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

Reality is Liberal And Rewards Liberal Policy

In comments, tjxfh wrote (about Obama failing to do what is necessary to save America):

“I think it is likely more complex than that and involves his (Obama’s) overall strategy, which has to balance governing with keeping Democrats in power in the coming elections in 201o and 2012. A recent Gallup poll on ideological preference has 40% of Americans identifying as conservative, 20% as liberal, and 36% as moderate.”

Americans may self identify however they want, but on more key issues than not, whatever their delusional self identification may be, they agree with progressive policy positions more than they do with conservative ones.

More to the point, if Obama does not do effective policy, which is to say liberal policy, because reality is much closer to how liberals describe it than how “conservatives” describe it, his policies will be ineffective. No one is going to care whether he followed moderate, conservative or liberal policies if they’re unemployed or poorer than they were when he took office.

Conversely, if he followed actual liberal policies, and they worked, and everyone was prosperous, he’d get reelected. Especially since no matter what he does, he’s going to be smeared as the biggest liberal since Carter (who, of course, was not very liberal.)

I simply don’t agree with the stance that in order to be reelected one has to engage in policy that won’t work. Quite the contrary, the only reason Obama is likely to be reelected in the face of his massive incompetence (and he is massively incompetent, he has underperformed on every significant major policy he has introduced) is because the Republicans are in complete disarray.  It’s a race to the bottom, and the Republicans are even more incompetent than Obama and the Democrats.

Oh yay.

And, as noted earlier, this sort of thing, when even liberals like tjxfh think that doing the right thing is politically impossible, is why the US is going to take a big dirt nap.

Reality is liberal. “Conservative” policies do not work. If tjxfh is right (I don’t think he is, but if he is) then the US is screwed, blued and tattooed, because what Obama is doing will not work (yes, there will be a short term bounce, as I predicted last year, but so what, Bush had bounces too). Obama’s policies lead directly to the next crisis.  They cause it.

So real leadership would be do the right things, which Americans agree with (a majority for single payer, even), turn the economy around, and find out whether if the economy is good  and everyone has health care and there isn’t a bleeding ulcer war in Afghanistan, you get reelected. And if you don’t, well, at least you did the right thing. But I think it’s a better bet to do what actually works (ie. liberalism) and expect reelection, than to deliberately engage in policies that your own policy advisers think won’t work (read the Stimulus report put out by Romer and co. Right there, in black and white, they said that the stimulus wouldn’t lead to Americans having as many jobs after this cycle as before. Right in their own, overly optimistic scenario. They know their crap won’t work, just as the CBO just told them that their junky “public option” won’t control costs worth a damn.)

The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.

– Yeats

Or, rather, the best believe it’s all pointless and nothing can be done.  America, where even liberals believe that liberalism isn’t practical.

An argument I take more seriously than “Americans are conservatives, and a majority of them believe in single payer and a supermajority want a robust public option” is this:

Finally, he is constrained by the realities of campaign finance. If he doesn’t throw some juicy bones to the people that fund campaigns, as well as protect them from regulation to a great degree, they will take their money elsewhere. They know that it is impossible to win elections in the US without them, and the Dems do too.

Now, this, I think, has a lot of truth to it.  But not totally.  It is entirely possible to break the financial industry, without any help from Congress.  The necessary powers are entirely within the puview of the president and the Federal Reserve.  Bernanke may be theoretically independent, but practically speaking he is under Obama’s thumb.  (If Obama changes his mind and asks for him to be replaced, Congress is not going to say no.)  Withdraw the special funding facilities, do real audits, instruct the Justice department to go after fraud no holds barred (it was all fraud, it won’t be hard to find) and you can break them.  Yes, it will be hard, not it is not impossible.  And no, it will not destroy the economy, not if you engage in real liberal policies.  The banks aren’t lending anyway.  Take them over, and then use them to lend, or just have the Federal Reserve lend.

Of course, all of this is fantasy-land stuff.  It won’t happen, because Obama is not a progressive, is not a liberal and does not have the balls necessary to take on monied interests in this fashion.

But, more to the point, if you agree with tjxfh (and I encourage readers to follow the link and read the entire comment) then you should leave the US.  Because what tjxfh has said is that the US can’t be saved.  Political realities make it impossible for the US government to do what needs to be done.

And while I disagree with tjxfh on the US population as a whole (I think what ideology they self identify with matters less than the specific policies they agree or disagree with), I do agree with him that the monied elites will do everything they can to stop any real reform.  While they certainly could be broken, Obama either does not believe he has the ability to do so, or if he does, is not willing to accept the consequences, most likely because, as a conservative democrat, he does not understand how to manage the consequences, because doing so requires liberal policy measures he simply neither believes in, nor understands.

So, if the US, for whatever reason, politically can’t do what it takes, then the US will go down.  There will be another, worse crisis, and that one will lead to a USSR style collapse.

But, and this is the most important thing.  Who the elites are at any given point is not static. It can change.  And if there is a collapse, there’s a good chance it will change.


Doing a Stimulus Right and Wrong


Destroying the Democratic Majority


  1. CoyoteCreek

    Is this why the markets all applauded over Republican victories last night….oh, wait, wrong party!

    “Finally, [Obama] is constrained by the realities of campaign finance. If he doesn’t throw some juicy bones to the people that fund campaigns, as well as protect them from regulation to a great degree, they will take their money elsewhere. They know that it is impossible to win elections in the US without them, and the Dems do too.”

    So much for hopey-dopey bi-partisianship.

  2. We need to draw a distinction between reality and perceived reality. After the Goldwater ignominious defeat in 1964, conservatives correctly realized that they had to change the universe of discourse in national politics (and economics) to create a perceived reality favorable to their ideology. They worked at this for years and at this point have thoroughly captured the universe of discourse as they set out to do. Instead conservatives participating in a liberal narrative, as was the case after FDR, it became liberals participating in a conservative narrative, in which they were so marginalized that they were force to stop calling themselves liberals and began calling themselves progressives instead.

