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Obama stump speech strategy of conciliation considered harmful

[Just cross-posted to Kos. How about a recommendation? And welcome, Eschatonians, Paul Krugman, Digby, Andrew Tobias, and Sadly, No readers. And Avedon, you know I do.]

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ONE CURRENT PERMATHREAD on Big Orange is that Krugman and Obama are feuding or having a vendetta. Which, when you take a step back, is bizarre. That movement conservatives and Villagers like stone Bush enabler William Kristol, like David Brooks, Broderella, and Andrew Sullivan are all good with Obama isn't even mentioned in passing by Obama's fan base. And yet those same enthusiasts spend inordinate amounts of time vilifying Paul Krugman, a true progressive who was there for us from the earliest dark days of the Bush regime.

Curious. What's really happening?

Krugman doesn't have a problem with Obama; Krugman has a problem with what Obama believes about the relationship between politics and economics. Moreover, Krugman makes a case that Obamaphiles have yet to confront and refute. [There is considerable commentary from Obama supporters on this thread. Readers may judge whether Krugman's case is refuted, engaged, or even understood. --Lambert] But for those who came in late -- that is, those for whom Obama might be the very first political figure they've supported or with whom they've identified -- I need to set the table by summarizing the political economy of the last thirty years or so. (I'm trying to write like an economist here, and I'm not one, but I'll give it my best shot.)

It's conventional wisdom (says Krugman) among many economic schools, not just the left, that economics drives politics, and not the other way round. Economics is seen as more fundamental than politics, certainly more fundamental than electoral politics. Economic trends are deep tides, and political changes are mere waves, froth on the surface.

Yet if you look at the history of the last thirty or so years, it seems (says Krugman) that conventional wisdom has been stood on its head, and that politics drove economics.

And that is our history as we know it. Starting in the 1970s, at about the time of the Lewis Powell memo, an interlocking network of right wing billionaires and theocrats began to fund the institutions whose dominance we take for granted today: The American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, The Family Research Council, the Federalist Society, the Brookings Institute (over time), and on and on. During this period, College Republican operatives like Rove, Abramoff, and Gary Bauer became important figures in this network, as did the ex-Trotskyite neocons who broke away from the Scoop Jackson wing of the Democratic Party. The period was also marked by the steady retreat of the press from reporting, under twin pressures from the right "working the refs", as Eric Alterman put it, and winger billionaire owners slashing news coverage in favor of "entertainment," and by the steady advance of Rush Limbaugh on talk radio and, later, by Matt Drudge on the web. And if you got hooked into that network, you got the cradle-to-grave protection typical of socialism: You always had a job, whether as a "fellow" or "scholar" at the AEI, a shouting head on Crossfire, as a columnist, as a contractor, as a political appointee or staffer, or as a lobbyist, and so on and on and on. You always got funding. You were made. Just for the sake of having an easy label for this dense network of institutions, operatives, ideologues, and Republican Party figures, let's call it the Conservative Movement (instead of HRC's* Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, since it's not really a conspiracy, except possibly an emergent one. The billionaires don't -- except for Scaife during the Arkansas project, or Rupert Murdoch playing editor -- generally pick up the phone and give orders; rather, they manage the Conservative Movement like an investment portfolio of entertainment properties; some start-ups (Politico), some stars (FOX), some cash cows (Limbaugh), some dogs (American Spectator)). Slowly but surely, well funded and well organized Conservatives pushed their ideas from unthinkable, to radical, to acceptable, to sensible, to popular, and finally into policy, in a process described as The Overton Window. As surely and ruthlessly, progressive ideas were marginalized, and then silenced altogether. And spending what it took, the winger billionaires used the Conservative Movement to restructure politics, and having restructured politics, economics. To their economic benefit.

For these billionaires, the ROI of the Conservative Movement is absolutely spectacular. At the micro level, for example, if you want to create an aristocracy, then you want to eliminate any taxes on inherited wealth, despite what Warren Buffet or Bill Gates might say about the values entailed by that project. So, the Conservative Movement goes to work, develops and successfully propagates the "death tax" talking point (meme, frame) -- which they may even believe in, as if sincerity were the point -- and voila! Whoever thought that "family values" would translate to "feudal values" and dynastic wealth? At the macro level, their ROI has been spectacular as well. Real wages have been flat for a generation; unions have been disempowered; the powers of corporations greatly increased; government has become an agent for the corporations, rather than a protector of the people; the safety net has been shredded; and so on and on and on.

Blog_CBO_Income_Inequality_2007 The picture tells the story. The Conservative Movement succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of the billionaires who invested in it. Despite the remarkable gains that we have made in productivity, they creamed most of it off.

Today, in 2007, the Conservative Movement is in runaway mode, like a reactor with no control rods or a car with no brakes. Ideologically, the Movement began as a drive to roll back the New Deal in reaction (see Peter Arno's wonderful New Yorker cartoon nearby) to the hated FDR**. But now, with no checks, the winger billionaires have begun to roll us farther back to the Darwinian conditions of 1890s Gilded Age, and, with the destruction of habeas corpus, roll us all the way back to the time, before the Magna Carta, when the king's word was law. Any limitation, any limitation at all, on the corporate powers that create the income streams from which the billionaires feed must be removed; hence the nonsensical idea that corporations, as fictive persons, have free speech; hence the aggrandizement of executive power, with huge and secret money flows to well-connected firms; hence the destruction of Constitutional government. (All this takes place against a background of looting and asset stripping on an imperial, Roman scale, of which the "subprime" "crisis" is but the latest of many examples.)arno

The bottom line (says Krugman): Politics drives economics, and not the other way round.

So, what kind of politics do we progressives need?

We come to Obama.

Here are the two money paragraphs from the almost always eloquent Obama's latest (and truly brilliant) stump speech. Time's Mark Halperin had it first:

[OBAMA] You know that we can’t afford four more years of the same divisive food fight in Washington that’s about scoring political points instead of solving problems; that’s about tearing your opponents down instead of lifting this country up. ...

It’s change that won’t just come from more anger at Washington or turning up the heat on Republicans. There’s no shortage of anger and bluster and bitter partisanship out there. We don’t need more heat. We need more light. I’ve learned in my life that you can stand firm in your principles while still reaching out to those who might not always agree with you. And although the Republican operatives in Washington might not be interested in hearing what we have to say, I think Republican and independent voters outside of Washington are. That’s the once-in-a-generation opportunity we have in this election.

I believe!

But. Not. I hope I've been able to persuade you, through a quick look at the political economy of the last 30 years, that what's going on in politics today is a little bit more complicated -- and much more important -- than a "divisive food fight." Indeed, the very phrase itself trivializes both the scale of the problem, and the efforts of those progressives who are fighting for solutions.

All progressives--and most Democrats--agree on the "once-in-a-generation" opportunity and the stakes. That's not the issue. The issue is: What kind of politics can turn the opportunity into permanent, progressive change? What kind of politics can drive economics? Because that's what it will take to achieve even universal health care. We're supposed to be from the reality-based community, and we're supposed to rely on the hard-won Enlightenment tools of evidence and reasoning, and here I think Obama's stump speech strategy comes up short. (I'll give my objections, and summarize, tendentiously but I hope not unfairly, the responses I've gotten from Obama's supporters to points I've made during a recent sojourn on Big Orange.)

Obama presents himself as post-partisan, but partisan politics are needed. The "food fight," obviously a partisan food fight, is purest Equivalation. The Democrats didn't break the world record for filibusters when they were in the minority; but the Republicans just did. And when the press covered the (very few) Democratic filibusters, they called them "filibusters." And when the press covers the (never-ending) Republican filibusters, the word "filibuster" gets magically transmuted into the "60 votes needed to pass." And last I checked, Democrats were allowing anybody to come to their election rallies, but Bush was screening his to make sure only Republicans attended. This is the Conservative Movement in action. Sure, there's a "food fight," but most of the food that's in the air is coming from one side of the cafeteria!

So why on earth would Obama think that "tearing down" the Conservative Movement and "lifting this country up" are opposites? They're the same! And we need the kind of politics that treats them that way. When the Swift Boat guys smeared Kerry, Kerry should have "torn them down." Beating Bush in 2004 sure would have "lifted up" the country! Back in the McCarthy era, Margaret Chase Smith "tore down" Joe McCarthy with her Declaration of Conscience, and that sure "lifted up" the country! Sam Ervin "tore down" Richard Nixon and got started impeaching him. That lifted up the country too--'til Gerald Ford let us down, anyway.

