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Bill Clinton

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A Wasted Opportunity. | So Now What?

“The task facing the makers of the Obama museum, however, will be pretty much exactly the opposite: how to document a time when America should have changed but didn’t. Its project will be to explain an age when every aspect of societal breakdown was out in the open and the old platitudes could no longer paper it over — when the meritocracy was clearly corrupt, when the financial system had devolved into organized thievery, when everyone knew that the politicians were bought and the worst criminals went unprosecuted and the middle class was in a state of collapse….It was a time when every thinking person could see that the reigning ideology had failed, that an epoch had ended, that the shitty consensus ideas of the 1980s had finally caved in — and when an unlikely champion arose from the mean streets of Chicago to keep the whole thing propped up nevertheless.”

In Salon, Thomas Frank laments the wasted opportunity of the Obama years. “Why, the visitors to his library will wonder, did the president do so little about rising inequality, the subject on which he gave so many rousing speeches? Why did he do nothing, or next to nothing, about the crazy high price of a college education, the Great Good Thing that he has said, time and again, determines our personal as well as national success? Why didn’t he propose a proper healthcare program instead of the confusing jumble we got? Why not a proper stimulus package? Why didn’t he break up the banks? Or the agribusiness giants, for that matter?”

Frank’s piece is definitely a bit overwritten, with its “mausoleum of hope” and all. That being said, I’m on board with his central thesis, as I’ve said several times before. (In fact, I was glad to see when fixing the old archives lately, that however hopey-changey I felt in 2008, I was more measured in my writing than I remembered, bringing up the ominous example of Herbert Hoover in my post-election post and wondering what the heck was going on within two weeks of Obama’s inauguration.)

Also, to get a sense of what a bad place our party is at these days, just look at Kevin Drum’s ridiculous response to this Tom Frank piece. Drum, mind you, is the official blogger of Mother Jones, named after the famous labor leader. And he writes: “It’s easy to recognize this as delusional…Because — duh — the hated neoliberal system worked. We didn’t have a second Great Depression. The Fed intervened, the banking system was saved, and a stimulus bill was passed…As for Obama, could he have done more? I suppose he probably could have, but it’s a close call.”

A close call? C’mon. As I responded on Twitter: “And all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds. This neoliberal horseshit would’ve made Mother Jones blanch. This piece sidesteps O’s GWOT record. 2. It ignores O’s penchant for starting negotiations where they should finish. 3. It presumes filibuster reform impossible. 4. It ignores that financial crisis response grew inequality. And so on.”

And, remember: This fatalistic “Americans are all centrists anyway, Obama did all he could” shrug is coming from the house blogger of one of our foremost progressive journals. It’s pathetic. This is yet another example of we progressive Democrats no longer having the courage of our convictions.

See also this very worthwhile Salon piece on Zephyr Teachout’s challenge to notorious douchebag Andrew Cuomo, by my friend and colleague Matt Stoller, which talks about this exact same phenomenon.

“The basic theory of the ‘New Democrat’ model of governance is that Wall Street and multinational corporate elites produce wealth through the creation of innovative financial practices and technology, and that Democrats should then help middle class and poor citizens by taxing this wealth, and then using some of it to support progressive social programs…This method of running the economy has become so accepted among Democratic leaders that writers like New York Times columnist Paul Krugman and Vox writer Matthew Yglesias now argue that there simply is no alternative…

“There is a hunger in the Democratic Party for making the party serve the interest of regular voters, not the rich. In 2008, liberal Democrats decisively broke from the Clinton legacy and voted for Barack Obama, with his mantra of hope and change. Obama, however, stocked his administration with Clinton administration officials like Larry Summers, Tim Geithner and Janet Yellen. A joke going around Democratic circles after the election was that ‘Those supporting Obama got a president, those supporting Clinton got a job.’ Obama broke with the Clinton name, but brought the Clinton intellectual legacy, and Clinton’s Wall Street-backed machine, into governance…”

“The potentially transformative message of the Teachout-Wu campaign is that the problem is not solely one of personalities or tactical political approaches. Rather it is that the New Democrat model itself, and the Democratic party establishment, is fundamentally at odds with the party’s traditional liberalism…Teachout and Wu are trying to place the citizen at the center of policy. They do that through their proposals for public financing, for antitrust, for social insurance, infrastructure and labor.”

