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Doublethinking History


I dropped by Hullaballoo the other day and saw this post by Digby reacting to a post by the Littlest Cheeto denying the existence of buyer’s remorse in the Kool-aid Kingdom:

Ferchristsake. Please, please spare us any more Drudgico stories about “the left.” Dredging up the primaries is nothing more than cheap link bait, designed to create a story where none exists. The left has been pushing Obama hard from the moment he took office, which seems to come as a surprise to the denizens of the village who assumed that everyone would spend the next four years sitting around playing the “I Got A Crush on Obama” Youtube on a loop while muttering “yes we can” under our breath. The only one who who seems to have actually done that is Tom Hayden, and when he finally looked up he felt, like, so totally betrayed.

Clinton and Obama are both mainstream Democrats who occupy exactly the same political terrain in the party and always did. That’s what made the primary so bloody. It was about personal identification, style and aspiration — the differences between the two camps were never about policy because there was no substantial difference in their policies.

I said the other day that there are two basic types of Obama supporter:

1. The Kool-aid Drinking True Believer – Believes that Obama is a unique and special leader of the type that only comes along once every generation or so, and whose impact is transformational and destined to be of historical significance. Thinks Obama is a genius with Jedi-like political skills that mere mortals cannot even comprehend. Is certain that Obama is one of the greatest public speakers in history and thinks the ability to motivate and inspire people made Obama the best candidate for President. Is grateful to be part of a movement that is going to forever change the way Washington does business.

2. The Cynical Pragmatist – Has no illusions about Barack Obama. Knows Obama is a politician and expects him to lie and break promises. Supported Obama because he thought Obama had the best chance of winning because he was the media favorite. Expects and is content with modest, incremental changes in government policy. Thinks Hillary would have done everything pretty much the same as Obama has done, but believes a McCain/Palin administration would have been really bad.

According to Digby, Tom Hayden is not only a Type 1 Obot, he is the one and only Type 1 Obot in existence. All the rest of the Obots are Type 2’s, and they are neither surprised nor disappointed with Obama’s performance thus far. In fact, everything is going exactly as they expected it to go. Really.

Most of the commenters on Digby’s post agreed with her, but there were a few of those paranoid shrieking hold-out PUMA types that showed up and started harshing everyone’s mellow with their usual lies and disortions, trying to re-litigate the primaries again.

It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly two years since the Great Purge of Left Blogistan.  For several years the left side of the blogosphere had been mostly united in opposition to George Bush and the Republicans, and we were looking forward to the Democrats regaining control of the White House and extending their majorities in the House and Senate.  The conventional wisdom was that Hillary Clinton was the “establishment candidate” and the front-runner for the Democratic nomination, but there were a couple other contenders on a slate a eight candidates.

Then virtually overnight the supporters of Hillary Clinton became pariahs at the lefty blogs they had called home for years.  Even before Edwards left the race anyone who spoke out in support of Hillary or who offered even mild criticism of Obama became the target of insults and derogatory comments from Obama supporters.

I have been arguing politics since I was  kid and I never saw anything like it.  The hostility and ferocity of the Obot comments was only exceeded by their vulgarity.  Even during impeachment craziness of the nineties the Republicans were not as unhinged, and the Obots were attacking fellow Democrats.

There was no mutuality to these attacks.  They originated from the Obots, they were unprovoked and even when Hillary supporters tried to fight back they were outnumbered and got little or no support from the blog administrators.  At Cheetoville and other blogs were diaries and comments could be rated by other members, the Obots worked together to “rec” pro-Obama posts and “troll-rate” pro-Hillary posts.

I don’t have to remind you of how toxic the atmosphere was at Cheetoville and other lefty blogs.  The Confluence was founded as a refuge for Hillary supporters fleeing the insane hatred of the Obots.  But they weren’t satisfied with  driving us away from our old blog hang-outs, they tried to follow us here and continue their attacks.  They failed, thanks to a strict moderation policy and the vigilance of Katiebird and the other original moderators.

