Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Party of Maybe

Now let us examine the two legislative “triumphs” of the Obama Lame Duck Congress, “victories” that spawned thousands of comeback-kid stories.  And the proudest yea-sayer has been the President himself, who is taking all possible credit for the media turnaround.  So-called turnaround.  He was even praising his “perseverance”.  Well, he might. Perseverance is rewarded in this culture.  Most of the time.

T  The first triumph is the rescinding of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.  Eight Republicans voted for the repeal:
Scott Brown, Massachusetts
      Susan Collins, Maine
      Olympia Snowe, Maine
      Mark Kirk, Illinois
      Lisa Murkowski, Alaska
      John Ensign, Nevada
      Richard Burr, North Carolina
      George Voinovich, Ohio
That’s an odd selection, but there are back stories for all of them: mostly moderate Republicans, or conservative Republicans in liberal (blue) states.  Roughly 70 percent of the public was in favor of the repeal.  All manner of military top brass were for it.  As they say, its time had come.
In this vote and the vote to ratify the new START treaty, the second triumph, Republicans were faced with the dilemma of how reactionary and backward they wanted to be.  So, in the case of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the eight above went with the Democrats; in the case of the START treaty, more went along, agreeing with all the living secretaries of state, and other revered Republican potentates.  The Party of No, became the Party of Maybe, depending on the sanity of the issue. Meaning, what the chance of them not appearing sane to the public would be.  Still, in both cases, it was the minority of the Republican Senate.
Those two “victories”, and the passing of the First Responders health bill (by voice acclamation!), are what launched the thousand ships of Obama’s rescue from the island of the ineffective.  It was talked about at the time of the passing of the continuation of the Bush tax cuts that a deal was struck that he, the president, would get Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the START treaty as a reward.  That gift to the rich was seen as not too high a price for the other legislative accomplishments to come.
In fact, Obama does seem to know how much he will give away in order to get a victory.  The problem is not that he doesn’t pass legislation, it is that he gives away the store in order to get it done.  The Health Care bill is the prime example.  Before the start of that campaign, he already knew what to give up in order to get it done: the public option, control of the system remaining in the hands of private industry, etc.  If the president doesn’t see consensus on the horizon (as he did with Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the START treaty, etc.), he gauges what he has to give in order to get. And what he has to give is most everything.
For his progressive base, this is all more than irritating.  And for finding it so, the base is considered by the White House to be a group of flighty air-heads in return.  I suppose the president’s right about that.  For what is clear about a large portion of the base, what they haven’t signed on to, is what Obama clearly has.  That he wants to be part of the haves, not the have nots.  Especially when it comes to legislation.  He wants to have it, rather than not have it.
That’s why he likes to be around rich people.  He’s happy to be rich, too. During one of the most short-lived periods for the 60s-70s generation, there wasn’t much reverence for the rich. I’d date it around the mid Sixties to the mid Seventies.  The Sixties generation, much heralded, eschewed materialism, for a while.  What you did mattered more than what you had.  The Reagan years ended all that. There was a dip at the crash of 2008-2009, but that fall lasted only a millisecond.  But now reverence for the rich is back at an all-time high.
I do find it odd and unsettling that the last two Democratic presidents love to be on the golf course.  That’s the Fifties in them, the country club spirit of the neo-Fifties we are all now living through, where Michelle is in the garden, and speaking out against obesity, and charter schools are lauded, and the president wants civility all around.  What’s missing, of course, in our current era, and was at its height during the Fifties, is union power and a rising middle class.  And jobs.   
And if New Year columns are supposed to predict, the only thing that feels predictable is that the unemployment rate will be above eight percent at the end of the year and the Party of Maybe will be back to being the Party of No.     

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Ask and Tell

During the 2008 presidential campaign I did point out that the modern default candidate for Republicans was damaged war veterans.  First Bob Dole in 1996 and then John McCain in 2008.  Dole’s campaign left him defeated, but not particularly defamed.  He exited the Senate and settled into some sort of dignified retirement, depending how dignified one thinks shilling for Viagra happens to be.  But not John McCain.  His campaign never took off and in its downward death spiral only became more desperate, finally elevating Sarah Palin to the vice president slot as a final Hail Mary play.  The rest, as they say, is history.

But as Palin preoccupies what passes for a large segment of journalism these days, McCain has only become meaner, crazier, and more erratic, all traits of his that were exaggerated when he needed to run in a primary race for his renomination as a hyper right winger against a former Congressman, now conservative radio blabber, J. D. Hayworth.   Why McCain didn’t “retire” is almost a rhetorical question.  The Senate is the world’s best old folks home, where one is fully escorted and rendered superior health care, and McCain obviously doesn’t want to give up all the perks and power and prestige.  So, we get to see his decline in public.  For how long, who knows?  He obviously doesn’t want to go home to spend more time with Cindy. He’d rather hang with his unmarried buddy, the former JAG lawyer, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, the other half of the duo who made up the oddest couple opposing the rescinding of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. 