    This is still where is are. While reality does have a liberal bias because progress rather than tradition rules, the perceived reality of the US is far different, not in the least because things are changing so fast. There are many factors influencing this that aid the conservative point of view and make it appealing to conservatives, who are largely white. The conservative message is at bottom racist, therefore, it appeals to many whites that see themselves as losing ground. Much of the conservative economic view that is against deficits is about not giving handouts to “shiftless colored people.” Glen Beck’s months long rant against ACORN was blatantly racist, designed to put an end to recruitment of non-white poor voters.

    The conservative mantra “small government, low taxes, fiscal responsibility, strong military, and traditional family values” has taken hold, and liberal Democrats neither attacked its internal inconsistencies nor countered it with a similar mantra expressing their own vision for America. “Hope” and “change” don’t cut it.

    Instead, even liberal Democrats criticize the conservative worldview from within, simply attempting to modify it instead of change it. So Obama gets rid of the F-22 but escalates in Afghanistan and increases the military budget overall. Similarly, instead of attempting to show up the simplistic neoliberal “free market” and “free trade” BS for what it is, a tilting of the playing field by gutting regulation and oversight, for example, liberal Democrats try to argue that spending is really investment in the future and is worth the taxes it will involve. The economic talk is in terms of fiscal responsibility, where deficits are inherently bad, because they need to be financed by taxation, or borrowing now and taxing later. However, this is not how the US monetary system actually works, where the government is not revenue constrained in its spending. However, almost no one realize this, the left. right, or center.

    The problem isn’t so much that the majority of Americans are inherently conservative or moderate. It’s thats Democrats have been beaten by conservative in getting them to think in terms of the conservative narrative and accept its assumptions. Cognitive scientist George Lakoff has been saying this for a long time. He’s been telling liberals that most people are not uni-conceptual (liberal or conservative) but bi-conceptual (identifying with different values, some liberal and some conservative). Conservative get people to favor their conservative values and ignore their liberal values through clever rhetoric and sentiment. Liberals on the other hand, are wonks, and attempt to reason with people, often confusing them. Unless liberals reverse this perception of reality, reality and perception will be out of synch in the US, since reality has a liberal bias. So far, liberals are failing badly. Too bad, because they are letting a good crisis go to waste instead of using it to advantage to shift the Overton window toward the left.

    A great benefit that conservatives have received is enormous funding by self-interest right-wing billionaires. They have funded not only think tanks like Cato Institute and Heritage Foundation, which the media now consult regularly for “expert” opinion, but also media that shape the news, like Fox. Liberals have a long way to go to catch up.

    I don’t think it’s going to happen until there’s another depression that allowed FDR to come to power and set a liberal agenda unchallenged, which lasted until Nixon. It then took Reagan to finally end the liberal grip on perceived reality in the US and conservatives have determined the universe of discourse, hence, perceived reality, since then.

  3. nihil obstet

    We live in a propaganda state, and the propaganda is powerfully conservative. Nonetheless, people’s experiences do trump the propaganda. They may say things like “Keep the government out of my Medicare” which echoes the conservative worldview of government as the problem while clinging to the liberal reality. And even with quite remarkable attempts to demonize single-payer insurance and to censor its advocates, the majority of Americans still want it. Obama doesn’t try to lead the majority of Americans because he doesn’t want the liberal policies.

    I think his plan is to emphasize bipartisanship to do two things: 1) make everybody responsible for unpopular policies (it wasn’t Democrats; it was both parties. It’s the same reason you always get calls for bipartisan committees to recommend cuts to Social Security. and 2) avoid responsibility. He couldn’t do any more because the Republicans stopped him. It’s how you keep people happy without doing anything for them. In the campaign he could just promise (promise to filibuster the FISA bill before an important primary, and then after the primary, vote for the bill).

    Obama is gambling that his deference to big money and its handmaiden big media will keep the propaganda from being too vicious against him a la the Clinton wars and that his own evasions of responsibility and his celebrity status will bring enough Americans to the ballot box in 2012 for a second term. I think he’ll lose the gamble.

    However, I fully expect a Soviet Union type collapse in the U.S. Any society requires assent to a certain level of civic virtue to continue to function. Americans are losing their commitment to social virtue. The greed-is-good message and the you’re-better-than-other-people-so-go-it-alone divisions have severely diminished the civic and social infrastructure. Now, the gargantua-choking rewards that the elites are paying themselves for defrauding the nation, and the current administration’s assistance to them to facilitate even more fraud will do even more damage.

    This president and this congress are draining away our future. But yeah, we have to keep trying to stop them.

  4. Ed

    While I agree with most of this, it really is quite difficult to switch countries. The idea of Americans sneaking across the border into Mexico to try to get jobs as dishwashers and agricultural laborers is funny, but probably won’t happen (for one thing, the Mexican government is much more ruthless than the US government in keeping out illegal immigrants).

    We will just have to make the best of things here. If people escape, it will be the same way Russian men escaped when the Soviet Union collapsed, by drinking themselves to death.

  5. Unsurprisingly, I’m on the same page as tjfxh, which should scare tjfxh 🙂 The important thing is to change and prepare the discourse, because we can expect very little on policy progress, and this was the case long before the 2008 elections.

    Health care reform is a case in point. There are presently two opposing views among those in favour of reform:

    1. A bad reform is better than no reform.


    2. No reform is better than a bad reform.

    It’s my belief that the status quo means no peturbation whatsoever in the discourse regarding health care in the USA. So I tend to favour (1). Others vociferously favour (2). Needless to say, *good* reform is not really on the table. So it boils down to the benefit you get from prolonging the status quo.

    I’ve come to feel that way about many things. Micromeasures, even bad micromeasures, are not worse than no measures for change at all.

