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What Can Obama Really Do?

2010 August 29
by Ian Welsh

A zombie argument is going around about why Obama hasn’t accomplished liberal and progressive ends to the extent many would have liked him to:

Obama can’t do anything because he needs 60 votes in Congress and he doesn’t have them because Republicans and Dems like Lieberman and Nelson won’t vote for his programs.

This argument is misleading in one sense and incorrect in another.  It is misleading in that it misrepresents how things get done in Congress.  It is incorrect in that many liberal policies do not require the consent of Congress.

Let’s examine the misconceptions this zombie argument is built on.

Negotiation 101

Let’s look at how things get done in Congress. Obama apologists make the excuse that Obama couldn’t have passed a larger stimulus because he was forced to reduce the stimulus by $100 billion as it was.  This line of reasoning demonstrates a misunderstanding of how negotiation (or Congress) works.

If Obama had wanted a $1.2 trillion stimulus, say, he should have asked for a $1.6 trillion stimulus.  Then “moderate” Republicans and Dems could have negotiated him down $400K.  This is basic negotiation, which anyone who has ever negotiated in a third world bazaar knows—you start off with an offer far higher (or lower) than what you’re willing to accept, and leave room for the inevitable haggling.

The same is true of health care reform.  If you’re negotiating for a public option—if you actually want one, then you don’t throw single payer advocates out. You act as if that’s something you’re seriously considering, you talk about polls showing it has majority support, and you then “compromise” to a public option.

This sort of self-defeating, pre-negotation concession has been a repeated pattern for the Obama administration (assuming that Obama does seek Liberal ends).

Force It Through

Many liberal policies do not require the consent of congress.

The Bush tax cuts were pushed through under reconciliation.  Most of health care reform, including a public option could have been accomplished the same way.  The tactical choice was entirely at the discretion of the Democratic leadership.

If Obama and Reid can’t hold 50 votes, then the problem is them, not the policies themselves, or “how congress works”.

Congress: Who Cares about Congress?

Now, let’s talk about other issues.  There are many areas where Obama does not need Congress’s approval.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: Obama can issue a stop loss for any soldiers any time he wants. Bang, that’s it, at least for as long as he’s President.

HAMP (the program supposedly intended to help homeowners, which hasn’t):  This program is totally under administrative control.  If Obama wanted it to work, there’s nothing to stop him.

Habeas Corpus: Obama can give everyone in Gitmo their day in court.  Restoring habeas corpus is totally at his discretion, and he has chosen not to.

Social Security: After Congress voted down a debt and deficit commission, Obama went ahead and created one anyway–and stacked it with people with track records of wanting to slash Social Security.

In short, Obama has managed to side-step Congress in order to work against Democratic policy positions (e.g., Social Security), but otherwise has ignored executive privilege when he wanted to continue Bush-era policies (e.g., detention without trial at Gitmo) or to ignore the rights and needs of everyday Americans (e.g., HAMP and DADT). To the Obama administration, Congress is a very selective obstacle.

Going Forward: What Obama Can Still Do

Not only could Obama rectify DADT, HAMP, Habeus Corpus, and his Social Security commission with a stroke of his pen, he can still do a great deal to help the economy. If he wants to.

TARP: Obama has complete control of the TARP funds, the majority of which have not been spent. (We’re talking over $500 billion in slush funds.) $ 500 billion is a lot of stimulus, if it’s done right.  Cash for Clunkers, representing a tiny fraction of the total stimulus funds, massively goosed GDP while it was in effect.

Leaving aside direct stimulus, there are plenty of other helpful things Obama could do.  For example, as a friend of mine noted, most distressed debt today is selling to collection agencies for less than 10 cents on the dollar (often under 5 cents).  The Treasury could buy up $100 billion of that distressed debt at 10 cents on the dollar.  Reclaim the money at 15 cents on the dollar through the IRS, and otherwise just write it off.  You won’t make 50% profit, because some people can’t pay even 10%, but you’ll almost certainly make some profit.  Roll the money over and buy up more debt.  Keep doing it.  (N.B. In the past such debt didn’t sell so cheap, mainly because in the past, pre-Bankruptcy “reform”, people who really couldn’t pay would declare bankruptcy, but now they can’t.  Obama never made fixing that horrible bankruptcy bill a priority at all.) Folks would be absolutely thrilled by a way to deal with distressed debt.  With the debt off their backs, they could spend again, so it would also be stimulative.  There are plenty of other things that could be done with over 500 billion dollars to help ordinary people and goose the economy.

Breaking the Banks (and getting lending going again): The banks have been pretty ungrateful for the massive bailout they received.  They have unilaterally increased credit card rates to gouge customers, have been gaming the market (so much so that one quarter many banks didn’t lose money on their trading operations even one day of the quarter), have fought against financial reform, and have generally acted against the interests of the majority of Americans.  One might say “well, now that they’re bailed out, there is nothing we can do about it.”

Wrong.

The Fed still holds over $2 trillion in toxic waste from the banks.  The banks still hold trillions of dollars of toxic waste.  If sold on the open market this stuff would sell for, oh, about 5 cents on the dollar.  If forced to mark the assets they are keeping on their books at inflated prices to their actual market value, I doubt there is a single major bank in the country which wouldn’t go bankrupt.  Including Goldman Sachs.

So here’s what you do.   As the Federal Reserve you sell $100 billion of the toxic waste on the open market.  Set an actual price for it.  Then you make the banks mark their assets to market value.  They go bankrupt. You nationalize them. (Why not?–They are actually bankrupt after all, and they haven’t increased lending like they were supposed to;  in fact, they have decreased it.)  You make the stockholders take their losses and the bondholders too, then you reinflate the banks. (If the Fed can print trillions to keep zombie banks “alive” it can print money to reinflate nationalized banks.)  The banks lend under FDIC and Fed direction, at the interest rates the Fed directs.  The FDIC and Fed eventually break the banks up into a reasonable size.  And while they’re at it, they get rid of the entire executive class which caused the financial crisis, and have the DOJ go over all the internal memos and start charging everyone who committed fraud. (Hint: that’s virtually every executive at a major bank.)  Again, this is completely up to Obama–the DOJ answers to him.

Think Obama can’t do this without Bernanke?  Wrong.  Obama can fire any Fed Governor for cause and replace them during a Congressional recess with no oversight.* (“Cause” is never defined, but Obama can note that the Fed’s mandate includes maximum employment and not stopping the financial crisis in the first place is certainly plausible as cause as well.)

Obama had the power. Obama had the money. Obama has the power–and the money.

The idea that Obama, or any President, is a powerless shrinking violet, helpless in the face of Congress is just an excuse.  Presidents have immense amounts of power: the question is whether or not they use that power, and if they do, what they use it for.

Obama has a huge slush fund with hundreds of billions of dollars and all the executive authority he needs to turn things around.

If Obama is not using that money and authority, the bottom line is it’s because he doesn’t want to.

Putting aside the question of what Obama could have accomplished already, if he wants to help everyday Americans, turn around Democratic approval ratings in time for the midterm elections, and leave behind him a legacy of achievemant, he can still do it. If he wants to.


Endnote:

*”2. Members Ineligible to Serve Member Banks; Term of Office; Chairman and Vice Chairman
The members of the Board shall be ineligible during the time they are in office and for two years thereafter to hold any office, position, or employment in any member bank, except that this restriction shall not apply to a member who has served the full term for which he was appointed. Upon the expiration of the term of any appointive member of the Federal Reserve Board in office on the date of enactment of the Banking Act of 1935, the President shall fix the term of the successor to such member at not to exceed fourteen years, as designated by the President at the time of nomination, but in such manner as to provide for the expiration of the term of not more than one member in any two-year period, and thereafter each member shall hold office for a term of fourteen years from the expiration of the term of his predecessor, unless sooner removed for cause by the President. “

12 USC 242
73 Responses
  1. Albatross permalink
    August 29, 2010

    How can you tell Obama is a conservative? His penchant for playing the victim. There’s nothing conservatives like better than being the helpless, non-responsible, endlessly critical victim of forces greater than themselves. Now Obama is the victim of Congress and the Banks. Woe is him!

    I heard a good quote the other day about Obama: “We need a leader, not a legislator.”

  2. Bernard permalink
    August 29, 2010

    following the money always shows greater truth than anything politicians say. watching what Obama did with the Health Industry Bailout bill/health spending diversion, and actively did with the Bailouts, the initial spying wiretapping bill before being elected, it is easy to see what Obama is politically. whatever you call it, Obama’s actions are pro business, pro tea party, pro controlling interests/Corporations.

    no real change. merely fine tuning the Bush Cheney organization that took over Government.

    so what else is new.

    this is Obama as he is. Reminds me a show i saw about a black president who was compromise/coordinating the Corporate takeover. proof Business owns America, lock stock and barrel. lol business language to describe the ownership of America.