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was one of Bill Clinton’s major muffs, similar to Jimmy Carter’s pardoning of the Vietnam-era draft resisters, both deeds carried out at the beginning of their presidencies. Carter’s charity was applauded by only those who received the benefit and their rag-tag supporters.  The rest of the public let it go by largely unheralded.  Carter never seemed proud of his pardoning of draft resisters, since he never even mentioned it in his first presidential memoir, Keeping Faith, published in 1982.  (I haven’t yet opened his new one, The White House Diaries, published this year.)  Clinton had a number of slip-ups, as we all recall, during his time in the White House, but Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell got right to the heart of the equivocating boy from Arkansas:  It all depends of what the meaning of is is. All Clinton managed to do with Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was keep the issue in the public eye. As an irritant.

So, President Obama got his repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell from the lame duck Congress, and that is supposed to make up for all his unkept promises:  Gitmo, tax cuts for the rich, Iraq, Afghanistan, banks too big to fail, molly-coddling the wealthy, the powerful; Health Care reform that entrenches the private sector, and whatever else one may want to add.

President McCain was always a ludicrous idea, at least in 2008, but thinking of it now only makes the Obama election of 2008 seem less of an unlikely event.  All along, the real race was beating the Clinton lady, Hillary, that is.  And, right now, any name the Republicans can come up with for the top of the ticket in 2012 seems equally ludicrous.  Which is the only Christmas present the Republicans are still offering the president.  Whether that changes by 2012 is the only question that really remains in play for the next two years.  Up till then, it will just be more of the same from team Obama and his colluders in compromise, Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, and their loyal followers in both houses of Congress.   How’s that for coal in your stocking? Merry, Merry.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Rich Win, Again

It was clear watching President Obama’s press conference, the one last week where most of the media claimed he showed some actual emotion – and more intensity – criticizing his progressive base, the "purists", those who would be happy with only "symbolic" victories; but, in addition to president being emotional, what went largely unnoticed, was that Obama was being truthful. He really believes what he is saying, at least in those remarks denouncing the purists that day. He believes he is the world-wise pragmatist, not one of the effete ideologues, but the man who is getting what he can from those taciturn and gloating Republicans. He believes his way is the right and superior way.

Given that, there is nothing for progressives to do, but sit back and watch. And what are they watching? The answer to that is also the answer to why there was such a sharp reaction from progressives – including me – from Obama letting the Bush tax rates for the rich continue. (And for letting the estate tax [the "death" tax] settle at a low of 35%, only kicking in on the first dollar past five million.) It is because Obama’s "deal" has served as the last straw.

Progressives have been oddly mild in their reactions to the president for continuing the Bush II war plans in Afghanistan and Iraq; and the lack of fight in him for the Public Option hurt, but didn’t cause a breach. (Yet another example Obama held up for derision as pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking in his press conference.) But the last straw is not so much collapsing the Obama presidency, as it signals the collapse of the half-century, or more, march toward progressive values in America, starting with FDR. And it announces the victory of the forces aligned against Franklin Delano Roosevelt since his acts of "class betrayal" after the Great Depression – FDR was denounced as a class betrayer by his fellow rich and privileged of the period. Again, the class war is over and the rich have won. Obama’s "deal" was the white flag being waved.

That is why there was such a large outcry at this point – by the heretofore rather complacent members of Congress, as well as Obama’s shrinking base throughout the country. It just isn’t the continuation of the rich getting richer, seemingly for now and forever, and the poor getting poorer, but a tombstone placed on America’s goal of being egalitarian in economic, and well as personal, ways.

And, once again, the payroll tax reduction, turning Social Security into a 401K, might be loved by economists for its "efficency", because no checks need to be cut, no bureaucracy needs to be created, no hindrances put up to block the delivery of the cash, but it still undermines the system, much to all the schemers and privatizers’ joy who stand against the Social Security System. So, the Obama deal may well be a mini-stimulus, but it comes at a high price, one that capitulates both the high and low ground to the right wing Republicans who are, seemingly, in charge. I know why the Senate doggedly hangs on to its filibuster rules, but when one looks at the Senate vote to strip the rich of their low tax rate, 53 - 37, one does wonder why the 37 gets to win. It should be a new T-shirt slogan for our upside down world. 53 - 37. 37 Wins!

The FED chief, Ben Bernanke, during his 60 Minutes interview of a week ago, on Dec. 5 (that guy loves being on high-end TV), was warning against a second dip in the current Great Recession, something Obama’s team thinks his "deal" will prevent – though not Bernanke; he seems to think it will happen. And, when asked, he did show some alarm at the fact that the concentration of the wealth has gotten so out of hand at the top end. But he had no proposals for how that might change. And, alas, neither does our president, who is certain he is doing the right thing. How can we change the mind of a man who has no doubts about what he does and how he does it? The answer is self evident. We can’t.