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.
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.”
Hrm…there’s one you don’t hear much about these days. So every incoming President (presuming he or she has coattails) would likely have an operational majority in the House for a longer period of time — so long, disasters like 2010 — and House members would have less need for constant campaigning and fund-raising. At the same time, you’re further insulating the House from electoral upheaval (which is kind of the point), and thus aggravating the possibility that a room full of millionaires will be unaccountable to the public. I’ll have to think on it.
Of course, Social Security had rollout problems too. And progressives at the time definitely lamented the concessions that were made as Social Security evolved from bill to law, including the exclusion of agricultural and domestic laborers [re: African-Americans] from the law. (Frances Perkins: “The whole thing has been chiseled down to a conservative pattern.”)
That being said, I think it’s important to keep this in mind every time the right starts complaining about byzantine complexities in the Affordable Care Act: We could’ve avoided many of these issues if this change-bringing administration hadn’t immediately ruled out the obvious progressive solution to the health care problem — a single-payer system of Medicare-for-all, like most other advanced industrialized nations enjoy, perhaps phased in with an immediate voluntary buy-in and a gradual lowering of the coverage age.
Instead, we adopted the Republicans’ proposal, the marketplace/exchanges plan originally conceived by the Heritage Foundation and enacted by Mitt Romney, without even including a public option to keep the insurers honest. And what’d we get for this ginormous unforced concession to the right? Nothing. Republicans still didn’t support the health care law in 2010, and they’ve screamed holy hell that it’s tyrannical government socialism for the past three-odd years — even though it was their plan to begin with.
Now, they’re deliberately sabotaging implementation of the ACA and trying to pin every misstep, including this rather sad website #fail, as a failure of the liberal project. As Konczal aptly points out, what’s failing here is the NEO-liberal project — the desire to embrace public-private, technocratic conservative ideas of a generation ago (see also: cap & trade), in the hopes that today’s conservatives will somehow be intellectually honest enough to support them too. That is a sucker’s bet every time.
One other important takeaway from this article: “[I]f all the problems are driven by means-testing, state-level decisions and privatization of social insurance, the fact that the core conservative plan for social insurance is focused like a laser beam on means-testing, block-granting and privatization is a rather large problem. As Ezra Klein notes, ‘Paul Ryan’s health-care plan — and his Medicare plan — would also require the government to run online insurance marketplaces.'”
In other words, here again conservatives are decrying exactly what they ostensibly espouse. Perhaps a better way forward on fundamental pieces of legislation, instead of playing Lucy and the football with the Republicans, is to try to enact our own ideas from now on.
Update: In Foreign Affairs, Kimberly Morgan makes much the same argument: “The real source of Obamacare’s current problems lies in the law’s complexity. A straightforward way to assure coverage would have been to extend an existing, well-worn program to more people…In the United States, [due to] political antipathy to government programs…policymakers regularly rig up complex public-private, and often federal-state, arrangements that are opaque to the public, difficult to administer, and inefficient in their operation.”
Hello all: Back on the mainland as of 48 hours ago. In case the Election of 1924 talk of a few months past whetted your appetite for more radio ramblings about the dissertation, I discussed Uphill All the Way and 1920’s politics last night with Jay Ackyroyd of Virtually Speaking. Embed above — enjoy.
In The Nation, Katrina vanden Heuvel calls out Andrew Cuomo’s sad attempt to use recent corruption scandals as a pretext to bury the Working Families Party. “The Millionaire’s Tax, Paid Sick Days, the minimum wage, Rockefeller Drug Law reform, the Green Jobs Act, the emergence of the Progressive Caucus in NYC, the inclusionary zoning rules, the passage of the Wage Theft and Domestic Workers Acts — each of these, in ways large or small, got a boost from the electoral savvy and relationships that the WFP shows day after day across the state.”
Most progressive-minded folks in and around the New York area already know this, but just in case and since the Governor is clearly gunning for 2016 and beyond: Andrew Cuomo is not one of us. He’s just another ambitious centrist-Dem type who harbors no real values of his own, and who will do whatever it takes to keep moving up the political food chain — which usually means doing whatever the people holding the bags of money want him to do. Note the paragraph and links from Buzzfeed below.
“His recent rhetoric aside, Cuomo has staked out a relatively conservative record on economic issues, from cutting programs cherished by many in his own party and battling public workers, to eschewing progressive taxation and moving to silence Occupy Wall Street protestors. Such an agenda has helped Cuomo win favor with the well-heeled business and donor community in New York, influential conservative editorial pages, and Republicans, all adding up to very high approval ratings[.]“ Simply put, he’s emphatically not the candidate progressives should rally around in 2016.
Put another way, when it comes to our elected representatives, the best lack all conviction while the worst are full of a passionate intensity. A new study finds politicians consistently overstate the conservatism of the American electorate. Which may be why we’re all very busy discussing ridiculous cuts to everything in Washington right now, instead of working harder to create jobs and foster economic growth.
“‘The whole era,’ concluded Bourne in disgust, ‘has been spiritually wasted.’” Let’s hope, down the road a-ways from 2012, the last few years won’t feel the same. Anyway, that line’s from the first paragraph of the now completed(!) dissertation, which I sent off to my advisor and the committee this afternoon. It’s been a very long road, and I’m sure the euphoria will take hold in a bit. As for now, I just feel as per the clip above — plus exhausted with a twinge of Comic Guy.
FWIW, the final draft, with footnotes and bibliography and all that, clocked in at 1269 pages. If anyone’s interested on what’s covered and the general layout, I posted the table of contents below. That is obviously far too long for public — or anyone’s — consumption. I mean, I wrote the damned thing and I only read, like, the conclusion and stuff…It’s about the 20’s, right?
