The needler in the haystack.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Obama surrenders


Screenshot of Hertzberg's online article, with pull quote.
'The president surrenders' is the title of Paul Krugman's column in today's NYTimes (see here), and it sums up the feeling of many -- including me -- about not only the OUTCOME that seems to be coming over the debt ceiling crisis, but Obama's CONDUCT of national affairs generally.

Krugman, as a Keynesian, argues that with the nation still in the depths of the severest recession since the Great Depression, the country needs to invest (= deficit spending) more on jobs creation or risk FDR's fate in 1937, when he focused on balancing the budget instead of getting unemployment numbers down and created a relapse referred to as 'Roosevelt's Recession'. Keynesian policies have serve us well and I'm with Krugman in seeing no good reason for dumping them now.

I have been dismayed since the financial meltdown and the unemployment crisis it engendered that President Obama has focused almost solely on propping up Wall Street and paid only glancing attention to the fundamental issues of jobs.

The so-called Stimulus Plan, which he has been loathe to mention for over a year now, ended up being far less about putting out-of-work workers to work than in keeping some already working teachers, cops, firefighters and construction workers on public projects employed. This is commendable, but it has not addressed the underlying problem of systemic unemployment. If he doesn't -- or can't -- get a handle on it before November, it may cost him the election.

As one example of the Stimulus Money shell game, consider that the 'peninsula project' at Park Avenue and East 9th Street is now being touted as one of those ARRA projects. If you recall, the project was proposed (and supposedly funded) long before the financial collapse and the ARRA/Stimulus Funding. What we are witnessing is a public relations bait-and-switch.

Which brings me to a second point: Obama and his advisers have been great at 'shooting the angles' on the issues he has had to confront during his term, but without success accruing to his benefit.

This is pointed out today by Ross Douthat's OpEd in today's NYTimes 'The diminished president' (see here), and Hendrik Hertzberg's 'Take it to the limit' in the New Yorker online (see here).

Both argue that Obama has been timid and over-accommodating, with an outcome that while his advisers are quite calculating and his tactics often get to their goal, the net for the President is that his poll numbers sink -- not because he isn't liked, but because he is not perceived as a leader.

Douthat contrasts Obama the candidate and Obama the president --

But winning a debate on points isn’t a substitute for looking like a leader. It’s one thing to bemoan politics-as-usual when you’re running for the White House. It’s quite another to publicly throw up your hands over our “dysfunctional government” when you’re the man the voters put in charge of it.
and Hertzberg gives a larger bill of particulars --

...[b]ut Obama’s seeming refusal to hold it [the 14th Amendment option] in reserve (“like the fire axe on the wall,” in Garrett Epps’s words) is emblematic of his all too civilized, all too accommodating negotiating strategy—indeed, of his whole approach to the nation’s larger economic dilemma, the most disappointing aspect of his Presidency. His stimulus package asked for too little and got less. He has allowed deficits and debt to supersede mass unemployment as the emergency of the moment. He has too readily accepted Republican terms of debate, such as likening the country to a household that must “live within its means.” (For even the most prudent householders, living within one’s means can include going into debt, as in taking out a car loan so that one can get to one’s job.) He has done too little to educate the public to the wisdom of post-Herbert Hoover economics: fiscal balance is achieved over time, not in a single year; in flush times a government should run a surplus, but when the economy falters deficits are part of the remedy...
If there is one positive lesson for President Obama to draw from this whole sorry mess, it is that when he actually appealed to the American people this past week -- as he did during his 2008 campaign -- they came through powerfully (even bringing Congressional web servers to their knees from the heavy traffic), effectively moving recalcitrant Congress members off the dime.

He needs to tap that vast reservoir of good will and latent power over the coming months, but can he, will he?


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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9 comments:

Anonymous said...

"The fact that we are here today to debate raising America's debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better. I, therefore, intend to oppose the effort to increase America's debt."

— Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, March 16, 2006.

Dottie Gutenkauf said...

Those big whirring sounds we can hear are FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, JFK, and Nixon spinning in their graves.

Nat Singleton said...

Dottie, you left out LBJ. Could you ever imagine that Nixon would seem like a Liberal?

Dan said...

Dottie, you left out Lyndon Baines Johnson. LBJ would have chewed up and spit out eight John Boehners before lunch.

Dottie Gutenkauf said...

I didn't forget LBJ, I just couldn't think of words big enough to describe what he would be doing now in the face of this outrageous capitulation. More, surely, than just spinning in his grave--he's probably jumping up and down & yelling.

No doubt he would have resolved the problem in his inimitable way. I will never forget him telling Congress, in his wonderful Texas accent, "Ah want that civil rights bill and Ah want it naow!" He got it, too. That was leadership--too bad we don't have that kind of leadership now.

Anonymous said...

Congress acted with as much maturity as the students showcased in the previous video- and the President played the part of the absentee teacher! But, like one commentator said, it is hard to say what the "teacher" would do if present.

It truly is a dissappointment that, while the President boasts that domestic spending is being cut to the lowest level since the Eisenhower administration, he increases military spending to the highest level in history, almost as high as the rest of the world's military spending added together, and higher than the GDP of all but maybe ten other countries.

It is, also, pathetic that democrats can't make the case that the "experiment" in Bush tax cuts was a failure and should expire. It didn't create any new private sector jobs or any increase in GDP growth in ten years! It only created deficits in good economic times that have made it harder to justify deficits to get us out of these bad times.

A return to the tax rates of the Clinton era when we had a surplus, a return to the level of military spending (in real terms) at the end of the Reagan presidency, and a return to a normal unemployment rate in the long-run would restore a balanced budget. Aren't those simple goals to work towards?

Anonymous said...

The president lost total control of the debate when he ignored his own commission. Simpson-Bowles performed a well thought out detailed analysis of the problem and offered well thought out solutions. The commission was truely bi-partison.
One of my concerns now is how weak the president must appear to our friends and enemies throughout the world.

Its not clear if stimulus, as used in other recessions, will work. This country is no longer dominated by manufacturing, therefore few jobs will be created here by gov't money. Face it on the consumer side businesses are very efficient and have been able to absorb increased sales without hiring new people. The uncertainty of healthcare costs adds to the decision of businesses not to add headcount.
One way to help create demand for goods and services would be to flush out the home foreclosures in the system. A wave of new owners, who for the right price and with adaquaate financing, will most likely invest in keeping their homes up to date and this will quickly ripple through the economy.

Bottom line there is no magic wand that government can do to address the economy and jobs, but they can with innovative thought and determination push it in the right direction. The president to date reminds me of Carter, a nice guy who surrounded himself with academics, but didn't have a clue.

Anonymous said...

Dan, where's my post likening Congress to the fighting students? I would like to copy it. Thanks

Anonymous said...

Thanks for catching up with posting the comments. Sorry for my impatience.