More importantly, we've given some idea, in the short history above, of how powerful, and how entrenched, the Conservative Movement has become in official Washington (the Village).*** If an election is held in 2008, and if an Democrat is elected, and is allowed to take office, and that Democrat is Obama, the Conservative Movement, and its billionaire funders, are not going to change their playbook. Why would they change what has worked out well for them? They will go right back and run the same plays that they ran when the last Democrat was elected (see Appendix I). The day that Obama touches a hair on the head of some Regent University grad who's rewriting the work of a NASA scientist on climate change from a Christianist perspective, the howls of outrage about "hatred," and "liberal fascism," and "authoritarianism of the left," and -- bless their hearts -- the separation of powers are going to begin, the howling is not going to let up, and the Conservative Movement and the press are going to amplify it until Obama either caves or figures out the state legislature in Springfield was Triple-A ball, not the show, grabs a bat, and gets their attention by administering an old-fashioned beat down. (Meanwhile, the Christianist will be all over the teebee, and if they pass, they'll get a book deal. You know the drill.)

Progressive policies -- this election, health insurance, above all -- will be vehemently opposed by the Conservative Movement and the winger billionaires because progressive policies are not in their economic interests. In fact, they've been working for 30 years against progressive policies, and have been well paid to do so. They won't change. Why would they? So, there's going to be a food fight. Don't we need the kind of politics that's going to win the fight, rather than deplore it?

So, what would the countervailing force to the Conservative Movement be? What kind of politics? Well, one answer would be party building. Use the 2008 mandate--assuming Obama doesn't destroy any mandate for policy by tacking, Sister Souljah style, to the (vanishing) center--to build stronger, more progressive party institutions. Use control over the legislature for -- this time -- real oversight, and destroy the Republican brand and cripple the Conservative Movement. All we need to do is show the truth! Enforce subpoenas, and destroy the Republican brand and cripple the Conservative Movement. Re-professionalize the Justice Department, and it follows as the night the day that plenty of Republican criminals are prosecuted, which destroys the Republican brand and cripples the Conservative Movement.

Tearing down the Conservative Movement is exactly the kind of politics that's needed to lift the country up!

Obama wants to "reach out," but that strategy has already been tried. Obama says he wants to "reach out" to Republicans. But Reid and Pelosi "reached out" to Republicans, and that strategy was a miserable failure.

Reid and Pelosi "reached out" to Republicans by taking impeachment off the table.

Reid and Pelosi "reached out" to Republicans by not using the power of the purse either to end the war or to curb executive power.

Read and Pelosi "reached out" to Republicans through FISA "reform" by trying to give Bush more power than even the Republicans tried to give him, when they were in the majority.

In fact, Reid and Pelosi "reached out" to Republicans by caving and capitulating to them on just about any issue you can name.

And what did we get? We got nothing. We didn't get the legislation, because the Republicans filibustered everything in sight. And we didn't get any oversight, because Reid and Pelosi were so busy "reaching out" that they didn't have time to enforce the subpeonas and ended up writing Sternly Worded Letters instead.

So, when Obama reaches out, how would that be any different from the reaching out that Reid and Pelosi already did? What the Obama fan base says is that, since we won't get to a filibuster-proof supermajority, a strategy of conciliation makes sense; they plan to pick off Republicans in onesies and twosies to pass needed legislation. Unfortunately, as we've seen, that's what Reid and Pelosi already tried, so why would we try it again? But, say the fans, Obama has a track record: Look at the Transparency in Government Act, where Obama teamed up with Republican Tom Coburn to pass legislation that put government spending programs on a searchable website for public access. No question that this is a good bill, but as proof of concept for a "reach out" strategy, it's weak (but, apparently, the best example available). For one thing, the bill is an obvious descendant of the work Gingrich (even a stopped clock) did with Thomas, which gave the public web access to legislation, so politically the bill was low-hanging fruit that could be sold in the classic Republican small government, anti-spending mode. No truly progressive policies will meet those conditions. More importantly, Obama's Transparency achievement, though real, is trivial--both in terms of policy outcomes and potential for conflict--seen relative to what's going to be needed to achieve universal health care (let alone clawing back income distribution to some sane, non-Gilded Age level). But wait, say the fans, you don't really understand; what Obama wants to do [at least now] is bring "Republican and independent voters outside of Washington" into the fold, and that will give us the leverage we need for real change. And if this were true, I would have expected to see enough calls from these Republican and independent voters to prevent children from dying because Bush vetoed S-CHIP, to take but one example of many. Ditto FISA (See Appendix II). Didn't happen. Na ga happen.

Here's another idea:

When you've got them by the balls, the heart and head soon follow. How about we try real oversight and a return to the rule of law in the form of criminal investigations, indictments, and jail time, instead of singing kumbaya? Combine that with a strong institutional presence in the form of a party you can actually mobilize, and you might get the Conservative Movement back in line. With a Democratic president, there'll be no pardons for them. Some operatives should do time, pour encourager les autres. That's the kind of politics we need.

Obama presents himself as unifying, but accountability is what's needed. Let's repeat that "reach out" paragraph:

I’ve learned in my life that you can stand firm in your principles while still reaching out to those who might not always agree with you.

Fine words butter no parsnips. What principles are we talking about, here? Off the top of my head:

1. The principle that everyone is equal before the law.

2. The principle that this nation does not torture.

3. The principle that there are three co-equal branches of government.

4. The principle that high government officials should not break the law with impunity.

5. The principle that elections are not stolen

6. The principle that war is not made on fake evidence

[To give but a few examples of how the Conservative Movement violated each principle: 1 Republican Justice Department uses criminal justice system to prosecute Democrats before elections. 2 Abu Ghraib; European gulags; Gitmo; destroyed CIA tapes. 3 Signing statements; Fourth Branch of government. 4 Scooter Libby. 5 Florida 2000; Ohio 2004. 6 Downing Street Memo (full text).]

Check that list, and start crossing off the Republicans whose actions show that they don't share those principles, and whose principles differ from all progressives, most Democrats, and most Americans, and by the time you're done, you'll have about as many Republicans as would fit in an elevator. A very small, dumbwaiter-sized elevator. In fact, when the elevator door opens, you might just end up "reaching out" to empty space.

This isn't just a matter of a "food fight," or "disagreements." These are not abstract agree-to-disagree issues. Violating these principles ought to entail criminal prosecution (destroyed CIA tapes, election theft), impeachment (signing statements), or whatever the remedy is for just plain evil (torture).

So at best, Obama is feeding us highflown, but vacuous rhetoric. At worst, he'll let the Conservative Movement operatives who drive the Bush administration get away clean, after committing criminal and impeachable offenses with impunity and no accountability of any kind. That's not the kind of politics we need to achieve a permanent progressive majority.

Obama presents himself as a change agent, but weakens the forces that bring about change. You can't win a mandate with a content-free platform, and conflict-free is content-free. And if there's no mandate for change, then there's no change.

So much of the advocacy for Obama highlights his attractive personality, his personal history, his rhetorical skills, and his negotiation skills. Atrios says it best:

Shorter Candidates

Obama: The system sucks, but I'm so awesome that it'll melt away before me.

Edwards: The system sucks, and we're gonna have to fight like hell to destroy it.

Clinton: The system sucks, and I know how to work within it more than anyone.

We don't need the kind of politics that's about a single, charismatic figure. We need a mandate for progressive change. But when Obama focuses on "the big table," and "negotiation," and "reaching out," and the whole kumbaya thing, he weakens what Keynes calls the "animal spirits" of the very activists and social entrepreneurs that we need to build progressive institutions, and get progressive policies into the Overton Window and then enacted.

Universal health care is not going to come because Obama sits the players down around the big table and they suddenly, magically,**** "see the light" because of his mad negotiation skillz as an honest broker; it's not in their interest to see what we see, and so they won't. Universal health care may happen because of heat; if enough people can put heat on the corporations, and on their elected representatives, to make it happen. Confrontation increases voter turnout, and that can only be good for our side. And confrontation is heat, not light. Obama has it exactly backward.

And here I have to say that this passage--

... there’s no shortage of anger and bluster ...

--grotesquely trivializes the experience of any aware citizen under Bush's rule. Is it wrong to be "angry" that the Bush administration has turned us into a nation of torturers? Is it wrong to be "angry" that the Republicans took us to war under false pretenses? Is it "bluster" to say that Cheney's claim to be the Fourth Branch of government is absurd? Is it "bluster" to demand our Fourth Amendment rights back?

And who might these angry blusterers be?

Surely not those "principled" Republicans, since Obama wants to "reach out" to them. Surely not Reid and Pelosi; they've been nice as nice, going off to the slaughter like lambs. Surely not Rahm Emmanuel or Chuck Schumer! And surely not Kristol, Broder, Brooks, or Sullivan!

Could the angry blusterers be .... Progressives? Harshing the mellow with their demands for accountability and the restoration of Constitutional government?

Do we really need the kind of politics that tells us to lay back and enjoy it?

The country can't afford to wait for Obama to discover that his strategy of conciliation has failed. Do the math. Reid and Pelosi tried "reaching out" in 2007. Nothing will happen in 2008. Assuming Obama takes office in 2009, it will take his conciliatory strategy a year to fail, which it will, since he's doing the same thing Reid and Pelosi did while expecting a different result.

That brings us to 2010.

Can the country really hold out against a runaway Conservative Movement that long?