Without vision, the people perish. If we ever want to see the real and positive change that Americans were promised back in 2008, we progressives have to stop acting like we have no other option than to fall into line behind the leftiest of the centrists and clap harder for every occasional, diluted-to-all-hell scrap they throw our way. There’s more to life than Rockefeller Republicanism, and it’s not like we don’t have excellent historical templates to borrow from. We need to dream bigger, stop thinking the status quo is all there is, and push back.

Are Zephyr Teachout and Tim Wu going to knock out Andrew Cuomo, a guy who’s quite obviously the poster child for everything that’s wrong with our party? Alas, probably not. But one does not always fight because there is hope of winning. And New York in 2014 is as a good a place as any to start the long uphill slog of taking back our party.

Update: Right on cue, the NYT delves into Andrew Cuomo’s hobbling of the state ethics commission. “[A] three-month examination by The New York Times found that the governor’s office deeply compromised the panel’s work, objecting whenever the commission focused on groups with ties to Mr. Cuomo or on issues that might reflect poorly on him.”More here.

Meanwhile, Blake Zeff thinks Cuomo may have met his match in US Attorney Preet Bharara. “[Bharara] has not only taken possession of the files from the corruption-fighting Moreland Commission that Cuomo recently closed down as part of a budget deal, but has also publicly floated the possibility of investigating the governor’s alleged meddling in its investigations.”

Geithner: Wrong on Everything

“At every turn on housing — on mass refinancing, on principal reduction, on leverage for homeowners in the bankruptcy process, on forcing banks to write down mortgages, on a modern-day HOLC–the evidence points to Tim Geithner preferring whatever option put the least pressure on banks, rather than actually helping ordinary people. He made far more excuses to do nothing than any effort to make a difference…In fact, the programs were never meant to help homeowners, designed only to ‘foam the runway’ for the banks, to spread out foreclosures and allow banks to absorb them.”

In the wake of Tim Geithner’s new rehab book tour — currently being aided and abetted by Wall Street’s usual court stenographer, Andrew Ross Sorkin — Dave Dayen says not so fast. “I don’t have to just focus on housing; this is indicative of Geithner’s worldview, which sees protecting the financial system at all costs as the only thing that matters.”

Yves Smith has also ably eviscerated Geithner’s game of “Three Card Monte”: “The entire edifice of the piece is a sleight of hand…The focus on TARP (and to a lesser degree, Lehman) allows Sorkin to omit mention of actions that were clearly Geithner’s doing…The bigger point, which is not lost on the public, was there were plenty of other options for saving the system. The one chosen, that left the banks largely unreformed and no one of any consequence punished, was clearly just about the worst of the available options, unless, of course, you are, like Geithner, a banker.”

And here’re economics and finance professors Atif Mian and Amir Sufi: “Whatever reasons he had for opposing assistance to underwater homeowners, a careful evaluation of the policy effects was not among them. The evidence is pretty clear: an aggressive bold attack on household debt would have significantly reduced the horrible impact of the Great Recession on Americans. The fact that Secretary Geithner and the Obama administration did not push for debt write-downs more aggressively remains the biggest policy mistake of the Great Recession.”

Noam Scheiber has his say in TNR: “[The article] inadvertently highlights something deeper about Geithner, which is the shocking extent to which he’s accepted financialization of the economy as a benign, even admirable, development. The people who spend their days shuffling trillions of dollars around the globe are really just like you and me, except with nicer offices. They deserve the same sympathy and respect, notwithstanding their abysmal track record. That blinkered view colors pretty much every one of Geithner’s utterances as he makes the rounds hawking books.”

Also of note: Geithner doesn’t seem to understand how Social Security works, and, in classic #ThisTown fashion, he — the Secretary of the Treasury! — just parrots the same ignorant Beltway line about zomg out-of-control entitlements as all Very Serious People™ do. To wit, from Geithner’s book:

“I remember during one Roosevelt Room prep session before I appeared on the Sunday shows, I objected when Dan Pfeiffer [a senior advisor to the Obama White House] wanted me to say Social Security didn’t contribute to the deficit. It wasn’t a main driver of our future deficits, but it did contribute. Pfeiffer said the line was a ‘dog whistle’ to the left…code to the Democratic base, signaling that we intended to protect Social Security.”

