by John Lawrence/Will Blog for Food
I can think of no more apt metaphor for what voters did to themselves than the title of this post. Dissatisfied with the economy, voters voted in a party dedicated to the destruction of the economy as far as the middle class is concerned. They voted for a great economy for Wall Street bankers and billionaires. Obama, despite his failure to get the economy back on track in two years and despite his Republican lite tendencies and seeming inability to take a strong stand, is vastly preferable to the Republicans who now control the House. Obama, who already was governing from the right of center, is continually accused of being a left wing socialist and told by Republicans that he now must move to the right. If he moves to the right any further, he might as well resign from the Democratic party and join the Tea Baggers.
Obama’s big mistake was to take the side of the banks and not the side of middle class Americans. Surrounding himself with the likes of Larry Summers and Tim Geithner and eschewing the likes of Paul Krugman and Robert Reich almost predisposed him to giving the banks all they wanted and screwing the middle class. In Obama’s defense he did appoint Elizabeth Warren to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and he did it in such a way that he didn’t need Congressional approval which he wouldn’t have gotten thanks to Republicans. However, he should have taken a stronger stand against the banks, but he was all caught up in the notion we can’t let the banks fail. Why not? Would the world have been worse off with a few less credit default swaps and a few less collateralized debt obligations? Obama, no expert on high finance, was out of his league here and relied on the wrong folks to avert what they determined could have been a catastrophe. History will judge whether it was the right thing to do. I think he should have stood up for the middle class and thrown down the gauntlet to the banks, but what do I know?
Obama can still take a stand for the middle class even at this late date. Even if he doesn’t have the political power to get his policies enacted, he can still make it clear what they are and do what he can to protect himself and the country from the oncoming political and economic onslaught which the Republicans are poised to deliver. It makes some political sense too in the fact that, when the economy doesn’t improve, the Democrats will have prepared the nation for a clear alternative to Republicanism. Now that he thinks the country is safely away from the cliff of another Great Depression, Obama can surely change course and stop favoring the banks who seem to have weathered the crisis all too well when you consider the size of their bonuses coming up this Christmas. They have not skipped a beat while the middle class has been skewered.
It’s time to stand up against the banks. They are illegally dispossessing people of their homes. Obama could take a stand against that. But still Geithner is recommending him not to do so because it might slow down the recovery of the real estate market and also harm the banking community. So real estate as opposed to homes and Wall Street as opposed to Main Street are still the important considerations here. What about the people being evicted from their homes illegally by the banks? What about the jobless and the homeless and the huge increase in homelessness that will be the result of the Republicans’ desire to terminate unemployment insurance and any vestige of a social program that might benefit the disadvantaged. Expect food stamps to go next.
Obama knows that the US needs massive investments in infrastructure and those investments would create tons of new jobs. But he dare not take a stand here either because Republicans would accuse him of running the country into even more debt. He needn’t run the country into more debt if he pays for the investments in infrastructure with increased taxes on the rich. But he can’t go there either as the right wing has demonized tax increases in the minds of the American people even if those tax increases are solely on the rich. Obama will probably cave to Republican pressure not to end the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. Here he did take a stand, but he needs to follow through and not just say, “I would prefer it if you would go along with my suggestion, but …” The voters have surely cut off their hand to spite their foot when they agree that tax cuts for the rich must be maintained!
The Democrats are on shifting sand. They can’t spend on infrastructure and they can’t raise taxes. Well, where can they go from there? Don’t tell me that Obama is going to spend the next two years bowing to Republican demands to lower taxes and cut spending programs that benefit the poor and middle class? He already yielded to Republicans on the stimulus program by making so much of it tax cuts which turned out to be worthless insofar as job creation is concerned. He shouldn’t waste any more money on tax cuts and he should go down fighting to end the Bush tax cuts for the rich which will add $700 billion to the debt, a fact that the debt cutting Republicans aren’t the least bit worried about. Obama needs to point out that they are a bunch of hypocrites. On the one hand they say they want to cut the deficit; on the other they say they want to cut taxes on the rich which will have the result of raising the deficit.
If Obama spends the next two years fending off Republican demands and making a clear and principled stand based on Democratic principles, this might be the best that he could do even if he doesn’t get any legislation passed. He has enough legislative accomplishments in his first two years for an entire Presidency. He needs to take a different tack now. The public at least needs to be educated as to where the Democrats stand and this stand has to be pitted against the Republican stand which at least has clarity and simplicity. Democrats can’t just stand for Republican lite. The public needs to be educated as to what the stakes really are. And please don’t repeat the Clinton scenario of triangulation which is what the Republicans are expecting you to do. Surprise them! Catch them off guard. They are a bunch of idiots anyway. You can surely outsmart them. Just don’t fall into their traps. Meanwhile, there is much that Obama can do unilaterally by executive order like ending the War in Afghanistan, for example. He should govern like there’s no tomorrow and start operating from first principles and not from expediency.