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In short, I think Krugman is right, and Obama is wrong. Krugman doesn't have a problem with Obama, but with Obama's strategy. Krugman writes:

It’s actually Mr. Obama who’s being unrealistic here, believing that the insurance and drug industries — which are, in large part, the cause of our health care problems — will be willing to play a constructive role in health reform. The fact is that there’s no way to reduce the gross wastefulness of our health system without also reducing the profits of the industries that generate the waste.

As a result, drug and insurance companies — backed by the conservative movement as a whole — will be implacably opposed to any significant reforms. And what would Mr. Obama do then? “I’ll get on television and say Harry and Louise are lying,” he says. I’m sure the lobbyists are terrified.

As health care goes, so goes the rest of the progressive agenda. Anyone who thinks that the next president can achieve real change without bitter confrontation is living in a fantasy world.


Krugman doesn't have an Obama problem; Obama has a Krugman problem. Because Krugman is right.

TROLL PROPHYLACTIC As indicated by my sig, of course I'll vote for Obama in the general, and happily so. [UPDATE: This post is from December 2007, before Obama's primary campaign threw me, and those like me, under the bus, and convinced me that I had no place in the Democrat Party. The straw that broke my back was that Obama voted in favor of FISA [cough] reform, and hence against the rule of law and the Fourth Amendment.] That doesn't mean I won't stop pushing for the kind progressive politics I think the country needs. [UPDATE: "Progressive" is used here without irony; again, when the post was written, the casual smears and misogny of the so-called "progressive" movement had not yet become evident.

NOTE * All credit due to HRC for mainstreaming VRWC, and more importantly the very concept. It's a mystery to me why she hasn't tried to leverage her understanding for strategic purposes, rather than for narrow tactical goals during the Lewinsky matter (see Appendix I).

NOTE ** Jonah Goldberg's latest emission, Liberal Fascism, is but the latest, yet by no means the best, example of work in this genre.

NOTE *** Back in the day, the parties were a lot less "polarized" than they are today. Historically, the Democratic Party was a coalition, and racist Southern and very senior representatives played a strong part within it. Similarly, the Republican Party was also a coalition, with moderate Republicans, often from the Northeast (Margaret Chase Smith, who stood up to McCarthy) or the Midwest (Charles Percy). Because both parties were coalitions, shifting alliances between party factions ("bipartisanship") was the order of the day. However, when LBJ got civil rights legislation passed, the Republicans under Nixon countered with the Southern Strategy, and peeled off the racists. Similarly, the political environment squeezed out many moderate Republicans, as they were attacked from the right by the Conservative Movement, and from the left by Democrats. The result was that both parties became much more like disciplined parties than fractious coalitions, and so the era where factions within the parties could be played off against each other -- which, operationally, is what bipartisanship means and has always meant -- came to an end. Villagers like Broder or Russert would like to play "honest brokers" between the parties, but such honesty is not possible, because the Village is, institutionally, an almost wholly owned subsidiary of the Conservative Movement (with the exception of a few honorable individuals and some fresh progressive institutions). We must also notice and remember that when Broder and the Villagers wax nostalgic for the twin lost causes of Bipartisanship and Civility, they're privileging their own self-images as honest brokers and go-betweens over the cold reality that, pre-Southern Strategy, racism was at the institutional foundation of the Democratic Party of that day, so that's what they're nostalgic for. White columns, the ol' verandah, Rastus bearing a silver tray with the mint juleps or whatever the Fuck the village drank back then.

NOTE **** Conservative Andrew Sullivan's portrayal of Obama as a post-Boomer, unifying figure is a crude attempt to erase this history. Bareback Andy is sound on torture, credit where credit is due, but there's no other word for his Atlantic piece (well, other than "prolix") than "obfuscatory."

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Appendix I: The Conservative Movement in the Clinton Years

When Clinton, a Democrat, took office, the Conservative Movement, in the person of Richard Mellon Scaife, funded the Arkansas Project disinformation campaign against Clinton through The American Prospect [!!] Spectator; the Conservative Movement provided legal services through the Federalist Society elves who manipulated Paula Jones; the Conservative Movement replaced the Special Prosecutor who wasn't getting results with one of their own, Kenneth Winston Starr; the Conservative Movement leveraged its new-found control over the press to print story after story of scandal after scandal, none of which panned out (Timesman Jeff Gerth's Whitewater reporting was especially egregious, but WaPo's "Steno Sue" Schmidt, who printed leak after leak from Starr's office, gave him a run for his money); and the Conservative Movement, after immense labor, finally managed to metastatize the scandal from baseless accusations of financial impropriety ("Whitewater") and crazed theories about murder ("Vince Foster") into the once-famous (and so-called^^) perjury trap with Monica Lewinsky, followed by the failed impeachment effort organized by Hastert, Gingrich, et al (most of whom -- strong "family values" men, one and all -- were guilty of adultery themselves).

The best way to view the Clinton era, then, is to see it as a slow-moving, media-fuelled coup, beginning with the winger-billionaire funded Arkansas Project, and culminating with the Conservative Movement's seizure of power through the theft of Florida 2000 and the famous "good for one time only" decision, Bush v. Gore.

Once again, the ROI that the winger billionaires got from the Conservative Movement's stellar work in staging the coup against Clinton were absolutely spectacular: Bush, once in office, immediately enacted massive tax cuts over a token and demoralized ("bipartisan") Democratic opposition, and the great bulk of the money went to the people who staged the coup. Surprise.

APPENDIX NOTE ^^ Perjury has to be material. There was never a showing that Clinton's affair with Monica was relevant to the Paula Jones case. Pure harassment, start to finish, and, in retrospect, a harbinger of the complete politicization of the criminal justice system and the courts under Bush. Interestingly, Clinton and Monica met when she, as a White House intern, brought him a pizza when he was working late in the White House on the night the Republicans under Gingrich shut down the government. Cute meet.

Appendix II: The Constitution

I think it's excellent that Obama, by all accounts, was a fine Constitutional law professor at a great school. And it encourages me that Obama gave excellent answers to the Boston Globe questionnaire on executive power.

All of which explains why I was disappointed that Obama failed to show up on the Senate floor to defend the Fourth Amendment, and the Constitution, when Dodd successfully filibustered FISA and prevented, at least for a time, retroactive immunity for the telcos and bulk-order warrants. (Let's not say "basket warrants" anymore, mkay?) As Kos is fond of pointing out, one way to be a leader is to, er, lead, not offer token statements of support from a safe distance. Lead, as opposed to going meta, and making speeches, however excellent, about leadership.

UPDATE Big Tent Democrat channels the shorter lambert:

I am on record that Obama's talk on change is pure nonsense. I am confident now that Mark Schmitt is right, that this is just a schtick. The problem is in politics, schticks matter and limit what you can do.

Bingo. Of course Obama's schtick limits him. That's why Brooks, Broder, Sullivan, and Kristol like it. They want progressives limited.

UPDATE What a holiday gift. My life is complete:


In fact:

UPDATE The post's title is a riff on a famous paper in computer science.

UPDATE Apparently, "once in a generation means "just once". Odd.

UPDATE For anybody who imagines that this is a hit piece, or that I'm unpersuadable, see here.

No votes yet


Submitted by lambert on

From Sean we get:

I don’t think AARP is a liberal interest group because they are way too willing to make common cause with Republicans like they did on the God awful prescription drug benefit law, though they are an interest group and they do make common cause with liberals frequently.

OK, excellent. A "liberal special interest group" is not willing to make "common cause" with Republicans on "godawful" laws. (Apparently, although being "divisive" is bad, and "unity" is good, there can be too much of a good thing. I'm glad that's sorted.)

Sounds to me like being a "liberal special interest group" is a pretty good thing to be, then.

But then why would it be bad for Obama to be "in the pocket" (Sean, back here) of "liberal special interest groups" if they want good things, and not godawful things?

Winger talking points like "liberal special interest group" sure get tricky, don't they? (As Mo realizes.)

I would have advised the Obama folks to have avoided using winger talking points, and tried using progressive ones, but as with the Social Security "crisis" fiasco, it's a little late for that.

[x] Any (D) in the general. [ ] Any mullah-sucking billionaire-teabagging torture-loving pus-encrusted spawn of Cthulhu, bless his (R) heart.

Submitted by [Please enter a... (not verified) on

In the first paragraph I found this sentence:

"It's true that Obama didn't assert that there was some huge crisis."

Kind of puts the lie to your mischaracterization of his position doesn't it?

As good a post on what's going on in American politics and what's so very wrong about "bipartisanship" as I think a person could wish for.

This is totally wrong:

"That’s why I am backing the mainstream candidate with the best progressive credentials, Barack Obama."

Anyone who doesn't realise you are at *war* is not a "progressive" at all.

Submitted by [Please enter a... (not verified) on

The big three are all compromised, triangulating, guilty of servility to repug demands, and too conservative. As far as I can tell, there is absolutely no reason to think any one of them is any worse or better than any of the others.