    Keep the Public diverted with the us vs. them tactics. Black vs white. left vs right. while the Business loot America,
    Ayn Rand style.

    and Obama is helping as best he can. Watching the Right wing go ballistic (over Obama) is some passing “entertainment” to the sad story i see promulgated on the media.

  3. August 29, 2010

    Great post! Lays it out like it is and it is what it is

  4. anon2525 permalink
    August 29, 2010

    I’m guessing that the subtext for this post is the argument of whether to vote for Democrats in November or not, correct?

    It is two months before the election. Nothing can be done that can be seen to change the course of the economy at this time, that is, no decision that is taken will have results that can be seen by the end of September. The time for that kind of decision was back in spring or earlier. And yet, despite that, as the economy worsens, the campaigning will get louder as politicians anticipate their being fired soon. In the past, this would have been about convincing the undecided voters in the “middle”, but thanks to Obama (R) and company, the Democrats will need to con formerly Democratic voters of the (“professional” and non-”professional”) left, too. A large percentage of the population has all the evidence that they need to judge O&co to be a failure. They are living that evidence. The Democrats strategy now appears to be “Who are you going to believe, us or your lying eyes?”

    I wish I could go to bed and wake up the day of the election to avoid all of the noise.

  5. S Brennan permalink
    August 29, 2010

    Every thing you say is true, but propaganda rules L-Blogs, go to Ballon Juice where John Cole keeps the Kool-Aid flowing, anything that smacks of the truths you point out will be scrubbed.

    You can choose between your R-fist & your L-fist, but either way you get a Fascist.

  6. cathyx permalink
    August 29, 2010

    I hope no one on DKos gets wind of this post. It would be ugly.

  7. Tom Hickey permalink
    August 29, 2010

    Take your pick. Obama is either ignorant, grossly incompetent, or a Democratic establishment centrist that is not aligned with progressive ideals or causes. I’ll choose the later. It was clear a soon as he chose Rahm as WHCOS, arch-enemy of progressives.

  8. jeer9 permalink
    August 29, 2010

    Thanks, Ian. A great post, even if it is frustrating and discouraging, and one which echoes many of Greenwald’s criticisms.

  9. August 29, 2010

    Ohhhhh! Let’s rush this to the Obama (Bush) team so they know what to do. Oh, yeah, just “hope”ful thinking!

  10. August 29, 2010

    Massive takedown. +10,000. Of course, this zombie is hard to kill, especially since so many “progressives” want to run online petitions to keep pumping blood into it….

    Tom Hickey, it should have been clear to everyone in October 2008 when Obama whipped for TARP, and didn’t do a thing to rein in the banks at the point of maximum leverage. It should have been clear when in August (?) 2008 when Obama voted for retroactive immunity for the telcos. Some would argue that it was clear since the Iowa caucuses, in December 2007, when Obama put Social Security in play.

  11. David H permalink
    August 29, 2010

    1. Obama doesn’t want to, which should be abundantly clear by now to all who want to see.

    2. The problem isn’t that the banks don’t want to loan (tho they may in fact not want to,) the problem is that no one wants to take out a loan. Those that might otherwise borrow know better because any fool can see there’s no demand for their product/service. W/o further stimulus there ain’t gonna be such demand any time soon.

    The neo-liberals want us to get accustomed to chronically high unemployment, for a number of reasons. One of which is to drive home the myth that govt can’t help solve problems, they can only make them worse. The stimulus (they want us to believe) proves that. It didn’t do any good. Never mind that it did, sort of, the media sing the same tune & apparently enough people believe it. Or at least enough for our “leaders” to hide behind whatever push polls they subscribe to.

    None of that really matters. You could’ve just written “the bottom line is it’s because he doesn’t want to.”

  12. August 29, 2010

    Does “‘a’ public option” mean any fixed thing? Nope, unless “some sort of undetermined amount of access to some sort of undetermined program with some sort of undetermined benefits and some sort of farcical hope of creating some sort of competition to Big Insurance” is worth a thimbleful of warm spit.

    Great post otherwise, but I think it’s a serious mistake to keep propagating that infinitely slippery emperor’s new meta-policy notion.

  13. joanelle permalink
    August 29, 2010

    Great Post! thanks – clarity, what a concept.

  14. Pepe permalink
    August 29, 2010

    This sort of self-defeating, pre-negotation concession has been a repeated pattern for the Obama administration (assuming that Obama does seek Liberal ends).

    This is the incompetence dodge. He isn’t a bad negotiator, and, for the sake of argument, even if he was, do you really think everyone else around him is also a bad negotiator?

    Stop assuming good intentions executed poorly. He and his staff knew exactly what outcomes were desirable and opened “negotations” accordingly.

    You’d think the bad negotiator excuse would wear thin after a few uses.

  15. anon2525 permalink
    August 29, 2010

    This is the incompetence dodge.

    Did they say “incompetence?” They meant to say “bi-partisan.” Yeah, that’s it.

    Did they say “bi-partisan?” They meant to say “eleven-dimensional chess.” Yeah, that’s it. It’s chess. You wouldn’t understand.

    Did they say “eleven-dimensional chess?” They meant to say “you’re not being practical.” Yeah, that’s it. You need to be “practical.”

    Did they say “practical?” They meant to say that you’re being a “fucking retard! ™” Yeah, that’s it.

    Did they say “fucking retard?” They meant to say that you’re the “Professional Left” and “you must be on drugs.” Yeah, that’s it.

    Pick a reason that works for you. Or hang around for another reason next month.

  16. masslib permalink
    August 29, 2010

    I wonder if Obama is even aware he can do any of the things you mention. I sometimes get the sense Obama isn’t very steeped in policy, and doesn’t have all that much understanding of the levers of government. After all, he was only four years removed from his part-time job with the Illinois state leg when he began running for President.

  17. August 30, 2010

    In a two party system in which the powerful are unafraid of revolution, one of the parties need only be marginally more left than the other, and the other party defines how left that is. There are enough Americans willing to listen to Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin that they constitute that other party. The answer to the question of how left the (D) will be in actual policy practice is the following: a little more left than however far right the (R) can go and still retain strong electoral prospects.

    Don’t like it? You can, as some of you have promised…not vote. Then you will have effectively voted for (R) government and stand a chance of getting what you voted for. After 4-12 years of slightly-but-noticeably worse, enough people will run back to the (D)—who will have moved even further right, unless the (R) somehow move left—that you will have another (D) government. And so on.

    Don’t think for a minute that the (R) can’t get worse. They will get as bad as one third of the US population—enough to support a presence in Congress—will allow them to get. If you want to move Normal Politics leftward, you somehow have to blunt the effect of this part of the population.

  18. August 30, 2010

    I was busy when the mosque biz broke out and have said little or nothing on it (and some of you may sigh with fond reminiscence). Let’s just say (have I already?) that I am closely associated with the, um, “object population”, so to speak. I am strongly motivated by the fact that however bad Harry Reid and Barack Obama, etc, may be, it is objectively and materially worse to validate the Beckians and the Palinsians and their cheaper versions, the Gellars and all the Freepers, with electoral victories. It’s bad to validate that discourse. There’s a reason why these people are held up as boogeymen, and it’s not just to bamboozle frustrated leftists.

    I have other countries to go to, but not everyone does. The way people talk about politics matters. Bush may have been kinder on the minority front than the current heirs to his party, but his reign still did massive long-term damage—that enabled Obama to be (predictably) as bad as he is, and will enable Sarah Palin (or whomever) to be even worse.

  19. Herman Newticks permalink
    August 30, 2010

    Not gonna argue with the overal substance, but I feel here’s a detail that needs addressing. Obama doesn’t have control of TARP. There’s no more money to play with there, even though much was not spent. Sec. 1302 of Dodd-Frank amended EESA to end TARP early by prohibiting the Treasury Secretary from initiating any new assistance after June 25, 2010. The rest of the money has gotten flushed back into the Treasury General Fund to offset the cost of Dodd-Frank (under the statutory PayGo rules initiated earlier this year).

  20. August 30, 2010

    A compelling argument, but it’s ‘habeas’ (2nd person singular subjunctive vb. form) not *habeus.

  21. August 30, 2010

    Sorry, I see it’s spelled correctly once above, and incorrectly, no doubt owing to a typo, the second time. So previous comment would have been better if it had said ‘a compelling argument’, and left it at that.

