Stress will bring out an organism’s or an organization’s defenses, and the beleagured Obama administration is looking mighty defensive these days. The great unwashed public isn’t buying its PR about its supposed accomplishments, such as the disgrace that it misbrands as financial reform (which 80% are skeptical will prevent a future crisis) and health care reform (which a recent poll shows disapproval v. approval in a 4:3 ratio).
Yet this is an Administration that, ironically, seems to think its Faustian pacts with corporate interests can be sold to a presumed-to-be-clueless public with artful PR. But this supposedly media savvy bunch has persistently violated a fundamental rule of marketing: you don’t misrepresent your product. While politicians all oversell what they can accomplish, the Team Obama campaign has become increasingly desperate as the inconsistency between the Adminstration’s “product positioning” and observable reality become increasingly evident. As we noted in March:
The widespread, vocal opposition to the TARP was evidence that a once complacent populace had been roused. Reform, if proposed with energy and confidence, wasn’t a risk; not only was it badly needed, it was just what voters wanted.
But incoming president Obama failed to act. Whether he failed to see the opportunity, didn’t understand it, or was simply not interested is moot. Rather than bring vested banking interests to heel, the Obama administration instead chose to reconstitute, as much as possible, the very same industry whose reckless pursuit of profit had thrown the world economy off the cliff. There would be no Nixon goes to China moment from the architects of the policies that created the crisis, namely Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, and Director of the National Economic Council Larry Summers.
Defenders of the administration no doubt will content that the public was not ready for measures like the putting large banks like Citigroup into receivership. Even if that were true (and the current widespread outrage against banks says otherwise), that view assumes that the executive branch is a mere spectator, when it has the most powerful bully pulpit in the nation. Other leaders have taken unpopular moves and still maintained public support.
Obama’s repudiation of his campaign promise of change, by turning his back on meaningful reform of the financial services industry, in turn locked his Administration into a course of action. The new administration would have no choice other that working fist in glove with the banksters, supporting and amplifying their own, well established, propaganda efforts.
Thus Obama’s incentives are to come up with “solutions” that paper over problems, avoid meaningful conflict with the industry, minimize complaints, and restore the old practice of using leverage and investment gains to cover up stagnation in worker incomes. Potemkin reforms dovetail with the financial service industry’s goal of forestalling any measures that would interfere with its looting. So the only problem with this picture was how to fool the now-impoverished public into thinking a program of Mussolini-style corporatism represented progress.
To put it more simply, “it’s the policies, stupid.” The Obama Administration appears pathologically unable to see that its flagging poll numbers and the high odds of credibility-sapping Democrat losses in the mid-term elections are the result of errors in judgment. But instead, it is now reduced to trying to shift blame for its flagging fortunes onto….evil pinkos! This would be comical if it weren’t utterly pathetic.
What passes for the left in this country has been so marginalized that it has limited sway to begin with (although the public is strongly supportive of some positions they defend, such as preserving Social Security and Medicare). And Team Obama would have to have a badly distorted self image to think its centrist (at best) policies qualify as progressive. A more logical explanation is that the Administration presumed it could either co-opt or corral enough liberals so that any salvos from that flank would be limited to those deemed so extreme that their opposition might actually be a plus (think the controversial Noam Chomsky). Jane Hamsher has chronicled the aggressive Obama efforts to shackle liberal groups :
Someone asked me over the weekend to be more explicit about what the term “veal pen” means:
The veal crate is a wooden restraining device that is the veal calf’s permanent home. It is so small (22″ x 54″) that the calves cannot turn around or even lie down and stretch and is the ultimate in high-profit, confinement animal agriculture.(1) Designed to prevent movement (exercise), the crate does its job of atrophying the calves’ muscles, thus producing tender “gourmet” veal.
About 14 weeks after their birth, the calves are slaughtered. The quality of this “food,” laden with chemicals, lacking in fiber and other nutrients, diseased and processed, is another matter. The real issue is the calves’ experience. During their brief lives, they never see the sun or touch the Earth. They never see or taste the grass. Their anemic bodies crave proper sustenance. Their muscles ache for freedom and exercise. They long for maternal care. They are kept in darkness except to be fed two to three times a day for 20 minutes…..
I heard it over and over again — if you wanted to criticize the White House on financial issues, your institutional funding would dry up instantly. The Obama campaign successfully telegraphed to donors that they should cut off Fund for America, which famously led to its demise. It wasn’t the last time something like that happened — just ask those who were receiving institutional money who criticized the White House and saw their funding cut, at the specific request of liberal institutional leaders who now principally occupy their time by brown nosing friends and former co-workers in the White House.
And so the groups in the DC veal pen stay silent. They leadership gets gets bought off by cocktail parties at the White House while the interests of their members get sold out….
Where are they on health care? Why aren’t they running ads against the AMA, the hospitals, the insurance industry barons who have $700 million in stock options, PhRMA, the device manufacturers and the White House for doing back room deals with all of the above?
Why are they not calling for the White House to release the details of those secret deals?
Because they are participating in those deals, instead of trying to destroy them. Well, that and funneling millions of dollars in pass-throughs to their consultant friends that they are supposed to be spending on the health care fight.
The truth is — they’ve all been sucked into insulating the White House from liberal critique, and protecting the administration’s ability to carry out a neoliberal agenda that does not serve the interests of their members. They spend their time calculating how to do the absolute minimum to retain their progressive street cred and still walk the line of never criticizing the White House.
Yves here. With this as background, the impotent White House tongue-lashing reported yesterday in The Hill is particularly revealing:
The White House is simmering with anger at criticism from liberals who say President Obama is more concerned with deal-making than ideological purity.
During an interview with The Hill in his West Wing office, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs blasted liberal naysayers, whom he said would never regard anything the president did as good enough.
“I hear these people saying he’s like George Bush. Those people ought to be drug tested,” Gibbs said. “I mean, it’s crazy.”
The press secretary dismissed the “professional left” in terms very similar to those used by their opponents on the ideological right, saying, “They will be satisfied when we have Canadian healthcare and we’ve eliminated the Pentagon. That’s not reality.”
Of those who complain that Obama caved to centrists on issues such as healthcare reform, Gibbs said: “They wouldn’t be satisfied if Dennis Kucinich was president.”…..
Progressives, Gibbs said, are the liberals outside of Washington “in America,” and they are grateful for what Obama has accomplished in a shattered economy with uniform Republican opposition and a short amount of time.
Yves here. I suspect most readers will take issue with Gibbs’ straw manning and claim that “progressives” are solidly behind Obama. What interests me is his attempt to discredit via branding a group the Administration sees as enemies.
“Professional left” evokes images of union members drummed up to come out and join protests, all carrying the same mass manufactured placards. Yet the irony here is the Administration’s frustration results from the fact that the people that are real thorns in its side are the antithesis of career political foot soldiers of the left of center persuasion. Per Hamsher, that’s the sort they’ve been able to neutralize.
Instead, the ones that have annoyed them are those who have followings not because they are paid operatives of leftie groups, as Gibbs intimates, but effective, charismatic commentators on TV, such as Jon Stewart, Rachel Maddow, and Dylan Ratigan. So the “professional,” which should be a compliment, is instead a slur, implying they make their money by (per Gibbs’ rant) hewing to an ideological line, as opposed to simply calling out obvious and persistent Obama Administration hypocrisy.
To the extent any of the members of these professional lefties’ fanbases even take notice of Gibbs’ peculiar attack, it’s certain to engender more loyalty. The fact he’d resort to a stunt like this indicates not simply desperation, but also detachment from reality.