  6. And DeLong has flipped into pessimism.

  7. Link didn’t work. here. The point being, if DeLong can be brought onto the same page as tjfxh and me, there may yet be some hope for the Village.

  8. There are presently two opposing views among those in favour of reform: …

    This opposition in the Democratic Party has been going on for some time. It could be characterized as a jockeying for dominance between the Howard Dean (liberal) wing and the Rahm Emmanuel (pragmatic) wing. Obama’s appointment of Rahm as WH Chief and his exiling of Howard Dean make clear his choice between the base and the establishment.

    The pragmatic thinking, I believe, is that the base should be ignored at this time because throwing it red meat to get it excited would result in the administration being perceived as more left-leaning than the center would countenance. Obama and his strategists seem to think that the implosion of the GOP present the Democrats with a historic opportunity to tack to the center-right and capture moderate and conservative Dems, as well as many moderate Republicans disillusioned with their party. The presumption is that the base, which is much further to the left, has no choice but to come along. As a result, Howard Dean’s advice to confront the conservative ideology and its propaganda head on has been rejected in favor of remaining within the prevailing universe of discourse and even commandeering it.

    Many think that is a big mistake, because elections are difficult to win without an activist base and certainly without a disgruntled base that sees itself as having been punked. This is especially true when the opposition’s base is extremely highly motivated.

    From the liberal perspective is, of course, disappointing to win the WH and Congress and not carry out a traditional Democratic agenda. Liberals also question the strategy since Dean’s strategy was arguably a lot more successful in the past than Rahm’s. In addition, they point to the dismal Democratic turnout in New Jersey and Virginia, where GOP candidates won. Just as there is a lot of soul-searching going on in the GOP now that there is an open insurrection going on, so too, will there be one in Democratic circles after the Tuesday’s results. But until Obama replaced Rahm with Howard Dean, I won’t be looking for much change.

    I think that we are still in the dénouement of Reaganism, which will end in a bigger crisis as the grand finale. There’s just too much momentum in that direction. Maybe then America will learn its lesson. Or not.

  9. Yes, aside from economic chaos and suffering, we don’t quite know what the collapse of Reaganism might portend. Some fear, quite reasonably given the American anti-socialist conditioning, the rise of fascism. As it will be clearer than ever (though that’s not saying much) at that point that Reaganism and deregulation brought this upon us, I am willing to reserve judgement.

  10. This opposition in the Democratic Party has been going on for some time. It could be characterized as a jockeying for dominance between the Howard Dean (liberal) wing and the Rahm Emmanuel (pragmatic) wing. Obama’s appointment of Rahm as WH Chief and his exiling of Howard Dean make clear his choice between the base and the establishment.

    I’m not willing to tie the health care debate directly to this opposition. I happen to believe that a left-wing populist stance would definitely be the strategically correct one. I simply don’t believe that the Village would allow it at this point. Consequently, …

  11. Wow, a battle of the titans (tjfxh and Ian) and us mere mortals (some) just know that the U.S. is totally fucked up (basically agreeing with both of you). I left almost 8 years ago and probably shouldn’t give a shit. But try as I might, I do, because I grew up believing “America” was the light of the world; my naïveté is long since cured . Both of you make a good argument for your POV, but fail (IMO) to see that the U.S. is past it’s expire date. It gave up it’s (bullshit, IMO) moral superiority a long time ago in a far away place called Viet Nam (my recent history). History will probably move that date much further back; maybe to the landing of Christopher Columbus or?
    In any event; I would be far more interested in an argument for our continued survival. We don’t seem to stand for much that is of any benefit to the continued survival of everyday humans on this planet. My comment is not meant or said in sarcasm; just a stark recognition of reality.

  12. Howard

    Tjfxh – you seem to consistently miss the point that I think Ian is trying to make. You keep talking about strategy as if it is divorced from the consequences of policy just as you insist on talking about economics rather than the practical consequences of actual policy changes that will create particular results. You and the media are stuck in the endless babble of disciplines created to describe what happened but which are powerless, ultimately to shape the future.

    Ian says that the best strategy is good policy and you talk about the value of words, missing his point entirely. I find it incredibly frustrating that you keep highjacking Ian’s discussions about real things and real policy with your insistence on talking about talking. I think that what you have to say is interesting but way beside the point that I think Ian is trying to make. Actually I think that you actually make Ian’s point in counterpoint.

  13. Ian says that the best strategy is good policy and you talk about the value of words, missing his point entirely. I find it incredibly frustrating that you keep highjacking Ian’s discussions about real things and real policy with your insistence on talking about talking. I think that what you have to say is interesting but way beside the point that I think Ian is trying to make. Actually I think that you actually make Ian’s point in counterpoint.

    I don’t see tjfxh as missing this point at all. If the best strategy is good policy, then what is the obstacle to making good policy?


  14. I’m not willing to tie the health care debate directly to this opposition.

    Mandos, progressive sites like FDL and Dem sites like Kos have long been making the point that Rahm’s strategy of recruiting Blue Dogs is at the bottom of the problems that an overwhelmingly Democratic Congress is having getting things done on the president’s agenda, like health care and energy. They are livid about this and have been calling for Rahm’s ouster ever since he was appointed. No really progressive agenda can pass without being seriously watered down in this environment of Rahm’s creation. This is especially galling when Dean’s 50 state strategy turned out to be the right one, after the Establishment opposed it.

  15. Howard

    What is standing in the way of enacting good policy is exactly as Mandos says words. The words used by the great strategerizers of the left who talk endlessly about what will or will not get passed and coalitions and gobbldeygook and nonesense. Either lead or shut up. Either believe in something and force it through or you will lose your place at the head of the line to someone who will actually do something, anything.

    Merely change the words without changing the action will accomplish nothing. Memes and overton windows notwithstanding meaning is made explicit by action. Use all the nice words you want and if you do nothing nothing will happen. Act and words will somehow find their way to new meanings.