    I’d add that in a political culture like ours it’s important not only to do the right things, but also to be seen to be doing them, and when they can’t be done to be seen to be trying to do them. The dynamic whereby a party that deserves the largest share of the blame for the problems were facing, problems it’s deliberately exacerbating, can pose as the people’s friend in times of trouble is horrifying to watch.

  22. August 30, 2010

    Can we stop saying “unemployment” and start saying disemployment?

    It couldn’t be more clear that 10% nominal (20% real) disemployment is the preferred policy outcome for Versailles, and is, in good bipartisan fashion, supported by both legacy parties, and Obama in particular.

  23. Ellis M. permalink
    August 30, 2010

    David H. said it above, but I’ll repeat it since I think it is all that needs to be said on this subject:

    Obama doesn’t want to. Period.

    Obama’s not a victim, he’s not being forced to do things by the Senate, and it isn’t his advisors. He just doesn’t want to.

  24. August 30, 2010

    Hostis humanis generis.

    Obama, as the head of the executive, could have, and can, end torture, assasination, illegal war in Yemen, Pakistan and possibly other places, and an assorted list of crimes against humanity. He could step away from exerting undue influence on the DOJ, which at this point would imp[ly removing Holder and others for cause, and let justice take its course.

    There is absolutely no point in debating the good will and/or competence – or alleged lack there of – or “spine” or determination of somebody who is the enabler-in-chief – if not the driving force – behind two drone assassination programs, a revised black prison empire, an out-of-control JSOC, compound stress torture codified per AFM Appendix M, and an illegal campaign of remote control terror bombings against US citizens and citizens of other nations that has no precedent going as far back as the mining of Nicaraguan habors.

    Obama stands in the proud tradition of ‘stalishment retainers like Powell and Rice – servants hegemony in their own unashamed pursuit of naked ambition. Given the evidence – given his own words and deeds – how can any sane person still waste time trying to cast the bones to divine the “true soul of Obama”?

    Ian is right on every detail;, but in a way he misses the point. If Obama had gotten health care, financial reform and other domestic concerns right – if the US economy had been restored to an armed-to-the-teeth juggernaut again – would that justify a single innocent man dead in one of the “black hole” sites established by Bygones Habeas Obama? How many dismmembered wedding parties would it be worth to you?

    Going forward, what Obama still can do is not run in 2012.

  25. Blue Meme permalink
    August 30, 2010

    Good stuff, but you oughta fix a few examples of innumeracy in the “Negotiation 101″ section.

    The ask on the stim shoulda been $1.6 TRILLION instead of the hundreds of billions it actually was, and $400K as haggle space isn’t just 3 orders of magnitude off, but 6 — it should be $400 BILLION, not 400 thousand.

    I agree with you, but those numbers (and this mistake) do show one reason why Obama may have gone small.

    Anyways.

  26. Dan Maceda permalink
    August 30, 2010

    How do we get these Pelosi or Grayson or Bernie Sanders or Jon Steward to ask why Obama publicly he doesn’t take all or any of these steps

  27. ryang permalink
    August 30, 2010

    There are a few more things that were in his discretion, too:

    (1) Releasing the torture photos instead of adopting an incredibly damaging “look forward, not backward” policy on torture. Not only is the policy morally wrong, but it helps republicans by glossing over just how bad republican rule really was.
    (2) Investigating and prosecuting torturers.
    (3) Nominating a more liberal Justice than Elena Kagan.
    (4) Appointing all the liberals he wanted to through recess appointment.
    (5) Not appointing republicans to positions in his administration.
    (6) Not authorizing the assassination of an American citizen (Anwar al-Aliki).
    (7) Speaking out forcefully against faux republican outrages, especially ones that stand to hurt Americans, like the outrage over building a mosque in New York.

    The more charitable view, and the one adopted by most liberal bloggers I’ve read, is that Obama has handcuffed himself in the name of making peace with republicans. The less charitable view, and the one I’ve come to adopt, is that Obama is using his rhetoric about “compromise” to appear to us like his policies are halfway between what the republicans want and what Obama actually wants, to make Obama seem to liberals like he’s to the left of where he is.

  28. ryang permalink
    August 30, 2010

    Oh, and of course:

    (8) End the war in Afghanistan.

  29. fgw permalink
    August 30, 2010

    Your discussion of negotiating with Congress is unsatisfying. Think of it like an e-bay auction: the first bid doesn’t have much effect on the outcome. It is not necessarily Obama’s role to push the negotiations from a point “left” of the preferred progressive outcome. In one your examples: advocating single payer. If he had done so, he would surely have failed to achieve single payer and most likely been seen as failing. It is the job of single payer advocates to push for single payer, and public option advocates to push for public option. If there were 40-50 votes for single payer in the Senate, that would also predetermine Obama’s negotiating options. Obama was elusive on the public option, allowing him to claim victory either way. As Roosevelt said to Democratic leaders, “make me do what I want to do”. So you are failing to apportion blame to the weakness of the progressives in Congress, in the media and as a political force.

  30. paperbagmarlys permalink
    August 30, 2010

    Team evil? Or, team stupid?

    Since I listened fairly carefully to Obama during the campaign, I wasn’t too surprised that he’s ruled to the right of Nixon. However, I’m puzzled why–even if he’s 1. calculated that he can’t fight big money, and 2. he don’t want fight big money in the first place–he hasn’t unleashed the DoJ on the Bushies and opened the books on the previous administration. Yes, a few Dems would end up as collateral damage in any corruption investigation but a couple dozen serious investigations into the wars, Wall St., the EPA, Blackwater, and so on would have taken out a zillion GOP players, kept most of the GOP tied up fighting in court, and generally given him the upper hand politically. No, he couldn’t exactly direct the DoJ from the White House but he could have carefully picked various DoJ/FBI/CIA/etc. appointments, from the top down, knowing that the appointees were highly interesting in prosecuting the Bush and Co. Obama could have stepped in here and there to say “Oh, we can’t put Cheney and Bush in jail. Let’s hold lengthy hearings instead.” or whatever, just to show that he’s fair and all but, come on, just dumping, say, the Abramoff or OSP paperwork would have crippled the GOP for a year or so. He just hasn’t used the tools he has to do the obvious things to keep power and keep his enemies on the defensive, regardless of how far to right he wants to govern.

  31. Art permalink
    August 30, 2010

    Do what ever is necessary to help the unemployed. they wouldn’t be if the politicians and banks did not pull off their ponzi schemes and leave the economy in tatters. That’s for starters. I would think if Obama really wanted to stop that filibuster he could have since this IS a national emergency. No more blaming the American citizens! That bull is used up and proven very wrong. The people and their families come first. at least it should have been that way. Their is a reason that nothing is being done with an ounce of common sense in Washington. So I feel even though Obama is dropping the ball on the people in getting them real immediate help, it still would make sense to vote in the Democrats just out of common sense on the voters part. If the Republican party gets any more power they will trash whatever is left of our country now. They are strictly working for the ruling elitist’s and have proved it. The people must be strategic at least as many as can critically think for themselves and aren’t hanging onto cable news propaganda. After the people are helped, because the Capitol did everything in a sham style just placate the fools that can’t think. The people should have been bailed out first. Foreclosures should have been stopped…period. The fraudsters in wall street and the bankers and brokers should not have been given impunity from the laws in Federal courts. In other words…the people have a lot of work to do and traditional means just are not effective anymore. This country must be saved from the inside out, just as it was destroyed.

  32. Tracy Lightcap permalink
    August 30, 2010

    Sorry, you actually don’t have any idea how Congress works and your analysis of the support there for “Democratic policies” is grossly mistaken. Let’s take it one by one, shall we?

    The stimulus: Read Orzag’s recent article on this, have you? There was, like, zero support for even a 1.2 trillion stimulus and a 1.6 trillion proposal would have been taken as a sign that you wanted to negotiate down to a figure that even the president’s strongest allies (Dave Obey, say) wouldn’t support. Or, to put it another way, that you were posturing, not negotiating. Negotiating with Congress IS NOT LIKE NEGOTIATING IN A BAZAAR. Remember, they don’t have to anything to sell. There were plenty of Democrats who didn’t want any stimulus at all; Obama was lucky to get what he did. And he wasn’t going “bi-partisan” to do it; the final figure was made to keep Democrats happy, not Republicans. We might not like that, but one of the nasty things about having a 60 vote majority is that your caucus is a LOT harder to push. And the guys at the margin know it.

