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Populists and trolls

With the details of the pending debt deal now emerging (and for a very good explanation of the key terms, see this post by former Biden economic adviser Jared Bernstein), a consensus is solidifying that (1) this is a virtually full-scale victory for the GOP and defeat for the President (who all along insisted on a "balanced" approach that included tax increases), but (2) the President, as usual, was too weak in standing up to right-wing intransigence -- or simply had no options given their willingness to allow default -- and was thus forced into this deal against his will. This depiction of Obama as occupying a largely powerless, toothless office incapable of standing up to Congress -- or, at best, that the bad outcome happened because he's just a weak negotiator who "blundered" -- is the one that is invariably trotted out to explain away most of the bad things he does.

It appears to be true that the President wanted tax revenues to be part of this deal. But it is absolutely false that he did not want these brutal budget cuts and was simply forced -- either by his own strategic "blunders" or the "weakness" of his office -- into accepting them. The evidence is overwhelming that Obama has long wanted exactly what he got: these severe domestic budget cuts and even ones well beyond these, including Social Security and Medicare, which he is likely to get with the Super-Committee created by this bill (as Robert Reich described the bill: "No tax increases on rich yet almost certain cuts in Med[icare] and Social Security . . . . Ds can no longer campaign on R's desire to Medicare and Soc Security, now that O has agreed it").

Last night, John Cole -- along with several others -- promoted this weak-helpless-President narrative by asking what Obama could possibly have done to secure a better outcome. Early this morning, I answered him by email, but as I see that this is the claim being pervasively used to explain Obama's acceptance of this deal -- he was forced into it by the Tea Party hostage-takers -- I'm reprinting that email I wrote here. For those who believe this narrative, please confront the evidence there; how anyone can claim in the face of all that evidence that the President was "forced" into making these cuts -- as opposed to having eagerly sought them -- is mystifying indeed. And, as I set forth there, there were ample steps he could have taken had he actually wanted leverage against the GOP; the very idea that negotiating steps so obvious to every progressive pundit somehow eluded the President and his vast army of advisers is absurd on its face.

[. . .]

In other words, he's willing -- eager -- to impose the "pain" Cohn describes on those who can least afford to bear it so that he can run for re-election as a compromise-brokering, trans-partisan deficit cutter willing to "take considerable heat from his own party." (Glenn Greenwald, “The myth of Obama’s ‘blunders’ and ‘weakness,’ Salon, 1 August 2011)


rjcrane on what Obama wanted

It's impossible to know what Obama really wanted as part of raising the debt ceiling.

Well, yes and no. It only appears to be impossible to figure out if you assume that he had one single thing in mind all along.

If you make that assumption, then it would certainly be impossible to know what Obama really wanted.

But the assumption is false. In reality it is very easy to know what Obama really wanted — so long as we accept that his desires as a politician are entirely oriented around process, not outcome.

What Obama wants — the entirety of what motivates him, across the board, in terms of every aspect of his administration's agenda — is to achieve a vague kind of glowy status as someone who takes on sacred cows and entertains opposing viewpoints and sits at the center of it all brokering the compromises that get things done and that are the hallmark of serious people who get things done.

Beyond that Obama has no actual fixed position on anything. His only guideline is: when you get 10 putative experts in a room, what is the middle ground?

Of course, even the question of who is a legitimate expert is subject to debate and compromise: Obama also has no fixed position on that question, nor even a fixed set of standards to apply.

Why should he? Great statesmen, as far as he's concerned, are defined as being the ones who make great compromises. So he's always looking out for another great compromise to make.

So it turns out to not be that mysterious, does it? Like the plot of Lost, the most important thing to grasp is that there is no plan, there is no well-established arc, it's all ad hoc, based on contingencies, and the belief that "it will all become clear in the end" is pure wishful thinking on the part of people who are bound to be disappointed.

