocolate teapot.

Change is coming, and it's coming bottom up from the people really in power, who are linking up in what Brzezinski calls a global political awakening.

Just not politics as we know it.

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Thu Aug 19th, 2010 at 05:22:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That was a good diary - including the usually thoughtful comments by rdf, who is missed.

Wind power
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Aug 19th, 2010 at 05:29:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, a very good diary. I missed it last time around, I'm glad Mig brought it back.

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Thu Aug 19th, 2010 at 10:58:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I dredge up tosh for a living...

By laying out pros and cons we risk inducing people to join the debate, and losing control of a process that only we fully understand. - Alan Greenspan
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Aug 19th, 2010 at 11:04:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Tosheroon « What Ladder?
A tosheroon, "as any fule know, chiz chiz" is the gold piece that sometimes turns up in the sewer.


"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson
by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Thu Aug 19th, 2010 at 11:25:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sometimes!?

By laying out pros and cons we risk inducing people to join the debate, and losing control of a process that only we fully understand. - Alan Greenspan
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Aug 19th, 2010 at 11:34:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It's also slang for half a crown.

Skepticism is the first step on the road to truth. -- Denis Diderot
by ATinNM on Thu Aug 19th, 2010 at 11:47:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Tosher - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
There is another similar sounding term from the same period : tosheroon which has been applied to a tosher in error but it in fact it originally denotes a piece of pre-decimal British currency: the half-crown. Whether the two words are related is not known.


By laying out pros and cons we risk inducing people to join the debate, and losing control of a process that only we fully understand. - Alan Greenspan
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Aug 19th, 2010 at 11:54:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Wonder if there was a dialect where the fricative "p" was confused with the explosive "t."

Skepticism is the first step on the road to truth. -- Denis Diderot
by ATinNM on Thu Aug 19th, 2010 at 12:03:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
so that "posh" -> "tosh"

Skepticism is the first step on the road to truth. -- Denis Diderot
by ATinNM on Thu Aug 19th, 2010 at 12:12:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Not that it has anything to do with Jerome's diary.

Skepticism is the first step on the road to truth. -- Denis Diderot
by ATinNM on Thu Aug 19th, 2010 at 12:12:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Rawls committed the 'Aristotle Fallacy:'  he assumed people are rational animals.  There was no excuse for that error.  Even the Logical Positivists knew people engage in "emotive discourse."

Skepticism is the first step on the road to truth. -- Denis Diderot
by ATinNM on Thu Aug 19th, 2010 at 11:54:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]

Isn't his position more: " IF people are rational, then they will choose in this way" rather than that all people ARE rational.  Cf.:

"Rawls claims that rational people (not everybody, TW) will unanimously adopt his principles of justice if their reasoning is based on general considerations, without knowing anything about their own personal situation."

http://oak.cats.ohiou.edu/~piccard/entropy/rawls.html

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Sat Aug 21st, 2010 at 06:25:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That's what I get for going by memory - it's been 20 years since I read Rawls - and not doublechecking.

Thank you.


Skepticism is the first step on the road to truth. -- Denis Diderot

by ATinNM on Sat Aug 21st, 2010 at 06:30:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Assuming that summary is accurate, it looks like something else he missed was the co-option principle - any philosophy or world view can be rewritten and reinterpreted to support neo-liberal values, and will be rewritten without notice.

We're forever quoting Smith's more socialist leanings, but to the neo-liberals the statue matters more than the words or ideas.

Obama seems to be more interested in collecting sculpture than planting new forests.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Sat Aug 21st, 2010 at 06:53:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't know why you say "ANOTHER thing he missed" - ATinNM agrees that his accusation was not well-founded.

As to your "co-option principle", I don't know why you assume it's something he "missed" - I suspect he would probably agree that others might well rewrite or reinterpret what he had said to argue something far different from his conclusions. I'm also pretty sure that he would argue why he thought that in such cases they were not really being rational.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Sun Aug 22nd, 2010 at 04:58:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
By the way, my respect to you for just putting your hand up - even thanking me! I did try to put the point in a somewhat less confrontational way than is often my style :-)

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Mon Aug 23rd, 2010 at 04:37:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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