Obama Plans to Talk Even Tougher

The seemingly-certain loss of a Democratic Senate in Massachusetts today, that formerly held by Ted Kennedy, and with it, a filibuster-proof majority, is purported by Politico to be rousing Obama to a new “combative” stance.

But combative is so far from what helped Obama get where he is that his reflexes will be, as they have been to date, to undershoot what is really needed. We’ve been told, for instance, that in law school it became a standing joke that Obama would inevitably give an impressively articulate statement of the most unthreatening, conventional position. It is revealing that in a 60 minutes interview when he was trying to signal a new, hardened stance against the banksters, the toughest criticism he could come up with was to call them “fat cats” and claim he had not run for office to further their agenda. Anyone looking at White House proposals (even the tame proposed TARP fees) would have trouble with that notion.

Similarly, the planned positioning is that voters are sending a message that Obama needs to more to effect change, which one would think means move to the left:

But the president’s advisers plan to spin it as a validation of the underdog arguments that fueled Obama’s insurgent candidacy.

“The painstaking campaign for change over two years in 2007 and 2008 has become a painstaking effort in the White House, too,” the official said. “The old habits of Washington aren’t going away easy.”

But the problem isn’t Washington, or at least not in the way his loyalists think. Obama engaged in a classic marketing error, that of misrepresenting the product in a fundamental way. The “change” label appears now a way of turning what in many circles would be negatives, his lack of experience and his race, into positive attributes. But despite the talk of health care reform as a major goal, Obama never resorted to populist rhetoric. It was easy to rationalize it at the time (populism had been the death of Howard Dean’s presidential candidacy), but Obama’s reflexes are center-right, not center left. His appointments (and most important, who really has influence over him) reflects that, which will also make changing gears even harder.

Thus, even thought Team Obama may convince itself that they are taking a new stand, all I expect to see is a sharpening of rhetoric. Not only does personal inertia prevent a meaningful change in course, the President has already ceded too many key strategic positions in the key theaters of action, health care and financial services. And the Politico article effectively pointed that out:

White House strategists will be looking for modest victories that can be pulled off at a time when endangered Democrats will be even more gun-shy of tough votes than they were last year.

In other words, the plan is to replace Potemkin reform with “new, improved Potemkin reform” and more frowning during Presidential speeches.

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    1. gotgold

      That’s better than three years of right wing corporatism in the garb of left wing policies. No more ‘more of the same’. It is nothing anymore which is the best that we as a nation can achieve. Did nothing would be the greatest accomplishment of any presidency.

      1. ArmchairRevolutionary

        I would take “did nothing” over a GWB presidency, but now is not the time for nothing. We are in serious need of solutions.

        We will find out in the next couple of months if Obama is a lame duck president. It is kind of unbelievable that we are even thinking this is possible: a lame duck president just one year into his first term. I am just shaking my head.

    2. DownSouth

      Is Obama already a lame duck president? From what the Politico story reports, that may certainly be the case:

      Democratic operatives on Capitol Hill have made clear that enthusiasm is cooling for tackling controversial cap-and-trade legislation to curb carbon emissions as the party heads into an election year. The same is true for the always-sensitive issue of immigration reform. On the fiscal front, massive deficits were already pushing Obama toward more austerity on spending.

  1. eightnine2718281828mu5

    This administration claims to use the Reagan I term as its template; perhaps they should roll some tape and refresh their memories on Reagan’s use of rhetoric to frame the issues of the day.

  2. EmilianoZ

    It is extremely unfair to criticize Obama for being too soft. The fact fact that he seems unthreatening is exactly the reason why white folks felt comfortable voting for him. It is not his fault if at the present time white folks cannot stomach an angry black man.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I do criticize him, have so repeatedly, and will continue to do so unless and until I see real change.

      The issue is not his rhetoric. It is his actions. He repeatedly has tried to present minimal to non-reform as the real thing. Rearranging deck chairs is not progress. And that is the focus of this post too, that he is AGAIN trying to use rhetoric to cover substance.

      Teddy Roosevelt, who did take on the vested interests of his day, famously said, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” I have already said that Obama is “speak moderately and carry no stick.”

      The very idea that he and his advisers think that amping up his talk is a solution (or at this point will fool anyone) shows how badly mired they are.

      1. Blurtman

        Amen, Yves! The guy is all talk, and is losing credibility rapidly. Also, he appears to be not too bright as he has horribly miscalculated the backlash against the Wall Street coddling.

        How do his supporters explain the continuing AIG bailout cover-up by his SEC appointee, Mary Schapiro, on his watch?