    The problem ultimately is not that it cannot be done (despite my despair at it getting done, I agree with Ian here) is that nobody is trying to do it because they either do not believe in it (and here again I agree with Ian) or because they are paralyzed with the fear of shifting windows and terrifying memes.

    Bush did not create new realities (all of them horrible) with words he created them with actions and the appropriate words fell into place. When you act you change reality. When you attempt to do the right thing that attempt is both its own reward and more likely than not will reward you with success.

  16. AR

    Aside from my belief that most of this will be moot, in light of climate change and resource depletion (a crash is inevitable regardless of the puppets pulling the economic strings), the upcoming Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission will probably provide the coup de grace against our electoral democracy (after the appointment of GWB to the presidency) in favor of the elite.

    I sense a struggle for dominance between the Wall St. elite and the RW elite. which has purposefully been creating a populist army to support it. The question in my mind is whether a decision which increases elite cash in the electoral process will also tilt toward the RW elite’s push for fascism, as demonstrated by their efforts at creating an infrastructure for their dominance: recruitment of an army of teabagging brownshirts, coupled with their media’s priming these followers for unleashing violence against everything they perceive as ‘liberal’ or ‘socialist’? The Wall St. elite are loathed by all but the very few politicians who benefit from their largesse., and don’t seem to have planned ahead for influencing the electorate which will, soon enough, sour on the vapid message of ‘hope’ and ‘change’. Eliot Spitzer tells us how this will play out in 2010: “the White House defense of the status quo will give Republicans powerful ammunition in the 2010 elections.”

    Paxton’s Five Stages of Fascism may be altered in our tripartite/two-party form of government. In our case, it may be the Supreme Court, as handmaiden to the (RW) elite, that provides the final nudge toward fascism, by tilting the playing field further toward the minority fascist party, (it is my belief that the GOP is paring itself down to its fascist core). But the factors favoring fascism here are the same: grid-locked government (the intentional policy of the GOP); Obama’s expedient dropping of his campaign promises, in order to continue the Bush/Cheney policy status quo; the weakening of the liberal state ongoing for 30 years; refusal to accept a growing Left as legitimate.

  17. Regarding policy and strategy. Strategy follows policy, since policy sets the mission and objectives. Strategy is the consideration of how to achieve the mission through its objectives as effectively and efficiently as possible with available resources. There is no real strategy without a policy.

    This is the way that the military thinks (I was an ops officer). However, politics is somewhat different because there is a double agenda. Politicians not only have to have a policy and strategy for getting things done in office, they also have to have a strategy for raising money and running the next campaign. That means pleasing or at least placating powerful interest groups.

    Moreover, politicians do not usually make their actual policy public, regardless of what they may put out publicly. They take broadly about agendas and goals, but not a single mission under which all objectives are integrated, against which success and failure can be measured on a time-line. So we hear instead from administration spokespeople and the media about “the Obama agenda.” Then we have to try to figure out what the actual policy and strategy is. The strategy eventually is known through behavior, but they actual policy setting the agenda is only reported after the fact by historians, if they can dig it out of the records when these are released years later.

    Figuring out official policy is especially complicated with the candidate does not run on an overall vision that would hint at actual policy. Even stated policy when it is made public may not be the real story. (Was securing Iraq untapped oil reserves for the US part of actual US policy under Bush, even though it was not stated?)

    Obama ran on hope and change and left exactly where he saw America going and how he proposed to take us there ambiguous. This suited the campaign becomes moderates could see him as moderate, and progressives could see him as progressive. Obama crafts his image to appeal to a broad political spectrum. People still don’t know exactly where he stand on health care, for example, because he hasn’t pinned himself down further than the present system is broken.

    Obama is not projecting himself as a policy wonk the way Clinton did, for example. He is a pragmatist and that means being flexible and expedient. Being too specific about policy in terms of must-meet objectives would box him in.

    I don’t talk much about Obama’s policy because I don’t know what his policies are, and I don’t think that anyone outside the inner circle does either. All we can do is try to deduce the policy from the agenda he seems to be pursuing and the strategic moves he makes. We are in the situation of a general trying to figure out the enemy’s policy objectives and strategy for attaining them through observing behavior. Words for public consumption are worthless because they are assumed to be either propaganda or disinformation.

    I have been saying for a long time that until the Democrats come with with a new vision for America, including precise policy, they will not be able to break the lock of Reaganism. Obama and the Democratic leaders have not done that. They are instead following a pragmatic strategy of accomplishing what they can to effect change away from hard right conservatism. Are they committed to actually changing the paradigm under which America is governed, even though they have a mandate and overwhelming majority? Difficult to tell.

    This is leading to the impression that they are feckless and incompetent, and lack real principles. In contrast to conservatives in this regard, Dems come off badly. In comparison, the GOP seems targeted. focused on message, and willing to take a united stand. This gives the impression that they can govern effectively, in contrast to the bickering Dems and seemingly unfocused administration.

    I have concluded that the reason that Dems have chosen this course because they have elevated strategy over policy, and a large part of that strategy is to build a permanent Democratic majority by capturing the center that the GOP seems to have abandoned. I suspect that this strategy has usurped policy.

    To achieve this, the Dems have chosen to blur the lines between Reaganite policy and Democratic policy. It is called Republican lite. Obama is trying to have one foot in the moderate Republican/conservative Democrat boat and the other in the moderate Dem/progressive Dem boat, and get what he can done to subvert the hard right agenda that has long prevailed. However, he is not strongly committed to enunciating or pursuing an agenda that is identifiable as center or left. As a result, policy is unclear to the public and pundits, and the strategy is shifting. This gives the appearance of facilitation and weakness. It seems to suffer from a desire to please everyone (bipartisanship?)