We haven’t forgotten the Great Purge, nor have we forgotten the cult-like behavior of the Obots.  We recall the way Obama was portrayed as a messianic figure while Hillary was demonized and belittled.  We still remember the way voters were accused of being racists because the voted for Hillary.

Attributing what took place to “personal identification, style and aspiration” makes it sound like we all had a collective bad-hair day.  I don’t identify with either candidate, but I have more in common with Obama than I do with Hillary.  I’ve noticed that the Obot stereotype of a Hillary supporter is a white female high school graduate in her 50’s who never paid attention to politics until Hillary ran for President.  They imagine these hypothetical Hillary supporters are racist “vagina-voters.”

Digby’s explanation makes even less sense if all the Obots are Type-2 Cynical Pragmatists.  If Obama and Hillary “are both mainstream Democrats who occupy exactly the same political terrain in the party and always did” and the Obots expected that as President either one would bring about the same modest, incremental changes, then what the fuck was all the insanity about?

On the other hand, if the typical Obot is a Kool-aid Drinking True Believer,  then their behavior can be explained as religious fanaticism.  It still doesn’t excuse or justify what they did, but it provides a motive.  It also explains why that conduct still continues to this day.  Cynical pragmatists don’t conduct holy wars, but fanatics believe they have a monopoly on righteousness.

So why are so many Obama  supporters now claiming that they are and always have been cynical pragmatists?

Reality bites, and it has sunk its fangs into the collective hindquarters of the Kool-aid Kingdom. They have tried to be patient, and they have rationalized and made excuses for almost a year now, but they don’t have much to show for it.  But they can’t admit they were wrong either.

The Obots didn’t come up with all that cult worship stuff on their own. It was the result of the Obama campaign’s use of very sophisticated psychological manipulation. Remember the people fainting on cue at Obama rallies? That’s very similar to what you see with faith healers in holy-roller churches.

They used imagery of Obama as a messianic figure and reinforced it with a narrative the depicted Obama’s life as if he was destined to be president. They used the psychological techniques on young people who thought they were smart and sophisticated and never realized they were being used. They manipulated the blogosphere too.

Although Obama never actually said he was the new messiah, he did make a lot of promises. It’s not just that he has failed to keep those promises, it’s that in many cases he has done the complete opposite of what he said he would do. Even worse, his attitude towards those broken promises is similar to a guy who tells a girl “So what if I said I love you? You should have known I only said it so you would sleep with me.”

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Economics Food Fight

Matt Taibbi

Finally we have something fun to talk about. This could save us from wallowing in the horrors of Obama’s health insurance company bailout bill all weekend long. Matt Taibbi’s latest piece came out in Rolling Stone weeks ago, but was only available to subscribers until recently. Suddenly there is a fascinating back and forth going on between Taibbi and Obama apologist Tim Fernholtz at American Prospect. Fernholz nitpicked Taibbi’s article in a much-discussed critique. Then Felix Salmon stepped in to add his two cents to war of words. Then, Taibbi put his own response to Fernholz up on his blog. And finally, the latest: Fernholz has a new response to Taibbi’s response and he includes a couple of digs at Salmon too!

Here are links to all the relevant articles with some highlights:

Taibbi’s original RS story: Obama’s Big Sellout

Taibbi’s main argument is that Bob Rubin and people closely connected with him are running Obama’s economic policy–ensuring that deregulation and free-trade will continue to be the order of the day, rather than efforts to control an out-of-control Wall Street.

It is bad enough that one of Bob Rubin’s former protégés from the Clinton years, the New York Fed chief Geithner, is intimately involved in the negotiations, which unsurprisingly leave the Federal Reserve massively exposed to future Citi losses. But the real stunner comes only hours after the bailout deal is struck, when the Obama transition team makes a cheerful announcement: Timothy Geithner is going to be Barack Obama’s Treasury secretary!

