By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She now spends most of her time in India and other parts of Asia researching a book about textile artisans. She also writes regularly about legal, political economy, and regulatory topics for various consulting clients and publications, as well as writes occasional travel pieces for The National.
We called him the Obamamometer or at least I did and it quickly caught on in our circle because it described his behavior so well. Near the end of class time, just in time for the last word, his arm would rise. He’d wait to be recognized. A pause— setting his audience on seat’s edge (or at least the ones who’d never heard him speak before), and then in his mellifluous voice, he’d intone, “Rain is wet”— or something equally banal, with the gravity otherwise due to a proposition from Wittgenstein.
Always the last word. Always uttered with utter conviction. And never, never– despite sitting through two classes with him– did I ever hear him say anything even remotely interesting. The Obamamometer took the ideological temperature of the room, and then unfailingly said something with which no one could possibly disagree— but which no other person would bother to say, because it was both so vapid and blindingly obvious.
So, what does this have to do with Naked Capitalism? Stick with me, please because I do have a point. And I believe it’s an important one: How crucial it is to support this website, a fount of critical thinking, and the very opposite of the Obamamometer.
Moving forward into the new Millennium, after his well-judged speech at the 2004 Democratic convention, I remember several bemused conversations with other Harvard Law School (HLS) classmates. We weren’t really surprised that Barack was running for the United States Senate — as his ambition and monumental self-regard were always apparent. Nor did anyone miss that he had one eye trained on the Presidency ahead.
But why were the media lapping him up? After all, at that point, what had the man accomplished? He’d spent several years teaching part-time at the University of Chicago Law School, but produced no major scholarly work. He’d served as a state legislator in Illinois, and also published a well-received and well-written autobiography. And of course, he’d scored the achievement that first brought him to national attention— first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review. Not trivial accomplishments, to be sure. Yet neither did they herald the second coming of Christ Jesus– and that was how he was being heralded. This is not going to end well, I remember thinking at the time.
At that point, and with the benefit of hindsight, I reassessed whether there was more to being an Obamamometer than was apparent to other HLS classmates forced to listen to his blather back in his student days. Was being able to zero in on the essence of public opinion– that of the lowest common denominator– such a bad characteristic to have in a small d democratic system? Maybe expressing essential core political truths– however trite– was the quintessence of political wisdom? Or at least Barack Obama seemed to think so.
For those of us whose political thinking was formed by witnessing Maggie Thatcher in her heyday that political model seemed at best naive. Imagine the Iron Lady sitting down and negotiating with her enemies. For her, politics accorded more with the model expressed by William Connolly– politics concerned essentially contested concepts. You were never going to get to yes with your political enemies. Instead, groups compete for scarce political benefits, in what was often a zero sum game. And Maggie didn’t waste time negotiating with herself.
So when Barack Obama was elected President, and soon put in place an economic team consisting of former Clintonites and Rubinites, I and other HLS classmates weren’t all too surprised by what followed. We saw those promises of hope and change as empty banalities, rather than the transitional political program many Obama supporters had voted for. It’s a fairly straight line from the rhetoric of the 2008 election, through the many policy disappointments–failure to close Guantanamo, the inadequate stimulus program, continued hawkish foreign policy, the foreclosure crisis, the growth and consolidation of already too big to fail banks, rampant accounting control fraud, no accountability in the C suite, the false promise of Obamacare, the horror of the unaccountable drone program–to this 2016 train wreck of an election. You can only disillusion people so much, and you then end up with what we have: two widely loathed major presidential candidates.
I first discovered Naked Capitalism in 2007 as the financial crisis started to fester. And I had the pleasure of first meeting Yves a couple of years later. I’ve been content to lurk on the site without commenting for years, reading posts and the excellent comment threads, with Yves either crossposting or publishing the occasional article I’d co-authored. Naked Capitalism has long been part of my daily routine– it’s usually the first thing I look at in the morning, for its essential links feature. And it’s often the last thing I look at at night. More recently, I’ve been honored to be asked to contribute more original writing to the site, as well as compile links and do other site DJ tasks.
Naked Capitalism is the antithesis of the Obamamometer. It covers topics that the mainstream media generally either ignore or gloss over. And not only does Naked Capitalism cover them, but it does so rigorously and analytically, focusing on arguments, and evidence, and seeing beyond personalities and mere rhetoric. I’ve long marvelled at how a small website, thinly staffed, can provide insightful coverage that much larger media organizations miss. Now seeing things at closer quarters, I’m even more amazed at the quality of coverage Yves, Lambert, and other regular and occasional contributors turn out.
Crucial to the success of this site is the commentariat, the regular readers who read posts carefully and take time to comment. They’re attuned to skewering weak arguments and eviscerating analytical flaws. I know from experience, the commentariat forces contributors to think about posts deeply and to post their very best work.
Keeping this community going requires funding. And that’s where you can help. The more you can contribute, the greater will be Naked Capitalism’s ability to continue to produce the coverage you expect.
So, don’t be an Obamamometer. Reject sloppy thinking. Eschew the conventional wisdom.
Please contribute whatever you can to support what Naked Capitalism provides: critical thinking and focused analysis, giving no quarter. Any amount helps. If you can give a little, give a little. If you can give a lot, give a lot. Whether that’s $5, $50, or $5000, visit the Tip Jar, to learn how to to donate by check, credit, debit card, or Pay Pal.
And if you prefer to send a check, drop Yves an email at yves@nakedcapitalism. Put “Check is in the mail” in the subject line and tell her how much is en route so she can include your contribution in her running tally.
We’re entering especially dark times, whoever gets elected next month. This scorched earth campaign is going to leave the next likely President– whether it be Clinton or Trump– gravely wounded. I worry deeply about what lies ahead. We need Naked Capitalism to help us see our way. And you, regular readers, by giving whatever you can, can help make it possible for the site to continue to promote the very best in independent and critical thinking.