The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Next Time, Listen

obama-postersA lot of folks are beginning to notice that Obama isn’t a liberal in economic terms.  His policies and the advisers he’s surrounded himself with make that increasingly difficult to ignore.

Democrats, liberals and progressives have no excuse not to know this.  It was clear during the primaries.  No lesser person than Paul Krugman noted it repeatedly, as did lesser comenters like myself.

Next time Paul Krugman tells you something like “Politician X is the least economically progressive of the 3 major candidates”, please listen.  Or if I tell you, consider at least listening.

Yes, saying “I told you so” is bad manners, but frankly, I’m a little bitter about this.  I don’t know if  Clinton or Edwards would have been noticeably better, but I do know that their concrete, actual policy proposals at the time were more progressive than Obama’s were, so the odds were at least slightly better.

Oh well, maybe we’ll get another chance to do it right in 4 to 8 to 12 years.  In the meantime we are reduced to hoping that dear leader will have a change of heart and that Congress will still be cooperative enough if or when he does for it to matter.

The saddest thing is that it was a Democratic year.  Odds are that almost any of the Democratic candidates could have won the general.  So the candidate could have been more progressive and still been elected.


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  1. Events seems to be bearing out that we are in for one more round of Reagan/Thatcherism before Anglo-American capitalism aka neoliberalism >neo-imperialism >neocolonialism self-destructs, with a resulting transfer of economic and political power from the West to Asia. (As I recall, Stirling Newberry foresaw this some time ago in his The Bell Tools For Us series on The Agonist in August, 2008.

    The election of a different Democrat may not have altered this very much. While Obama was certainly to the right of the field, in the end it will be the conservative caucus of the Democratic congress that seals the deal. See, for example, The New Republic: Why the Democrats can’t govern.

    What’s up with the conservative Democrats? Much of the country is still in the grip of Reaganism, and so the US must watch the final wind-down of this era. Moreover, cyclically Obama may be this era’s Hoover. See Naked Capitalism guest post.

  2. Ian Welsh

    A lot of decisions being made, like the majority of the Geithner plan, are Obama’s alone and do not require Congressional approval.

  3. Ed

    “Next time Paul Krugman tells you something like “Politician X is the least economically progressive of the 3 major candidates”

    I did a double take on this, because I automatically thought Obama, Hillary Clinton, and McCain. I was interested to learn how McCain would have been more economically progressive than Obama. Then I realized the third candidate was Edwards.

    Hillary Clinton was more economically progressive than Obama in the sense that she put forward a health care plan under which everyone would have been required to purchase health care. My definition of “progressive” involves people not being required by the government to spend their own money on things, even worthwhile things. Yes, Obama’s plan did not call for universal health care coverage, but I’m not sure that this should be turned into some sort of progressive litmus test. Consider a plan for a single payer (which no major US presidential candidate) universal health care system that would be funded by a flat tax on each household of $8000 a year, yes a household under the poverty line would still have to pay. The progressive response, if the term is taken to mean reducing inequality, would be to oppose that plan. Or what if McCain came out for a single payer health care system, but also favored attacking Iran, banning abortion, etc.? Would he be the progressive candidate? These are outlandish examples, but the point is I think Ian was indulging in a bit of litmus test liberalism in his support of Hillary during the primaries. Certainly her husband’s administration wasn’t progressive, except in the sense of “not Republican”, and if she had other progressive policy proposals I missed them.

    There is actually a counterintuitive case for McCain being the progressive option as the person who would have been the most unpredictable and the most likely to do something to upset the conventional wisdom in the White House, but leaving that aside on trade and foreign policy Obama was probably a slightly more progressive bet than Hillary Clinton, given their past public statements, assuming the second Clinton administration would have been much like the worse. The fact is that US presidential candidates will only have a serious chance of winning if they are likely to enact a fairly narrow range of policies and make appointments from a fairly small group. The office is too powerful, and there is too much money involved, for it to be otherwise.

  4. Ian Welsh

    It wasn’t just health care, for example Clinton wanted to tax all income equally, including capital gains. The difference wasn’t huge, but when I went through all 3 candidates I found Hilary slightly to the left of Obama, and Edwards slightly to the left of Clinton.

    Obama also said a lot of dubious things, such as his constant praise for Reagan.

    I would also say that Obama was to the left of Hilary on foreign affairs issues, though again, not significantly. (Edwards was quite substantially better though not without problems. Still he was the only one to say he didn’t believe in the war on terror, for example.)

    Hilary was and is, also, a wonk. Obama is a smart guy, but he’s not a wonk. It matters.

  5. ian, v glad to find your new blog home.

    the problem i think you’re not taking into account enough is that political campaigns are marketing campaigns and how one “sells” a candidate no longer has much to do with how they will govern (if it ever did). i mean, of the three, edwards ran the most “progressive’ campaign and yet was by far the least progressive while in the senate.

    yes, obama sucks. and he sucks worse than i thought he would (i decided in july not to vote for him based on his fisa betrayal and his economic advisors but i still thought his policies, while republican, would be sane). but the larry summers crew is the old clinton crew and i never saw any signs that hillary clinton wouldn’t have relied on them too. (i still remember her statement in one of the early debates about how hedge funds were great because we’d figured out how to regulate them). i guess what i’m trying to say is that obama’s current suckitude doesn’t mean clinton would have actually been better.

    the fact of the matter is that we didn’t have a decent candidate on offer.