I'm not against Reaching Out (especialy to GOP voters rather than to the GOP politicians). I'm against Dumb Reaching Out. Maybe we shouldn't fall into a trap of rejecting Obama's 'dumb reaching out' by polarizing ourselves against the whole idea -- which Bill Clinton invented back in the 90s and did very well.

What matters imo is to do it by good sense and homework and creativity. Which Hillary seems to be doing, on the actual issues.

Bill Clinton 'reached out' to the other side by doing his homework and finding some solutions so brilliant that they really solved both sides' problems.

"to use your party's solutions to solve the other side's problems. Use your tools to fix their car." Clinton, Morris shows, adopted the longstanding conservative goal of welfare reform as a top item on the Democratic agenda, but developed progressive policies, including higher funding for child care and stronger financial support for working families, to pursue that goal."

Joe Klein:
But the philosophy was both successful and profound. It proposed the achievement of liberal ends through market-oriented conservative means. Welfare reform, which combined a work requirement with significant financial incentives for the working poor, was the best example of how the philosophy might work.

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

Being deferential to those who have gotten us into this fix and validating disempowering framing is a contraindication for readiness to restore Constitutional government, whereas being ambitious is not.

That isn't to say that I'm more optimistic about Hillary's likelihood to cure what ails us, but your point is nonetheless hard to swallow.

And do either Obama or Hillary ever speak this bluntly about the challenges we face?

Submitted by lambert on

Sean has, let's be nice, a concern about misrepresentation.

* * *

As for actual parsing of words, let's roll the tape. The transcript:

[OBAMA] You know, Senator Clinton says that she's concerned about Social Security but is not willing to say how she would solve the Social Security crisis

As for the background in political economy, I'm just going to fair use the whole Atrios post, in case people aren't familiar with the history here:

There Is No Crisis
I imagine some readers who haven't been hanging around these parts for all that long might have justifiably been puzzled at the reaction to Obama's decision to try to make dealing with Social Security his signature attack on Clinton. It's true that Obama didn't assert that there was some huge crisis. But the fact remains that he put the idea out there that Social Security had a "problem" which needs to be fixed and that any serious presidential candidate needs to address the issue in clear detail. [italics mine]

So what's the big deal?

Beating back George Bush's plan to kill social security was probably the first major victory for the broadly defined netroots movement. I say that not really knowing if things would have been different if blogs and the like didn't exist, but it seemed like a victory. And while we never got together in a dark smoky room to plot our strategy, it basically ended up being a two-pronged one. The first was to beat back against the "social security crisis" frame much beloved by every very serious pundit in Washington. The second was to beat back against the idea that since George Bush had a "plan" (which he never actually did in any form until very near the end of the whole debate) the Democrats needed to have a "plan" of their own. The first part of this is a perpetual game of whack a mole, necessary on just about every day the Washington Post is still publishing. And the second was a very necessary emergency tourniquet which needed to be applied very quickly.

Beating back the steady stream of misinformation about the nonexistent crisis was done throughout the blogs, on Media Matters, etc. And trying to stop the Democrats from coming up with their own crackpot plan was done through a combination of bloggers trying to explain repeatedly that people like social security, they don't want to change it, opposing changing it is a political winner, and most importantly that once the minority party proposes their own plan they've guaranteed that something will happen. And that something would have been very bad. In addition, Josh Marshall especially kept an eager eye out for any wavering Democrat in Congress who decided that his/her awesome social security plan must be unveiled to the grateful public in order to beat them back with phone calls and whatever bad press could be created.

Tt worked. Again, absent blogs it may have played out just like that anyway. Nancy Pelosi realized at some point that the "no plan" plan was indeed the best one, and she likely doesn't spend much of her time looking at my pictures of ponies. In any case, somehow George Bush's social security monster was driven back into its cave and it was done in just the way the liberal blogosphere and netroots more broadly orchestrated it to happen, in a very decentralized way of course. We're not members of any organized political party, remember.

So, anyway, having someone suggest that Social Security is a problem which needs to be dealt with by any serious candidate is like the bat signal for people like me. There is no problem with Social Security. None at all. Whatever broader fiscal time bombs exist have absolutely nothing to do with Social Security. Once you get Fred Hiatt and the gang opining about the need fix that Social Security problem, you've increased the likelihood of something very bad happening.

So, I would say that when I wrote of Obama's:

... Social Security “crisis” fiasco..

I was completely accurate, whether the quotes around the word crisis be literal (as in the transcript) or ironic (as in a so-called "crisis"). And "fiasco"? That too. Sean, please. Represent, OK?

[x] Any (D) in the general. [ ] Any mullah-sucking billionaire-teabagging torture-loving pus-encrusted spawn of Cthulhu, bless his (R) heart.

kelley b's picture
Submitted by kelley b on

...than an apocalyptic Dominionist looking for the Second Coming.

Of course all of this is probably moot. One can only speculate what October Surprise Cheneyburton is already cooking up in their feverish minds...

But really, reach out to the conservatives?

Of the Bu$h "30%", perhaps 25% of the electorate supports him mindlessly because they feel he's the One, the Chosen of the Lord. Perhaps 0.01%, his real Base, support him because they've gotten filthy rich off of his policies. Maybe something close to 5% is smart enough to know he's nothing like God's favorite, supporting him because they thought he'd make them rich too, although like the other 25% they're the ones really caught holding the economic bag for him.

Both Hillary and Obama have their own versions of the Third Way, a bipartisan delusion. There's nobody for Hilbama to reach out to. There's no "there".

Krugman, and those of us that usually knock around the Corrente building, are quite aware of this.

But there's other flaws in the Third Way. We're supposed to compromise with people that want to scrap the Constitution for self-serving martial expediency in a war that only exists to improve their bottom line?

We're supposed to scrap concerns for the environment for the same reasons, at a time when we're living in the greatest mass extinction since the Mesozoic?

At a time when pollution has raised carbon levels in the atmosphere to unrecorded highs that are melting the poles and glaciers all over the world?

At a time when environmental degradation is spurring war all over the globe that will only increase as the sea levels rise and the deserts advance on lands not in danger of drowning?

We're supposed to compromise with the violently ignorant and the venal, with the bigoted and the fanatic, at the very time in history when most of America has awakened to their lies?

We should compromise and let them define our media, and regulate our discourse, and imprison those they deem a danger to their hegemony?

That's a really stupid idea. I don't even want to compromise with idiot DINOcrats that feel that way, much less the Republican crime syndicate. Don't expect me to quietly sit by and let Obama or Hillary or their sycophants dictate who I should or should not be polite to.

No Hell below us
Above us, only sky

MJS's picture
Submitted by MJS on

Why score a touchdown when you can hurry a long field goal on second down? The other side will love us!


MSimon's picture
Submitted by MSimon on

I was born a Democrat. Became a Trot in my 20s. A Libertarian (card carrying) in my 40s. A Republican after 9/11 (you got your opinion, I got mine).

I have been around the political spectrum. I know all the arguments.

My current take. Democrats want the government to control your economic life. Republicans want the government to control your private life. I just want the government to leave me the fuck alone. Very unprogressive.

You guys keep thinking that with the right leaders or the right policies it will all get better. No way.

You do not understand the purpose of representative government. It is not about self rule. It is a safety valve so the worst discontents get aired and sometimes fixed in a way that is at least not bad for business. Because revolutions are really bad for business.

Your best bet is to take the worst abuse of the system (the drug gulags would be my pick) and focus on that. Forget the "progressive" agenda - you are not going to get that. You can, however, with great effort fix one problem - if you focus.

So who has anything to say about the drug gulags? Dennis and Ron.

The Democrats used to be the Party of Jefferson.

I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than those attending too small a degree of it. -- Thomas Jefferson

I'd rather have the corporations competing (without government help) than have a government (with its power of the gun) in control. One is bad. The other worse.

There is no perfect government.

Or as Churchill said "It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried."

Don't take us down the path of government control. What happens if government controls all health care and some government bureaucrat decided he doesn't like you? Fooked. There is no law that will prevent such occurances. Petty tyrants (scum) will always rise to the top. Better to have a situation where at least you can appeal to a different petty tyrant. Or buy one off (go to a different company) if you have the money.

American Democracy is bad. Progressive Cuba is worse. Don't trade bad for worse.

MSimon's picture
Submitted by MSimon on

Let us join forces to end the Damn Drug War.

Submitted by lambert on

Speaking for Corrente (and not for not-Obama) we're totally in agreement with you on that, MSimon. It's late, but if CD or Xenophon or several others are around, they would wax eloquent on this topic. It's not my area, so it's not the first thing that comes to my mind, but I agree.

Funny how whenever Our Betters define something as a war (at least after, say, 1972), there's a continual atmosphere of crisis, our liberties shrink, the usual suspects make a ton of money, and the rest of us get left a little worse off. And the war takes a long, long time to end, if indeed it ever does. Not to mention all the dead people. Eh? Smedley Butler would be proud.

[x] Any (D) in the general. [ ] Any mullah-sucking billionaire-teabagging torture-loving pus-encrusted spawn of Cthulhu, bless his (R) heart.