This is one of the areas where I disagree somewhat with Glenn Greenwald — I don't think that Obama came into the White House, or into the 2011 budget negotiations, with the explicit intent of cutting lots of spending. He came into the process with the explicit intent of listening to his "experts," and listening to the opposition, and coming up with a compromise.

If his experts had told him that he needed to raise spending and raise taxes, and it had been the Angry Progressive Caucus instead of the Tea Party burning down the doors to Congress, he would be signing spending bills right and left right now, urging everyone to stay calm and follow his lead.

As the often right, always interesting Cornel West said recently, Obama's problem is that he sees the highest virtue as being a thermometer, when what the country needs is a thermostat.

Anyway the reasons don't really matter in the end. This guy has made himself into another Hoover. Let's show him the door. (Amity)

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GG

Could you elaborate on this thinking? Once you decide to consciously refrain from doing things that would help hi get elected and thus possibly cause him to lose/the GOP to win -- "he will not get any of my money or campaign support" -- why doesn't that rationale extend to voting?

It's a very good question, Glenn, thanks for asking.

The truth is, I'm speaking rather emotionally this morning. I'm thinking about all the hard-earned money I sent him last time (that I can afford even less this time around, thanks in no small part to his leadership) and the campaign work I did, and I just don't feel like I can raise the spirit to go out and affirmatively, actively support him in 2012 after all this.

But I know I will vote for him. All my Naderite/third-partier friends assured me in 2000 that there was no difference between Gore and Bush, and withholding support from Gore, even if it resulted in his defeat, would "teach the Dems a lesson" and force them to re-affirm their core principles.

How did that turn out? They were wrong on both counts. The DNC went further right and nobody will ever convince me Gore would have been the same or worse than Bush, that's just ludicrous.

There it is, Glenn. I'm sorry it is not more logically satisfying than that. I may very well end up holding my nose and giving him support once I see the nightmare alternative. I just never imagined Obama could possibly be this horrible. The Right was right, he DID turn out to be a Manchurian Candidate, just the other way around.

What choice do we have? What can I do? I ask sincerely, not rhetorically. (Jestaplero)

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Jestaplero

What choice do we have? What can I do? I ask sincerely, not rhetorically.

Don't have an answer yet, except to say that since we don't even know who is running yet -- and the election isn't for another 16 months, during which much can happen - I think it's wildly premature to decide. (GlennGreenwald)

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@GlennGreenwald

Don't have an answer yet, except to say that since we don't even know who is running yet -- and the election isn't for another 16 months, during which much can happen - I think it's wildly premature to decide.

Really? What makes you think it's "wildly premature"? Tell us what you think is a real, honest voting strategy for 2012. (ondelette)

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@Jestaplero

Is it? I will not countenance a Republican in the oval office with my vote. Not until there are prosecutions first.

I watched every day of the Iran-Contra hearings (did the equivalent of live-blogging on them for my community of like minded concerned citizens at the time) went through the Tower Commission report and all the other available data at the time, and then watched the 2000s unfold with virtually all of the key players reinstated to power and worse of the same starting virtually from where they left off. I do believe in their continuity, and do believe there will be a price for putting the Republican party back in the Executive Office that is worse than the price of protesting what's wrong with the Democrats.

Unless there are choices for alternatives to the Republicans, that doesn't really leave a choice of votes. Glenn has criticized people for their "wildly premature" decisions, and for what he sees as handing over the keys. But he has articulated nothing that amounts to a viable strategy for doing otherwise, given the above. Unless he really doesn't believe the above. I would like to know who killed Amiram Nir before I trust that it's okay to put any Republican back in office for a third re-run of the "off the shelf clandestine organization out of the reach of congressional oversight." (ondelette)

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ondelette on wild prematurity

Really? What makes you think it's "wildly premature"? Tell us what you think is a real, honest voting strategy for 2012.

I agree with ondelette. Sixteen months is not wildly premature.