        SEC order helps maintain AIG bailout mystery

        NEW YORK, Jan 11 (Reuters) – It could take until November 2018 to get the full story behind the U.S. bailout of insurance giant American International Group (AIG.N) because of an action taken last year by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

        In May, the SEC approved a request by AIG to keep secret an exhibit to a year-old regulatory filing that includes some of the details on the most controversial aspect of the AIG bailout: the funneling of tens of billions of dollars to big banks like Societe Generale, Goldman Sachs (GS.N), Deutsche Bank (DBKGn.DE) and Merrill Lynch.


      2. steelhead

        Yves, Beyond the Milqtoast actions of the admin, what really grabs my groin is the crazy media that labels bailouts as ‘socialism’ and the even crazier public that takes the bait. For you free-marketers out there, handing the banks billions, accepting their trash at the auction window, and holding the FFR at zero is NOT socialism. It is an enormous upward transfer of wealth – in short, kleptocracy and elitism. Obama is NOT a socialist. He is a fool because no matter how much money he ladles out to the elite, they won’t let him into their club.

        To complete the point, were a real lefty to have been president he would have intervened with the TBTF banks, giving shareholders nothing, using what assets there were to pay off creditors, and opened them the next day as federally-run institutions. He would not have bailed them out. And the sky would not have fallen.

        1. Sid

          I see the bailouts not as a part of the Obamunist ideology but more as a bribe to the (very influential and still wealthy) FIRE sector. Get them on-side and they won’t protest health care reform or the bailout of the auto manufacturers.

          1. Robin

            Ya, and how did that go?
            The Oligarchy has proven more than happy to throw Team Obama under the bus whenever it suits them, except that Team Obama can’t voluntarily jump in front of that bus fast enough all by themsleves.

    2. gotgold

      if this is angry then he is a shame for all black anger. We wanted an honest angry black man and he is not what we elected.

    3. Doug Terpstra

      Emiliano, sorry to pile on a bit late, but I also agree this is not about race at all. in yearning for successful first “post-racial” administration, supporters were, if anything, too reluctant and late with valid criticism.

      I too wanted to see more righteous anger, pulpit-pounding, and bold changes like FDR. Instead we got a Wall Street corporate militarist. It’s not about slow or timid progress, nor about rhetoric, it’s deliberate betrayal of campaign pledges. Note the following PARTIAL list:

      Health Insurance Profit Protection Act, with unconstitutional individual mandates—a horror

      Drug and medical device re-importation ban (rigged trade) after a secret deal with drug lords (Pharma).

      No change in NAFTA or any other SHAFTA agreement, and still no progressive tax reform.

      Banksters are bailed out, including secret deals, with neolibs put in charge. No one yet charged with fraud.

      Guantanamo is still open for business; bad acts are covered up.

      Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse files reclassified, contrary to promise.

      Extraordinary ‘rendition’ to balck sites continues as before.

      Dark-deal secrecy and illegal surveillance go on; FISA is unchanged and telecoms are immunized

      Gays are still shafted

      Unions are still disempowered: Employee Free Choice Act gutted with Obama’s approval.

      Lobbying and bribery are untouched; renegs on public campaign financing pledge.

      Cuba is still under blockade

      Bluster and threats continue toward Iran, still without diplomatic relations.

      Israel continues its brutal occupation and settlement development without pressure from Obama who promised to make peace there his key priority.

      No investigations into torture or prosecution for war crimes, only more coverups.

      Patriot Act pushed for renewal; Feingold’s key rights protections are opposed by Obama

      Cap and Fade neuters real climate change action at Wall Street’s behest.

      Rejects International Mine Ban Treaty.

      No withdrawal from Iraq; doubles down on Af-Pak escalation (two surges)

      1. Jojo

        Doug Terpstra said “Emiliano, sorry to pile on a bit late, but I also agree this is not about race at all. in yearning for successful first “post-racial” administration, supporters were, if anything, too reluctant and late with valid criticism.
        Not true at all. There were many (supporters and others) who recognized and were vocal about what we were seeing from Obama early on, including Yves. See:

        Sunday, February 8, 2009
        David Sirota: “Obama’s Team of Zombies” (Updated: Frank Rich on Geithner)

        David Sirota at Salon gives a concise, brutal assessment of Obama’s economic team and its priorities.

        We’ve now had two bait and switch Presidents in succession. Bush promised “compassionate conservatism” and dragged the country far to the right, enriching those at the top of the food chain and leaving everyone else with the empty promise of “trickle down economics.” Obama promised change, but his economic team is slavishly loyal to the interests of the financial elite who steered the financial system onto the shoals and now expect all of us to patch the hull and somehow get it back into navigable water.


        Also see my comment in the above post.

        None of it has made any difference. Obama has soiled the definition of “change”!

  3. DownSouth

    Really, you couldn’t make this shit up. Take this from the Politico story for instance:

    “The best political route also happens to be the boldest rhetorical route,” a presidential adviser said.

    The president’s Madison Avenue handlers have convinced him they can sell the voters anything. With the right spin, with the right “rhetorical route,” substance means nothing. Reality means nothing.

