Paul Krugman makes an excellent point today (when doesn’t he make excellent points?):
Democrats, declared Evan Bayh in an Op-Ed article on Wednesday in The Times, “overreached by focusing on health care rather than job creation during a severe recession.” Many others have been saying the same thing: the notion that the Obama administration erred by not focusing on the economy is hardening into conventional wisdom.
But I have no idea what, if anything, people mean when they say that. The whole focus on “focus” is, as I see it, an act of intellectual cowardice — a way to criticize President Obama’s record without explaining what you would have done differently.
After all, are people who say that Mr. Obama should have focused on the economy saying that he should have pursued a bigger stimulus package? Are they saying that he should have taken a tougher line with the banks? If not, what are they saying? That he should have walked around with furrowed brow muttering, “I’m focused, I’m focused”?
The issue, says Krugman, is not the lack of focus, but the inadequacy of the White House’s economic plan. This is something Krugman has been hammering from day one and who knows where we’d be if Democrats had listened to him and others who were advocating for a more audacious stimulus.
This raises another point. I actually think Obama was smart to use the momentum of the 2008 campaign to pass a health insurance bill. My complaint – and that of many progressives – was that the administration was ceding too much ground in the debate, was flat-footed in response to the rightwing noise machine, was blithely negotiating away key bargaining chips, and was getting bogged down in appeasing a few centrist Democrats who appeared to be negotiating in bad faith. Remember, progressives were agitating for the threat of reconciliation long before Scott Brown’s stunning victory.
Still, the bill passed, and I don’t buy into the congealing conventional wisdom that Obama should have postponed tackling health care.
Did you wake up this morning from your summer slumber to discover that Democrats are about to get shellacked in the midterms, that unemployment is proving intractable, that the economy is verging on a double dip recession, and that all the political class can seem to stay focused on, at least rhetorically, is deficit reduction?
Missing the beach yet? It gets better.
The big agenda item for Congress between now and the election is whether to extend the Bush tax cuts, set to expire at year’s end. We can’t afford more government spending to rescue the economy and put the jobless back to work, but we can afford starving the government of revenue by extending those massive Bush era tax cuts. Even Peter Orszag agrees.
Peter Orszag reveals depressing inner Obama on economy … Austerity, Dem style, is a LOSER, folks.
Peter Orzag’s first column for The New York Times illustrates why the Dems are poised to receive a crushing defeat in November.
Consensus is quickly congealing around President Obama’s reported $50 billion infrastructure proposal: the left says it’s a good idea, but a paltry sum relative to the size of the hole we’re in. The right, having successfully framed Obama as a profligate liberal, is pouncing on “more big spending.”
What happens when over a hundred billion dollars in borrowed cash gets plunged into infrastructure spending and it fails to kick-start the economy? According to this administration, spend another $50 billion on the same failed policy. Barack Obama will unveil his new economic stimulus plan in Wisconsin today, while Russ Feingold looks for a place to hide…
President Obama will announce an additional $50 billion in infrastructure spending. Yeah, that’s what voters have been waiting for — more spending. Should be a good sell on the campaign trail.
It comes as something of a relief, then, that infrastructure and public works remain a top White House priority. Bang for the buck, these is the kind of investments that make a real difference. … Because this is an excellent idea that would improve the economy, it’s very likely to be killed by Congress. But (a) I’m glad President Obama is stepping up and doing the right thing anyway; and (b) it’s good to have lawmakers put on the spot before the election, taking a position on sensible, effective economic proposals like this one. I’d like to see a bigger, more ambitious package, but it’s a step in the right direction.
This is all perfectly sensible. At the same time, if it’s offset by other items in the budget it probably won’t have any net stimulative effect. Essentially, we’ve given in to the deficit hawk brigade without even a fight. Not that it matters, I suppose. It’s too small to be more than a pinprick, and Republicans will probably filibuster to the death the right of our nation’s oil and gas companies to their federal subsidies anyway. But I’m sure it will give Fox News something to roar about for the next month.
Two things are crystal clear from President Obama’s lengthy sit-down with NBC’s Brian Williams:
- He is a decent, thoughtful, intelligent man, trying to do the best he can for his country under extremely challenging circumstances.
- He is completely outgunned by the rightwing attack machine.
Watch the interview and ask yourself what’s missing from the president’s responses:
On substance, President Obama makes several critical points, among them that the spilled Gulf oil is “still out there” and that he stands firm in support of the Ground Zero mosque. He is realistic about the economy and he gets an excellent quip in, saying that he can’t spend all his time with his “brith certificate plastered to his forehead.”
Still, you can’t help notice the glaring lack of offense, the cautious answers, the muted tone, the inability to channel the profound alarm and financial pain Americans are feeling. There’s fire on the right, there’s no fire being expressed by Obama. There’s no blasting of Wall Street, no outrage at BP and oil companies, no fury at the lies and obfuscations of the GOP, no grand unified vision of what Democrats stand for and why they deserve to run the country.
Nothing else will satisfy the GOP’s lust for power than the wanton destruction of Obama’s Presidency. From day one, this has been their game plan, obstruct, rant and rave, delay, obstruct some more, rant and rave, delay, repeat as necessary as to make the nation look ungovernable and the Administration as pathetic and dangerous if not criminal. Throw enough mud, maybe some will stick. And if nothing’s there, invent something.
Posture is everything in politics. The White House and leading Democrats are in a defensive crouch. Much of it is their own doing. Elected to be the anti-Bush, they’ve given Bush and his team a pass on Iraq lies and outflanked Bush from the right on civil liberties and executive power. Given an opportunity to turn the Gulf spill into a historic inflection point, they raced to bury the story, outdoing BP in the rosy spin department. Passing major bills, they neglected to frame them as part of a progressive vision for America, allowing their opponents to frame everything they do as a socialist takeover.
In this interview, Obama mocks the “silly season” and shrugs off Glenn Beck’s outrageous legacy theft of Martin Luther King, Jr. but there’s nothing silly about what the GOP and rightwing attack machine are doing. They are dominating the national debate. They are brazenly and unscrupulously pushing the envelope further right than anyone imagined. They are doing Orwell proud, denying climate change in the face of obvious warming, pushing for more drilling in the face of an epic spill, drumming up anti-Muslim sentiment, angling for more bailouts for the rich, stealing legacies, and claiming feminism as their own. They are “taking back their country” and returning it to the 19th century.
So even though I respect and admire the Obama I see in Brian Williams’ interview, appreciate his honesty and integrity, I know in my heart he is bringing a water gun to an artillery battle. With an opponent who takes no prisoners.