Geithner, in other words, is hired to head the U.S. Treasury by an executive from Citigroup — Michael Froman — before the ink is even dry on a massive government giveaway to Citigroup that Geithner himself was instrumental in delivering. In the annals of brazen political swindles, this one has to go in the all-time Fuck-the-Optics Hall of Fame.

Wall Street loved the Citi bailout and the Geithner nomination so much that the Dow immediately posted its biggest two-day jump since 1987, rising 11.8 percent. Citi shares jumped 58 percent in a single day, and JP Morgan Chase, Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley soared more than 20 percent, as Wall Street embraced the news that the government’s bailout generosity would not die with George W. Bush and Hank Paulson.

Fernholz’s critique: The Errors of Matt Taibbi

Matt Taibbi has done it again — written a nightmare of a story for Rolling Stone on Obama’s economic sell-out of his campaign. The piece is a factual mess, a conspiracy theorist’s dream, doesn’t even indict Obama for his real failures (which I’ll discuss in a post later today) and of course invokes the cold hands of Bob Rubin like a bogeyman at every turn. This is pernicious for a lot of journalistic reasons, but politically it’s bad for progressives beacuse conspiracy theories stand in the way of good policy analysis and good activism, replacing them with apathy and fear.

Salmon’s critique of Fernholtz’s critique: Fernholtz vs. Taibbi

Tim Fernholz’s intemperate attack on Matt Taibbi and his latest article is getting a lot of attention in the Twittersphere. It turns out that a lot of journalists don’t like Taibbi, and love it when he gets taken down a peg.

But Fernholz’s attack is weaker than it looks at first glance; a lot of it is simply a matter of slant and opinion.

Taibbi’s response to Fernholz: On Obama’s Big Sellout

So I fucked up with that line — “a former Clinton diplomat” — and for that I certainly am sorry, among other things because Rolling Stone’s fact-checkers are the most rigorous in the business (much more so than any other newspaper or magazine I’ve worked for) and I think actually this was my error and not theirs, a late-stage mixup near press time.

Now, that said, it was indeed Bob Rubin’s son Jamie who worked with Michael Froman in the Obama transition team. Had it not been Bob Rubin’s son, that would certainly have qualified as a serious error, because then we’d be making an argument based upon a factual error.

But the basic argument of the article was that an enormous number of people with ties to Bob Rubin and/or other Wall Street insiders had assumed positions of responsibility in the Obama transition and White House. And Jamie Rubin is Bob Rubin’s son, and he was a headhunter for Obama’s economic hires from the first days of the transition. So the meaning here is really not significantly different. The fact that this heads the Prospect’s list of complaints says a lot about the substance of this criticism.

Fernholz’s response to Taibbi’s response and Salmon’s critique of his critique of Taibbi: Lighting Round

So yesterday’s post on Matt Taibbi’s latest in Rolling Stone got a bit more attention than I had anticipated, including a response from Felix Salmon that I thought was worth addressing. Salmon defends Taibbi — I’d accuse him of some logrolling in our time thanks to his appearance in the piece, but Salmon is better than that — but it’s not a very strong defense….

Here’s my point: Taibbi has written an article arguing that Obama has sold out his campaign-era economic populism by surrounding himself with Bob Rubin’s lackeys and giving away the farm to the bankers — “one of the most dramatic political about-faces in our history.” Only it turns out, though, that many of the Rubinites he identifies don’t work on the things he says they work on, or don’t take the positions he applies to them, or aren’t as influential as he thinks they are. The people he says were “banished” from Obama’s inner circle, like Austan Goolsbee, weren’t. He manages not to mention any of the populist decisions Obama has made.

And Andrew Leonard at Salon is threatening to get involved–he sounds like another Obama apologist.

Is it my imagination, or does the attribution “spent 12 years as an executive at Goldman Sachs” now carry with it the stain of the scarlet letter? Nothing more need be said.

I will return to this theme later today when I tackle Matt Taibbi’s Rolling Stone assault on President Barack Obama but let’s note here for the record that this is yet another case of the White House proposing a sensible piece of regulatory reform — anything that quacks like a financial services banking duck should be regulated like a financial services banking duck — that has been watered down by Congress.