And here’s the LA Times’ Michael Hiltzik: “But let’s get to the nub. Does Social Security ‘contribute to the deficit’? The answer is, bluntly, no. By law, it can’t contribute to the federal deficit, because Social Security isn’t allowed to spend more than it takes in. Those who claim — as Geithner has at one point or another — both that the program contributes to the deficit yet will be forced to reduce benefits to retirees once its trust fund is depleted are trying to have things both ways: The reasoning behind the threat of reduced benefits is that Social Security can’t engage in spending money it doesn’t have, i.e., deficit spending. Pick one, fellas. If it can contribute to the deficit, then there’s no reason to cut benefits.”

So is there’s anything positive about Geithner’s rewriting of history here? Well, the Sorkin piece does include this telling anecdote: “At another point, [Geithner] cheerfully relayed a story that also appears in his book about the time he sought advice from Bill Clinton on how to pursue a more populist strategy: ‘You could take Lloyd Blankfein into a dark alley,’ Clinton said, ‘and slit his throat, and it would satisfy them for about two days. Then the blood lust would rise again.'”

Could somebody please tell me again why I should be excited about Hillary 2016?

Update: Sheila Bair offers her take. “On his book tour, to explain the need for bailouts, Tim has used a clever analogy of a pilot trying to land a plane that is on fire and in the back, sit the terrorists who started it. He argues that the pilot can’t leave the cockpit to put them in handcuffs. He first has to land the plane. The problem with this analogy is that the plane landed at the end of 2008. And let’s face it, instead of handcuffing the terrorists, we escorted them to the executive lounge.”

Game of Votes.

Still taking a break. Nonetheless, this was too on-the-nose not to share, for election 2012 is dark and full of terrors. Enjoy.

Birds of a Feather.

Could I offer one piece of serious advice?…Start thinking now about you want your legacy to be.” Having made peace with The Queen, Tony Blair (Michael Sheen once more) now contends with President Bill and First Lady Hillary Clinton (Dennis Quaid and Hope Davis respectively) in this brief teaser for Richard Loncraine’s The Special Relationship, written by Peter Morgan. (This is the fifth Morgan/Sheen collaboration after The Deal, The Queen, Frost/Nixon, and The Damned United.) With this, Treme, The Pacific, Song of Ice and Fire, and Boardwalk Empire, the reasons for re-subscribing to HBO seem to be mounting.

The Last Dog Diatribes.

“During the discussion, Clinton told his vice president that he was disappointed that Gore had not used him in the last ten days of the 2000 campaign in strategically significant states — Arkansas, Tennessee, New Hampshire, and Missouri…Clinton insisted to Gore that he hadn’t cared about how Gore had referred to Clinton — and his personal scandal — during the campaign. Paraphasing this portion of the conversation, Branch writes that Clinton told Gore, ‘To gain votes, he would let Gore cut off his ear and mail it to reporter Michael Isikoff of Newsweek, the Monica Lewinsky expert.’

In Mother Jones, David Corn previews some of the interesting tales disclosed in historian Taylor Branch’s forthcoming The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History with the President. “In 1997, after New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote an acerbic column about Clinton and golfer Tiger Woods — maintaining that the the two green-eyed hucksters deserved each other — Clinton told Branch, ‘She must live in mortal fear that there’s somebody in the world living a healthy and productive life.’

The Serpent on the Staff.

“As a society, we trust doctors to be more concerned with the pulse of their patients than the pulse of commerce. Yet the American Medical Association is using that trust to try to block a robust public insurance option as part of health reform. In fact the A.M.A. now represents only 19 percent of practicing physicians…Its membership has declined in part because of its embarrassing historical record: the A.M.A. supported segregation, opposed President Harry Truman’s plans for national health insurance, backed tobacco, denounced Medicare and opposed President Bill Clinton’s health reform plan.

And don’t forget Sheppard-Towner: In his column this week, Nicholas Kristof take aim at the powerful American Medical Association. “‘They’ve always been on the wrong side of things,’ Dr. Scheiner told me, speaking of the A.M.A. ‘They may be protecting their interests, but they’re not protecting the interests of the American public.‘”

42 Doin’ Work.

“If there is part of him that secretly covets Obama’s job, he is burying it inside. ‘I like my life now,’ he said. ‘I loved being president and it’s a good thing we had a constitutional limit or I’d have made the people take me out in a pine box, probably. But we had a constitutional limit and I knew that in the beginning. And so when I left, I had to go out and create another life. And I did it, and I love doing it.’