  6. Ian Welsh

    Well, I’m a big believer that you may as well choose the candidate who at least says the right things, because that candidate who can’t even be bothered to do that isn’t gonna do those things either.

  7. LOL. i did vote for the candidate who said more of the right stuff – nader (although i probably would have voted for mckinney if she had been ahead of nader in the polls in MA, since i was going for the protest vote).

  8. jawbone

    Ian, sometime early in the Democratic primaries, you wrote (at The Agonist, I think, but I haven’t been able to find it) that whoever won the Dem nomination would deeply disappoint the candidate’s supporters.

    I expected some disappointment from Obama; actually, I wrote in Hillary bcz I was in a state going heavily for Obama and I wanted my vote to be a protest and push for to move left. (Like they’ve ever looked up the write-in vote count….)

    I began really trying to learn about Obama when he won Iowa–and initially I had hope he would be more liberal than he appeared to be. But the further I dug into his political past, the more skeptical I became. The way he handled the radiation leaks into ground water in IL most bothered me. He started out strong, gained strong support from the people affected and watchdog groups; then, he met with the nuke power plant people and began to walk back his strong stand for required reporting of any leaks which could affect health and the environoment. It ended up being Republican Lite, with voluntary compliance promised by the nuke energy corps. Ultimately his proposal disappeared into the Republican controlled Senate.

    Then he began flipping on promises on such things as FISA.

    And the healthcare strangeness–mandates for parents to cover kids, but no mandates to get everyone covered. And almost being forced to say during a debate with McCain that healthcare is a right. Huh?

    Oh, and then the reports began to come in that the man of the little people’s donations had achieved his early financial prowess from Big Money….

    Did you ever think Obama would be as disappointing as he has turned out to be?

  9. David Mizner

    Indeed. Or mostly indeed, because I think it’s a stretch to believe that Clinton would’ve been much better than Obama on domestic policy. It’s clearer than ever that key factor (even more key than a candidate’s state policy positions) is a candidate’s closeness to the Wall Street Wing of the Party, and no one was/is closer than Clinton. Do you remember her saying that we should ask Rubin and Greenspan to fix the economy?

    Edwards, by contrast, for all his imperfections (I think his greatest failure was not running on a single-payer health plan) showed himself quite willing to alienate and offend the Wall Street wing, with his rhetoric or with his advisors, drawn heavily from the labor movement. Of course, this was also reflected in his policy position, especially his fair trade stance. It’s simply inconceivable that he would be dealing with the banking crisis in a Wall Street-friendly way.

    Of course, a candidate’s policy positions reflects

  10. BDBlue

    Actually, one of the great untruths about the primaries is that Clinton was closer to Wall Street than Obama. Wall Street’s money went early to Obama and stayed there. Clinton did well, but Obama did better. (See here* and . A telling point, IMO, given that Clinton represented New York. Also, Obama was much more dependent on Wall Street money because without the hedge fund seed money, he would’ve had a very difficult time challenging Clinton at all.

    I don’t think Clinton would be some progressive dream. But I do think a President that was pushing HOLC would be better than one who didn’t and hasn’t (has anyone pushed it since Clinton left the Senate?). Similarly, a President whose campaign budget proposals were more stimulus and less tax cuts would have been more likely to fight for a stronger stimulus bill, than the guy who had the weakest proposal during a Democratic primary. See here for a comparison of the three candidates’ economic proposals.**

    No doubt we’re talking about a small move left from Obama to Clinton, but I think given the size of the disaster before us, any movement in the better direction has huge implications for the pain and suffering Americans are going to feel as a result of this economic collapse.

    But the official line will always be that it doesn’t matter that the left paid no attention that Obama ran to every other Democrats’ right on domestic issues because Clinton would be the same (funny, I don’t remember the Obama supporters arguing the two were the same during the primary). Any departure from this official line would mean that many of the prominent voices in the “progressive” blogosphere would have to go back and examine how they came to embrace the most economically (and rhetorically) conservative Democrat in the race as some sort of progressive savior. Better to say it doesn’t matter.

    * Thomas Fergueson:

    Every four years my slogan is: I’ll tell you who bought your candidate before you vote for him or her. And it takes a lot. I mean, I did a study of the early money, and it was perfectly obvious that Obama was the candidate of finance, and to an almost exclusive degree in the sense that that was the sector that had a—he was far more concentrated there than, say, Hillary Clinton was. She had plenty of support in finance too.


    Anyway, and I’m just finishing for the whole 2008, and it’s just obvious, you know, you get what you pay for, and they pay. And so I’m sorry to say the people who caused the problem are to a very large degree the folks who—sort of primary backers of Obama. So I’m not surprised that, to use Paul Krugman’s term, they’re almost obsessed with this sort of private-sector solution in finance. It’s not an obsession.

    ** Paul Krugman:

    The Obama campaign’s initial response to the latest wave of bad economic news was, I’m sorry to say, disreputable: Mr. Obama’s top economic adviser claimed that the long-term tax-cut plan the candidate announced months ago is just what we need to keep the slump from “morphing into a drastic decline in consumer spending.” Hmm: claiming that the candidate is all-seeing, and that a tax cut originally proposed for other reasons is also a recession-fighting measure — doesn’t that sound familiar?

    Anyway, on Sunday Mr. Obama came out with a real stimulus plan. As was the case with his health care plan, which fell short of universal coverage, his stimulus proposal is similar to those of the other Democratic candidates, but tilted to the right.

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