Tuesday, August 2, 2011

What Presidency? by Matt Stoller

If you have only one rule in politics, I suggest the following – get your head of out your television set, and start paying attention to government. The narrow intense focus of TV can constrain us so powerfully that we are blinded by technicolor.

To explain – there’s an endless stream of musings on our current political problems, with an attempt to apportion “blame” for what’s going on. One argument, fleshed out by Paul Krugman and Amanda Marcotte is that of truculent Republican extremists are at the root dysfunction. In Krugman’s words, “The problem with American politics right now is Republican extremism, and if you’re not willing to say that, you’re helping make that problem worse. ” In this formulation, the President, though he does not fight hard enough, is drawn to poor policy-making by the dynamic imposed by far right ideologues. Another argument suggests that Republicans are making clear arguments about what they want, and it is the lack of a clear alternative that leads to our current morass. In this formulation, it is a betrayal by Obama that is the primary issue at hand.

This type of dispute reveals an interesting dynamic about the limits of how liberals see government, and in particular, the Presidency. It’s something I encountered often, when there was a desperate under-the-radar policy fight between an alliance of Republicans and Obama versus liberals in Congress that Democrats simply didn’t pay attention to, like war funding, or perhaps more currently, free trade pending agreements. The focus, almost entirely, is on what is on TV

This comes down to how you see government, and the Presidency. The President is both a symbol of the country and party, monarchical in his ceremonial role. He is also a legislator in that he has use of a very powerful weapon – the veto. And finally, he is the executor of the laws and the commander-in-chief, the wielder of a three trillion dollar budget and enormous military and diplomatic power.

It’s worth laying out how people see the Presidency, because the criticisms that one makes are often targeted at different aspects of the role.

Legislator-in-Chief – Many people think that the President’s role is as the legislator in chief. He cannot do very much without Congress, and therefore, it is Congressional cooperation or obstruction that constrains and dictates his power or lack thereof. Though he might have wanted a larger stimulus, or might want a job creation program now, or any number of other priorities, it does not matter. Congress, with House Republicans in charge (and prior to them, Blue Dogs or the Senate), are in the way. As legislator-in-chief, he is not great, but he is better than a Republican (so goes the theory for liberals, anyway). And it’s not entirely his fault.

Narrator-in-Chief - Some people see Obama’s role as the country’s spiritual and political leader. He should use the “bully pulpit” to advocate, and to educate. He should head the Democratic Party and help his party by pinning the blame for poor policies on Republicans, and boosting Democrats in every way possible. In this formulation, it is his adoption of conservative “framing” on economic issues and validation of compromise as a core value that is the main problem. In this formulation, the Republicans have an up-is-down set of ideas about how the country works, and the press plays along with a faux-balance posture. In this posture, he is not great, but he is better than a Republican (so goes the theory for liberals, anyway). And it’s not entirely his fault.

Governor-in-Chief – Some people think that Obama runs the country, as he is the head of the executive branch of government and the Commander in Chief. Here his record is clear. His law enforcement chief, Eric Holder, has engaged in a policy of legalizing control fraud on the part of large banking institutions and gone after whistleblowers more aggressively than Bush did. Obama has launched secret wars and enlarged at least one overt war in Afghanistan. His stewardship of the BP spill was problematic to say the least, his foreclosure program has been a disaster, and his small business lending program passed in late 2010 and framed as a key job creator has lent out almost no money.

As narrator-in-chief and legislator-in-chief, the President has not been particularly effective, but one could at least argue that it is not his “fault”. Perhaps he made poor choices, but it could simply be a strategic disagreement. He could not get a liberal health care plan through, he couldn’t achieve a big enough stimulus, etc. But on how he actually governs, which is actually a pretty big part of the job, there is no debate. He has pursued a governing strategy that is both radical in its lawlessness and authoritarian in its structure around civil liberties, war, and deference to big finance while destroying faith in government through nearly unprecedented incompetence in the millions of people touched by the HAMP program. And what, pray tell, explains the ongoing Libya fiasco?

So why, if his Presidency has been such an unmitigated disaster, is he continuing to pursue this reckless course. My theory is that the key to the Obama administration’s political strategy is not compromise or incrementalism. It is, quite simply, fooling liberals. When you look at Obama’s governing role, he is clearly a servant of American oligarchs. But obviously he can’t explicitly tell liberals this (unlike Republicans, who are explicit in saying they favor “job creators”), because liberals like to think of themselves as favoring economic justice. So how do you acquire support from liberals, as he did in the primaries in 2008 and will need to do again in 2012, while pursuing oligarch-friendly policies?

You do it by ensuring that liberals only focus on the ceremonial non-governmental aspects of the Presidency. You do it by making sure that they focus only on the televised aspects of the Presidency.