Back and forth–who will be heard from next and will they come to blows?


UPDATE I:

Here is the promised attack on Taibbi by Andrew Leonard: Matt Taibbi goes Obama scalp hunting

And, another voice pipes up from the peanut gallery, Big Media Matt, king of the apologists, Blame Obama First h/t MABlue


UPDATE II:

Salmon returns Leonard’s serve: Don’t Ask Taibbi to be Krugman

But where does Salmon get the idea that we have a “left-leaning government now?” What is he smoking?

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Saturday Morning: We’re Living the “Shock Doctrine”

Good Morning Conflucians!

Is it just me? Suddenly, I’m feeling almost in shock at what’s happening in our country and around the world. Maybe I could just regress back to childhood and watch cartoons on TV this morning? No. I have to stay present and face the reality of what is happening.

When Reagan was elected, I kind of checked out for awhile. I refused to read newspapers or watch TV news. I knew it was going to be bad, and so I just focused on other things than politics.

I did that again for awhile after 2000. I was so devastated by what happened–how the election was stolen with the help of the U.S. Supreme Court. I checked out again for awhile–until Bush used 9/11 to attack Afghanistan and Iraq. I’ve been paying attention since then. For some reason, this time I just can’t check out and pretend it isn’t happening.

In her book,The Shock Doctine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, Naomi Klein writes:

“The history of the contemporary free market was written in shocks….Some of the most infamous human rights violations of the past thirty-five years, which have tended to be viewed as sadistic acts carried out by anti-democratic regimes, were in fact either committed with the deliberate intent of terrorizing the public or actively harnessed to prepare the ground for the introduction of radical free-market reforms.”

Klein’s book is about the most influential political-economic philosophy of our times, Neoliberalism–which originated with Economist Milton Friedman and the Chicago school of economics. I’m sure Dakinikat can articulate it all much better than I could. I only understand it from my experience and reading–from living it. Klein writes:

Friedman believed in a radical vision of society in which profit and the market would rule every aspect of life, from school to health-care, and even the army. He called for abolishing all trade protections, deregulating all prices, and eviscerating government services. These ideas have always been tremendously unpopular, and understandably so. They cause waves of unemployment, send prices soaring, make life more precarious for millions. Unable to advance their agenda democratically, Friedman and his disciples were drawn to the power of shock….

Friedman understood that just as prisoners are softened up for interrogation by the shock of their capture, massive disasters could serve to soften us up for his radical ‘free market’ crusade. He advised politicians that immediately after a crisis they should push through all the painful policies at once, before people could regain their footing. he called this method “economic shock treatment.”

Klein drew an analogy with the CIA methods of mind control and torture, which were used in federally funded experiments back in the ’50 and ’60s in government programs with weird names like MK-ULTRA, Project BlUEBIRD, later called Project ARTICHOKE.

Klein quotes from CIA interrogation manuals:

It’s a fundamental hypothesis of this handbook that these techniques are in essence methods of inducing regression of the personality… Experienced Interrogators recognize this effect when it appears and know that at this moment the subject is far more open to suggestion and far likelier to comply than he was just before he experienced the shock.

And another quote:

The subject should be apruptly awakened and immediately blindfolded and handcuffed. When arrrested at this time, most subjects experience feelings of shock, extreme insecurity, and psychological stress. The idea is to prevent the subject from relaxing and recovering from shock.

This is what our government is doing to us. Bush was pretty good at it, but the shocks somehow seem more harsh under Obama. Maybe it’s because–even though most of us here at TC knew Obama wasn’t going to bring “change we can believe in,” it still seems more shocking when these beat-downs come from a President with a D next to his name, backed by an overwhelming majority of D’s in Congress. And somehow, the fact that these shocks are being administered in the name of health care reform seems so hideous and cruel, that it’s hard to remain present and keep educating yourself about what is happening. Sometimes, I really feel like I’m being hit in the head with a hammer–again…and again…and again.

