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Friday, September 2, 2011

The Attacks on Obama are Wrong Headed: Right and Left

The racist Tea Party has been on a constant vicious attack since the summer of 2009 beginning with their town hall attacks on the health care legislation.  Mitch McConnell, following Rush Limbaugh's declaration that he wanted Obama to fail, stated his commitment to make the President a one-term president.  McConnell and his Republican legislators oppose everything Obama proposes for two reasons: 1) he's a Democrat and 2) he's black.  More recently, this chorus has been joined by members of the left.  Unlike the Republicans, the attacks on the left are that the President is not black enough or not committed to helping black people.  This is the position of  Cornel West and Tavis Smiley. Likewise, Clarence Lang, writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education  has been very critical of the Obama for not addressing the major economic disparities facing the black community. 

Like his right wing counterparts, Cornel West has called for the President's defeat.  His was a plea for Senator Bernie Sanders to challenge the President in the primary elections would, like Ted Kennedy's challenge of President Jimmy Carter in the 1980 campaign lead to his defeat in the general election.  

In his analysis Jonathan Chait (below) provides an analysis of why the left is wrong and short-sighted in its attack on the President.  What the left does not realize is that the President is up against a racist right wing opposition that is committed to his defeat and secondly he is not a dictator that can command his every policy desire.  Consequently, Chait argues that the highly partisan right and its polar opposite the highly partisan left are both wrong headed in their attacks on the President.  RGN

What the Left Doesn’t Understand About Obama
By JONATHAN CHAIT
Published: September 2, 2011

This has been the summer that liberal discontent with Obama has finally crystallized. The frustration has been simmering for a while — through centrist appointments, bank bailouts and the defeat of the public option, to name a few examples. But it has taken the debt-ceiling standoff and the threat of a double-dip recession to create a leftist critique of the president that stuck.

Obama’s image as a weakling and sellout on domestic issues now centers on his alleged resistance, from the very first days of his presidency, to do whatever was necessary to heal the economy. “The truly decisive move that broke the arc of history,” wrote the Emory professor Drew Westen in this newspaper, “was his handling of the stimulus.” Just as the conservative repudiation of George W. Bush boiled down to “he spent too much,” the liberal repudiation of Obama has settled on “he didn’t spend enough.”

There’s truth in that. President Obama underestimated the depth of the crisis in 2009 and left himself with bad options in the event the economy failed to recover as quickly as he hoped. And yet the wave of criticism from the left over the stimulus is fundamentally flawed: it ignores the real choices Obama faced (and the progressive decisions he made) and wishes away any constraints upon his power.

The most common hallmark of the left’s magical thinking is a failure to recognize that Congress is a separate, coequal branch of government consisting of members whose goals may differ from the president’s. Congressional Republicans pursued a strategy of denying Obama support for any major element of his agenda, on the correct assumption that this would make it less popular and help the party win the 2010 elections. Only for roughly four months during Obama’s term did Democrats have the 60 Senate votes they needed to overcome a filibuster. Moreover, Republican opposition has proved immune even to persistent and successful attempts by Obama to mobilize public opinion. Americans overwhelmingly favor deficit reduction that includes both spending and taxes and favor higher taxes on the rich in particular. Obama even made a series of crusading speeches on this theme. The result? Nada.

That kind of analysis, however, just feels wrong to liberals, who remember Bush steamrolling his agenda through Congress with no such complaints about obstructionism. Salon’s Glenn Greenwald recently invoked “the panoply of domestic legislation — including Bush tax cuts, No Child Left Behind and the Medicare Part D prescription drug entitlement — that Bush pushed through Congress in his first term.”

Yes, Bush passed his tax cuts — by using a method called reconciliation, which can avoid a filibuster but can be used only on budget issues. On No Child Left Behind and Medicare, he cut deals expanding government, which the right-wing equivalents of Greenwald denounced as a massive sellout. Bush did have one episode where he tried to force through a major domestic reform against a Senate filibuster: his crusade to privatize Social Security. Just as liberals urge Obama to do today, Bush barnstormed the country, pounding his message and pressuring Democrats, whom he cast as obstructionists. The result? Nada, beyond the collapse of Bush’s popularity.

Perhaps the oddest feature of the liberal indictment of Obama is its conclusion that Obama should have focused all his political capital on economic recovery. “He could likely have passed many small follow-up stimulative laws in 2009,” Jon Walker of the popular blog Firedoglake wrote last month. “Instead, he pivoted away from the economic crisis because he wrongly ignored those who warned the crisis was going to get worse.”

It’s worth recalling that several weeks before Obama proposed an $800 billion stimulus, House Democrats had floated a $500 billion stimulus. (Oddly, this never resulted in liberals portraying Nancy Pelosi as a congenitally timid right-wing enabler.) At the time, Obama’s $800 billion stimulus was seen by Congress, pundits and business leaders — that is to say, just about everybody who mattered — as mind-bogglingly large. News reports invariably described it as “huge,” “massive” or other terms suggesting it was unrealistically large, even kind of pornographic. The favored cliché used to describe the reaction in Congress was “sticker shock.”

Compounding the problem, Obama proposed his stimulus shortly after the Congressional Budget Office predicted deficits topping a trillion dollars. Even before Obama took office, and for months afterward, “everybody who mattered” insisted that the crisis required Obama to scale back the domestic initiatives he campaigned on, especially health care reform, but also cap-and-trade, financial regulation and so on. Colin Powell, a reliable barometer of elite opinion, warned in July of 2009: “I think one of the cautions that has to be given to the president — and I’ve talked to some of his people about this — is that you can’t have so many things on the table that you can’t absorb it all. And we can’t pay for it all.”

Rather than deploy every ounce of his leverage to force moderate Republicans, whose votes he needed, to swallow a larger stimulus than they wanted, Obama clearly husbanded some of his political capital. Why? Because in the position of choosing between the agenda he came into office hoping to enact and the short-term imperative of economic rescue, he picked the former. At the time, this was the course liberals wanted and centrists opposed.


The full article



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