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

On what basis do you claim that those of us here "do not understand the purpose of representative government"?

If you've managed to support the deficit-exploding, wrong-country-attacking, corruption-oozing, environment-trashing, theocracy-embracing, Constitution-shredding Bush administration and likeminded Congress over the past seven years, you might want to find yourself a mirror.

Does "unitary executive" sound like representative Constitutional government? How about the Vice President lying about what branch of government he serves in? Unprecedented secrecy and stonewalling? Breaking the filibuster record in just one half of a new Congressional term? Politicizing the Department of Justice? Writing more unilateral, law-perverting signing statements in one presidency than all preceding presidencies combined? Manipulating voter rolls and stopping vote counts? Illegal wiretapping on citizens? Canceling habeas corpus after it's been a linchpin of civilized society since the 1300s?

How is it that you see a desire for America to re-establish the rule of law, to return to a sensible foreign policy, and to stop putting a thumb on the scale to further advantage the wealthiest and most powerful over the poor and middle class... how is it that you see that as a ticket to Havana?

Submitted by [Please enter a... (not verified) on

I've really enjoyed the analysis presented here. However, I'm not sure that it tells the whole story, or to be more specific, I think it still manages to miss the point slightly:

It's my impression that Obama is running with this non-confrontational approach precisely because it is (in the mind of his strategists) the most likely way he can succeed in getting elected. I mean, consider the alternative: Obama declares war on the Conservative Movement. He's mad as hell, and he isn't gonna take it anymore. He's an Angry Black Man. How well is that going to sell?

In my opinion, it wouldn't sell at all; it would be political suicide. His politics of inclusion are (to me, at any rate) a fairly transparent attempt to bring a constituency to the polls for him that makes a hell of a lot of sense. If you consider the political landscape as having already been partitioned to the nth degree, with certain kinds of people voting for certain sorts of positions, it's only logical. He's a new kind of candidate, and he needs a different approach to tap into a different constituency.

And I wouldn't despair, because in the event Obama does find himself in the big chair, he's in no way bound to the line he sold that got him there. Can we not think of leaders who were elected to power based on a particular platform, and once in charge they fine-tuned their approach until it hardly resembled the way they had described their outlook previously?

If I had to take issue with how you've presented things, it's as follows: Your contention is that Obama doesn't realize the veracity of Krugman's point of view. I have an alternative explanation: I suspect that Obama indeed does understand that reality, but is also smart enough to realize that taking that on head on will not get him elected. For better or worse, the act of getting elected and the act of getting things done once in power are pretty much separate things. I'm hoping Obama realizes this and is approaching the difference between the two to his full advantage

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

The reason why polls consistently show the popularity of Congress falling through the floor is that the public is angry.

Adopting and feeding the GOP/MSM meme about the evils of partisanship, as Admiral Ackbar would tell you, is a trap.

Submitted by lambert on


And where's the mandate to get progressive programs enacted if Obama doesn't run on a progressive platform -- and in fact, as we see from the Social Security "crisis" fiasco, runs away from it?

I'm sympathetic to the analysis. But.

UPDATE I forgot to say, VL, that it's deeply important to the Village that the public never been seen as angry, even if they are. Anger can lead to a breakdown in Civility, and, as we know, that could even lead to the ways of Our Betters being questioned, or even Broderella having to travel out to some coffee shop in real estate flatland and badger some Real American into saying that what the country needs is a teh Moderate, teh Centrist, and teh Bipartisan.

[x] Any (D) in the general. [ ] Any mullah-sucking billionaire-teabagging torture-loving pus-encrusted spawn of Cthulhu, bless his (R) heart.

you can say you understand Obama all you want, but you never got the point. you think "post partisan" means appeasement or something ridiculous like that. yet you never define "partisan"! and that's the problem.

Americans want to get past fighting that's about parties, sides, right & wrong. we've gone downhill doing that. what we need to fight about is real issues -- and how often does that actually happen? when is there a debate on the actual content of issues?

to be post-partisan is to not get distracted by the power politics of the Beltway and to focus on the issues themselves. the fervor for Obama, which seems to drive a lot of Dems absolutely nuts (as did the fervor for Dean, who, btw, has proven himself to be perhaps the smartest Democrat in the country as the head of the DNC), is because people see Obama not merely fighting, but fighting for actual causes. no one thinks we can elect him and suddenly everyone will join hands. that's the kumbayah bullshit. what we believe is that with a president who is focused on finding solutions to the problems, and not promoting an ideology, we can work (and fight) our way to solutions.

in short, people are sick of th way it's been done for the past 30-40 years. and you offer more of the same, just from the other side of the aisle.

no thanks. it's still busted even if you flip it over.

Submitted by [Please enter a... (not verified) on

I think all of the issues about Obama's "rightwing talking points" are bogus. I think Paul Krugman and other liberal pundits are kneecapping Obama because they don't like his political strategy not his substantive political positions.

In fact, in his big Social Security takedown, Prof. Krugman didn't even address the advisability of raising the cap on the payroll tax. I personally thin raising the cap is a good idea. For one thing, raising the cap makes the payroll tax slightly less regressive. For another, our government has come to depend on the Social Security surplus to fund the rest of government. While the Social Security trust fund is will be solvent until at least 2042, the fund may be paying out more in benefits than it takes in in about 10 years. That will immediately have an impact on the deficit. I think raising the cap is a fair and progressive way of avoiding that. Obama's (and Edwards's to his credit) plan to raise the cap is a smart way to hoist the conservatives by their own petard. When was the last time you heard a conservative suggest we raise the cap on the payroll tax? Some right wing talking point. Krugman and you are fighting the last battle. We already fought off privatization and benefit cuts, now lets make the regressive payroll tax more progressive.

John Edwards has made basically the same proposal as Barack Obama with regard to keeping Social Security solvent. Why no editorials from Paul Krugman calling Edwards a sucker?

I found the following quotes from John Edwards on this website:

John Edwards on Social Security
2000 Democratic Nominee for Vice President; Former Jr Senator (NC)

Don't privatize; reduce benefits; nor raise retirement age

Q: There was a spirited exchange between Sen. Clinton and Sen. Obama on whether to increase taxes on income levels for Social Security. Right now the cap, maximum, that is taxed is $97,500. Sen. Obama suggested it go up, that the wealthy can afford to pay more in order to keep Social Security robust. Sen. Clinton was not ready to do that, saying that there are middle-class people making more than $97,500. Does she have a point?

A: Well, she has a point. But the point doesn't go as far as it needs to go. The problem is that Sen. Clinton is not for privatizing, not for reducing benefits, not for raising the retirement age. I completely agree with all that. But she's made no proposal about what we're going to do. So what is her proposal? That she set up a bipartisan commission, and they'll solve the problem. The president of the US has to lead on these issues. I agree mostly with what Sen. Obama is saying. I do think we have to do something about the cap.

Source: CNN Late Edition: 2007 presidential series with Wolf Blitzer Nov 18, 2007

Buffer zone from $97K to $200K, then lift cap above $200K
Social Security caps at about $97,000 of income which means if you make $85,000, every dime of your income is taxed for Social Security. But if you make $100 million, then the first $97,000 is taxed and the rest is not. I think we have to do something about the cap. My difference with Senator Obama's [proposal to remove the cap] is, I do think there are people between $97,000, up to about $200,000, who, because of where they live, because of the cost of living where they live, are in fact in the middle class. And we don't want to raise taxes on those people. And so I would create a buffer zone between about $97,000 and $200,000.
Beyond that I would raise the cap. I'd lift the cap. But I think we have to have some really specific ideas about what we want to do. I don't agree with Sen. Obama exactly on what he's proposing, but at least he's proposing something. We're not legislators. We are running for the presidency. And voters deserve to hear the truth, and they deserve to hear specifics.

Source: CNN Late Edition: 2007 presidential series with Wolf Blitzer Nov 18, 2007

Raise cap with "protective zone" from $97K to $200K
EDWARDS: I think we have to be very careful to protect the middle class, so, specifically, what I would do as president is create a protective zone between $97,000 up to around $200,000 because there are a lot of firefighter couples, for example, that make $100,000 to $115,000 a year. We don't want to raise taxes on them. But I do believe that people who make $50 million or $100 million a year ought to be paying Social Security taxes on that income.
KUCINICH: Of course we ought to be raising the cap in order to protect Social Security. And in addition, we should be thinking about lowering the retirement age to 65. People's bodies break down.

DODD: You could do this by basically readjusting that tax so it doesn't have to affect everyone in society.

Q: But you'd raise the cap to $500,000?

DODD: You've got to raise it up, clearly, to do this.