    Paul Krugman epitomizes the problem. In his column yesterday he wrote:

    Finally, about that narrative: It’s instructive to compare Mr. Obama’s rhetorical stance on the economy with that of Ronald Reagan. It’s often forgotten now, but unemployment actually soared after Reagan’s 1981 tax cut. Reagan, however, had a ready answer for critics: everything going wrong was the result of the failed policies of the past. In effect, Reagan spent his first few years in office continuing to run against Jimmy Carter.

    Reagan, like Obama, was the beneficiary of one of those sea change elections that the United States experiences periodically. But Reagan, unlike Obama, actually made some changes when he got in office. This little detail seems to escape Krugman.

    Krugman, along with all the other Madison Avenue types surrounding Obama, think that if the spin’s good enough, nothing else matters.

  4. Amit Chokshi

    It’s Obama’s own fault. He should have realized the right wing and teabagging manias in this country would never buy anything he was selling and therefore none of the GOP would ever be supportive of anything. Instead he governed center to center right, irritated people that wanted real change, didn’t want the white house thinking Olympia Snowe was more important than americans w/o healthcare. Didn’t want a scumbag like Max Baucus writing legislation along with 6 other senators that represented less than what, 3% of the US population based on the states they hailed from. No but Obama did all of that, gave away the keys to the bank vault to the banksters and the medicine cabinet to UNH and the drug cos and now we’re going to have to deal with a bozo like brown in the Senate. Draft Grayson for president, it’s the only hope this country has.

  5. attempter

    Thus, even thought Team Obama may convince itself that they are taking a new stand, all I expect to see is a sharpening of rhetoric.

    Yes, and probably only a halting, half-assed version of that, because that’s when his cowardice will kick in.

    (That’s the third thing you’d get to with him after his (1) status quo preference, and (2) right-of-center ideology.)

    The idea of Obama pretending to get angry at anyone powerful (and he can certainly only pretend; he’s congenitally incapable of anything other than a kiss-up kick-down mindset) makes me think of “Back to the Future” where George McFly is supposed to pretend to be angry and confrontational.

    “Hey you! Take your damn hands off her!….Do you really think I should swear?”

  6. alex

    Yves: “populism had been the death of Howard Dean’s presidential candidacy”

    Was it? I’d always thought it was largely the bogus affair of the “Dean scream”, and that one reason that was overplayed was that the press supposedly didn’t like him much (or just couldn’t resist taking stupid cheap shots).

    But populist rhetoric? I’m skeptical, but remain open to argument.

  7. lark

    Sadly, I think this is spot on, though I don’t dismiss the possibility of a change in tack as much as you do – given that the Obama folks face the possibility of a failed presidency.

    I also think that failure equals a threatening wave of poverty sweeping over the nation, and it will be unacceptable not only to Dems but to millions upon millions of ordinary people who work for their living.

    The failure is not just Obama’s – because it is a failure of the conventional wisdom he has relied upon. Our economic models have combined a bizarre faith in the mechanisms of the market with a willful, self-indulgent, abandonment of the lessons of history.

    But we’ve chosen to believe in ‘the market’ for reasons as much cultural as economic. We use ‘the market’ to justify American brutality as the fault of those brutalized. It has allowed the historic viciousness and hate of this country full latitude of expression. Our incarceration rate is the highest in the world. We give our predatory elites freedom to outsource, import H1-B labor, we wink at illegal immigration, we burden the middle class with huge costs for educating the next generation, we savagely discard workers for any reason whatsoever, we have allowed the destruction of secure pensions, and the list goes on. These are all expression of hate – of Americans for Americans. This hate is the wound our country cannot survive.

    Lastly, but not least, we have an utterly vicious system of ‘health insurance’ that kills tens of thousands every year. The proposal the Dems have is not perfect but it is a profound and humane improvement.

    I find it interesting that in Mass, where there is a system that in many ways was a model for the current reform and where approval of that reform is very high (high 80’s) they may well vote for the Republican, with the possible consequence of killing tens of thousands of American every year indefinitely – Americans who are not lucky enough to live in their state. And why? Because the Dem candidate offended their baseball sensitivities.

    Sickening – but a clear example of the hatred Americans hold for Americans.

    1. nowhereman

      Thank-you for putting into words a feeling I’ve had for a long, long time. Americans hate for Americans. WOW. I have noticed this on every blog I’ve seen, finally to have it distilled so simply. Yes AMERICANS HATE FOR AMERICANS.

      DIVIDE AND CONQUER brilliant!!!!

    2. Doug Terpstra

      Sadly, very well said.

      I would only disagree on the healthcare bill, IMHO the worst kind of lobbyist sausage, purged of nay real public benefit with onerous mandates for insurance and pharmaceutical profiteering. Even cost controls and pre-existing condition protections were neutered for Leiberman and blue dogs, allowing 300% premium differentials and other truck-sized loopholes in 2000-plus pages. Mass election, while misguided, is in some ways a mass repudiation of the keptocracy.