Seriously though, I’m sure I could have condensed it more than I did. For example, here’s the part on p. 527 where I talk about how the Harding administration used the Herrin Massacre as a public relations coup against the labor movement in 1922:
“All work and no play makes Kevin a boring boy. All work and no play makes Kevin a boring boy. All work and no play makes Kevin a boring boy. All work and no play makes Kevin a boring boy. All work and no play makes Kevin a boring boy. All work and no play makes Kevin a boring boy. All work and no play makes Kevin a boring boy. All work and no play makes Kevin a boring boy. All work and no play makes Kevin a boring boy. All work and no play makes Kevin a boring boy. All work and no play makes Kevin a boring boy.“
That goes on for about 70 pages. And I think, if I’d just worked at it a little harder, I could’ve really gotten that down to 40. Ohhhhh well.
At any rate, I’m way too tired to be blogging at the moment, so I’ll leave it at that for now. Thanks to everyone for putting up with all the navel-gazing posts about this over the past few weeks, months, and years. FWIW, the general GitM readership got a shout-out on the acknowledgments page. With that in mind, work is crazy through election day, but this site should hopefully resume to normal status updates soon thereafter. First I need to sleep for awhile, clean up my paper-, book-, and dog-hair-strewn apartment, do some more sleeping, see all the movies I’ve missed — the only one I’ve seen in months was Looper (I liked it) — take my man Berk to the park, sleep some more, get a life, stuff like that.
Also, there is still the actual defense to consider, which will happen sometime in the next two months. But I am assuming that today was the day I destroyed the Ring, and that will be more of an “I’m a scarred, melancholy badass now, so let’s kick Saruman out of the Shire” Scouring-level event. Also, I’m not counting any chickens, trust me, but I did go ahead and put the batteries in my brand-new sonic screwdriver.
Uphill All The Way: The Fortunes of Progressivism 1919-1929
CHAPTER ONE: THE “TRAGEDY OF THE PEACE MESSIAH” 31
CHAPTER FIVE: THE POLITICS OF NORMALCY 357
CHAPTER NINE: THE BUSINESS OF AMERICA 824
It used to be a central tenet of progressivism was working to shorten the work week. Now, even unemployment-soothing innovations like workshare go nowhere, and, as Mother Jones‘s Monika Bauerlein and Claira Jeffrey explain (with handy graphs), we are all victims of the Great Speedup…but not the beneficiaries. “For 90 percent of American workers, incomes have stagnated or fallen for the past three decades, while they’ve ballooned at the top, and exploded at the very tippy-top…In other words, all that extra work you’ve taken on — the late nights, the skipped lunch hours, the missed soccer games — paid off. For them.”
Ex-Grayson staffer (and friend) Matt Stoller dissects the lack of political will for infrastructure reinvestment in today’s political climate. “Ultimately, of course, we will have no choice but to rebuild our infrastructure or risk social collapse…Meanwhile, the ideological fight is not over whether to spend more on infrastructure. It’s whether we should privatize what’s left.“
Proving Matt’s point is this thoroughly sad column by ex-Biden Chief of Staff Ron Klain, a man who until very recently was a senior advisor to the president. (Now, he works for a “private investment firm,” natch.). Says Klain: “Hoover Dam nostalgia is misguided…[I]t’s time to let go of the idea that a handful of marquee construction projects, even majestic and lasting ones, can solve our employment problem. Such endeavors alone didn’t bring us out of the Depression in the 1930s, and they won’t end our current predicament.“
Uh, is anyone actually saying that we should only do “a handful of marquee construction projects“? No, no, they’re not. They’re saying we should build big things, build small things, rebuild and repair things big and small, and otherwise put people back to work in any way possible. Where’s the vision? It’s going to take something a mite bigger and more audacious to get the economy moving again than an employer-side payroll tax cut.
“‘This was maybe America’s last chance to fight back against the greed of the Wall Street oligarchs and corporate plutocrats, to generate some serious discussion about public interest and common good that sustains any democratic experiment,’ West laments…’I thought Barack Obama could have provided some way out. But he lacks backbone.“
In a discussion with TruthOut‘s Chris Hedges, Cornel West — who admittedly is nursing some rather petty personal grievances here as well — lays hard into the DLC-centrism of President Obama. “I have to take some responsibility,’ he admits of his support for Obama as we sit in his book-lined office. ‘I could have been reading into it more than was there.‘” You and me both, brother. You and me both.
“At any rate, this was a terrible accident; 147 young people, they were all young men and women, were killed, lost their lives and a number of others were badly injured…This made a terrible impression on the people of the State of New York. I can’t begin to tell you how disturbed the people were everywhere. It was as though we had all done something wrong. It shouldn’t have been. We were sorry. Mea culpa! Mea culpa! We didn’t want it that way. We hadn’t intended to have 147 girls and boys killed in a factory. It was a terrible thing for the people of the City of New York and the State of New York to face.” — Frances Perkins
I meant to post on this a few weeks ago, but busy-ness conspired against it: 100 years ago last month, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory burned to the ground. And ultimately, from its ashes, a New Deal — something the Scott Walkers and Paul Ryans of the world might should consider.
Megg at Quiddity uncovers a keen historical reproduction of the time Theodore Roosevelt fought Bigfoot. (Actually, kids, this is really just a metaphorical representation of TR’s 1910 Oswatomie speech quoted above — unlike the time Abe and Iorek Byrnison brought forth the Emancipation Proclamation. That actually happened.)