    On the other hand, Obama managed to beat the powerful Clinton machine against all odds, and then he was able to fend off the GOP attack machine successfully, to trounce McCain-Palin in a landslide. These are not small accomplishments, especially for a relatively young black person in US politics. If he is able to get a more or less universal health care legislation to his desk, however insufficient it may be otherwise, he will have accomplished what no president since Teddy Roosevelt has been able to do. So, while I am disappointed as a progressive, I have to give Obama credit as a top strategist for what he has already accomplished and has in the works. Herding cats in Dumbfuckistan is not easy.

    Finally, I didn’t think at the outset of the campaign and election that this administration would be able to end Reaganism. The momentum is still too strong to effect the shift in national mindset that a new vision completely countering it with liberal policy would entail. Obama may have concluded that, too, and decided not to go for the whole enchilada when it seemed unattainable at present. Dennis Kucinich (my choice among the field) failed out of the gate, and John Edwards populism never caught on, either. While we may carp about Obama, he represents the direction the the voters chose, and any change at all is a step forward instead of more of the same.

    Under these circumstances, progressives will have to force change in their direction instead of being able to just support a president who is on their side. For example, candidate Obama promised to fight for LGTB rights. What has he done? So far, nada.

  18. @ Howard

    Ian says that the best strategy is good policy and you talk about the value of words, missing his point entirely

    Obama said right off the bat that the best policy in health care is single-payer because it would provide universal coverage (a progressive goal) and reduce costs (a conservative goal). But he rejected in the next sentence as impractical in the US at this juncture because of the momentum of the existing system. Here, Obama admits to knowing what the best policy is and is saying that it is undoable strategically, so there is no sense in even considering it for discussion and debate. As are result we are going to get a bill that is unsatisfactory, if one ever does get to the president’s desk.

    What are we supposed to do with that? There just isn’t the enthusiasm in the country to march on Washington, and all the progressive agitation so far isn’t working. Some progressives think that the left should try to force the progressive congress critters to kill any bill that is not single-payer. Others fear that this would kill the Dem majority. What do you suggest?

  19. Formerly T-Bear

    I am with Ian, government is effectively deadlocked, politics is broke, the spanner in the works, an ideology that is bankrupt, spent, moribund that imposes the only references upon a meaningless dialogue, a dialogue that has turned to babel.

    Not only is the political broken, the Law is eviscerated, corrupted, and nullified. It is led about and controlled through the ring in its nose of “Law and Order”, its magistrates prostrating themselves to their masters, the police state, in order to get permission to obtain re-election to office at state level, or willfully ideological at federal, the supreme bench beggared (buggered) by acolytes of the Heritage Foundation capable only on channeling whatever spirits for ideological support.

    Education is effectively non-existent for vast majority of the population, belief has supplanted knowledge, propaganda serves as memory, excellence has become a four lettered word, and “patriot porn” the measure of all good. Those who worship a flag, deify a rag.

    Yes, the country is broken, those with the ability to find answers are marginalized, demeaned, ignored. The children in their herds are not able to resolve the problems being faced, they are incapable of citizenship in the Republic entrusted to them. This cannot, will not end well.

    As long as the public shows no inclination to address their deficits and conduct their lives as adults, fully and rationally, the decomposition of their government will continue, the stench is noted worldwide and will eventually be curtailed and given a decent burial. For a brief moment, it and the people it represented did enlighten the world before it succumbed to cancerous hubris, maybe its best epitaph.

  20. b.

    To assess the guilt and corruption of Obama the individual, the issue of elections is irrelevant.

    Torture is a crime under applicable law, courtesy of Reagan. Torture cover-up is also a crime.

    Either this is the rule of law, or it is not. If you consider mid-term elections to be relevant in any way to this discussion, you have found your answer. It is not my answer.

    U Torture?

  21. Interesting article by David Colander on economics and policy, why it’s not working, and how to fix it by improving incentives.

  22. No let’s consider policy. Policy flows from values applied to facts (present conditions and desired outcomes). Without getting into a philosophical debate about values, they can be considered in terms of interest (Ralph Barton Perry), which determine preferences and priorities among available options. Values are influenced by feeling, upbringing, and social status more than by reason.

    In the US there are basically two major values systems affecting politics and have been since the beginning of the Republic, having been inherited from England. These can be summarized under the modern rubric of liberal and conservative. This dichotomy began initially with differences between Jefferson and Hamilton, for example. Now it is epitomized by FDR and Ronald Reagan, the two dominant values paradigms still affecting the US. The US is now predominately Reaganite in mindset, but not necessarily with respect to underlying values.

    George Lakoff has elaborated the relation of value and mindset to brain function. Brain studies show that neurological pathways are opened and expanded through use. The constant barrage of conservative propaganda and disinformation has opened and expanded pathways that characterize conservative ideas and value. It is not possible to hold relevant ideas without values and sentiment associated with them. That’s the way the brain works. So, successful propaganda engages both reason and emotion. Reason can be shaped through rhetoric and sophistry, and connected to powerful emotions that impel action. According to Lakoff, this has been the conservative SOP since Nixon (Roger Ailes, Lee Atwater and Karl Rove), but not the liberal one, which is based chiefly on reason. The current vision of America, the policy flowing from this, has been based on values shaped by conservatives. Liberals have largely been ineffective in either countering or replacing it.

    Lakoff observes that most people are not uni-conceptual (either liberal or conservative) but bi-conceptual, having some values that are conservative and others that are liberal. These are the so-called moderates, centrists, or independents. There are no “independent” values per se. They are a mixture. This being the case, the liberal agenda should be to activate liberal values in the center and connect them with visceral emotions. The standard GOP procedure is to incite greed and instill fear. Liberals should focus instead on emotions that relate to positive values, like love and empathy, relying on the mirror neurons that all have but may not be using sufficiently to motivate them to altruism.