Here are a few of the latest news stories and opinions. Let’s hang together and fight back against the forces of shock!

From Robert Reich’s blog: How a Few Private Health Insurers Are on the Way to Controlling Health Care

The public option is dead, killed by a handful of senators from small states who are mostly bought off by Big Insurance and Big Pharma or intimidated by these industries’ deep pockets and power to run political ads against them….

…we…end up with a system that’s based on private insurers that have no incentive whatsoever to control their costs or the costs of pharmaceutical companies and medical providers. If you think the federal employee benefit plan is an answer to this, think again. Its premiums increased nearly 9 percent this year. And if you think an expanded Medicare is the answer, you’re smoking medical marijuana. The Senate bill allows an independent commission to hold back Medicare costs only if Medicare spending is rising faster than total health spending. So if health spending is soaring because private insurers have no incentive to control it, we’re all out of luck. Medicare explodes as well.

MSNBC: U.S. grapples with child hunger ‘epidemic’

Three weeks before he was elected president, Barack Obama set an audacious goal: end hunger among children in the United States by 2015.

Since his inauguration, Obama has seldom broached the subject. His aides brainstorm weekly with several agencies, but their internal conversations so far have not produced fundamentally new approaches. The president’s goal could prove daunting: Childhood hunger is more complex than previously understood, new research suggests, and is unlikely to be solved simply by spending more money for food programs.

NYT: Poor Children Likelier to Get Antipsychotics

New federally financed drug research reveals a stark disparity: children covered by Medicaid are given powerful antipsychotic medicines at a rate four times higher than children whose parents have private insurance. And the Medicaid children are more likely to receive the drugs for less severe conditions than their middle-class counterparts, the data shows.

Boing Boing: Dr Peter Watts, Canadian science fiction writer, beaten and arrested at US border

I did not get out of the car to ask what was going on. I did not repeat that question when refused an answer and told to get back into the vehicle. In that other timeline I was not punched in the face, pepper-sprayed, shit-kicked, handcuffed, thrown wet and half-naked into a holding cell for three fucking hours, thrown into an even colder jail cell overnight, arraigned, and charged with assaulting a federal officer, all without access to legal representation (although they did try to get me to waive my Miranda rights. Twice.). Nor was I finally dumped across the border in shirtsleeves: computer seized, flash drive confiscated, even my fucking paper notepad withheld until they could find someone among their number literate enough to distinguish between handwritten notes on story ideas and, I suppose, nefarious terrorist plots. I was not left without my jacket in the face of Ontario’s first winter storm, after all buses and intercity shuttles had shut down for the night.

“In some other universe I am warm and content and not looking at spending two years in jail for the crime of having been punched in the face.”

Robert Scheer: Dear Barack, Spare Me Your E-Mails

Barack Obama’s faux populism is beginning to grate, and when yet another one of those “we the people” e-mails from the president landed on my screen as I was fishing around for a column subject, I came unglued. It is one thing to rob us blind by rewarding the power elite that created our problems but quite another to sugarcoat it in the rhetoric of a David taking on those Goliaths.

In each of the three most important areas of policy with which he has dealt, Obama speaks in the voice of the little people’s champion, but his actions cater fully to the demands of the most powerful economic interests.

With his escalation of the war in Afghanistan, he has given the military-industrial complex an excuse for the United States to carry on in spending more on defense than the rest of the world combined, without a credible military adversary in sight. His response to the banking meltdown was to continue George W. Bush’s massive giveaway of taxpayer dollars to Wall Street, and his health care reform has all the earmarks of a boondoggle for the medical industry profiteers.

Let’s face it: President Obama is Big Brother from Orwell’s 1984.

What are you reading this morning, fellow Conflucians? I hope you can find something to cheer me up. No matter how bad things are, we are all still here and we are in it together, so….

HAVE A STUPENDOUS SATURDAY!!!!!!!

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My Nobel War Prize Speech Rebuttal