Obama reads Naomi Klein? Probably not...
Obama's interview with 60 minutes is interesting, and I recommend studying it; as usual our famously free press gives short shrift to news while focusing on fluff about the very personal nature of yadda yadda yadda. Working from stories on segments of the transcript, I've already posted that, in detail, I think Obama's comments on both torture and housing are weak. Reading the full transcript gives a better view of the man; my impression is that he's holding his cards very, very close to his chest, probably an entirely rational strategy.
Let me single out four passages on Klein, HOLC, the post-partisan shtick, and FDR.
First, the Naomi Klein echo:
Kroft: Does doing something about energy is it less important now than…
Mr. Obama: It's more important. It may be a little harder politically, but it's more important.
Mr. Obama: Well, because this has been our pattern. We go from shock to trance. You know, oil prices go up, gas prices at the pump go up, everybody goes into a flurry of activity. And then the prices go back down and suddenly we act like it's not important, and we start, you know filling up our SUVs again.
And, as a consequence, we never make any progress. It’s part of the addiction, all right. That has to be broken. Now is the time to break it.
Well, that raised my antenna, since the process Obama describes does, after all, describe the Shock Doctrine process exactly: The Powers That Be use the trance period following the shock to impose policies that would otherwise not be possible, politically -- as in the the Patriot Act, AUMF, the bailout.
To be fair, Obama's used the same phrase since 2005 (here, and here), so it's clear that Klein's formulation could not have influenced Obama's initial, accurate perception. The missing piece of the puzzle is, of course, the political use of the trance period; Obama doesn't go there in the interview. Then again, what sane politician would? So, I'd chalk the whole thing up as a case of independent invention, were it not for the fact that the passage of the bailout, in which Obama was instrumental, looks like a classic case of Shock Doctrine tactics, which is what the NOW NOW NOW was all about.
Second, Obama's tea on HOLC is even weaker than I thought:
Kroft: There's been talk on Capitol Hill and a number of Democratic congressmen have proposed programs that are part of sort of a new New Deal. The possibility of reviving agencies like the Home Ownership Loan Corporation.
Finally! Somebody actually mentions HOLC!
Mr. Obama: Two points I'd make on this. Number one, although there are some parallels to the problems that we're seeing now and what we say back in the '30s, no period is exactly the same. For us to simply recreate what existed back in the '30s in the 21st century, I think would be missing the boat. We've gotta come up with solutions that are true to our times and true to this moment. And that's gonna be our job. I think the basic principle that government has a role to play in kick starting an economy that has ground to a halt is sound.
Bollocks. Nobody's proposing HOLC because they want to go back to the 30s. They're proposing HOLC because it has a proven track record of success; see, e.g., Roubini. And Obama's pirouette away from concrete policy that would help people into "basic principles" is D'oh-worthy drivel. Again, the contrast between the NOW NOW NOW help for bankers, and the "thoughtful" nature helping out homeowners LATER LATER LATER is very, very telling, especially when you reflect that bankers and homeowners are two sides of the same coin: What it tells you is who's running the show.
Third, on the post-partisan schtick:
Kroft: How high a priority are you placing on re-regulation of the financial markets?
Mr. Obama: I think it's a top priority. I think that we have to restore a sense of trust, transparency, openness in our financial system. And keep in mind that the deregulation process, it wasn't just one party. I think there's a lot of blame to spread around.
But, hopefully, everybody's learned their lesson. And the answer is not heavy-handed regulations that crush the entrepreneurial spirit and risk taking of American capitalism. That's what's made our economy great. But it is to restore a sense of balance.
Well, "everybody's learned their lesson." Er, did the people who didn't benefit and whose standard of living is collapsing learn their lesson, too? Somehow, I think they are. At least about the importance of growing their own food. But leaving aside Obama's Village-standard notion of "everybody," and the word fog about "balance," I actually agree with Obama that both parties -- that is, the entire Village -- bears responsibility for the crisis, although we can, of course, argue about how that responsibility is allocated. Unfortunately, so far as I can tell, Obama has issued the Village a collective "Get Out of Jail Free" card, since he never talks about holding anybody accountable for anything at all. (Readers, can anybody supply a counter-example?) But what is a lesson learned if there's no grade?
And fourth, on FDR* and the New Deal:
Kroft: Have you been reading anything about the Depression? Anything about FDR?
Mr. Obama: You know, I have actually. There's a new book out about FDR's first 100 days and what you see in FDR that I hope my team can-- emulate, is not always getting it right, but projecting a sense of confidence, and a willingness to try things. And experiment in order to get people working again.
And I think that's what the American people expect. You know, they're not expecting miracles. I think if you talk to the average person right now that they would say, 'Well, look, you know well, we're having a tough time right now. We've had tough times before.' 'And you know, we don't expect a new president can snap his fingers and suddenly everything is gonna be okay. But what we do expect is that the guy is gonna be straight with us. We do expect that he's gonna be working really hard for us.'
'We do expect that he's gonna be thinking about ordinary Americans and not just the wealthy and the powerful. And we do expect that. if something doesn't work that they're gonna try something else until they find something that does.' And, you know, that's the kind of common sense approach that I want to take when I take office.
Fine words butter no parsnips. And there's that idea that "thinking about" ordinary Americans is enough; it isn't. If Obama backs up his words with actions that really help ordinary Americans -- HOLC and single payer come immediately to mind -- then yes, he may end up looking like the second coming of FDR. But if he crawfishes around with actions that are marketed as helping ordinary Americans but end up only helping the same crowd that got us into this mess -- the bankers and the insurance companies come immediately to mind -- then he risks being a one-term President. People aren't stupid, and they do notice. And unemployed people have time on their hands, especially after they fall out of the workforce. Change? Or Chnage? Good luck to him. And us.
NOTE * I think the Lincoln comparison is totally overblown, and reflects the Village's tiny little pains about the evils of partisan conflict which, in their tiny little minds, is of the same scale as the Civil War. (And, of course, Republicans worried about being shoved away from the trough really, really like the "Cabinet of Rivals" pushed by Doris Kearns Goodwin; as usual, when Democrats concede to Republicans, that's framed as a showing of strength. It's the FDR comparison that's appropriate to our times.
NOTE Transcript link via BTD.