      1. Jojo

        Plus nothing will take affect until 2014, 4 years from now.

        What are we supposed to do until then? What are the uninsured supposed to do? The people dying of cancer and other diseases with none or limited health coverage?

        If we acknowledge there is a problem, then it needs to be rectified immediately!

        1. aet

          Your politicians want them to die slowly: after they have given their life savings over to help make up their Insurance company’s boss’s annual bonus.

          If you want health care
          Join the Army.

  8. Glen

    Obama, if he’s willing to remember his history, has a game plan of what will work – take a look at Andrew Jackson or FDR – and it does not hinge on having some magic number in the Senate. He just has to be on the side of the people rather than a Hoover on the side of the banksters.

    Simon Johnson says this best over at his blog:

    At this stage in the electoral cycle, Democrats should be running hard against big banks and their consequences. Some roots of our current economic difficulties lie in the Clinton 1990s, but the real origins can be traced to the financial deregulation at the heart of the Reagan Revolution – and all the underlying problems became much worse in eight years of George W. Bush’s unique brand of excess and neglect.

    All of his post here:


    1. alex

      “At this stage in the electoral cycle, Democrats should be running hard against big banks and their consequences.”

      Of course, but that would cut off the campaign cash. Without real campaign finance reform, any hope of real reform for finance, health care, etc., is forlorn.

      Don’t ignore the elephant in the living room!

      1. Sid

        Not to mention it would require the Democrats to do a rapid 180 degree turn.

        Up until now most Democrats have meekly ponied up any ransom that the FIRE sector demanded and insisted that the lack of transparency or accountability was for our own good.

        They did the same in 2008 under Bush.

        To go Communist now and abandon the infestment banks that built America to a cruel marketplace would require most Democrats to run against their own records.

    2. aet

      Hy did they ever stop running after the last elections?
      Did they not want the continuing power to enact their reforms?

  9. Don


    I think you are misunderestimating the impact of this. A Dem. loss in Mass. is a Black Swan event that will have great substantive effects. Just one example: If I weren’t so lazy, I would register on Intrade today to bet against Bernanke’s previously almost sure-thing renomination which I believe has just gone down in flames. Also, Geithner is almost certainly gone by summer now.

    1. aet

      One can only hope that actual, factual changes will now start.
      People did not vote for a change in tone: they wanted change from the Republican policies.
      Regardless of what the business press may believe.

  10. Hugh

    This is just more pap for the rubes in an election year. Almost everything we can expect to see this year from the Obama White House will be geared to the elections. There will be no serious attempt to change direction or rethink policy. Things like the jobs program and the F&F guarantees to shore up the housing market are aimed at keeping the economy from tanking too much before the election. Talking tougher is more of the same. We will know when Obama is serious because we will see Summers and Geithner being canned, Rubin being banned from the White House, and new blood like Robert Johnson, Simon Johnson, Joseph Stiglitz, Jamie Galbraith, Bill Black, Dean Baker, and some like Elizabeth Warren promoted. There are, of course, many others. And I would add it would be good to see some from the blogosphere like Yves getting more of a hearing too. We all probably have our laundry list of needed reforms too. I know I do. Curiously, or maybe not, none have been addressed let alone enacted so far.

  11. MF

    Spot-on, Yves. “Obama engaged in a classic marketing error, that of misrepresenting the product in a fundamental way.” A very subtle point. Consistency/credibility is a leveraged instrument indeed.

    1. aet

      Also known as:

      Playing people for suckers.

      (perhaps they forgot what happens when people discover that they have been had, before the con men have had a chance to get out of Dodge)

  12. spectator

    Obama was probably doomed from the start. The establishment (notably Wall Street and Fed-led economist cabal) was too strong for any politician that had a chance of getting elected. That Obama has no clue is besides the point.

    The elephant in the room is financial industry plunder and looting via the Fed, causing many of the other problems. No politician in sight will fix that, but will tinker around and cause more problems. So power swings with nothing getting done is the best we can hope for.

  13. mcc777c2

    Talk is cheap. If Obama wants to be re-elected, he needs to stand for the rule of law. He needs to prosecute torturers, those involved in illegal wire-tapping, and, most of all, he needs to prosecute the banksters. Unless Obama prosecutes Blankenfeld, Diamond, and their ilk the general public will continue to believe, rightly so, that he is owned by the banksters.

    1. aet

      Obama’s job from 2002 has been to be groomed to be the man to “turn the page” on GW Bush and his crimes….

      That Iraq invasion really was an unprovoked great crime, was it not?

      Well if they got Polanski after 30 years….

  14. Simon

    Obama is young and proud and smart. Let’s hope he has a kernel of nobility and will rise above his minders and become mindful of them.

