Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Criticism is like Medicine for the Body Politic--You Might Not Like the Taste, but Take it Anyway

   Criticism is like medicine for the body politic; many don't like to take it, but it's necessary for good health.
   Earlier today, a friend of mine posted this lefty-bashing rant by Michael Grunwald in Time.  I jotted down criticisms as I read, so they took the form of bullet points.  They could cohere together with a logical flow, but I view it as the online article equivalent of annotating a book.

   (1) I think that the attack on Al Gore with which the article starts is unfounded. Al Gore is right that Obama has paid little attention to global warming as an issue and could do more to frame it as an issue of national importance. (He's certainly doing that with the deficit, for no good reason if you ask me.) Even when he does speak about global warming, he engages in a language I'd call anti-denial, which fails as a source of persuasion. He has also overruled suggestions by Lisa Jackson to appease the business community on several occasions (because of flawed selection of advisers if you ask me) and may do it again soon on the Keystone XL pipeline.

(2) I think he fails to properly address the progressive critique of the fiscal cliff deal. Yes, social insurance programs were not cut, but Congress created a situation in which they very well might be two months from now. They are not off the table, and Obama has expressed a consistent interest in reducing Social Security benefits (when not campaigning). The Democratic Party's open embrace of chained CPI as an offer was problematic both as policy and as politics; although it was not included in the ultimate deal, it very well might end up there next time.(And you know that the Dems would have gone crazy had Bush proposed it.) The fiscal cliff deal also contained a wide array of corporate giveaways that do nothing to "reduce the deficit" or really to help solve the unemployment crisis either. Moreover, the sequester was only delayed temporarily. It still exists. And it exists because practically everyone in the Senate, the House Republicans, and half of the House Democratic caucus voted for its existence in the first place. It is a crisis of their own making, which (ironically or unfortunately) is still probably better than what Obama had wanted to offer Boehner in July of 2011 (which Boehner himself noted would have given him 98% of what he wanted).

(3) I don't believe anyone expects to get 100% of what they want. However, Obama, because of a predilection for compromise, tends to shift the debate rightward at the start. He seems to believe that the Republican Party does want to work with him in good faith, so he offers policies that have a mix of liberal and conservative parts (Think ACA). The Republicans then proceed to soundly reject them. Granted, there is a fair amount of internal debate within the Democratic Party because of people like Nelson (Thankfully he's gone) or Landrieu or Pryor; however, the main problem here is what constitutes the starting point.

(4) His adivsers do, in fact, like to engage in lefty-bashing. Think Rahm, Axelrod, Gibbs.

(5) We don't have universal health insurance. There will still be people without insurance under ACA. It's just the closest we've ever been. (ACA was a half loaf by all means, but there is the potential to bake the rest of it in the future. And it does a lot of good.)

(6) Some of his advisers (e.g. Romer) did want a larger stimulus. He listened to Summers instead. Granted, some of the weakening also came from the moderate Republicans in the Senate; however, this is no reason to not criticize the not-as-high-as-needed ambitions of the stimulus. You can praise something for what it did but still wish it had done more; they are not mutually exclusive.

(7) On cap-and-trade, see #3. Obama began throwing away bargaining chips early on. A bill (although a weak one) did pass the House because Pelosi was a good Speaker. I expect nothing to happen on climate over the next 2 years. I am weakly optimistic that something might come from the Executive Branch (but only weakly), and I expect nothing from Congress. All I ask of Congress is "Do no harm."

(8) On immigration reform, Obama has deported a record number of people.

(9) On gun control, he actually weakened gun control while in office, allowing guns in national parks and on Amtrak. One could have hoped at least for a continuation of the not-so-great status quo.

(10) I think one of the progressive critiques he ignores (I mentioned this earlier) is that the "fiscal cliff" was a manufactured crisis. Also, he ignores that Obama himself chose to shift his emphasis to the deficit after the 2010 elections despite the fact that it led to (if you ask me) worse policy and did not help him in terms of public approval. Obama, either because he himself is more of a Rockefeller Republican by nature or because he believes that "we live in a center-right country," regularly embraces conservative language. It got on my nerves when I went to a fundraiser in Philly back in June (where I saw it best on display). Granted, language doesn't mean policy nor does it mean change. But if you aren't going to get policy and aren't going to get change, you can at least hope for vocal support for ideals.

I could probably go on for a while longer; however, I think my main gripe with the article is the belief that criticism of the President (that which is grounded in substance, not the fantasies of Kenyan socialist Obama) is somehow bad, that we should be happy with whatever we get, that we should regularly eschew any form of long-term vision for an opportunistic politics of incrementalism (building block by block without an architectural plan), that we should content ourselves with a half loaf or a three-quarters loaf and never ponder how we could have gotten more or whether the half loaf itself is in fact filled with poison or crusted and stale.  

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