    Using reconciliation: Actually, the rules here – enforced by a non-partisan congressional employee – are pretty strict. Only measures that concern taxing and spending can be considered (which is why the Bush tax cuts could be considered this way) and the Byrd rule makes it pretty hard to gloss that over. That is another way of saying that you could not have passed the “public option” by reconciliation. And, we might add, there was never strong support for a substantial public option in either house. The proposals that were either passed in the House or vetted in the Senate would have had a marginal effect on the entire bill and would have cost, as they almost did, support in the Senate. What we got is actually much better then what I feared we would. And, remember, this is a Madisonian democracy: the way you get things done is you pass legislation then you fix it over time. Take a look at Medicaid in its original form and how it works today to get a good idea of what I mean. This is another way of saying that if you want instant gratification from the legislative process, you are living in the wrong country. Republicans understand this and are in it for the long haul. Why Democrats don’t has always puzzled me.

    Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: Sure, Obama could hand the Republicans a campaign issue right before the election, but I doubt he will. People who get upset about this tend to forget that Congress could overturn any decision he makes on DADT and that it would be a very uncomfortable vote for even its strongest supporters to cast. Remember, most members of Congress don’t live in communities where there is strong support for gay rights. I don’t doubt that the administration has its head in the right place on this, but, again, when you are president and you are trying to do big things (health care, reforming the financial system, ect.) you have to weigh your actions carefully and try to keep Congress behind you as much as possible. After the election, the Democratic caucuses in both houses will be more ideological coherent and the Pubs will find themselves with numbers of new people from swing districts; i.e. they’ll be less coherent. At that point, executive action will be more plausible.

    HAMP (the program supposedly intended to help homeowners, which hasn’t): Here we agree. I would have re-upped the RFC and put a new floor under real estate prices. I can see why they didn’t with the financial sector in such a fragile condition, but it would have been the one thing that could have been done that would have wrung the toxic waste out of the banking system and kept people in their homes. The downside risks – collapse of the smaller banks (you know, the ones that are really vulnerable) and of the real estate industry – were as substantial as the possible benefits, however. This was crap shoot and I would have rolled the dice, but it’s easy to see why the decision was different.

    Habeas Corpus: Yes, the administration could give all the “detainees” at GTMO a day in court. Problem = then it would be almost certain that some of the really bad actors – and there are some down there – would have to be set free due to tainted evidence. The easier (and messier) course is to release as many of them as possible, give some a day in court (which they are trying to do and have been), and try the rest before the re-constituted military commissions. The Military Commissions Act of 2009 got rid of many of their objectionable features, but I doubt the MC trials will be pulled off. Still, it would be political suicide to let some of the detainees who are slated for MC trials free before they go through the process. If they have to be let go on procedural grounds (as I suspect will happen), then the releases have a sound legal basis and little political fallout. KSM and the guys who have confessed will be tried sooner or later, and, I have no doubt, will get the sentence they deserve. Then GTMO will be closed. Probably a bit late.

    Social Security: Uh, dude, you don’t understand why the president did this, do you? It’s so he can present a plausible plan for long term budget restraints and, as a consequence, ask for more debt obligations; i.e. more stimulus money. Will this get him Pub votes? Could be. Remember, some of the Senators who are up for election in 2012 will be very interested in doing more to stimulate the economy after the election. (If the Pubs take the House all bets are off, of course, but that, I think, is a bridge too far. They’ll be close, but not close enough.) The administration knows that any proposal these clowns come up with that even smells of major SS reform will be DOA in Congress anyhow, no matter who’s in control. They can look good by supporting some proposals – they’ll be, like, so in favor of SS tax reforms – and tsk, tsk about the rest.

    As for the bank proposals: Well, it ought to be obvious why this isn’t going to happen now. Here, again, I would have done something like what you have in mind (at least the nationalizations) at the first. But, like re-upping the RFC, there were and are substantial risks to doing this. And, really, do you think Congress would stand to one side and allow the president to run roughshod over the independence of the Fed? I can’t think of a single issue that would galvanize a bi-partisan majority to restrict executive power faster then that. Even if the president could remove Fed governors like you suggest. Which, by the way, he can’t; the “cause” can’t be “political differences”. If Obama tried to remove one of the governors because he wasn’t doing things his way (who, pray, determines whether the Fed is fulfilling its policy goals?), he’d get sued at once and, imho, he’d lose.

    Soooo … is it hard out there when you really try to change things? You bet. Are the prospects for change improved by not realizing that and asking for the president to “fight” or “stand up for principle” or other similarly mystical actions that are supposed to make things all better? No. Our government works slowly and incrementally. Even the most successful legislative session for liberal causes in the last 50 years (you can check) only resets the ground rules for future conflict. Get used to it. The Republicans have.

  33. Ian Welsh permalink*
    August 30, 2010

    Uh, dudette, you are as ignorant as you think I am. For example, reconciliation being used to pass the public option is entirely legal — a simple google search will show you that this is the case.

    In terms of Habeas Corpus you either believe that everyone gets their day in court, can face their accusers, see the evidence against them, must be tried in a reasonable amount of time and so on or you don’t. Your values are those of “better 10 innocent men be imprisoned than one guilty man go free”. And Obama has said he has a right to hold whichever ones he chooses forever without any trial, even the kangaroo-court military commission trials.

    Stimulus: bullshit. Sorry.

    Etc… People like you, making excuses for not doing what needs to be done are why we’re going to see the US experience an economic collapse that makes this one look like a picnic.

  34. iLarynx permalink
    August 30, 2010

    In the second paragraph, “Negotiation 101,” I believe the author intended to say “trillions” where he said “billions” and “billions” where he said ~”thousands” ($400K). Negotiation 099: Make sure your numbers are accurate. ;^)

  35. MMonides permalink
    August 30, 2010

    I can see why I’ve never heard of you before this blogpost: you’re an idiot who thinks that one can negotiate away votes in Congress that wouldn’t give no matter what we gave.

    Don’t let the legislative history hit you in the ass on your way out, fuckwit.

  36. iLarynx permalink
    August 30, 2010

    @ Ian Welsh (in his response to “dudette” Tracy Lightcap):

    The point of your article, what Obama can do, is interesting and good as far as it goes, but it does ignore much of the political landscape that can’t be quantified quite so easily as a list of potential rules and laws that may be employed. Sure, Obama could have passed health insurance reform through reconciliation, but that would have created an even greater backlash than what we currently see. It seems that Obama may be calculating what can be passed ALONG WITH the electorate of 2010 and 2012 in mind, with an awareness of how the corporate media influences things. The right-wing is already planning on how to dismantle the Health Care Lite version that did manage to get passed.

    See
    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703649004575437271015655924.html
    &
    Various other Google links

    What good is passing something in reconciliation if it’s dismantled by a new Republican majority two years later? I’d like stronger health care reform myself, but wishing and getting are often two different animals. Likewise with your article. Yes, there are a number of things Obama COULD do, but the question of SHOULD is also different, particularly when considered in context of the current political (and media) landscape.

    Regarding Habeas Corpus, I agree 100% – It’s The American Way™. I believe that Bush released scores of GITMO prisoners even w/o a trial. Why should Obama worry about releasing them after a trial?

    Regarding your comment, “Stimulus: bullshit. Sorry.” Is this a confession on your part, or a comment on Tracy’s take on the stimulus? If the former, I agree. If the latter, I disagree.

    As for the “People like you…” remark, well, you’re assuming that Tracy is just “making excuses.” But even though she disagrees with several of your points, her remarks seem well-reasoned and thoughtful – at least as much so as your original post. She even agreed with some of your criticism of Obama’s approach. Hardly a knee-jerk defense of all-things-Obama. While there are plenty of those out there, Tracy doesn’t appear to be one. Your knee-jerk response of putting her in that category doesn’t bolster your case at all.

    Finally, thanks for the post. It’s good to know what you have in your arsenal, even though using each and every weapon at your disposal is most likely NOT the best option.*

    iLarynx

    * We COULD have nuked Iraq, but even the dim Bush bulb realized that politically, that was not something that SHOULD have been done. Etc.

  37. August 30, 2010

    fgw,

    It was Max Baucus’s job to have single-payer advocates arrested at the “open and transparent” hearings Obama promised. If by “job” one means what moneyed interests are paying Baucus and Obama to do, that is.

  38. August 30, 2010

    Mandos writes:

    Don’t like it? You can, as some of you have promised…not vote. Then you will have effectively voted for (R) government and stand a chance of getting what you voted for. After 4-12 years of slightly-but-noticeably worse, enough people will run back to the (D)—who will have moved even further right, unless the (R) somehow move left—that you will have another (D) government. And so on.

    The behavior of doing as you suggest, voting for these Democrats despite the abysmal job they’re doing, is exactly why politics keeps moving to the right in this country. Progressives don’t matter, because they never demand that their party do the right thing. They always vote based on fear. Ironically, conservatives are the ones who demand that their party toe the line, and it does.