  15. Michael Fiorillo

    Obama received the nod years ago from some Very Important People (the Pritzkers, Paul Tudor Jones, et al.) with cash registers for brains, people who will not separate themselves from a nickel unless it’s probable return, with interest, has been calculated. It’s not for nothing that finance capital supported him, and not McCain.

    If not for nothing, then what is the something? As has been noted here and elsewhere, he cloaks the banal in golden verbal raiment, while striving to insure that plutocrats sleep well.

    The big job that he was hired to do is privatize Social Security – the ultimate Nixon goes to China trope – as a “solution” to the fiscal mess caused by his and Bush’s bailouts. The privatization of public education, by means of scaled-up chain/franchise charter schools is the lead-in.

    His rhetorical gifts are likely to be meaningless, as people will increasingly tune him out, and he will in the end try to save himself by dancing for the Pete Peterson’s of the world.

    It’s a tragedy of immense proportions, as his failure to act in the interests of the nation and the majority of its people has squandered a once-in-a-century opportunity, and will empower bigots and home-grown fascists.

    1. Doug Terpstra

      “As has been noted here and elsewhere, he cloaks the banal in golden verbal raiment, while striving to insure that plutocrats sleep well.”

      Perhaps noted here, but none with such elegance.

      “The big job that he was hired to do is privatize Social Security – the ultimate Nixon goes to China trope – as a “solution” to the fiscal mess caused by his and Bush’s bailouts. The privatization of public education, by means of scaled-up chain/franchise charter schools is the lead-in.”

      Yikes. I had the same terrible thought about SS, an nightmare scenario FDR regression. But it does seem like everything they are doing is a setup for catastrophic failure, sort of shock doctrine in the Homeland. Now there would be fuel for revolt.

  16. Skippy

    This list which was posted in comments earlier this week and it says (too me) about all.

    How can any Government function with this kind of influence, the fulcrum of power is so long in their favor.

    Historically I can not find a time which provides a true parallel. Yes there has been some that are close but, when technology, information spreads, amount of sophistry, and other leavers of control are multiplied the results are astonishing.

    I fear the Titans of Greek lore tread this world again and we are but insignificant mortal beings used for their delight or torture.

    Until they are brought to heal, dragged down back to Tera, worship stopped, we will suffer.

    Rank Country Number of billionaires Category

    1 United States 360
    2 China 79
    3 India 58
    4 Germany 54
    5 Russia 32
    6 United Kingdom 25
    7 Canada 23
    8 Hong Kong 19
    9 Japan 17
    10 Indonesia 15

    Skippy…How many counties multiplied does it take to equal our sum…eh.

    1. aet

      Take comfort Skippy: remember that they too are only mortal.

      I note that all people of the 18th Century (to choose one at random) have now achieved perfect equality, regardless of who they were in life.

  17. NYT

    Thoroughly OT, but the AIG story gets more and more bizarre.
    According to todays WSJ, Benmosche’s previous employer, Metlife will buy American Life insurance for $14-15 billion.

    But get this: “The deal talks have been complicated by the role of Mr. Benmosche, who was chairman and CEO of MetLife from 1998 until 2006. When assuming the AIG post in August 2009, he held about 500,000 MetLife shares and about two million MetLife stock options, according to a person familiar with the matter at the time.

    To handle potential conflicts of interest, AIG set up an independent special transaction committee to mange negotiations between the two companies, while also keeping Mr. Benmosche insulated from the talks.”

    Just imagine if any large public company employed a new CEO and allowed him to keep his old shares and options with their competitor. And then, a few months later allowing him to sell a huge subsidiary back to his old employer (which is still where his major economic interest lies).


    1. bob

      Benmosche was such a class act from the very first day of work/vacation at his vineyards. That’s how he was insulated, a continent away.

  18. r cohn

    What has Obama accomplished?A bailout for the big banks with very little pain for most stock and bondholders.A bailout for Gm and GMac and the auto unions.A HUGE increase in the budget deficit.It is time to get tough on the banks and the unions.It is time to get rid of Summers and Geithner.It is time to get rid of Bernacke and appoint Volker as Treasury Secretary.

  19. bob goodwin

    The last amiable articulate president who would not ruffle feathers was buchannan. His predecessor was a drunk and wreckless Pierce. His successor was a largely unknown radical: Abraham Lincoln. It was not pretty.

  20. Jim in MN

    “More frowns during Presidential speeches.”

    You bet–many citizens are already frowning!

    Goldmanites are the mark of the Beast for this Administration. There is simply no legitimacy on kitchen table issues when the fattest of cats lounge on the President’s couch.

    Of course the Republicans are much worse. It’s all very pitiful.

    Pay down your debt and boycott large banks; move your mortgage and checking to Credit Unions. Let’s all take an economic stroll in the woods for a few years.