    Liberal vision and policy depends on activating these positive values and suppressing negative values in the brain through use. This is real value of memes and memeplexes, frames and framing, and making one’s narrative the established narrative, thereby controlling the universe of discourse. When this narrative is established, it gets used over and over and becomes deeply imprinted neurologically through continue repetition. This is the value of a simple message and staying on message. For example, “death panels” may have been outrageous from the vantage of reason, but it has been very effective emotionally in instilling fear. Liberals need to find trigger like this of a positive nature.

    Until liberal values predominate in people’s minds, the US is not going to have a liberal vision or successful liberal policies. Until then, the strategy is going to be focusing on countering the dominant conservatives values, mostly by compromising liberal principles.

    Liberals cannot argue to liberal policies based on reasoning alone, e.g., that they are “reality-based,” and so should be accepted. Reality is perception for most people, and perception is colored by sentiment and interest. Therefore, progressives need to engage the values that motivate people to accept such policies as superior to policy based on conservative values, and connect these values with powerful emotions and interests. It’s really not all that hard.; FDR was very successful in doing it when a lot of people were in dire straits — like they are now.

    Instead, it is the populists that are engaging them at the emotional level, and a lot of them are following Glen Beck, Sarah Palin, etc., in spite of the crazy and against all reason, as well as their own real interests. But no one but the president has the bully pulpit to counter the billionaires that are funding the crazy for their own interests. Instead, Obama has rejected the populist approach and liberals don’t have the billionaire champions to get them the needed exposure. So here we are on blogs that only a miniscule fraction of the population reads in comparison with Faux Noise, conservative talk radio, and the right wing think tanks and astroturf.

  23. Howard

    I’m still trying to figure out your answer to Ian’s post and am lost in a veritable blizzard of words. Once again you seem to hypothesize and endorse a grand Obama strategy to change the meaning of words while getting what small actions are possible underneath the insufferable weight of Reagan’s words. Because great actions are not possible with all those horrible words on the other side.

    This is simply backwards.

    This is not war this is leadership. Policies should not be hidden and discoverable only through some sort of intelligence operation. Policies should be open and clear. And you should be willing to go to the wall for them. Use the bully pulpit. As Ian points out the incremental policies proposed are doomed to failure because they are incremental.

  24. Howard, I happen to be a radical politically, rather than a modern liberal (center-left) or a progressive (moderate left). I think that Noam Chomsky, for example, has it right, so I am not advocating either liberal or progressive policy myself, although I support such policy as the next best thing.

    I feel that many liberals and progressive think that minds can be changed through reasons chiefly or solely. I don’t think so, and I have given reasons based on contemporary understanding of how the brain functions. Leadership requires articulating a comprehensive vision, policies that set objectives, and a grand strategy for achieving these objectives. This requires carefully words as will as actions that bak them up. The opposition understand this. The opposition is essentially managed by the rich and influential. They use “public relations” consultants and firms to shape emotions and views. These public relations experts are actually experts in creating and deploying propaganda.

    The president always wins by capturing the center as well as his base. This means he faces attacks from the right and the left. President Obama is in the position in the fashion that is determined by present conditions. He is attempting to govern (lead) by blunting those attacks while keeping his base in line and also expanding the center, especially in light of the GOP choice to move further to the right.

    I don’t know what the president’s values are. It is possible he is a dyed in the wool liberal and it is possible he is a biconceptual centrist. But from the beginning, he has chosen to engage the center through bipartisanship, espousing both liberal and conservative values. He announced this in his maiden national speech at the national convention, when he said there is not a red America of a blue America, there is a United States of America. I am pretty sure that if he were on this thread he would say that this is overriding principle fashioning his vision, policy and governing style. I don’t think he is being cynical and just trying to capture the center. I think he is genuinely trying to unite the America that he sees too hopeless divided to be governable. And in doing this he is confronted with powerful interests that like things just as they are.

    Liberals and progressives are left writing on blogs and calling their congress critters until we have another election. Not much of a bully pulpit. Oh, and yes, I have put in my time on the front lines and been tear gassed and watched my friends being beaten up and carted off to holding pens, waiting to be arraigned. That’s probably what’s it’s going to come to again, if they don’t invoke the Patriot Act, that is.

  25. they agree with progressive policy positions more than they do with conservative ones.

    I think it is a bit more complicated than that. For example, Americans are overwhelmingly for universal health care — until costs and “paying for it” are brought up. Americans are for an energy policy that will address climate change, but they are afraid of it also costing them a lot of money or forcing them to alter their lifestyle. Most people would like to be out of Iraq and Afghanistan but are deathly afraid of “terrorism” spreading and affecting them. When you consider these opposites together as underlying the political dynamic, the picture about policy changes dramatically.

    Both the Dems and the GOP realize that the American people by and large are torn by conflicting values, and this makes governance a problem — damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. There is virtually no major issue on which a lot of people don’t have conflicting values and hold opposing views. This is the challenge of getting elected and governing in the US. Even though the GOP is in the minority, conservative values permeate the culture along with liberal values and most people are biconceptual in this regard.

    The GOP is expert at using greed, fear, racists and all the other hot buttons to trigger the conservative values most people hold along with liberal ones. The party wins that can convince the most people that their party’s values trump the other parties on the various issues that come to the fore.

    On health care, Obama is trying to espouse the opposing values of universal care, a liberal goal based on empathy, and controlling costs, a conservative mantra based on greed and fear. “Controlling costs” is actually a neoliberal shibboleth that has no real economic substance in most debates, as the GOP tacitly admits regarding military spending. Or, as arch-conservative Dick Cheney said when his party was in power, “Deficits don’t matter.”

    But rather than attack the deeply imbedded “fiscal responsibility” meme and the frame that government spending must be paid for by present taxes or borrowing that must be paid for by taxes in the future, the president is caving to the conservative shibboleth, apparently thinking that it is too difficult to correct and that people cannot understand how government finances work, or else he does not understand how government finances actually work himself.