It's not even premature at all. It's kind of late, given that major-party primary season starts in 4 months.

There are three options for unseating Obama —

1) Defeat in the primary

Ingredients:

1 competitive Democratic candidate, finely parsed

2500 assorted delegates, washed and let dry for 1/2 year

2) Third party upset

Ingredients:

2 competitive 3rd party candidates, combined and whisked

50 million 3rd party voters, proportionally divided among 50 states

1/4 billion dollars (or more — depending on what else is being served)

or 3) Republican White House

Ingredients:

1 tolerable Republican candidate, warmed over(*)

20 million crossover Democrats, blue-state are best

So we're standing here staring into the fridge with only a short time before dinner. What have we got to work with?

* When prepared in Massachusetts some years ago, a version of this recipe using Mitt Romney proved surprisingly delicious. (Amity)

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Okay, Amity

So if the third party route is taken, you need to do a two part assault. You need the party machine and candidate. I suggest Elizabeth Warren for the candidate. A lot of people are pushing Bernie Sanders, and he's good, but Elizabeth Warren is a genuine pedigree stamped outsider right now at a time when pollsters are saying that voters are so mad with everything in Washington that they genuinely don't believe that whoever they vote for will change anything and whoever they vote for therefore has to at least begin the process of changing that during the campaign. She has the credential that she was actually kicked out of Washington.

For machinery, you need to pick people who aren't tainted, which will be a trick, but she can probably do that. She has been working on ending corruption against consumers for 20 years, she knows how to smell it, and she just put together one large organization.

The biggest thing that's different with a third party progressive run against the establishment, if it's going to be an anti-corruption run, is that it needs to run against the media. For real. To do that, it needs to create at least its own quasi-media to run with. So it will have to tap resources that most campaigns don't tap, suggest getting people from the cinema industry that are progressive on board early, like Ben Affleck, George Clooney, Don Cheadle, if they'll do it, and teaming up with anyone in Silicon Valley from social media who will give a firm commitment to anti-corruption (be ready to fire if they won't stick to it), and the blogging community, and the Digital Cinema community, and NAB. Craft the new media necessary to force the broadcasters or go around them and go get the funding that those crafting the plan says it needs. In other words, don't assume you will get coverage, create the coverage.

If all that can happen, then there can probably be a viable third party candidate. What's holding it back will be that last: the media. They are the gatekeepers, and the PTB, those who benefit by the corruption, are going to try to keep them in charge of the gates.

I will gladly switch votes to a third party candidate if one can win. If no one challenges the seat of power over elections, which aside from Diebold is the press, not the parties, then there won't be one.

And no, I'm not volunteering.

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ondelette on options

So if the third party route is taken, you need to do a two part assault. You need the party machine and candidate. I suggest Elizabeth Warren...

Okay so we have Elizabeth Warren.

Pros: articulate, photogenic, principled, has a message

Cons: dry, wonky, not a bimbo, works for Obama

Not a bad start — so, one nomination.

Yes, she would need a first-rate message machine. Also she would need a first-rate fundraiser — I assume she's not herself a billionaire.

As a press strategy, one that has worked in the past for 3rd party candidacies is to aggressively publish concrete platform positions on "hot button" issues that are current in "the conversation."

That requires being able to produce position memos quickly, and it requires having the gonads to put your position out there in detail and at least seem sincere.

The press seems to like that because it gives them a ready-made quote which usually contrasts nicely with standard political mush-mouthedness.

And if that doesn't work you have Youtube, which is a gift not available to outsider candidacies in years past.