    Screw ’em.

    1. Robin

      Jaysus! Here’s a quick rundown of that link!

      “An open letter to President Obama: You are failing us. Many now question voting for you.

      The final scene of this Shakespearean drama is playing out this very moment, with 10 improvisational plot points driving your character’s role.

      1.Failing to grasp John Adams’ warning: All democracies commit suicide

      2.Failing to sense the psychological impact of being an aging democracy

      3.Failing to demand sacrifices, instead adding to Bush’s massive war debt

      4.Failing to lead with ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ systemic financial reforms

      5.Failing to pick a cast of characters that could have changed history

      6.Failing to stand up to our 100 senatorial assassins and 261,000 lobbyists

      7.Failing to act presidential, while fat-cat bankers hijack your presidency

      8.Failing to protect 95 million investors, letting Wall Street loot America

      9.Failing to avoid the ‘hubris virus’ disease killing America’s leaders

      10.Failing to see the ticking time-bomb scenario, the next big meltdown”

      This article really packs a whollop. I highly recommend everyone read it in its entirety.

  21. Jojo

    Good article on Obama here (IMO):
    Paul B. Farrell
    Jan. 19, 2010, 12:01 a.m. EST

    10 reasons Obama is failing 95 million investors

    Commentary: Why his fat-cat bankers are destroying capitalism and democracy

    By Paul B. Farrell, MarketWatch

    ARROYO GRANDE, Calif. (MarketWatch) — An open letter to President Obama: You are failing us. Many now question voting for you.

    A year ago, millions of Americans — investors, taxpayers, consumers, voters — came together uplifted by the “audacity of hope,” inspired by a vision of “change we can believe in,” by “bold and specific ideas about how to fix our ailing economy and strengthen the middle class, make health care affordable for all, achieve energy independence, and keep America safe in a dangerous world.”

    “Yes, we can” was the rallying cheer. You were the game-changer after the Bush-Cheney fiasco. What happened? Today we just don’t see, or expect to see, any real change we can believe in. America is more polarized than under Bush’s GOP, dysfunctional as both parties tragically undermine our great nation.


  22. old guy

    I have loved and believed in my country for 75 years–through several wars, 18 percent interest rates, much higher tax rates, to name but a few. So it sickens me to acknowledge that we have devolved into a nation of cry babies. Politically mature people understand that Obama and the Democrats could not unwind 30 years of failed policies in one year, and yet that’s what some commenting here seem to have expected from our president. As a retired history teacher, I give the cry babies here an “F” for failing to understand that real change comes slowly and demands unwavering patience.

    And thanks for this post Yves…it was insightful as usual.

    1. Mickey, Akron, Ohio

      Thank you. The ahistorical “point-and-click” mentality evinced by so many is debilitating. To fail to consider the 40 year gallop to the right and its consequences and then to expect it to be undone in 13 months is infantile.

      But with this “infantilism” manifesting itself, the reactinary RIGHT knows that it only has to obstruct, stall, and yell “socialism” until the American public becomes disillusioned and defects. Ask yourselves who has the most to gain from the Democrats seeming failures? It sure as hell isn’t the American people.

      Just how far to the “left” can the Democrats move when the public has been ideologically conditioned by neoliberal laissez-faire ideas for 40 years? Ideas when translated into policy have consequences. Moreover, the white southern wing of the Democratic Party might as well be Republicans with their pro-business anti-union sentiments. The New Deal Coalition is dead… and Democrats are at the fork in the road. If they choose to play the CLASS card the Southen Wing will bolt to the Republicans. But if they don’t the working classes will desert them, not voting at all or voting for a 3rd party candidate. Either way, the ruling elite – Democrat and Republican alike – will continue to pursue the policies of the past with a modicum of reform to the detriment of the American people.

      Obama’s election signified the emergence of CLASS as the dominant fault line in American politics. CLASS trumped RACE. Many lament this “politics of envy” but fail to acknowledge the success of neoliberal economic policies in fostering the very class formation it was purported to forestall via the “ownership society”. Once again, ask yourselves why reform from above is deemed progress and that from below is disparaged as class warfare or worse?

      Look to your history books and examine the role of REPRESSION in destroying any and/or all working class movements that might “level” the playing field between the rulers and the ruled. Can’t find any or never heard of the IWW, the Pullman Strike of 1877, or the Homestead Strike of 1894? Why is that? Do you think it is an accident?

      Why is “populism” the American euphemism for CLASS when in every other industrialized country on the planet the latter is the concept employed and understood by both the rulers and the ruled? It underlies the notion of American Exceptionalism and the relative lack of class consciousness evinced by most Americans. But the material conditions – abundant resources and land, relative scarcity of labor, etc., that once obtained or made for this exceptionalism have long since vanished. The taken-for-granted notion that the next generation will live better than the present is no longer a given. Upward social mobility via a university education is no longer a guarantee. Is the distribution of wealth more equitable now or increasigly skewed toward the top? Have wages and income stagnated for the average American since 1980 onwards? If these facts don’t signify the making of the American working classes, then what do? Populism?

