We received an email over the weekend from a faithful listener who loves the program, but is starting to worry that Mike might be a “right wing plant” because of Mike’s analysis of the debt-ceiling crisis and President Obama’s handling of the situation (as well as Mike’s criticisms of Obama’s “liberal” policies in general). As variations of this argument are floating around the Internet it seems appropriate to give some thought and analysis to the emailer’s position. Here’s a portion of what he wrote, all emphasis his:
States and local governments, meanwhile, are anticipating sharp drops in federal aid. Unemployed workers also face uncertainty: Emergency unemployment benefits expire at the end of the year, even though millions of Americans are still out of work. This fact has some liberal commentators asking why President Obama did not push for an extension of unemployment benefits as part of the bill.
Cuts to state and local governments mean less money for education programs like Head Start, for medical assistance for the uninsured, for infrastructure repair, for social programs that assist the needy. And the other cuts the emailer deems as “minor” are anything but. Social programs face dangerous “triggers” of their own, including – ironically – provisions in Obama’s own hard-fought semi-victory in the Health Care Reform Act. Medicare payments to health-care providers are also at risk if the Committee fails, despite the emailer’s claims to the contrary. With the loss of so many crucial “chess pieces,” it’s difficult to comprehend that all this loss is part of Obama’s” master plan.”
And now, the credit of the US has been downgraded as a result of his compromise with the Republicans and the markets are plunging like boulders rolling down a mountain.. How this deal helps the average American, or how this scores a “win” for the Democrats escapes me.
The emailer further argues that the expiration of the Bush tax cuts will stimulate the economy, as if realizing this is some kind of brilliant stroke of genius on the part of the President. Fact is, repealing the Bush tax cuts a year ago was yet another of Obama’s unfulfilled campaign promises. Finally allowing them to expire (and the chances of this actually happening borders on wishful thinking) is merely something Obama should’ve done – and promised to do – when he was first elected. Obama bowed to GOP pressure to extend the tax cuts last year, so this reversal – if Obama doesn’t allow them another extension – is merely correcting the error he made last year. And it would put about $800 billion back into the system – IF it happens – not $3.5 trillion which the emailer claims.
And to assume that Teabaggers won’t vote for their chosen candidates again because they will suddenly have an epiphany that the Neocons in Congress only represent the wealthiest 1% in America strikes me as naive if not idiotic, primarily because the economy is not the Baggers central issue. Those voters care only about getting the Democrat/Black Guy out of office. Period. Plus, there’s the fact that unemployment, recession, and corporate-friendly deregulations and tax cuts happened under Bush-the-Lessor’s watch and this brain-dead voting block returned him to office anyway.
Beyond the financial crisis, there is the overwhelming evidence that President Obama gives away the farm when there’s no reason to do so. He caved on the public option on his own health care plan when Congressional Democrats still had hopes for the program and wanted to debate the issue on the floor. He rejected the advice of his own economic advisers on the stimulus package, which he weakened with tax cuts instead of enacting a big stimulus that rational economists advised would cause an economic rebound. As a result, the so-called “recovery” never worked. It still isn’t.
Obama also failed to fulfill his promise to support organized labor and worker’s rights whenever they were in jeopardy. Back on the campaign trail candidate Obama promised that “If American workers are being denied their right to organize and collectively bargain when I’m in the White House, I’ll put on a comfortable pair of shoes myself — I’ll walk on that picket line with you as president of the United States of America.” Yet when Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin declared a Koch-brothers-backed war on public workers, Obama took no action. Not only did he fail to don his walking shoes and join the protest, he didn’t even go to Wisconsin to support the school teachers and cops and fire-fighters and first-responders who were on the brink of losing their collective bargaining rights and were facing immediate termination.
There’s a pattern here, and it suggests a strategy closer to Neville Chamberlain than Bobby Fischer.
But perhaps the most compelling arguments against the concept that Obama is playing a crafty game and we’re just not getting it is found in the brilliant Sunday New York Times article by professor Drew Westen. In his article What Happened to Obama? Westen outlines where Obama went off course back on the day of his inauguration when he wasted to opportunity to tell the American people that the previous eight years under the Bush/Cheney regime had nearly bankrupted our country – morally and financially - but that he had a plan for recovery. That story was not told that day, and ever since Obama has failed to produce the promised Change We Can Believe In. Worse, he has failed to explain why we’re in the mess we’re in today. Westen continues to explain Obama’s leadership problem:
Like most Americans, at this point, I have no idea what Barack Obama — and by extension the party he leads — believes on virtually any issue. The president tells us he prefers a “balanced” approach to deficit reduction, one that weds “revenue enhancements” (a weak way of describing popular taxes on the rich and big corporations that are evading them) with “entitlement cuts” (an equally poor choice of words that implies that people who’ve worked their whole lives are looking for handouts). But the law he just signed includes only the cuts. This pattern of presenting inconsistent positions with no apparent recognition of their incoherence is another hallmark of this president’s storytelling. He announces in a speech on energy and climate change that we need to expand offshore oil drilling and coal production — two methods of obtaining fuels that contribute to the extreme weather Americans are now seeing. He supports a health care law that will use Medicaid to insure about 15 million more Americans and then endorses a budget plan that, through cuts to state budgets, will most likely decimate Medicaid and other essential programs for children, senior citizens and people who are vulnerable by virtue of disabilities or an economy that is getting weaker by the day.
Read the entire article. (Mike will read it on the program tonight.) It provides a clear, detailed, rational explanation for the reason some of us feel misled, disappointed, and abandoned by the man we once supported.
And Westen is not alone. Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman wrote a scathing column titled “The President Surrenders” after Obama signed the bill last week. Krugman predicted the dramatic market drop we’re seeing today and argued that Obama should’ve used a legal maneuvering to side step the debt-ceiling hostage-taking by the Republicans in Congress:
At the very least, Mr. Obama could have used the possibility of a legal end run to strengthen his bargaining position. Instead, however, he ruled all such options out from the beginning.
But wouldn’t taking a tough stance have worried markets? Probably not. In fact, if I were an investor I would be reassured, not dismayed, by a demonstration that the president is willing and able to stand up to blackmail on the part of right-wing extremists. Instead, he has chosen to demonstrate the opposite.
Make no mistake about it, what we’re witnessing here is a catastrophe on multiple levels.
A catastrophe is exactly what this feels like. The president gave yet another economic pep talk to the people today in an attempt to calm the markets, and they instead dropped another 150 points. We need FDR-style leadership and programs, not FDR-style fireside chats that use lofty words to say nothing. A masterful chess game? Seems more like “Jenga.” Pull out one more piece, one more failed policy and our entire system will crash to pieces.