Source: 2007 Democratic primary debate at Dartmouth College Sep 6, 2007

We can't grow our way out of Social Security crisis
Q: Can you grow your way out of the Social Security crisis?
A: No, sir, you cannot. You cannot solve this problem just by setting up a bipartisan commission. All of us are for that. You cannot solve this problem just by growing the economy. All of us are for that. But the American people deserve to hear the truth. They have heard so much politician double-talk on this issue. That's the reason young people don't believe Social Security's going to be there for them. Why would you possibly trust a bunch of politicians who say the same thing over and over--"We're going to grow our way out of this"--but nothing changes. The honest truth is there are hard choices to be made here. The choice I would make as president is on the cap. But I don't understand why somebody who makes $50 million a year pays Social Security tax on the first $97,000, and not all the rest, while somebody who makes $85,000 a year pays Social Security tax on every dime of their income.

Source: 2007 Democratic primary debate at Dartmouth College Sep 6, 2007

Social Security has lifted 13M seniors out of poverty
The truth is that ambitious goals, creative ideas, and practical solutions can make great progress against poverty. They already have. Amid the misery of the Great Depression, President Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act. Today Social Security lifts 13 million seniors out of poverty.
Thirty years later our nation made more progress through the War on Poverty. Since Medicare's creation in 1965, poverty among the elderly has been reduced by nearly two-thirds. Medicaid provides healthcare for more than 52 million Americans. Head Start has improved the health and school readiness of more than 20 million children.

Source: Ending Poverty in America, by John Edwards, p.257-258 Apr 2, 2007

Maybe raise the cap from $90,000, or eliminate the cap
Q: What about for Americans, say, who are 50 and younger, the next generation? Could you establish something different for them?
A: I think there're multiple ways to do it. One example is, we now have a cap on the taxes that're paid. It's about $90,000 And does that cap make sense? Maybe not. If we're going to raise the cap or eliminate the cap, do we need to have a bubble for middle income families that earn over $90,000 a year? Maybe. I think there're tools available to us.

Source: Meet the Press: 2007 "Meet the Candidates" series Feb 4, 2007

We have social contract to not raise retirement age
Q: In terms of Social Security, would you consider raising the age of eligibility?
A: This is the one area where it will require really serious bipartisan effort to get anything done. You know, this has been approached and approached and approached in the past. As president of the United States, I would bring together leaders on both sides and experts and try to put together something that would work on both Social Security and Medicare. But, yes, people are living longer. You know, this applies to my own father and yours; we still have a lot of people in this country who work very, very hard and, when they reach retirement age, they deserve to be able to retire. And I just think we can't ignore the fact that we have made a social contract with millions and millions of Americans, and we can't go out there and just yank it out from under them.

Source: Meet the Press: 2007 "Meet the Candidates" series Feb 4, 2007

Submitted by lambert on

... and "putting the lie" retracted. Thanks. That really represents Obama well.

Oh, wait...

[x] Any (D) in the general. [ ] Any mullah-sucking billionaire-teabagging torture-loving pus-encrusted spawn of Cthulhu, bless his (R) heart.

Submitted by [Please enter a... (not verified) on

You got me. I was in a hurry and I just thought it was worth pointing out that Atrios had acknowledged that Obama wasn't running around claiming the sky was falling in on Social Security. But you are correct. Atrios has basically been thumping the same tub on Obama as Paul Krugman and you. Now how about acknowledging the fact that the other candidates, with the exception of Sen. Clinton have all basically taken the same position as Obama? And why are you against raising the cap? What's progressive about saying that people who make over $97,500 a year can't afford to pay as large a payroll tax as people who make under $97,500 like Sen. Clinton claims.

Submitted by lambert on

(Was here)

And as far as all the copy-and-pasted policy positions from the various campaigns:

Context is all, here. This is not discussion about minor tweaks in Social Security policy. (Minor, that is, by the side of abolishing it entirely, which is what the Republicans want to do.)

The context is that Obama, in the course of the campaign, felt that he needed to differentiate himself from HRC (as I recall, he was being attacked on the whole kumbaya thing). And the way he chose to do that was to attack Hillary for having no plan to deal with the (non-existent) Social Security "crisis." He even ran an ad on it! That's what pinged radar all through the blogosphere, not just Atrios (or Krugman). I know I thought, "Here we go again!" as soon as I read the story, and I'm sure that many others thought the same thing.*

As far as "tub thumbing," that implies a couple of things to me: First, that there's some kind of coordinated effort here. Not so. Ludicrously not so. I'm an unpaid C-list blogger, and I don't coordinate with anybody. The blogosphere in any case, unlike the Mighty Wurlitzer of the right, isn't a top down organization. Our network is capable of evolving a coordinated message, but there isn't a blastfax machine anywhere sending out talking points.

Second, that we're somehow looking for something, anything, to take the man down, and one issue is as good as another; anything to get the rubes through the door. Not so. I was distressed when I saw that happen. My reaction was "Oh, nooooo..." The whole episode made me look at Obama a lot more closely, and I had many interactions with Obama's fan base on this issue and others. I came away with the feeling that Obama and his fan base either had no understanding of history or the Conservative Movement, or were unable to express it, which comes down to the same thing in practice. (If you don't name it, you can't claim it.) After I worked through those feelings, I wrote this post.

So, when hell freezes over and I'm getting a check from a campaign or a media outlet, you can call us tub thumpers, and not until then.

NOTE * My Soros check didn't arrive this month, so I'm just giving the narrative as I recall it, and not doing the linky goodness thing. In any case, the kind of politics that are needed to combat the Conservative Movement that are really at issue here.

[x] Any (D) in the general. [ ] Any mullah-sucking billionaire-teabagging torture-loving pus-encrusted spawn of Cthulhu, bless his (R) heart.

Submitted by [Please enter a... (not verified) on

"Tub thumping" in no way applies coordination. I understand that the fact that you are more or less parrotting (or channelling) Paul Krugman in no way implies that you coordinated with him. I was just referring to the fact that your arguments are repetitive, dogmatic and based more on passion than reason notwithstanding the charts you cut and paste into your posts and the eminent economists you reference and "channel".

I think you and Paul Krugman are way too taken with John Edwards posturing and chest thumping. I don't know where you get the idea that bluster=willingness to fight. If bluster was so important in negotiation, then George Bush and Dick Cheney would be foreign policy geniuses. Right now Edwards is playing the fire breathing populist because that is his niche in the primaries and his only hope of becoming the nominee.

Submitted by [Please enter a... (not verified) on

I am a big fan of Paul Krugman. I read Conscience of a Liberal a couple of months ago and really enjoyed. I read his column religiously and I went to see him speak at the 92nd Street Y. Where I part ways with Prof. Krugman is that he thinks he has a better read on the current political situation than Sen. Obama, thinks he knows better than Sen. Obama how to sell a progressive agenda and has decided to take it upon himself to try to enforce some party discipline. I've carefully read both of their arguments and I frankly think Sen. Obama has a better idea of what will work politically. I don't dislike Hillary or John, I just don't think either of them is as smart or gifted a politician as Obama and if you look at Senator Obama's track record as a community activist, academic, state legislator and U.S. Senator, he has the most progressive resume.

MSimon's picture
Submitted by MSimon on

It Appears the folks here are as ignorant of war as they are about politics.

Frontal assaults are suicide. You can look it up.

Suggested reading "Strategy" by B.H.L. Hart.

Try the indirect approach.

The sour taste re: all government and especially the Christomatics, ending the drug war will accomplish will be far more effective than a frontal progressive assault on the machine.

MSimon's picture
Submitted by MSimon on

A wise southerner once told me in my 20s - never go up against the machine. I'm 63 and just getting it.

So you have your list of grievances? Lucky you. Hope they keep you warm at night.

Now let's get down to reality. What is your plan for a campaign? How do you plan to get Republicans on side? Can you hold your fire for tactical advantage? Obama can and I give him lots of credit for that. Even though I would never vote for him. He puts many of his enemies to sleep by being nice. Smart. Very smart.

My plan is to focus on the drug war. It is a weakness. They don't spray the poppy in Afghanistan for fear of driving the farmers closer to the Taliban. Use it.


You know, this is not the first time I have tried to enlist "progressives" in the campaign against the drug war. Alliances have more power than purity. Progressives just don't get that. I do which is one of the reasons I'm here. For a while.

May I suggest "Strategy" by B.H.L. Hart?


BTW my suggestion about energy is another indirect approach. If we eliminate the need for oil we eliminate oil wars. Any takers on that one?

MSimon's picture
Submitted by MSimon on

I take it back what I said about not getting it.

Way more here get it than at most progressive sites I have had the honor to visit in the past.

I'm heartened.

Forget ideology. Solve problems. I'm down with that. OK. I'll shut up and let others have their say.

Submitted by [Please enter a... (not verified) on

Both frontal charges. One worked, one didn't.

Do not go assuming that nobody here knows military history. My thang happens to be the Civil War but everybody has their own time period, and a general knowledge of others.

Believe me, I can't think of anybody here, either Senior Fellows or occasional posters or the vast majority of our readers/commenters, who don't agree with you 200% that the Drug War is among the most nitwitted, vicious, counterproductive, misguided policies this country ever undertook. it needs to be slowed, then halted, then reversed ASAP. We are with you on this.