    And, of course, the Republicans will keep moving to the right, which will make them all the more scary.

    The Democrats are given no motivation to move left, so they don’t. Progressives will vote for them anyway. The Obama Administration have said that the Left will “come home”, and they’re probably right, for the most part. We’ll get to do this all over again, because, like you, most progressives don’t understand that politicians won’t bother satisfying people who never demand that they do something.

  39. Ian Welsh permalink*
    August 30, 2010

    Herman,

    the program buying assets already exists, so they don’t need a new program. They can buy whatever assets they want with the TARP funds under an already existing program.

    Various folks: if you aren’t willing to do what it takes to fix your problems, and make excuses for those who don’t fix the problems, you deserve what’s going to happen to you.

  40. August 30, 2010

    iLarynx writes:

    In the second paragraph, “Negotiation 101,” I believe the author intended to say “trillions” where he said “billions” and “billions” where he said ~”thousands” ($400K).

    Here I was about to write “Shouldn’t that be $400M?”. It should actually be $400B ($4.0×10^11). At least, if we’re talking about a $1.2 trillion ($1.2×10^12) stimulus, we would. I’ve read that other English-speaking countries refer differently to those kinds of quantities.

  41. Ian Welsh permalink*
    August 30, 2010

    My bad on the billions v. Trillions. Thanks for the catch, fixed.

  42. August 30, 2010

    I think you still need to fix the “$400K”, Ian. You could use scientific notation just to be sure. ;)

  43. Robert Fuller permalink
    August 30, 2010

    When will people let go the fantasy that the government has anything to do with “Democrats and Republicans”, “representing the citizenry”, “democratic principles”, etc., etc. ???

    There is but ONE government — they doll themselves up in blue and red scrimmage jerseys and put on a dog and pony show for the populace, to create the illusion of choice and obfuscate the facts surrounding their activities.

    The “government” is a buffer mechanism between the haves and the have-nots, so that the latter will remain cowed, and manageable.

    When the “government” attempts anything the populace *might* rebel against, an “external excuse” is created to define the new state of affairs, and laws are enacted in the name of security and freedom to curtail the liberties of the have-nots, thus making rebellion that much more impossible.

  44. Herman Newticks permalink
    August 30, 2010

    Ian,

    Thanks for the clarification of your interpretation of TARP authority. It is still wrong, however. You write: “Obama has complete control of the TARP funds, the majority of which have not been spent. (We’re talking over $500 billion in slush funds.)” Dodd-Frank reduced this amount to $475 billion ($454 billion of which had been committed under contract as of July 31, 2010). Any money that gets paid back goes into the general fund for deficit reduction. Treasury cannot engage in any more bank assistance through the Capital Purchase program (the TARP program used to inject capital into banks) because any additional bank capital purchases (which wouldn’t have the desired stimulative effects anyway) would be considered new programs. Buying distressed debt would be a new initiative or program and is therefore prohibited by Dodd-Frank. What Treasury can do is to complete payments committed under programs initiated prior to June 25, 2010. And then try to find a way to use the remaining $21 billion under the guise of some existing program or initiative. It is earmarked for Treasury Housing programs…

    In short, the pot of money is smaller than you suggest, and the authority to use it is tightly constrained. I wish that this were not the case because I am very much in favor of using this money where it would do some good.

    I am in no way an apologist for inaction. There is a lot these guys could have done if they had an understanding of the magnitude of what they were facing, and had the courage to do something about it. I’m not entirely sure they had either. They certainly didn’t have the latter. It’s maddening.

  45. August 30, 2010

    The Democrats are given no motivation to move left, so they don’t. Progressives will vote for them anyway. The Obama Administration have said that the Left will “come home”, and they’re probably right, for the most part. We’ll get to do this all over again, because, like you, most progressives don’t understand that politicians won’t bother satisfying people who never demand that they do something.

    The point is that they have no motivation to move left even if (perhaps especially if) you don’t vote for them, which is a point I’ve made repeatedly and is continually validated since, oh, 2000 at least.

    Don’t believe me? Well, in this election of all elections, when it’s really clear how dispirited American liberals have become, it’s increasingly clear that the Administration doesn’t even have a September Surprise or last-ditch effort in mind to GOTV the left, when it’s “obvious” that that’s what it needs to do.

    OTOH, the most left-wing politicians in Congress are the ones with the safest seats. So the question is, are they safe because they are left-wing, or left-wing because they are safe? Let’s just say: Blue Dog Democrats pander to swing voters because they’re competing with the Sarah Palins.

    You’ve all been taken in by this negotiation metaphor that is all too reminiscent of the kinds of weird modeling assumptions that the economics profession has used to drive us towards this cliff. Newsflash: almost no one in politics needs to be in politics to put food on the table, or even to be well-off. You can walk away from the table and they’d be fine. However, those that want to be in politics will cater to those who have the infrastructure to keep them there. The best days for the left was not when politicians were afraid they’d stay home on voting day, but when business was afraid of communism.

    It’s not just about money; it’s about organization, culture, and institutions. The American Right not only has money, it has an understanding of the other three. The American Left is well behind the left even in Canada and other Western countries (not particularly effective) because it apparently doesn’t.

  46. DancingOpossum permalink
    August 30, 2010

    The Obama apologists are in a panic. They know their emperor is standing naked and they’re rushing around with a toga.

    “Our government works slowly and incrementally.”

    No, it doesn’t–not when the people in power want something, that is , really really want it. Bush got us into two wars with no problem, and Obama has had zero problem expanding those wars and expanding his executive power into areas far exceeding Cheney’s wildest wet dreams. The Nobel Laureate Peace Loving Candidate has also murdered more Pakistanis, Afghanis, and other assorted raghags than all the dreams of the Teabaggers and Neocons put together. He’s done this at breakneck speed too, and with almost no opposition. He bailed out the banks faster than you could say “Jobs program.” And this all in under two years. Next up: Kill social security, and invade Iran–both of which prospects I can guarantee you are coming very, very soon to a theater near you.

    A quick look at FDR’s and Johnson’s record will show a government acting quickly and in huge, sweeping gestures to fix the country’s problems. For that matter, Bush and Reagan took big, sweeping gestures that they said were for the country’s betterment (even if we don’t believe that). Bill Clinton was able to pass bigger, better legislation than Obama ever could, with a hostile Republican congress and an even more hostile press to contend with 24/7.

    “It’s not just about money; it’s about organization, culture, and institutions. The American Right not only has money, it has an understanding of the other three.”

    Yes, and one of the things the American Right has done very, very successfully is threaten meaningfully to withhold votes (and money and support) when it didn’t get its way. The GOP never took its votes for granted and indeed, as we’ve seen, has moved increasingly rightward because it is afraid of that clout–which the right has wielded when necessary. The GOP knows this and acts accordingly. The left, meanwhile, has never used its clout in modern elections and as a result, the Democratic Party has nothing to fear. Fear is the only thing that keeps politicans in line if you don’t have money. That you consistently miss out on this key element of American politics indicates that you aren’t really paying attention and/or (as is most likely) still think that the Democrats deserve to govern because “the other guys are so much worse and it’s all so hopeless.” You need to study up on the actions of groups like the religious right and the NRA to see how the left so desperately gave itself up to be used and abused by con men. The right has one thing right: It knows that politicians need to be afraid of the voters. Your prescription keeps voters as the cowed and beaten ones. I’m no rightwinger but I know which side of the beaten/beatee divide I’d prefer to stand on.

  47. August 30, 2010

    Mandos writes:

    The point is that they have no motivation to move left even if (perhaps especially if) you don’t vote for them, which is a point I’ve made repeatedly and is continually validated since, oh, 2000 at least.

    You don’t validate something by repeating it. Democratic politicians at that level hire polls to tell them who is voting for them and who isn’t. They know. If they can’t win progressive support, they have two choices, become more conservative and hope to pick up the “sane” conservative vote, which is largely illusory, or return to more progressive ideology. If they do the former, they’ll lose more progressive votes, to the point where a third party is viable.

    Either way, rewarding failure will only produce more failure.

  48. Pepe permalink
    August 30, 2010

    The right-wing is already planning on how to dismantle the Health Care Lite version that did manage to get passed.

    Maybe the good bits, but do you think the insurance industry will let them get rid of the individual mandate?

  49. dude permalink
    August 30, 2010

    (And I am not related to “dudette”)

    I agree with the broad point Ian is making. Obama and the Dems have tools at their disposal to do what is right and good by the nation, and they don’t use them. They espouse many of the principles that have long defined America, but they do not defend them. And if we re-elect the politicians who persist in this behavior, we will lose even more of what we hold in our possession now materially, morally and spiritually.