When Obama is criticized as not fighting Republicans hard enough, it’s an implicit endorsement of the “legislator-in-chief” role. As such, the blame for illiberal policies like bailouts, poorly designed health care plans, cuts to entitlements – well, these are the Republicans fault. Obama is simply helpless before the onslaught. Similarly, every time an establishment liberal says in the newspaper that “Obama’s policy choices are jeopardizing his reelection chances”, they are implicitly endorsing the narrator-in-chief role, and ignoring his role as an incompetent and highly radical President causing enormous damage to millions of people. Again, he’s helpless before a mean-spirited press corps and Republican establishment bent on his destruction. This is easy to show on TV – just pop up some video of mean Republicans.

It is only by focusing on the governor-in-chief role that one sees a different focus of the Presidency. It is absolutely the case, as Krugman notes, that Republican detachment from reality is a threat to democracy. But it is worth noting that in ascribing to this the sole cause of our political situation is to diminish the notion that creatively using power can achieve good things for people. For instance, it’s true that having a press corps with more balance about the goals of Republicans and Democrats would create a healthier democratic society – but then, it’s probably also true that a real foreclosure prevention plan in 2009 would have dramatically restored faith in government by touching the lives of millions of people in an affirmatively positive instead of malevolent way.

All of this is to say that how one sees government is critical to how one judges Obama. And if the only consideration is the boundaries of television, then of course, Obama is going to look like a mediocre narrator-in-chief constrained by wild forces he cannot control. Of course, Congress will make him seem like a somewhat inept but well-meaning legislative leader or party leader. It is only in turning off the boundaries set by a narrow TV-dominated discourse that one truly sees Obama’s real handiwork – the wars, the bailouts, and most tragically, what could have been but never was.

Follow Matt Stoller on Twitter at @matthewstoller

Countdown with Keith Olbermann 08-01-2011 5 - Special Comment - Our Broken System


Al Gore: U.S. needs an ‘American spring’

Al Gore: U.S. needs an ‘American spring’

Posted on 08.2.11
By Eric W. Dolan
Categories: Activism, Featured

In an interview with Countdown host Keith Olbermann on Tuesday, former vice president and Current TV founder Al Gore said the United States needed an “American spring” like the Arab spring in the Middle East and Northern Africa.

“We need to have an American spring,” he said. “Non-violent change, where people from the grassroots get involved again. Not in the tea party style. There are people who are genuinely upset in the tea party, I understand that, but that movement was funded with seed money from right-win billionaires, the Koch brothers, and promoted on Fox News and turned into a stalking horse for this right-wing agenda that a lot of people have been trying to push on this country for a long time.”

“This country is in trouble,” Gore added. “Our democracy has been withering on the vine. This has been going on for some time.”

Monday on Countdown, Gore called the U.S. system of government “broken” and “in real trouble.”

Watch video, courtesy of Current TV, at link above.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders suggests its time for Obama to face primary challenge Read more: http://dailycaller.com/2011/07/25/vermont-sen-bernie-sanders-suggests-its-time-for-obama-to-face-primary-challenge/#ixzz1Tvwm2YHt

After a nearly trillion-dollar federal stimulus, historic health care reform legislation and two confirmed liberal Supreme Court justices, one might think the American left would have to be somewhat satisfied with President Barack Obama, at least as a presidential nominee.

But Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is not. In an interview with liberal talker Thom Hartmann on Friday, Sanders spoke out very aggressively about the possibility of Obama facing a challenge from his left for the Democratic nomination.

“Well, at this point I have not,” Sanders said. “But I am now giving thought to doing it. You know, I think you know the names out there as well as I do. And I think the American people have got to be engaged. It’s not just me or anybody else here in Washington. There are a lot of smart honest progressive people who I think can be good presidents.” (Bernie Sanders says it’s time to bring the troops home)

Sanders said such a challenge was necessary since in his estimation, the president had begun to take his position as the party leader for granted.

“And I think one of the reasons President Obama has moved as far to the right as he has is he thinks he can go all the way and no one will stand up to him,” Sanders continued. “So, Tim I don’t want to tell you more than that but this is an issue I am – we are beginning to talk about a little bit.”

Read more: http://dailycaller.com/2011/07/25/vermont-sen-bernie-sanders-suggests-its-time-for-obama-to-face-primary-challenge/#ixzz1TvwhXZoM

The Strategy to win for the progressives... a playbook!

Maybe we could do the same with the Dems:

http://theprecinctproject.wordpress.com /

Concord Project videos:
http://youtu.be/KMBa713YCUI What is a precinct and how it works
http://youtu.be/Nczt5cN8hd4 The importance of precinct committee members
http://youtu.be/yMkTdMXwhbE How you become a precinct committee member
http://youtu.be/MendmDZ-iu0 The time committment for a precinct committee person

This next guy is a little wacko but pretty good on this subject:

http://www.wagthedog2010.com /

His page describes a "Total Victory Plan 2012" like this:

"precinct strategy + committees of safety + oath keepers = victory"

I think I know what that means but the link is dead. Anyway, we may as well use what the TPers have figured out, why re-invent the wheel, right?