    My feeling is that deep down Obama doesn’t want to adopt a primarily liberal Democratic agenda because he thinks, rightly or wrongly, that this would continue to divide a country that needs to be brought together. This is the only way I can explain his choices without getting cynical about it.

  26. nihil obstet

    tjfxh, your belief in human articulateness and consistency is higher than mine: Until liberal values predominate in people’s minds, the US is not going to have a liberal vision or successful liberal policies. When people feel that they are respected, that those speaking to/with them understand, and that what is said is more promising than threatening, they will align themselves with you. You seem to be saying that people start from a consistent framework that they understand. I don’t think they do. I think they start from observations and feelings about things that strike them as right or wrong. Instead of thinking through and identifying causes and solutions, they adopt interpretations that are offered.

    Take the wacky tea bagger parties. There are no conservative values there. But there was fear and anger. The economy has created a lot of hardship. But well-connected bankers got $millions in bonuses. There’s something going on with health care in a Congress and administration that has said there needs to be entitlement reform consisting of cutting benefits. And there’s a right wing that’s happy to tell the tea baggers that they’re right, and a so-called liberal establishment that just sneered at them. Now, they were involved in a tribal identification ritual that I don’t think could be overcome. But they’re just an extreme example of how most people who don’t follow news and policy carefully think. And most of those people will be reached if liberals could say, “Here’s where you’re right to be worried and angry, and here’s what we all can do together to make our lives better.” That’s the liberal vision and the liberal policies. I don’t think we’ll get there by expecting people to listen to our words for twenty years until they agree with us and then we’ll make their lives better.

  27. jussumbody

    Wow, is this the longest comments section ever? And how about the record for most really long individual comments.

    Thanks for that Yeats quote. I’ see it dozens of times a year and it never sank in what kind of people he was talking about. I always knew who the “worst” were, but I never quite fit Obama’s ilk into the “best” category. I guess I just always had that type placed in the category of “second worst, but it’s a really close call”.

    As for the President replacing Bernanke unilaterally, I think I’ll take that with a grain of salt. As bad as Clinton was, I always had the feeling he would have ditched Greenspan if he could. And even if he did want to, had he tried he would have had a huge revolt from Congress. I forget when the Greenspan abject worship started, but I think it was definitely in full swing by ’96. Maybe BJ could have achieved it right out of the gate in ’93, but as I recall he was dealing with/reeling from revolt even from his own party over gays in the military weeks before inauguration.

    Otherwise I’m pretty much in complete agreement with the Ian take on reality and liberalism. I don’t think people realize how much of life’s shittiness is a result of widespread conservative attitudes and approaches in almost every facet of life (including conservative attitudes and approaches adopted by self-identified liberals). I think the only “conservative” approach that really isn’t conservative is the attitude toward laissez faire economics, which aren’t liberal, just reckless. And that one is their most cherished dogma.

    I may have to join the fascists in hoping for Obama to fail. I just hope his failure becomes obvious by next year, in time for a real liberal to start raising money for the 2012 primaries. He may be better than Bush, but Bush brought us to the brink of oblivion. Obama has done nothing but buy us a little more time. He can run, but he can’t hide.

  28. I may have to join the fascists in hoping for Obama to fail. I just hope his failure becomes obvious by next year, in time for a real liberal to start raising money for the 2012 primaries. He may be better than Bush, but Bush brought us to the brink of oblivion. Obama has done nothing but buy us a little more time. He can run, but he can’t hide.

    It would definitely not happen that way. An Obama failure would mean a Republican in 2012. Otherwise, third party fantasies would have come true by now.

  29. tjfxh:
    Have you forgotten your RFK(Or was it Teddy)?

  30. gtash

    I am going to pitch one small idea amongst these larger ones.


    Obama’s election was more symbolic of change than of substantial change and this is very much like Reagan’s election. Reagan came to power with the personality that appealed to lots of people in part because he was a cipher at that level. Yes, he broadcast his Neo-Goldwater views as Governor and before; his policy inclinations were predictable, but nobody seems to know to this day much about the guy except that he was affable. He was your symbolic ‘drinking buddy’ while being (in my view) an authoritarian.

    Obama is being a cipher right now, but he seems to focus on issues and actions that are more symbolic in nature to maintain the notion of “hope” or “change”. Like Reagan, he relies on his underlings and staff to maneuver and strategize, but he himself is far more visible doing the symbolic things. These gestures set a tone of office and direction–symbolic perhaps of where he wants to be or where he is homing in. The main thing is, lke Reagan, he is generally more convincing that say Bush who attempted to make the gestures, but usually screwed them up by smirking too much or mangling the English language beyond all recognition.

    I suppose what I am saying isn’t strictly symbolism so much as Reagan and Obama rely upon people deducing their intentions (like tjxfh admits) without providing much substance. We follow leaders who project personal leadership qualities, and these two guys have highly subjective–even Rohrshach-like qualities. Theyevoke a homing instinct to an America we recognize and desire, but they surely go about it in different ways—and they both use this very deliberately as emotional theatre. They use this facility to set the temperature of the political stew.

    I think this symbolic approach is more powerful than we like or want to admit. I think it is probably as strong if not stronger than Lakeoff’s words argument. But even as it is powerful, it also more nuanced.

    My 2 cents.

  31. gstash, good observations. I think you are right on this score, and it’s a big reason that Obama was awarded the Nobel prize. It’s not so much what he has done or is doing. It’s because he has already lowered the global political temperature with his openness and unity theme. I agree that this is and will have profound effects, and it may be his chief legacy.

    However, these thread is about actual policy and its effective implementation, and there are real problems here in the eyes of liberals (center-left) and progressives (moderates of the left). I personally don’t think that much can done without a more radical approach, and that is probably not possible to mount politically at this time, although Dan Froomkin is calling for it in his Huff Po blog post Want Obama To Be Bolder? Take To The Streets!.