    It is true : “he just doesn’t want to” is a pretty concise explanation. I do not believe this 11th-dimensional chess analysis of how to fight in increments as you move spasmodically from mid-terms to 2012. President Zero and his minions simply aren’t that smart , and that is already proven by their actions (or more precisely, their inaction) as Ian points out. When he was running for office, somebody said he is more of an “organizer” than he is a manager or leader. I think that is true. And I think it is also true that an organizer needs to begin from the point of view of a victim–i.e., he organizes sympathizers as a counter-force to something. Obama organized as the counter-Bush, but his record is clear: he has done nothing of consequence to change the nature or direction of Bush policies. He seems only to have modifed the tone of Bush rhetoric. They organized a movement–all dressed-up with someplace to go, and just decided not to go.

    Right now, I do not believe the nations Democrats (of any stripe) are scared shitless about the prospects of a Republican landslide. I think they should be, but they aren’t. I think they need to understand (to paraphrase Reagan) that the liberals and traditional Democrats did not leave the party, but the party left them. I would favor a wholesale voter boycott of all Dems. Let them know it big letters and loud voice. It’s something the “organizer” in each of them might understand.

  50. Ian Welsh permalink*
    August 30, 2010

    Herman,

    I don’t read it that way. Money that comes back to the Treasury, repaid, does not go into the general fund. So far only 11 billion has been returned to the general fund and more than that has been repaid.

    I’ve checked this with a finance friend as well.

    He also points out that even if it is read your way, no one can enforce it. Who’s going to stop him?

  51. August 31, 2010

    I just want to chime in and say that I support Ian’s post on almost all points. The problem with those who defend Obama is that at no point have we seen Obama push to test the boundaries of the various “constraints” that are supposed to keep him from doing X, Y, and Z.

    Bush would stake out some ground and then, if he didn’t get that, would have pulled back to a compromise that ended up a good deal for him and his supporters) Also, Bush would list specific policy points (like a preferred tax rate on dividends: 0%, so as not to engage in “double taxation”) when entering the arena. Has Obama or anyone in the administration done likewise? I’m not aware of any instances.

  52. beowulf permalink
    August 31, 2010

    The Federal Reserve used to target quantity (e.g. money supply) but now targets price (that is, interest rates), likewise, instead of targeting the stimulus package quantity, they could have instead targeted as their price level, the unemployment rate. Whether stimulus was $200 billion or $2 trillion would be irrelevant as long as the targeted “price level” was met (let the Fed worry about inflation, they sure as heck aren’t worrying about their “maximum employment” mandate).

    When Obama came into office, he could have asked for any damn thing he wanted and gotten it. What’s sad is he probably DID ask for every damn thing he wanted. Of course healthcare reform done right would itself have been a stimulus package more than twice as big as what was enacted. The Democrats could have passed a simple law giving the President authority to modify by executive order Medicare’s: (A) eligibility (from the day you’re issued a Social Security number, retroactive to birth for newborns), (B) benefits package (mix and match from Medicaid, Tricare, Champva; for starters, no premiums) and (C) funding source. Fund it out of general revenue like other entitlements by adding three clauses:

    1. ” The Secretary of Health & Human Services shall not require that programs under this subsection be budget neutral with respect to expenditures under this title”. (none of this paygo nonsense; that language is from Baucus’s Libby Montana Medicare section).
    2. “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the Secretary of the Treasury shall transfer from the general fund of the Treasury (from funds not otherwise appropriated) to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Program Management Account such sums as the Secretary of Health & Human Services determines is necessary.” (this is a mod of the “automatic appropriation” that student loans and other entitlements use).
    3. “31 US 5115 (b) is hereby repealed.” (Tsy could fund deficit spending with US Notes without limitation– sect (b) currently limits the total to $300 million and doesn’t allow banks to use them as reserves– US Notes are interest-free bearer bonds and are not included in the statutory debt limit).

    That would redirect private (employer, employee, out of pocket) health care spending of a $1 trillion a year to other uses, while Uncle Sam itself would pick up the tab via Medicare. Like Teddy Roosevelt sending the Great White Fleet halfway around the world before asking Congress to pay for it, only after Medicare for All was a fait accompli would Congress be left to figure out how to pay for it, once stimulus spending was no longer needed. Actually, just dropping 31 US 5155(b) gets you halfway there. Over the next decade, the CBO projects the US paying $5 trillion in debt service.

    Among the benefits of this would be that states would no longer be faced with their share of Medicaid costs; worker’s comp, liability and auto insurance policies would suddenly get less expensive (no medical bills to cover); employees would be much cheaper for companies to hire or keep on the payroll with no premiums to pay; oh and 45,000 Americans wouldn’t die every year because of lack of healthcare.

  53. August 31, 2010

    politics isn’t rocket science. it’s not that hard to strong arm a congress. it just takes the stones and the desire, and generally a sort of fun attitude like LBJ or Truman had. Tracy, thank you for reminding me why i left the Village. you made my eyes glaze over faster than a neoliberal economic writer could have.

    increasingly, i don’t care so much about getting people to vote. i know i’m not supposed to say that, and i don’t mean to sound pathetic and hopeless, cause that’s not how i mean it. but for all the sound and fury of the next couple of months, it’s pretty clear that little will change at the Federal level. some dems will be booted, some crazie thugs will be elevated, and the same milquetoast not-policy Kabuki will be in the SCLM infotainment stream. i’m working hard to find the right way to articulate what i think progressives should be doing in the next 5-10 years, and it’s hard to work in “take strong interest in Federal political offices.” so much of what is happening feels like it’s coming from a script, and the executives have already told the producer and the director “this is what you’re going to make.” debate about that kind of seems pointless.

    ian has done a fine service here, laying out once and for all that Obama is not really defensible, if one is truly progressive. people who want to defend him and the democratic party may do so, but i won’t be joining them. i may not have great alternative ideas, but i do know when it’s time to leave. it’s sort of like how i feel about Catholics. i know lots of good ones, but my mind constantly is asking for all i don’t say it out loud, “how can you still associate yourself with a group of people who enable pedophilia? that’s obscene.” similarly, i am distressed by the number of people who continue to maintain that Village hierarchy games are more important than helping starving american children, ending senseless and expensive wars, etc. we live in an age in which the State is predatory, and the majority is reduced to what is effectively a complete lack of political agency. i’m mostly focused on getting people to invest more time in their immediate communities, these days. i’m not sure there’s much of a point to something else, politically speaking. no one with less than a billion dollars in the bank really has any say, on the national scene. in the end, the pols all come running home to their corporate masters, and i for one am very bored of seeing the charlie brown and the football movie, over and over and over again.

  54. ryang permalink
    August 31, 2010

    Quiddity makes a great point–the fact that Obama is STARTING at the compromise position on all of these issues is even working against his desire to be seen as a bipartisan. If he started at the extreme left and then moved right, he’d look a lot more bipartisan than starting at what he perceives to be the compromise position and not budging. I’ve just come to the conclusion that either (A) he’s an awful leader and doesn’t know what he’s doing, or (more likely) (B) he’s getting exactly what he wants and would rather have liberals believe he’s weak and ineffectual than conservative. You want someone who’s demonstrated actual liberal leadership in the past couple of years, I’d look at Nancy Pelosi, who did more to get HCR passed than Obama ever did.

  55. anon2525 permalink
    August 31, 2010

    You want someone who’s demonstrated actual liberal leadership in the past couple of years, I’d look at Nancy Pelosi, who did more to get HCR passed than Obama ever did.

    Getting that bill passed did not help the people of the country. It helped the politicians by giving them cover. The country said “Do something about this problem!”, and now the politicians can say, “See? We did something.” As they walk away from the lectern they say to each other “And we’re not going to talk about this again.”

    Meanwhile, throughout the country, the “insurance” companies announce price increases far above inflation (we’re in deflation) for their products. Of course, these increases come with a note saying they are doing all they can to keep prices down. Like the other monopoly industries (for example, cable companies), they are always “trying” but prices always go up and never go down.

  56. anon2525 permalink
    August 31, 2010

    increasingly, i don’t care so much about getting people to vote. i know i’m not supposed to say that…

    Instead, say that people should vote, but not for the two-party duopoly. Vote for a Green Party candidate, if one is available, or write in the name of someone, preferably someone you would like in office. I like Abraham Lincoln.

    The Left or Progressives need to make themselves heard by producing a 10 to 15% result at the polls. Individually, we won’t be heard. (And being apolitical is not an option.) Organized people are heard. We need a write-in campaign for every congressional district that does not have a progressive-party candidate on the ballot. (If there is a progressive-party candidate on the ballot, vote for them.) This could tell the country that progressive/left voters do not support what the democrats have been doing the past two years.