      By pretending that CLASS is irrelevant to American politics, referring to it as “populism”, and/or something to be lamemnted/disparaged is “shilling” for the ruling elites – Democrat and Republican alike again – whose only response has been and remains more economic growth. Why? Because the issue of redistribution or EQUITY – not equality – never has to be addressed or resolved. All boats will be raised – yachts and the dinghy rowboats towed by them alike. What else is the principal source of faction between the rich and the poor outlined by James Madison in Federalist Paper #10 to be called other than class conflict? Populism?

      It’s more important to focus on why the opening to the LEFT presaged by YVES and purportedly promised by Obama does not appear to be happening than it is to obfuscate it by referring to it as populism. The answer[s] lies in the past but if we live in the “eternal present” how can we ever know where we’ve been and how to change course? The present is held hostage by the past as the future unfolds…

      It will take some time to undo the gallop to the right of the past 40 years. Say you don’t have the time to work for change WE can believe in? Well then, just remember, the reactionary Right is “banking” on your impatience.

    2. fajensen

      Politically mature people understand that Obama and the Democrats could not unwind 30 years of failed policies in one year,

      Someone is obviously getting “maturity” and “senility” confused here!

      If Only the Democrats had merely *abstained* from their usual game of Embracing, Extending and Embellishing the stupidities of the the past *that non-action alone* would have counted as monumental “Change”.

      But they did not. They perpetuated the mess, adding their own perverted twists such as covering up torture with legal procedure. Obamas continued push for indefinite detention for anyone the state does not like – as well as paying the usual Oligarchs even more money – comes from a rotten heart to put it mildly.

  23. Mark Pontin

    old guy writes: ‘Politically mature people understand that Obama and the Democrats could not unwind 30 years of failed policies in one year.’

    Obama and the Democrats have not only not tried to unwind 30 years of failed policies in one year, but with Summers and Geithner at the economic helm they have labored mightily to shore those failed policies up.

    And it is similarly simplistic to suggest that Reaganism was all bad from the get-go. I am old enough to remember the Jimmy Carter era myself and Reaganism provided a qualifiedly effective escape from that mire. America’s mistake — perpetuated as much under Clinton, when Glass-Steagall was repealed, as under Bushes 1 and 2 — was to embrace the temporary Reagan cure of deregulation and all the rest of it as a permanent mode of operation.

  24. Kevin de Bruxelles

    What is amazing is that as the country sinks deeper into despair, in response the American voters cling even tighter to the Corporatist political parties that got them into this mess. From my point of view the Corporatists won yesterday’s Senate election 99% to 1%. So Obama and the other Democrats can be forgiven for their rare moment of candour regarding the need to change rhetoric. After all, only a fool would think that policy is up for discussion. Nope, the current policy was approved 99-1 yesterday and it WILL continue to be implemented. The truth is that when deciding between a Republican or Democratic politician, all one is really choosing is what type of rhetorical gift wrapping their pro-Corporate policies will be covered in.

    The problem created by this homogeneity of policy is an increasing incongruence between both parties’ rhetoric and their actions. The “small government” Republicans are expert at growing the federal apparatus (albeit concentrated in the national security sections), while the “we the people” Democrats pander to any corporation that is willing to take them on as a servant. The cognitive dissonance thus created is causing voters to wildly swing from Democratic to Republican and back again, and the rising frequency, amplitude, and period of each of these waves is beginning to approach the dangerous resonant frequencies that threaten to bring the entire corrupt political edifice crashing into the river below.

    So tomorrow while reviewing the election results, the corporate elite, assisted by their faithful lapdogs in both major parties, will on the one hand be happy that they are indeed as popular as the candidates to the local Soviets used to be back in the good old days of the USSR, although on the other hand there will be some disappointment that Corporate America did not manage to reach the level of popularity achieved by Saddam Hussein when he was was elected Grand Potentate of Greater Mesopotamia with 99.65% of the vote. More seriously, they must now find a way to dampen the wild oscillations within the political system; the best way to deal with this may be a Corporatist third party to confuse the peasants even more. Also the Health Insurance Profits Assurance Act of 2010 must somehow still be passed without creating even more rhetorical incongruence. Last year we were very patiently told that the reason for all the pro-Corporate “compromises” was the need for 60 votes in the Senate. With that no longer possible for the Democrats, perhaps one Republican will jump on the political hand grenade or more likely some another process will be found; but either way, I’m sure the final bill will be even more favourable to the health insurance corporations. And why shouldn’t it be? They just won 99-1, didn’t they?

