Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Daily Strike-4/14/09-The Contrast

Good evening and welcome to today's Daily Strike, where we cover the day in politics. Today's entry will focus on the extraordinary contrast between President Obama and his right-wing critics when it comes to economic policy.

ON THE ONE HAND...Today President Obama gave a speech at Georgetown University outlining what he views as the current state of the economy, and explaining in full detail what his administration plans to do to get us out of the economic crisis. This speech didn't come from the "Audacity of Hope" wing of Obama's brain. It was serious, tempered, and at points policy oriented. But this speech, in my view, could prove to be the most significant harbinger of things to come. Obama used a biblical metaphor to say that the U.S. economy needs to be built on a more solid foundation. The days of reckless risk-taking and bubbles are behind us. Forming this foundation takes five important pillars. First, we must overhaul our regulatory system to make sure that Wall Street never gets us into this mess again. Second, we must invest in education to create a workforce that can compete in a 21st century economy. Third, we need a new clean energy sector that creates good paying jobs and help saves our planet. Fourth, we must reform our health care system to cut costs and cover the uninsured. Finally, we need to set ourselves on a long term path of fiscal stability by lowering our deficit and national debt. These are all goals he's mentioned before (especially in the context of his budget outline), but this was ultimate articulation of Obama's economic philosophy.

He also took some time to address some of his harshest critics. While he aimed most of his criticisms at conservatives, he gave a rather pointed rebuke that seemed aimed squarely at liberal New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. To conservatives, the President specifically addressed criticisms that he was doing too much, and that he was spending too much money. He said that for too long we have kicked the can in solving the country's problems. This largely has to do with the Washington culture of trying to score political points by exploiting the 24 hour news cycle. Obama said that times are too serious to fall back into these same patterns. To address "reckless" spending, Obama said that when families are tightening their belts, they can't be consumers, which creates real problems in the economy. In this case, the government has to step in to supply the missing consumer demand. All of these things he has said before, but never in such a forceful tone. He specifically made sure to use conservative code words so that people would instantly recognize which critics he was responding to. For example, he said, "I know there is a criticism out there that my administration has somehow been spending with reckless abandon, pushing a liberal social agenda while mortgaging our children’s future."

To the Krugman types who think he isn't doing enough to solve the banking crisis, the President pushed back by saying that nationalizing banks would cause more harm and unrest in the financial markets. I have my doubts about Obama's position here. It seems to me we've been excessively concerned with how the market acts day-to-day, and not about the long-term health of the economy. I'm sure I could point to a couple other points in the speech with which I and other left-wingers would disagree. I still am, in many ways, in awe of this speech. It was an honest, straight-forward account of how our economy has gotten where it is, and what we're going to do to solve it. It was so above all the silliness of the cable news chatter, the blogosphere and newspaper columnists. It was professorial, but in a good way. It gave me the impression that he really knows what he's doing. That's a good feeling to get from your President. Maybe I'm biased as a long-time Obama admirer, but that was my gut reaction to the speech.

ON THE OTHER HAND...I took my sweet time before I covered this story, but I can't escape it. Tomorrow, as you know, is Tax Day. What you might not know is that mass protests have been organized for cities across the country for those who object to the recent proliferation of taxes and government spending. Don't worry, you won't miss a thing if you're at work. Fox News is bringing you full day coverage of this historic event. They bragged on their website that they'll be providing coverage of these grassroots protests, just like, as Neil Cavuto claims, they covered the million man march in 1995 (Fox News didn't exist then). There will be brilliant signs, railing against "Socialism" and "Stimulus" and "Bailouts." The events are being called "Tea Parties," as a tribute to when American freedom fighters dumped tea into the Boston harbor to protest taxation without representation. What's especially great is that these protesters are getting at exactly what President Obama is doing, they're representing the "silent majority" of Americans, and the movement is completely grassroots.

Except none of that is actually true.

There, of course, has been absolutely NO new taxation imposed since Obama became President. No taxes will be raised until 2011. At that point, only those making more than $250,000 will get taxed, and their new tax rate will be about 10 points below what it was under the great socialist Ronald Reagan. Not to mention the fact that if there WERE taxation, it would be imposed by a democratically elected government.

These people think that they're representing a "real majority" of "patriotic Americans" that rejects big government liberals who want to turn our country into a Sweden and Norway. Actually, all polling evidence shows that Americans approve of the President and his policies. A Gallup poll yesterday showed that 71% of Americans have either a great deal or some trust in the President's ability to do the right thing. Only 38% of Americans hold the same view of Republican leaders in Congress. Furthermore, even socialism itself isn't as toxic a political term as say, the Republican Party. A recent Rasmussen poll showed that only 53% of the country thinks that capitalism is better than socialism. As was pointed out on a great post from Jesse Singal from Campus Progress, socialism is just not a scary word to most people, especially those of us who came of age after the Cold War. Far more Americans (especially the very young ones that the GOP is trying to appeal to with this type of stunt) are worried about exorbitant health care costs and college tuition than they are about higher taxes or more government spending. As Singal brilliantly points out, what's more likely, a young middle-class family worrying about medical and tuition bills, or one worried about a non-existent future tax increase?

Finally, these protests aren't even remotely grassroots. They are, as Paul Krugman called them, "Astroturf"-roots (i.e. fake grassroots). The protests are being bankrolled by right-wing lobbyist groups, including ones funded by Newt Gingrich and Dick Armey. This made it a little too easy for David Shuster last night on MSNBC. Of course, Obama's tax rates will actually affect only people like Armey and Gingrich. That's like me rousing up everyone in my office to protest a lack of pay raises for Program Analysts in the Education and Outreach department.

I'm not overly concerned about these protests. In fact, I think they're kind of adorable. I have pity for them in the way I have pity for little kids trying to petition their school to install soda machines. In other words, at least they're trying and getting involved! Good for them!

I more point out these protests to put the difference between the President and his most visible opposition. The difference was striking not just in substance, but in tone. The strong, subdued, measured leadership of a popular President looks pretty good in contrast to the angry fringe of the right-wing throwing tea bags in the ocean. The dynamics of positive polarization are certainly in our favor.

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