  57. DancingOpossum permalink
    August 31, 2010

    But check your state rules. In some states, a write-in vote automatically goes to the candidate of the party you’re registered with. Better to vote for someone else on the ballot.

  58. anon2525 permalink
    August 31, 2010

    In some states, a write-in vote automatically goes to the candidate of the party you’re registered with.

    Thanks for that information.

    What won’t the duopoly do to game the system?

    (“Why haven’t we outlawed all other parties? It’s fucking retarded (TM) for anyone to vote for any other party. Everyone knows that third parties never work, so why even allow them on the ballot? Those people aren’t Serious (TM). You have to be Practical (TM).”)

  59. jcapan permalink
    August 31, 2010

    “What won’t the duopoly do to game the system?”

    Surely not this:

    http://www.commondreams.org/view/2010/07/24-4

  60. anon2525 permalink
    August 31, 2010

    http://www.commondreams.org/view/2010/07/24-4

    “California Enshrines the Duopoly” by Ralph Nader

    I’m pleased to be in agreement with Nader. He was the most prescient candidate in 1999/2000, although I expect that, like Ian Welsh, he would say that he wasn’t prescient, he was just stating the obvious.

  61. August 31, 2010

    I am the Michigan Green Party candidate for US Congress, District 12. Here’s a post I wrote about “not voting”:

    “Not voting? Hmmm..I call that “how to be disenfranchised with my permission”. Unless one buys into the cynical belief that the election process is so gamed that your vote will never count (and I admit, I’ve been there, and we can work to change that), then why belong to a party? or run for office? or pass out leaflets or have meetings or do any of the things that citizens do to engage and influence the structure of our government? After all, the reason I’m running is to have an effect, change the conversation, promulgate a vision, and win the darn position so I can stand up on the floor of the House and yell, and speak truth, write some legislation, and maybe enlighten and engage citizens, give them hope, for crying out loud, that SOMEONE understands what they are living, and will FIGHT for them! Fight for clean air, water, land, fight for a fair wage and standard of living, fight for the right to have decent healthcare. If you don’t vote, don’t engage, then you give up the engagement to the corporatists that believe that the citizenry is cowed enough to give them what they want. I will never give up!”

    The “conversation” is already beginning to change, and my opponent has begun to address environmental issues! I can make a difference, and so can anyone who supports me, votes for me, or donates to my small campaign fund (see my website for a bowling fundraiser:
    http://juliawilliamsforcongress.com/ )

    My fervent hope is that everyone who can see the truth, can see the way that “politics as usual” is killing our citizens, our environment, our representative democracy, will also see that voting for people who are truly progressive, that have a vision of a country that cares for its citizens more than corporate profits, can truly make a difference.

  62. August 31, 2010

    Julia Williams writes:

    “Not voting? Hmmm..I call that “how to be disenfranchised with my permission”.

    Generally speaking, I agree. What I mean by “not voting” is in specific races. I don’t mean not showing up. If we still had the opportunity to vote third party in a general election out here, that’s what I’d do. We don’t, though. I don’t even think we can vote write-in. So, in this case, I say don’t vote if the choices are unpalatable. I won’t be voting for my Democratic incumbents, but when the only choices are people who are at least as bad, I don’t think I really have a choice.

  63. August 31, 2010

    I don’t know where you are, Cujo, but I think you could create a new reality, where-ever you are. If you don’t have a 3rd party option, you can work to make one, hopefully Green, perhaps in time for the next election. That’s how we’ll overcome the corporatists, and help “change the conversation”. I realize it’s demoralizing not to have any other choices than the legacy parties, but it is empowering, uplifting, and above all, the right thing to do, for our families, our fellow citizens, and the world, to generate a new dynamic. Call the State Green Party, if you don’t have one, call the national, and get like-minded people to gather and fight. Let’s work together to make our policies comply with our Declaration of Independence, and help people find “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” a realistic goal for everyone, not just ‘rentiers”.

  64. August 31, 2010

    The famous definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result. So, you can go with mandos and vote for a legacy party, or do something different.

  65. September 1, 2010

    i never said “don’t vote.” krist, that sort of pisses me off. what i mean is “turn off the TV, stop reading stupid blogs like HuffPo, which are mostly there to push your consumerist and emotional buttons.” it’s the information stream that we all choose that matters. i don’t read about the Kabuki that much these days, that’s all i’m saying. some things in our political system are going. to. happen. “and there’s nothing you can do to stop it, Mr. Anderson.” meh.

    i’m backing Julia all the way, btw. she is *exactly* what we need if there is to be any hope. she isn’t a Villager, and yes i know i’m sort of contradicting myself cause she’s running for federal office, but the way i look at it is this: she’s a real person, in my community, trying to make a difference and aiming high. so of course i support that. it’s playing in the Dem/thug sandbox that’s boring me. meh, that i can leave and not miss.

  66. September 1, 2010

    increasingly, i don’t care so much about getting people to vote. i know i’m not supposed to say that…

    Instead, say that people should vote, but not for the two-party duopoly. Vote for a Green Party candidate, if one is available,

    sorry, should’ve been more clear. i meant “working to get dems elected,” cause that’s what i’ve mostly done in the past. habit of speech, i can see why you thought i was saying ‘don’t vote at all,’ but that’s not what i meant.

  67. Formerly T-Bear permalink
    September 1, 2010

    Since history is terra incognita for most Duhmericans, a casual examination of that history reveals that the country once had a leader in Congress who stood up to the most powerful person in the world and managed to forestall most of the implementation of that person’s political policy. That leader was quoted as saying: “All politics is local”. Realizing also the actual incapacity of Duhmericans to comprehend, particularly when meaning happens, it is not surprising this quote has been forgotten along with its author.
    Since both the political process and the governmental process are compromised and corrupted at the national level certainly and to some extent at state level, it is the local level that remains largely untouched by the corruption of power. This is where, should any direction be given, there is the greatest chance to effect change upon an existing party or if that is not possible, forge a new political group to exercise political power. A local group will not register quickly on national radars and can gain the time to become an effective political force. Sometimes this is already done as with some of the Green organizations, or with other traditional parties e.g. Socialist, Populist, even Communist that may have similar policy objectives. Neither the national Republican nor Democratic parties need apply. Once local political organizations are established, networking between them becomes the order of business, forming mutually supporting cooperatives, associations and affiliations. The advantage of being local is multi-fold but primarily that it is not perceived by national and state levels, secondly the political power remains in local hands, not easily subjected to the “persuasion” of great national funds. It took the Republicans to form a party and place an administration in the White house in about six years, and their organizing letters were carried by horse. That it could not be done now in less than a year is only coding yourselves. Should state and regional coalitions be formed, they become a basis for negotiating at state and national levels to effect the desired modification of the political discourse. Once either national party, in order to win office is forced into coalition to gain power, then the requirement for publicly funded elections, barring corporate influence can be affected, about the only possible chance for that specific change to happen. It must be a goal that no single political party should ever be able to exercise the powers of government alone, always with the restraining influence of another party or parties interest in independent exercise of power. Two political parties alone are extremely dangerous to the political liberties of all.
    Don’t waste your vote, vote local, vote intelligently, vote for integrity, vote for local power controlled locally, vote for yourselves.

  68. Tracy Lightcap permalink
    September 2, 2010

    I haven’t been back since my original post which seems to have upset Ian a bit. I looked over the posts here again, however, and I think I see what most of the posters – including Ian – want.

    They want Obama to be a liberal George Bush.

    Take a look at what’s been said above. Is there really any difference, except for the direction of the policy, in what many of you are calling for and how Dubya ran the presidency?

    Calls for use of unilateral executive power to achieve policy goals, despite their uncertain popularity and their lack of Congressional support? Check. Spend the TARP money any old which way, greatly extend federal power over private institutions, do foreign policy our way. How? Unilateral presidential power, of course. And be sure to threaten Congress and reduce their role in policy making as much as possible. If you don’t you won’t get what you want.

    Calls for standing foursquare for progressive causes and similar ideological stances, no matter what the consequences? Check. The president either a) isn’t a “real progressive” (sound familiar?) or b) lacks spine or courage or something, or c) isn’t really all that smart. But what if he had been a full scale progressive ideologue and got into trouble with Congress over it? That’s easy. We’d be more supportive and, if push comes to shove, refer to the above.

    And what’s the result? Many of you would feel better (sort of like the Pubs did about Dubya) and get “enthusiastic” because you have a paladin for progressive causes and that, in some magic fashion, will turn the electorate further toward the left. Sort of like that worked (?) for Bush.

