Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Long past time for Obama to explain that we're right, and centrists and Republicans are destructively wrong
I agree with the Strike that it's time to FREAK OUT, and I'm not just talking about the Massachusetts Senate race. I'm talking about President Obama and the Democratic Party seeming to concede defeat, first in the court of public opinion, then with enacting the policy of the progressive agenda, and finally with the 2010 elections, even though we should by every measure have the upper hand. Consider these basic facts. 1) We have won two consecutive elections in a landslide (and conservatives were crushed, twice). 2) We are facing massive problems caused by corporate-conservative irresponsibility and shortsightedness that demand serious, responsible, farsighted solutions. 3) The progressive infrastructure came prepared: we have actually have devised solutions that are reasonably true to our values and possibly big enough to meet the challenges we face, but that avoid old liberal errors by being nuanced, flexible, politically shrewd, not top-down. This is true of addressing unemployment, of health care (for expanding coverage, expanding choice, bringing down costs, delivery system reforms), of climate change/green energy (cap and trade or the carbon tax: both address the problem head on, and refund the money to consumers, while creating more jobs, SHOULD be very popular), and especially financial reform, where the problems desperately need addressing. 4) The man pushing the agenda, commanding the biggest megaphone, is an enormously gifted persuader and educator. These are very big advantages.
Sure, there are major institutional obstacles to enacting the agenda, and especially to creating a recovery package or health reform, for instance, at its most coherent and politically popular. But politics is always that way - when a majority in a diverse county has to agree, the result will never be as sensible as the perfect construction of a single academic. Stopping the bleeding of the financial crisis, passing the Recovery Act, about to pass health care: these are massively impactful, desperately needed major policy achievements, by far the biggest liberal accomplishments in decades. And we can whine and moan about the evil obstructionist Republicans and the misleading media and shortsighted selfish hypocritical centrists as much as we want. But democratic politics will always produce these results: from our perspective, less-than-optimal policies, and loud voices of disagreement. Are we just going to fold up the tents because there's some difficulty? Obama, Congressional Democrats, rank-and-file Democrats - we're just going to give up on arguing our positions, persuading people of how we see the world and what has to be done and why, just abandon the competition to define the narrative? That is deeply irresponsible, and it's childish and weak. It brings out all the worst stereotypes of liberals: weak-willed, pushovers, like to talk abstractly but don't feel strongly enough to really stand for something, confirming the populist supsicion that liberalism sounds great in theory, in academic seminars, but real folks with real-world concerns know that they need to remain firmly grounded in common sense.
In fact, common sense is the whole problem. The message side of politics is all about, all about, persuading people that your view is common sense while other views are not common sense. Obama's greatest failing as a President is his inability to convince Americans that the basic worldview underlying his economic and domestic policy agenda is common sense. He doesn't even seem to be trying. And this is despite the huge advantages he should have enjoyed. His views, our views, ARE actually rational and are actually proven to work, while Republicans and centrists' views not only don't make any sense rationally, but have been proven false in the real world.
For some reason, Obama has neglected to connect the dots of his agenda. He never explained that the key to averting a recession is for the government to spend money, and crucially, to spend it sensibly, in outlays with high multiplier effects for economic growth. This is the basic underlying logic behind his entire Presidency. But he never explained this. He never showed citizens why this is so. He never showed why the alternative would fail and would negatively impact people's lives. He never explained why the government needs to loosen its belt, not tighten it, in a recession, especially with smart spending with high-multipliers and bigger impacts on people's key needs. Why aren't Democrats trumpeting the fact that, according to a study by the CONSERVATIVE American Enterprise Institute, the stimulus package turned what would have been a contraction of 1 percent into growth of 3 percent in the second half of 2009. That is HUGE!! That is such gigantic difference in people's lives. Show people that and explain why his policies have had this result.
Obama also has not explained what the deficit is, what causes it to rise and fall, and how and why his agenda will reduce the deficit, but also why the deficit in and of itself isn't that important, it's all about what the money is being spent on. All this talk of cutting spending - make it real - how little those spending cuts would actually impact the deficit, and how devastating they would be to people's lives. People don't understand the budget, have any sense of how much money is being spent, if programs are paid for or not, even though budgetary priorities are is the most important point of having a government and having political parties and even having political views at all
He needs to take on the "Tightening the Belt" fallacy and the "Selective Deficit Disorder" that is dominating our political discourse and bringing down the Democratic Party and liberalism, and the country. Tens of millions of people are out of a job, a catastrophe, because this completely erroneous view . The real-world consequences of the Totally Flawed Republican-Centrist Worldview need to be shown, and explained. It's so imbalanced that Republican-Centrist views cause millions to be thrown out of a job, but Democrats don't point this out, even as the Democratic health care plan would not cut seniors' Medicare, would absolutely never lead to anything close to death panels, would in fact dramatically benefit a vast portion of the country, and yet Republicans have been so loud in portraying their completely made-up consequences of health reform that the majority of the country believes them! This is insanity! Is something going to be done about it? Or are we just going to let the destructively wrong Republicans continue to walk all over us? This past year, I've felt like Republicans are playing hard-hitting tackle football, and Obama and the Democrats are playing "family game with Ma and Sis" two-hand touch.
This is especially infuriating, and inexplicable, because the Republicans have been very very clear in explaining that their entire purpose is to cause the economy to fail in order to bring down Obama. These folks WANT higher unemployment, they WANT people to be thrown out of a job, desperate and angry and looking to blame Obama at the ballot box. They WANT terrorist attacks, so that people are anxious and scared and won't trust Obama to protect them, and take that fear out on him at the ballot box. They WANT the health care system to stay broken, so people won't credit Obama for helping to fix it. These folks are traitors. They need to be PUNISHED at the ballot box so that their entire despicable ideology, their destructive Big Lie, will be buried so deep it can never see the light of day again. I made the football game analogy above, but this is real life, this is the opposite of a game. We don't respect our opponents, we don't give them an equal shot, we don't congratulate them on a victory. They need to be persuaded or driven out of public life. Millions upon millions peoples' lives are at stake. Haven't we suffered enough from conservatism and its centrist enablers? Let's step up before it's too late.