I see no reason why we couldn't get Progressives into the Dem party the same way, and shift that whole structure Left. If enough of us Dems did it, it would work the same way. It took some digging but I scrounged up the info for my state.

I forgot to add... there is a Facebook page for Progressive who are beginning to do this:

Flash-Mob the county party executive committees

Kucinich: Why I Voted Against S. 365, the Budget Control Act of 2011

S. 365, the Budget Control Act of 2011, is a landmark in American history, but for the wrong reasons. It is a fake solution to a phony crisis. It provides for a radical transformation of the structure of government. It is an attack on the principle of government of the people. All this in the name of fiscal accountability.

The choice we have today, default or dismantling of the social compact through draconian spending cuts, is a false choice. The President could have simply told Congressional leaders back in December of last year that the debt ceiling was not negotiable, and invoked the 14th Amendment as a backstop.

The “debt crisis” was spurred on by credit rating agencies of dubious integrity threatening a downgrade of the nation’s credit unless the government cut spending. Most of the cuts are guaranteed to hurt those who live at society’s margins, while S. 365 protects the investor class whose interests are served by the rating agencies.

Unelected credit ratings agencies like Standard and Poor’s, the self-declared arbiter of U.S. government creditworthiness must themselves be subjected to a new level of scrutiny absent in the run-up to the Wall Street crisis. The credit raters helped to create that crisis too by procuring business through selling rating marks. The very idea that the sovereign United States must genuflect to dishonest rating agencies is antiquated and counterproductive to America’s economic recovery.

This bill fails on its own terms, which are allegedly about fiscal accountability. The debt has three main drivers:

The first is the recession. If we want to reduce the debt, we have to stimulate the economy, which is hobbled by a jobless recovery. America has 14 million people out of work. We have over three trillion dollars of infrastructure which must be replaced or rebuilt. We should be investing in America, rebuilding America, stimulating the American economy, priming the pump of our economy instead of capping our economic water well. Our GDP is lagging. This bill cuts nearly three trillion dollars in government spending, which is one of our main tools for fighting the recession. So much for the recovery. So much for putting America back to work.

The second reason for the size of the debt is the Bush tax cuts. This bill fails to end the Bush tax cuts for the rich, which added a trillion dollars to the deficit. Not only are the wealthy not paying a fair share of the taxes but their privileged position is locked in, to the detriment to the rest of the society. This single action makes clear that this bill is a vehicle for the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer.

That working Americans are being offered a tax holiday is one of the cruel ironies of this bill in that the tax holiday adds more to the deficit on one hand, while requiring cuts to pay for it on the other. Those very cuts will undermine the social and economic position of those whom the tax holiday is alleged to help.

The third reason for the size of the debt is the wars. This bill fails to realize savings from ending the wars. Instead it continues the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan at current funding levels for at least another 10 years. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), “The caps would not apply to spending for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and for similar activities (sometimes referred to as overseas contingency operations). . . " If this bill required a slow drawdown of troops as the Reid bill did, it would save at least $1.2 trillion.

It is inexplicable that we are creating more space for war and less space for jobs, housing, education, caring for our elderly, home heating assistance and a wide range of activities of any government which truly cares for its people.

A policy of no limits for war and hard limits on domestic spending, coupled with hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts for the rich, disproportionately affects the poor and middle class. Wall Street has swelled with bailouts, multiple editions of largesse through quantitative easing, skyrocketing executive pay and bonuses, and freedom to gamble the public’s money through hedge funds. Main Street has suffered a massive loss of retirement savings, housing security, access to affordable health care, real wages and benefits, full employment and massive loss of small businesses. The wealth of America is being accelerated to the top and this bill pushes that acceleration.

This bill is a direct assault on representative government. The House of Representatives and the Senate consist of 435 and 100 Members, respectively. With the creation of a super-committee, the Congress has been reduced to a czardom where 7 of 12 members are given the power to determine the course of the American economy, with hordes of K Street lobbyists already poised to swoop in to protect their narrow interests against $1 trillion dollars in deficit reduction measures.

The Congressional committee and subcommittee process, with its membership composed of individuals with expertise in specific areas, is designed to encourage thorough consideration of measures which affect the lives of hundreds of millions of Americans. This process is now abandoned. Abandoned with it is the intent of the founding Fathers when they established the House of Representatives specifically to avoid such a dangerous concentration of power. The super-committee is poised to cut Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security while limiting accountability.

We could have avoided this hostage-taking if the President chose to apply his expertise in Constitutional law to invoke the 14th Amendment of the Constitution to raise the debt ceiling. Instead, we are taking America from the New Deal of 1932 to the Raw Deal of 2011. We should be focusing on strengthening Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and creating jobs. The Democratic Party is running away from its traditional role of protecting the poor, the elderly, and the working class. To whom do these groups now turn?

Dennis Kucinich