    I have an idea what Obama would say to all this if he were here. He’d get that slightly quizzical look on his face and say:

    “No.

    The country doesn’t need another four years of a unilateral presidency that makes extreme partisans feel good. What it needs is four years of a president who is willing to recognize executive limits and work to govern on the basis of legislation passed by solid Congressional majorities. We need to get used to a government that governs again.

    That’ll take awhile. There will be setbacks; indeed, we might not succeed. But if the government is to change course and if we are going to get back to sanity in how we conduct our affairs, someone has to start the process by modeling how it can work. That’s what I’m trying to do. If you can’t help me or the party right now, that’s ok. Good policy is good politics over time. See you in 2012.”

    Now, I’m not sure he’s right. I’m not sure the country can grow up in time to get over the constant campaign and the unilateral use of executive power we’ve become used to (Clinton did it too). And God knows he’s made some mistakes (no RFC, no bank nationalizations, stimulus too small) that a more ideologically stalwart approach would have avoided. But long run he’s right. Imho, we can’t keep a democratic country with a Madisonian constitution by continually calling for increases in the power of presidents to avoid the necessity of actually governing. A liberal Dubya, iow, isn’t the solution; it’s part of the problem.

  69. Ian Welsh permalink*
    September 2, 2010

    You already have a Dubya. Obama has used every bit of executive power that Dubya seized, and even expanded it.

    But you’re right, he’s not a “liberal” Dubya, because he’s not liberal.

  70. Angela Romagnoli permalink
    September 2, 2010

    I’m not sure it’s the just the banks that are responsible for the difficulty getting loans. We have good credit and are trying to get a 15 year fixed for our house, but I understand the banks are stingy because Freddie and Fanny, who buy these loans are being super, ultra picky.

  71. September 3, 2010

    DancingOpossum:

    Yes, and one of the things the American Right has done very, very successfully is threaten meaningfully to withhold votes (and money and support) when it didn’t get its way. The GOP never took its votes for granted and indeed, as we’ve seen, has moved increasingly rightward because it is afraid of that clout–which the right has wielded when necessary. The GOP knows this and acts accordingly. The left, meanwhile, has never used its clout in modern elections and as a result, the Democratic Party has nothing to fear. Fear is the only thing that keeps politicans in line if you don’t have money. That you consistently miss out on this key element of American politics indicates that you aren’t really paying attention and/or (as is most likely) still think that the Democrats deserve to govern because “the other guys are so much worse and it’s all so hopeless.” You need to study up on the actions of groups like the religious right and the NRA to see how the left so desperately gave itself up to be used and abused by con men. The right has one thing right: It knows that politicians need to be afraid of the voters. Your prescription keeps voters as the cowed and beaten ones. I’m no rightwinger but I know which side of the beaten/beatee divide I’d prefer to stand on.

    You misunderstand the nature of what the right wing is able to accomplish and how. They don’t just walk away from the table: they have the wherewithal to replace (R) candidates they don’t like! The replacing part is the important part, in case you hadn’t noticed the enormous spate of Tea Party primary candidates.

    The leaders of the Democratic party knows that whatever liberals do, they lose either way. If liberals step away from the table, they walk away with less than nothing. Because liberals do not appear to have the ability to replace the Democrats. That is why they’re quite evidently not even bothering to pretend at this point. The failure of the negotiation metaphor some people are pressing is that it has to look like you lose more by staying at the table than by walking away. But the Democratic party doesn’t see this to be the case, and they’re right.

    Why are they not bothering to pretend even? It’s getting increasingly obvious that they don’t have a rally-the-base September surprise, even some kind of souped-up propaganda initiative. That’s the important data point here. It’s ultimately because of the Tea Party and Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin and the crazy right. YES there is collusion of a sort in the two-party duopoly. But it’s not based in smoke and mirrors.

    The American right is not an illusory danger, only slightly worse than the Democrats, to be carted out to fool and frighten the American left. The Fear is not *baseless*. A lot of people who are considering walking away from the table are doing so because they think the fear is baseless, and the worst that could happen is that we might have to dig for rutabagas a few years in the future. But at least for some of us, it’s clear that that won’t really be an option. The fact that they were so easily able to turn the Park51 business into a multi-week circus is the evidence for that.

    Once again, as far as they can play the dangerous game of pushing the American right further rightward, and as long as they know you can replace them here and now the way that the rigth can replace its leaders, they know it doesn’t matter that you can choose not to vote.

    This is exactly how it has gone down, and why Rahm Emanuel feels so safe in saying “F*** the UAW” and why only an apology is required to keep that tits dude on the Catfood Commission.

  72. September 3, 2010

    And on the other side of things, the American right and American liberals do not face the same challenges. It’s a huge flaw in the Overton Window metaphor, which makes it seem like two sides playing a tug of war trying to move the window. It’s not true.

    It’s really an Overton Floor. The American right is trying to lower the floor, and that is something for which they get assistance from political gravity. The point of the American Right is ultimately to accelerate the increase in “social entropy”. That’s why the literal purveyors of entropy, the Koch brothers, fund it. But when they walk away from the table, they know that entropy continues to operate. They stand a chance of gaining even if they were to walk away and do nothing. For that and other reasons, the American right is extremely cohesive compared to the American left. It is precisely the opposite for the American left.

    The solution to the problems in the USA reside partly in dealing with the susceptibility of 25% of the population to the blandishments of the right. Yes, it all goes back to the Southern Strategy. This does not mean: fantasize about making common economic-populist cause with them, as though the cultural conflicts were any less important in their minds than the economic ones.

  73. Karl Hallowell permalink
    September 3, 2010

    “Breaking the Banks (and getting lending going again): The banks have been pretty ungrateful for the massive bailout they received. They have unilaterally increased credit card rates to gouge customers, have been gaming the market (so much so that one quarter many banks didn’t lose money on their trading operations even one day of the quarter), have fought against financial reform, and have generally acted against the interests of the majority of Americans. One might say “well, now that they’re bailed out, there is nothing we can do about it.”

    “Wrong.

    “The Fed still holds over $2 trillion in toxic waste from the banks. The banks still hold trillions of dollars of toxic waste. If sold on the open market this stuff would sell for, oh, about 5 cents on the dollar. If forced to mark the assets they are keeping on their books at inflated prices to their actual market value, I doubt there is a single major bank in the country which wouldn’t go bankrupt. Including Goldman Sachs.

    “So here’s what you do. As the Federal Reserve you sell $100 billion of the toxic waste on the open market. Set an actual price for it. Then you make the banks mark their assets to market value. They go bankrupt. You nationalize them. (Why not?–They are actually bankrupt after all, and they haven’t increased lending like they were supposed to; in fact, they have decreased it.) You make the stockholders take their losses and the bondholders too, then you reinflate the banks. (If the Fed can print trillions to keep zombie banks “alive” it can print money to reinflate nationalized banks.) The banks lend under FDIC and Fed direction, at the interest rates the Fed directs. The FDIC and Fed eventually break the banks up into a reasonable size. And while they’re at it, they get rid of the entire executive class which caused the financial crisis, and have the DOJ go over all the internal memos and start charging everyone who committed fraud. (Hint: that’s virtually every executive at a major bank.) Again, this is completely up to Obama–the DOJ answers to him.”

    I came here because someone was claiming you as a citation for why Obama was “conservative”. Instead, I find colossal, hateful stupidity. Let me state the ways:

    1) It is unlawful. At the least, it violates the Fourth Amendment. Sure ungrateful, fat cat bankers who mock you for giving them money, are unpopular, but they have rights too. As do the people who’ll lose their life savings over this scheme. And rights don’t go away just because other people have rights. Sure there’s a pile of suffering people, but their existence doesn’t take away the rights of the bankers. That’s how rights work.

    2) It’s a grotesque overreach of presidential power with all sorts of terrible future consequences. What are you going to be saying when Bush III is in office with this kind of power and his jackbooted heel on your throat?

    3) You’re destroying the wealth of the US. Aside from the societal slitting of the throat, it’ll increase the load on US social programs and screw up the US’s ability to do anything other than be a warning to others.

    4) If we start screwing over people we don’t like, eventually we’ll be screwed in kind by people who don’t like us and happen to get the upper hand (say via Bush III).

    5) Nationalize all the banks? Even if we could do it without all the negative consequences, what would be the point? You just made every bank, no matter how small, “too big to fail”. When Bush III puts his cronies in and they crash the banks, well, it’s going to look just as pretty as the process that made them national banks in the first place except this time it’ll cost the taxpayers. Someone will have to cut back on social programs to pay for it. The charm is that it’s a repeatable process which Bush IV, Bush V, etc will enjoy as well.

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