    And oh yeah, Obama’s new rhetoric. Let’s see, it’s all the Republican’s fault even though for the past year I have steadfastly refused to change even one of their policies. Yeah, that’s a real winner.

    What needs to happen is that Americans must finally come together and create a popular party that will put their interests above those of corporate America. Sounds easy enough but I know it will not be easy at all.

    1. aet

      Correct: there’s no light visible from between the two parties in the USA.

      Has US democracy become a sham?

      Nobody even talks about ending the wars anymore….nor about as to what people will do when their extended jobless benefits run out.

      Oh well I guess those who have no health insurance will eventually solve their problems by dieing early.

    2. Doug Terpstra

      Right on, Kevin.

      “The cognitive dissonance thus created is causing voters to wildly swing from Democratic to Republican and back again, and the rising frequency, amplitude, and period of each of these waves is beginning to approach the dangerous resonant frequencies that threaten to bring the entire corrupt political edifice crashing into the river below.”

      Speaking of cognitive dissonance leading to “rhetorical incongruence”, the pundit priests will likely misread the ferocity of mass voters. Some cynically, most cluelessly, they will spin the tea leaves again to herd the sheep into the “right” chute for slaughter. “Bipartisanship is a beautiful thing; let’s all just get along now as team players and get with the program.”

  25. Albert

    Obama and his first year: that is what you get when you elect a man with no executive experience whatsoever.

    By definition, he becomes a captive of his advisers: Summers, Geithner, etc….

  26. Amit Chokshi

    KDB – will never happen. We are a highly uneducated country and many that are educated and younger have no interest in voting because they are on their way to making money and then duping the idiot population.

    The “populists” of this country are Glenn Beck freaks that carry guns to protests, are for “freedom” except when it involves a woman’s right to choose, the rights of same sex couples, basically anyone that is not a white Christian male, are anti-immigration when the US will be down the same road as Europe and Japan and therefore need more immigrants, particularly the smart ones that hold H1Bs, have never seen a country they didn’t want to bomb, are scared children that like to be scared so want their own personal freedoms taken away so they can feel “protected”, and are happily ignorant about how US policies impact the rest of the world, don’t want the “gub’ment” involved in their Medicare, etc.

    These people can’t comprehend TARP or what’s going on. They are mad now and “want their country back” – the same country run by true scumbags that led us into this ditch.

    Only thing to say is I am happy I am in finance cause one way or another, the deck is stacked. If people don’t want to change, people that do what I do can generally make money one way or another. The morons that vote against their own interests however are really the idiots and they do so because of emotional and racial issues more so than anything else. Just look at the states with the worst healthcare…no surprise it’s Red states…

    1. Sam in

      Are you Indian or Chinese, which one?

      Just give American workers the private right to sue if an HIB takes their job, to enforce the law that they must be paid the prevailing wage. We do want to “take our country back” … from you.

  27. Amit Chokshi

    Well I am American, born here, so I don’t face any H1B issues. Funny that critics of H1B however want the “prevailing” i.e. “artificial” wage. You probably harangue union workers but then are scared when a hungrier, smarter worker from not just Asia but parts of Eastern Europe can eat your lunch? H1Bs are for the smart people from what I’ve seen, tech and finance. Why can’t a GOOG or GS hire whoever the hell they want?

    But it is good to get that “take your country back” from you comment…as in “not white” as it totally supports what I previously said. Guess that give me your poor, hungry, etc is just lip service, esp when considering H1Bs are college or grad educated people. Having them in this country they are in a high tax bracket than the ham and eggers that watch Beck (like you sound like) so they can fill the coffers you need to bomb away other countries and pay the Street.

  28. Peterpaul


    Don’t fall for the generalizations. I attended the April tea party rallies, listened with awe to my cousins description of the summertime rally in Washington, and believe:

    1. In a woman’s right to choose;
    2. The state needs to consider marriage a contract open to all who wish to bind two together (the church is a different matter);
    3. People have a right to carry weaponry in public;
    4. I could go one but you get the point.

    Many of the people I talked to in the movement don’t fit the caricature you have painted. How many have you actually debated or spoken to regarding their views?

  29. b.

    It would be one thing for Barack “One Term” Obama to be a massive failure on the merits – his cognitive predispositions leaving him unable to indentify, support and ultimately deliver actual solutions – but please let’s not forget that this is fundamentally a dishonest, detestable individual.

    Hostis humani generis.

  30. JTFaraday

    “KDB – will never happen. We are a highly uneducated country and many that are educated and younger have no interest in voting because they are on their way to making money and then duping the idiot population.”

    Well, I think this pretty much sums up the day’s commentary. Americans hate other Americans and use that hatred as an excuse to scr*w them.

    “Obama is young and proud and smart. Let’s hope he has a kernel of nobility and will rise above his minders and become mindful of them.”

    No, Obama is young and dumb and arrogant–and personally on the make.

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