But you are doing a Sherman at Kennesaw Mountain with your insistance that this must be made the Big Issue which will at the same time constitute a flank attack "on the machine" as you put it.

This really needs to be a separate post and discussion, okay? To get it back on track/topic I don't see anybody, even Edwards much as i support him, who is in a position to come out at this point and say we need to end the "drug war." That thing in Iraq right now has to come first.

A truce to recover the wounded and bury the dead for the moment, okay? :)

MD's picture
Submitted by MD on

Your point is addressed in the article. What those of us on the left fear is that it's *not* just a strategy. Unfortunately, there's no secret playbook we can see. We don't know whether he's talking up bipartisanship to appeal to the many Americans who believe the cynical MSM lies that fights in Washington accomplish nothing and bipartisanship is an end in itself; or whether he's talking up bipartisanship because he too thinks it's an end in itself.

What I want to know is to whom he finds himself nodding in agreement more often: David Broder or Molly Ivins. I wish I didn't fear it is the former.

Submitted by [Please enter a... (not verified) on

Look at how Edwards folded in his debate with Cheney and his mainstream conventional voting record in the Senate and tell me that there is any reason to believe his sincerity or ability on his fight hard rhetoric. Hillary is the Mark Penn candidate. And who knows about Obama? He might not know either. If you care about sincerity and track record: Kucinich or Dodd are there - but the MSM has told the democrats that there are only three serious candidates and the democrats obediently agree.

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

Under the subject line "No mas," you serve up mucho más.

Americans want to get past fighting that’s about parties, sides, right & wrong. we’ve gone downhill doing that.

I call bullshit. The reason Americans soundly voted Republicans out of Congress in 2006 is that they want to fight against the Republican Party. The reason American are disappointed in the Democratic Congressional majority is that it doesn't fight against the Republican Party.

Read the indented Washington Monthly quote here. It vividly describes how today's Republicans operate. They will gleefully pursue policies that literally kill Americans, if it means growing or consolidating their power.

Your suggested response is to be Neville Chamberlain on steroids estrogen whatever Harry Reid is having.

What the fuck, seriously, what the fuck!?

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

Edwards didn't "fold" in his debate with Cheney.

He won on content but got creamed on style. He did appear rabitty next to Mr. Gravitas-Vader, but his feistiness this time around suggests he'll do much better if he gets another shot at the bigs.

Obama has folded before the nominee debates have even started, by promoting this "post-partisan" horseshit. Whether it is better if he's lying about it (i.e., the phonebooth theory) I'll leave up to you and your god. But propagating it is harmful, because it pushes the all-important truth part of "truth and reconciliation" even further away.

Submitted by [Please enter a... (not verified) on

Edwards didn’t “fold” in his debate with Cheney.

He won on content but got creamed on style. He did appear rabitty next to Mr. Gravitas-Vader, but his feistiness this time around suggests he’ll do much better if he gets another shot at the bigs.

He was polite and deferential and let Cheney and MSM set the agenda. He FOLDED.

Submitted by lambert on

Was this why Obama had breakfast with Bloomberg?

The breakfast part:

Just when the speculation seemed to simmer to silence, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has once again turned up the heat on the presidential hot stove.

The Independent mayor had a mystery breakfast meeting in Manhattan Friday morning with Democratic candidate Barack Obama, a move that could irk the Hillary Clinton campaign seeing as, after all, New York is her turf.

Bloomberg has repeatedly asserted he plans to complete his entire mayoral term and keep out of the presidential race, but he sure knows how to tease the masses.

Obama and Bloomberg met on a coffee date, scheduled because of their "mutual interest." The billionaire mayor and the Illinois senator chatted over eggs and potatoes early Friday at the New York Luncheonette on East 50th Street.

Or was Bloomberg having breakfast with Obama? The Bloomberg part:

New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, a potential independent candidate for president, has scheduled a meeting next week with a dozen leading Democrats and Republicans, who will join him in challenging the major-party contenders to spell out their plans for forming a "government of national unity" to end the gridlock in Washington.

The Village really will do anything to hang onto their power, won't they? And they'd just love it if Obama brought his "Hello Kitty" Pencil Case of Unity to this fight, wouldn't they?

Here's the key chart (via Digby):


See, when the Republicans filibuster everything, and Bush vetoes everything, that's called "gridlock," and the remedy is to make sure no Democrat wins the Presidency. That way, the rich keep getting richer, there's no universal health care, the Constitution can keep getting shredded, and nobody is held accountable! What's not to like?

But tell me again why I want "unity" with the people and the party who shredded the Constitution, and turned us into a nation of torturers?

So, Obama trolls, good morning. What does Obama think of this effort? Will he be the front man on Broder's effort, or not? Why or why not? Sure chimes in with his "unity" rhetoric, though. And tacking right on Social Security fits in this this; the Village eats that stuff with a spoon.

NOTE Oh, I love it that Wanker of the Day Emeritus Broder is the "staff writer" on this story. As if. He was right there on the verandah, helping cut the deal.

[x] Any (D) in the general. [ ] Any mullah-sucking billionaire-teabagging torture-loving pus-encrusted spawn of Cthulhu, bless his (R) heart.

Submitted by [Please enter a... (not verified) on

Answering your question of last night, Sean:

Why did I choose Kucinich as an example about how weak your meme about "walking in lockstep with unions" was?

I guess you didn't see the debate where Kucinich batted this stupid thing out of the park. You're right, he doesn't have much union backing now, but that is beside my point. The point is that the meme is right-wing spew.

What about Clinton and Edwards? Fair enough. Clinton a lockstep supporter of unions? What a joke. You do remember NAFTA don't you? I support unions and if I don't vote for Clinton this will be why, although she now admits this was at least partially a mistake. I believe she understands now that unions need to be made stronger than they are now if we are to get the more balanced economy that I think we need.

Edwards has a lot of union support too. But he has opponents, some of whom note that he opposed repeal of North Carolina's right-to-work laws back in the nineties. He doesn't march in lockstep either.

Of course Obama is a general supporter of unions too, but only he of the major Democratic contenders has chosen to make an issue of their supposed abuse of campaign financing laws. Why say this? Nobody's listening now execpt the people on either side who care about this issue, it doesn't do anything for him, politically, in a direct way. But it does signal to those listening, the business lobbyists who will be on top of him like a ton of bricks, that he's flipflopped.

This is why I agree with Corrente that what the candidates says now DOES matter, and why I'm less than impressed with supporters who tell us what they REALLY mean.

But let's dig a bit deeper and try to analyze what you're really saying with "marching in lockstep"? I hear at least faint echoes of mid-twentieth century anti-union rhetoric. Why isn't "marching in lockstep" applied to Republican political positions - especially when Republicans since 2000 have been marching more in lockstep than my poor disorganized disunited Democratic party has ever coem close to managing to do.

Submitted by lambert on

And if anybody thinks Edwards had free rein in that debate, they don't understand a whole lot about how campaigns work.

It's also remarkable that the very people who are lauding Obama for his conciliatory rhetoric are trashing Edwards for the very same rhetorical approach.

I prefer to remember that -- after the campaign was done, and Edwards didn't have to be a good soldier anymore -- that he wanted to keep fighting to get the Ohio votes counted. That's a lot more significant than a debate performance.

[x] Any (D) in the general. [ ] Any mullah-sucking billionaire-teabagging torture-loving pus-encrusted spawn of Cthulhu, bless his (R) heart.

Submitted by [Please enter a... (not verified) on

So what do you go on? Legislative record: weak. Campaign for VP: lame. Current rhetoric: ok but vague and to my mind, not particularly compelling. I can't really separate the big three on anything by different criteria for wishful thinking that they are running phonebooth campaigns.

Submitted by lambert on

Like Shystee said:

Going back to the diagram, only the electoral arm of the Progressive pincer was deployed successfully in 2006 and this allowed "the enemy" to slip away on the other flank, as it were. In order to achieve the enactment of good policy - which I think is every Progressive's ultimate goal - a change in political power and a change in the policy debate must take place at the same time.

I used to think that the Green Party was the solution, but that was before I considered the possibility that a Progressive movement could change the public discourse enough to force progressive policy on politicians no matter what their party affiliation. This, coupled with a simultaneous Progressive grass-roots electoral focus, gives me hope.

It's exactly because this pincer strategy is beginning to work, however slowly and fitfully, that we get extreme, bizarre reactions like a "government of national unity." That monstrosity is, well, rather like the Kursk salient. Hopefully we can pinch it off.

[x] Any (D) in the general. [ ] Any mullah-sucking billionaire-teabagging torture-loving pus-encrusted spawn of Cthulhu, bless his (R) heart.

Submitted by [Please enter a... (not verified) on much your post's steady growth throughout the blogosphere (and elsewhere) has gladdened me. (well, no, actually, you probably can!)

this xmas season has been personally kinda low on hope, but your amazing piece has more than made up for it.

Submitted by [Please enter a... (not verified) on

Fighting is the only option. Obama is being concilatory before a single vote has been cast. That's why he doesn't have my support.