    However, I think we have to understand that we are up against what Noam Chomsky calls “the Mafia principle.” It is economic neoliberalism being interpreted as a political ideology/policy resulting in ne0-imperialism and neocolonialism. Since the fall of the Soviet Union as a counterbalancing force, the dominant US elite have sought to throw off all restraint by capturing the US government through legalized bribery and the revolving door. What President Eisenhower called “the military-industrial complex” has become the military-multinational complex, and it’s goal is global economic domination, the military being necessary to ensure control of resources, especially energy.

    It is going to be very difficult to change this for the better through the normal political process, because, truth be told, most of the US population is on board, if only subliminally, because the are fully committed to preserving their lifestyle — being 5% of the world’s population and using 25% of its energy. I don’t think that many self-identified liberals and progressives have really thought this through. Or maybe some have, and this is fine with them. But in reality, there is no radical left in the US at the moment that is political visible, let alone effective. The Green Party is probably closest to it, and they don’t have the funding to mount a national campaign. At least a lot them get that the Mafia principle is at work, even if they don’t grasp it in its historical, political and economic depth.

    So while I applaud President Obama’s shifting the symbolism away from Reaganism, he hasn’t really changed the Reaganite approach to governing. That is to say, he is still caught up in the “fiscal responsibility” meme and “victory” memes, which are pushing him center-right. However, center right is moving further rightward as the GOP becomes more extreme.

    Actually, there is much more to this going on behind the veil, as history goes to show. Every president is trapped to some degree by the momentum of history, and the neoliberal, neo-imperial, neocolonial age is still going string, with the US fighting too wars in the heartland of where global energy resources lie. In the US, the financial system, the industrial system, and government are all cooperating toward the Mafia principle that allows the elite to dominate and the US to grow at others’ expense.

  32. gtash

    “So while I applaud President Obama’s shifting the symbolism away from Reaganism, he hasn’t really changed the Reaganite approach to governing. That is to say, he is still caught up in the “fiscal responsibility” meme and “victory” memes, which are pushing him center-right. However, center right is moving further rightward as the GOP becomes more extreme.”

    I wish I were more of an historian, but it seems to me Obama might have capitalized on being a lot more like FDR and a lot less like Reagan in order to shift away from Reagan. I think this is the essence of the progressive critique of Obama as when you hear it from Krugman or Stiglitz on the economy, or many of the average joes on the street who can still recall the FDR era. FDR is on a kind of subconscious borderline between history and a dream for most Americans that his symbolic potential isn’t the same as Reagan. Still, Obama had (or has) one of those “teachable moments” to reconnect us to a symbol like FDR—and he doesn’t take advantage of it. The fear is becoming entangled in the “small government” and “socialism” language of the present. I think that is an gross miscalculation on Obama’s part, and I think we could all benefit from a solid history lesson, warts and all, about FDR.

  33. gstash, thanks for the Chomsky link. It’s a great summary for the traditional media (in the UK, not US, of course). As Brad DeLong ofen lament’s, “Why can’t we have a decent press corps?”

    On FDR. I think the OBama has run away from FDR because he is a socialist pariah to conservatives and he is tacking, right not left. He sees FDR as a divisive symbol, but apparently not Reagan, whom he has mentioned several time in a positive light. Maybe that says it all.

  34. I can’t emphasize enough that this is not YET the Great Depression. We are *still* talking about a world wherein most people still feel like they have an investment in the system as it is.

  35. David

    Not long ago I listened to John Keane talk about his new book “The Life and Death of Democracy” which is the first book in some years to examine what are the factors that allow a democracy to flourish or die. He is of the opinion that democracy in many first world countries is facing the greatest crisis of
    legitimacy since the 1930’s. The big difference is that right now there is no Hitler or Stalin to rally the disaffected.

    That could change with the rise of China. Keane thinks that the Chinese leadership are trying to adapt something what is done in Singapore. That is to have near absolute rule, but allow a process where the people can still “let go of steam” provided it is not focused on questioning the authority of the leadership. As China becomes more powerful, this model may become more attractive world wide. He was of the opinion that the future of the democracy will be settled by what happens in China and the US.

  36. nihil obstet

    David, Keane’s premise appears to be that 1st world democracies are democratic in fact rather than just in trappings. Given the enormous differences between the wishes of the majority of the U.S. population and the U.S. government officials, I think U.S. rulers “have near absolute rule, but allow a process where the people can still ‘let go of steam’ provided it is not focused on questioning the authority of the leadership.” Lots of practices contribute to this. One example: you can practice free speech in a “free speech zone” watched by police, so letting off steam without being able to effectively question authority.

  37. Ian Welsh

    The Chinese are absolutely trying the Singapore model. Yes. And yes, the US is run by an oligarchy. However, I believe the forms of democracy in the US are still strong enough to overcome the oligarchy, at least in theory. In practice–we’ll see, there are reasons to be both optimistic and pessimistic.

  38. @ nihil obstet;
    Spot on. Try as I might I can’t find any evidence the U.S isn’t sliding towards fascism.

  39. @ Ian Welsh;

    I believe the forms of democracy in the US are still strong enough to overcome the oligarchy, at least in theory.

    Re: Dan Froomkin is calling for it in his Huff Po blog post, Want Obama To Be Bolder? Take To The Streets!.

    IMO this is exactly what’s needed; but, it appears the citizenry are no longer ready or willing to do that. And this is the tipping point at which democracy fails; democracy isn’t free, it comes with a high price and only it’s citizens can pay and the currency is activism. IMO.

  40. Formerly T-Bear

    Out of curiosity, did a word count

    Ian ……….1,106 (in body of post including quotes)

    tjfxh …….4,791 (in comments)

    Winning this round ………. tjfxh

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