In terms of fundraising, how many people would need to donate $1 each to cover a decent budget for the February 2012 primaries? You need to make a strong showing in a head to head contest with the big two, so this isn't something that you can shoestring. (Amity)


Populists and trolls

I don't think Obama has much to concerned about with those who want progressive reform but who still want it furthered through the current political system, because I think most of these are considerably moved by a psychological need for decorum -- something Obama will always offer, and seems almost to represent -- and which "other alternatives" will never be able to confidently show themselves characterized by or even in possession of. I think, that is, that there are those highly critical of the president, who show him up as false and even pine hard for third party alternatives, yet will inevitably find themselves mostly in some kind of conversation with him rather than, primarily I think at some point just to avoid, immersing themselves with some other kind of company, within some other sort of discourse, because Washington manners and decorum keeps them feeling secure and at a safe distance from let-loose emotional storms they have a tough time not projecting as raging everywhere else in America.

I am not saying that a leftist populist movement would in fact mostly be populated by crazies -- my guess is, rather, that it will be constituted possibly mostly by the most psychically/emotionally healthy, which does NOT, by the way, include the forementioned likes of George Clooney and Ben Affleck, and rather more the likes of Rob Reimer and Matt Damon -- but that there are many progressives of the kind with some considerable trepidation towards third parties, even at this point of obvious complete betrayal/plain reveal, who are not healthy, self-integrated enough to imagine joining them as anything than surrendering to emotional states they have spent much of their lives trying to keep kept in and as much to the manageable side as possible. They'll see the best of progressives, in a sense, as let-loose subterranean farts and haragues, as "trolls," even despite themselves, despite their intact and nagging larger awareness of this falsity, and will in some loose sense find themselves sticking with Obama even if in means, as it surely would, convincing themselves they're surely doing the very opposite in their forever showing him up as a villain or phony. Washington has nothing to fear from these folk, and will likely benefit from them, because as some true friends split off, readily join and see as welcoming what they fret, what they find ill-formed, disgusting, and no-doubt contagious, they'll at some level be aware of how powerful their need for establishment and “apartness” is, how shamefully debasing/damning/minisculing this need is, and will end up wacking the good for their being responsible for this uncomfortable self-reveal and for in such a blanched, stark way showing their clearly being far better than them -- a "height" no one else was allowed to surpass, because their sense of being the most civilized, Olympus-like cleanly afloat and apart from the messy world gave them an essential confidence to at-their-own-pace take on some of the demons within themselves they've kept at bay but still possess enough of an impulse to ambition a way to productively engage so to live in a yet more at-ease, satisfying, and comfortable sort of way.

I think this will be phase one, where a leftist populist movement does arise, comes to realize just how few are truly with it/them (like "the douche" Paul Krugman, they'll represent [at least] abundance, galling insistence on indulgence, when everyone agrees its all about some kind of hemming-in/osterity now), and then retreats into forms that eventually, but for a huge bulk of time anonymously, crystalize into new and greater kinds of civilization. When the second phases arrives, the sort of progessives I have been talking about will want no part of them either; but here, for very good reason, as they will be the ones Chris Hedges in my judgement conjures with his disgust of "boutique liberals," ones who are denied all the good things decorum-concerned progressive Salonistas embody: an acceptance of "your" feminine self, being pained when the manners and sensitivities necessary for productive, enjoyable discourse have become illegitimate for their somehow being simply weapons of the already franchised, for their revealing your posturing, feminine, primarily self-concerned douche "stank." This new movement will in fact be composed of trolls, bullies -- Masculine, hard, intolerant, joy-fearing "old left" bullies/machines who'll insist you evidence your battle scars, your poverty-responsible work stink, your hurried impatience with rational discourse/reasoned assembly -- for yet more talking(!!!) -- rather than your concern to politely engage and lather properly for the debate to count yourself a member of their tribe.

On the plus side, if you're older and relatively affluent, even if you find yourself trapped/pinned in spot, trapped into repetition for having no welcoming other place to go, no one really wants to have much of a go with you: don’t fret too much; however longterm, you'll be assured a comfortable-enough "cell." They know you still have fight, and the concern will be to concentrate on those who've near been bred to be filled with yet more suffering.

Link: The myth of Obama’s “blunders” and “weaknesses” (Salon)

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