Submitted by [Please enter a... (not verified) on

Quite an excellent piece, Lambert. Obama and the LPT (League of Progressive Milquetoasts) certainly contrast with Edwards and several lesser poll-trailers. Edwards is smart to see it and even smarter to be yowling about it so clearly and plainly.

I take issue with your "[x] Any (D) in the general [election]". That's no smarter than the knee-jerkiest Limbaugh listener. Such mindless brand loyalty is deadly to the public interest.

For example, I am filled with loathing for Hillary. She is an earmark queen, a paid-for tool of the Military Industrial Complex, a power junkie, and there is ample evidence that she's unprincipled with respect to each and every one of the principles that you enumerate. I can easily imagine voting for at least a couple of Republicans (but not that Giuliani crook) over her, if she's the Dem choice. I believe there is no shit that she is unwilling to force the American people to eat, if only she might gain power thereby. That same criticism cannot stick to McCain, who at least draws the line at torture, nor to Huckabee, whose pastoral qualities as the governor of a benighted state have earned him so much abuse. Even though I'm not a Christian (at least not as that particular brand-name is has been understood since the earliest days of the Roman and Orthodox churches, when Gnosticism and any meaningful application of Jesus's message of gender-equality were both ruthlessly suppressed), I can respect anyone whose personal history demonstrates paid-up discipleship, over anyone whose life does not. It doesn't have to be discipleship to a brand, or to a person, but it has to be to *something other than self*. As Robert Heinlein succinctly put it, "An *honest* politician is one who *stays bought*."

I truly suspect that Reid and Pelosi are shills for the bad guys, and that you are too kind when you impute good intentions to them. They absolutely suck, and very badly indeed. They do a lot of partisan showboating, they have no strategy, they make less than no progress, and they don't adapt to losing by changing their approach. Such soi-disant liberals are the biggest problem in America today, precisely because they are *not* liberal. They fulfill the same role in the public arena that Alan Colmes plays on Sean Hannity's Fox "News" show: they mean to *appear* to be liberal, thus to portray those who seek to serve the public good as weak, ineffectual, misguided, cowardly, and even pitiable. America likes winners, and it forgives the swaggering of winners. America hates losers, and it generally does not forgive them for losing, regardless of their stated intentions. (That's what makes America itself so pitiable, these days. What a mess has been made by two generations of atrocious public education.)

Lambert, since you know so much, and since you rightly demand so much of our public servants, I can only wonder why are you so anonymous? If you encourage others to take self-endangering steps to protect the freedoms of all of us, why do you reserve your own identity? When called upon to demonstrate that your own discipleship (to anything other than yourself) is a paid-up account, what can be said? I feel certain that *much* can be said, so why be anonymous? Credibility is the real gold; cleverness and perspicacity, while valuable, are more like bank notes. When the going gets really tough, gold retains value, and paper doesn't.

Steve Newcomb

Submitted by [Please enter a... (not verified) on


I can't help but notice that your hatred of Hillary is way out of proportion to the reasons you offer to support said hate. Are you sure you haven't inadvertently bought into the Repug's hate machine smear of her? It's easy to do if you aren't careful.

I'm not in love with Hillary either, but I think that most of the Dems that dislike her do so way out of proportion to the facts of her record. Yes, she infuriated me when she signed Kyle-Lieberman; and the stuff you mention, but she's still way better than any of the Repugs.

Anyone of them would gladly force unlimited shit eating upon the American people, if only he might gain power thereby.

McCain's stance against torture is admirable? Jeez, man how low is your bar?

Huckabee was pastoral? Do you mean when he pardoned a serial rapist because the victim was related to Bill Clinton?

Funny that you ragged on the length of Sullivan's piece, considering that this is a pretty substantial blessay (thanks, Stephen Fry!) in-and-of itself. But what a blessay.

Fairly good thread, too. Surprisingly so. I think what attracts people to Obama's rhetoric is that he really is preaching the sort of politics that we all kind of want to see: honest debate over sensible policies between people who have the job because of a desire for public service that won't stop them from leaving when they're no longer needed.

Here's the problem. If only one party acts that way, it'll get creamed. Absolutely wiped out. You don't take a knife to a gunfight? This is like taking a whiffle bat. And that's what Obama's problem is: that as much as people want to transcend the influence of the conservative movement, it's still going to be there, chipping away at every high-minded ideal, until Obama's presidency (assuming he gets it) is more of a disappointment than Clinton's. And let's be honest. Policy-wise, Clinton was a gigantic disappointment.

I'm not sure the other Dem frontrunners are that much better, though I think Edwards has a point with his "Two Americas", and I think that Obama may wise up in a hurry were he to enter the general and have the CM's guns actually aimed at him... but this is still a problem.

MSimon's picture
Submitted by MSimon on

When they do work they are very expensive.

Some times you have no choice if you want to take the ground. Maneuver is cheaper.

The US in the Pacific applied that by bypassing (flanking) positions considered unnecessary to capture - minimizing the number of frontal assaults required.

BTW if well grounded in military (and social) history why do so many here advocate what amounts to a frontal assault re: politics.

I can tell you as a member of the VRWC that any totally progressive candidate is not going to win any election soon. Just as the Huckster if he gets the nomination will get wiped in the general (I'm working hard to defeat him before then - I'd like my side to at least have a chance).

Right now as corrupt as things are the deep corruption has not surfaced in a believable way for around 70% of the population (WAG). Defeating the Drug War would lift that rock like nothing else.

Submitted by [Please enter a... (not verified) on are really obsessed with the drug war issue (yawn), and you also mistakenly believe that tactics of warfare are directly analogous to tactics of a political campaign.

But your main problem is that you actually decided to become a Republican after 9/11 - and are therefore either an idiot, or deranged.

Everyone else has been to polite to say it, but I'm not: Shut the fuck up about drug war; you are off topic. And your creepy war strategy references are creepy and weird. Like you.

Submitted by [Please enter a... (not verified) on

The Democrats have tried playing nice, as others have commented. It hasn't worked, and it will not work.
If we must lose, we should lose with all flags flying, and at least gain some respect in the process.
No more spinelessness. No more wimps.

Submitted by lambert on

... it's good enough for me.


No doubt speculation is possible about why--in a long American tradition of polemic pamphleteering--I maintain my old-school nom de guerre, but I'm not sure it would be useful. The "gold" is in the content, not the byline. The content is my identity; le style, c'est l'homme. It's useful, or not.

As far as HRC, that's something of a permathread. (Such a permathread that HRC supporters, when all else fails, attribute lack of support to hatred.) I think she's preferable to any Republican I can name, including McCain, who talks a good game on torture, but, with the MCA, didn't deliver. As for Huckabee, pastoral is about the last word I'd think of applying to a televangelist. And I don't plan on voting for anyone who's running for President as a Christian(ist), as Huckabee quite explicitly is.

And as for "[x] Any (D) in the general," that's not a knee-jerk reaction, it's a considered position. You can't beat something with nothing, and you can't stop the runaway Conservative movement, let alone begin to dismantle it and decontaminate the country, without a countervailing, institutional force. For all its many, many flaws--and Harry and Nancy exemplify them--the Democratic Party is the only institutional option of sufficient scale.

[x] Any (D) in the general. [ ] Any mullah-sucking billionaire-teabagging torture-loving pus-encrusted spawn of Cthulhu, bless his (R) heart.

Submitted by [Please enter a... (not verified) on

concise, informative and right on target, excellent write...sent over by digby's current write on the waffling condescending Dem majority.
as far as the obama brouhaha...he is a type "centrist" in general terms, I do not know what is so difficult to understand about all that. What the man really thinks, I do not know, but he certainly believes his type-cast is what is needed to be elected, he appears comfortable in his role. that could lead one back to lambert's phone booth.

Submitted by [Please enter a... (not verified) on


Great post - instant classic in my book. When I heard Obama's speech at the 2004 DNC, I thought he was destined to go all the way some day. But since then, I've been very disappointed in his performance in the Senate (not to mention his complete wimp-out on Lamont's campaign). Your post nails my concern about Obama's rhetoric in the primary campaign right on the head. You can reach out to moderates but still focus on the right target and explain what needs to be done. Obama hasn't done that. Now is not the time to let up on the cons who have so damaged the country - not if you're serious about repairing the damage. In the primaries, ex-Gore, my first choice is Dodd, followed by Edwards. Maybe one of them will be the nominee, maybe not. But when it comes to working for a change and voting in November, there's going to be a choice between a Democrat and a Republican. We've seen the core beliefs of both fields. Your tag line sums up that choice for progressives - probably not perfect, but closer to the goal.

I worked hard for the Democrats in 2004 and 2006. I speak as a member of my town's Democratic Town Committee. I'm not happy with the Congress' performance so far, but I'm still going to do what I can to get Jim Himes elected in CT-04 against Shays, and to get people like Charlie Brown elected and Chris Murphy and Patrick Murphy re-elected (plus others who's names I can't remember off the top of my head).