In a wide-ranging piece in the NYT Magazine, Peter Baker checks in on the post-presidency of William Jefferson Clinton. Among the topics discussed: Election 2008 fallout — Obama is forgiven, Kennedy and Richardson are not — and Clinton’s retrospective view of his own administration’s economic policy in light of the “Great Recession.” “He added: ‘If you ask me to write the indictment, I’d say: “I wish Bill Clinton had said more about derivatives. The Republicans probably would have stopped him from doing it, but at least he should have sounded the alarm bell.”‘

Second Verse, Same as the First.

Well, you know, Sen. McCain, in the last debate and today, again, suggested that I don’t understand. It’s true. There are some things I don’t understand. I don’t understand how we ended up invading a country that had nothing to do with 9/11, while Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda are setting up base camps and safe havens to train terrorists to attack us. That was Sen. McCain’s judgment and it was the wrong judgment.

As you know, the second of three presidential debates is now in the books. [Transcript.] And, while it’s still way too early to put this election in the fridge — there’s a lot of crucial get-out-the-vote work to be done first, and we all saw how that turned out last time ’round — we nevertheless seem to be moving away from the closely divided America of 2000 and 2004 and fast approaching an contest similar to Bill Clinton’s relatively smooth re-election of 1996. That year, the nation ignored the continued haranguing of an aging war hero about cultural matters to back the candidate with a clearly better grasp on both the economy and the way Americans really live. By all reliable accounts, Sen. Obama, who won the evening handily last night, is the Clinton candidate this time around, and it seems to be helping him across the board.

Sen. Obama not only seemed to have a clearer grasp on the causes, consequences of, and potential remedies for our current economic travails last night, he came across as more competent, more discerning, more likable, and more presidential throughout. Meanwhile, for all McCain-Palin’s wallowing in the tired old culture war over the past few days, the Senator from Arizona seemingly left all of his new favorite talking points in his other suit. And, while desperately needing some kind, any kind, of game-changer last night, McCain instead just puttered around the town hall muttering the same stale GOP platitudes — he’ll raise your taxes! he’s won’t keep you safe! — that didn’t get the job done the first time ’round. In short, let’s not count our chickens just yet — we’ve got one more of these next week, and three weeks thereafter to keep the pressure on. But, right now, it’s looking pretty good, folks.

Clinton II: I Want to Believe.

“Everything I learned in my eight years as president and in the work I’ve done since, in America and across the globe, has convinced me that Barack Obama is the man for this job. He has a remarkable ability to inspire people, to raise our hopes and rally us to high purpose. He has the intelligence and curiosity every successful president needs. His policies on the economy, taxes, health care and energy are far superior to the Republican alternatives. He has shown a clear grasp of our foreign policy and national security challenges, and a firm commitment to repair our badly strained military. His family heritage and life experiences have given him a unique capacity to lead our increasingly diverse nation and to restore our leadership in an ever more interdependent world. The long, hard primary tested and strengthened him. And in his first presidential decision, the selection of a running mate, he hit it out of the park.:

And with that, President Bill Clinton, in his impressive throwback performance tonight, helped to rectify the most egregious lacunae in his wife’s speech the night before. [Transcript.] In some ways, the former President’s speech exhibited a classic Clinton dynamic: His remarks had many of the same issues as those of Sen. Clinton — they were often relentlessly self-aggrandizing, for example — and yet, as with so many other things, he’s often just better at getting away with it. “Vote for Obama, because he’s the Second Coming of Me in 1992” is an argument that’s almost breathtaking in the audacity of its self-absorption, and yet Bill Clinton — when he’s on his game, as he was tonight — is remarkably good at making such egotism seem more like a magnanimous benediction, kindly bestowed on his Democratic successor. It’s a neat trick, no doubt…and when he goes after the GOP, few in our party do it better.

That being said, I thought even President Clinton’s unparallelled powers of salesmanship and seduction couldn’t sell me a line like “If, like me, you still believe America must always be a place called Hope, then join Hillary, Chelsea and me in making Sen. Barack Obama the next president of the United States.” Not when you spend even a moment remembering anything Clinton had to say about “false hopes” or “fairy tales” over the first six months of this year. But that’s watching the magician’s hands move, isn’t it?

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