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Point – Counterpoint on Getting Away With It

Paul Krugman and Robin Wells have written a review of three recently released books (four if you count Mann and Ornstein’s book, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks, which I have read and highly recommend).  The title of the piece, Getting Away With It, focuses primarily on Noam Scheiber’s book The Escape Artists: How Obama’s Team Fumbled the Recovery on the Obama administration’s capture by the financial elite in the immediate aftermath of the financial collapse of 2008.

I haven’t read the books they reviewed yet but my Audible credits are coming around tomorrow.  However, I do have some differences of opinion on some of their interpretations.  Maybe this has something to do with the fact that Krugman and Wells live in Princeton and don’t visit the central PA too often so they’re not exposed to how the Tea Party contingent really lives.  Even I don’t know that mysterious tribe all that well but I’ve had to sit at holiday dinners with them so I have a bit more of a clue.

First, there is criticism of Cory Booker and Bill Clinton’s defense of Mitt Romney’s role in Bain capital.  Krugman and Wells think this has something to do with Clinton and Booker’s sympathy with the finance industry.  I’m not so sure.  Instead, I’m reminded of something James Carville said recently:

In focus groups of Pennsylvania and Ohio voters, the Democracy Corps found an American public that is struggling to pay for everyday items and racking up student debt. Regardless of their education or economic status, these folks haven’t seen signs of an economy recovery – and don’t expect to see one anytime soon.

“These voters are not convinced that we are headed in the right direction.  They are living in a new economy – and there is no conceivable recovery in the year ahead that will change the view of the new state of the country.”

Even so, write the authors, these voters don’t know all that much about Mitt Romney. And, what they do know about him isn’t all that positive.

“Respondents immediately volunteer that Romney is rich, out of touch, and in the pocket for Wall Street and big finance. ”

The voters in these focus groups sound a lot like the Wal-Mart mom’s we listened to last week: they know that three years may not be enough for Obama to have fixed the economy, but they don’t know what he’ll do to make it better.

That means, say Carville/Greenberg, Obama shouldn’t try and beat Romney on the “are you better off than you were four years ago” argument. Instead, they should try to beat him at the “how are you going to make things better over the next four years.”

“It is elites who are creating a conventional wisdom that an incumbent president must run on his economic performance – and therefore must convince voters that things are moving in the right direction.  They are wrong, and that will fail.  The voters are very sophisticated about the character of the economy; they know who is mainly responsible for what went wrong and they are hungry to hear the president talk about the future. ”

It is true that voters and campaigns are more complex than they are often portrayed in the media. That said, elections are also pretty simple. Voters are either happy with the status quo or they aren’t. When they aren’t happy with what’s happening to them now, they look to their other options.

So, if voters already know what Romney is and who is responsible for the mess we’re in, then clubbing them over the head with Romney’s history with Bain Capital, or his adolescent insensitivities or his absent minded treatment of the family dog or Anne Romney’s horses and houses, is a wasted effort.  What voters want to know is what Obama is going to do about the lousy economy and the more the Democrats keep harping on Romney’s business and family, the more angry they’re going to get that Obama is evading the question.  So, Ok, Romney was a businessman and he was very good at his job.  Let’s move along now because the election is getting closer and the Democrats have yet to seal the deal.  How is Obama going to fix things?  What is his vision of America?  Where are we going?  If he can’t give a convincing answer by November, he’s out of there.  (But why wait?  Why not replace him now?  But I digress)

The middle section where Krugman and Wells detail how Geithner ran the show for the banksters and Obama tried to negotiate with a party that doesn’t believe in negotiations has been done before in Ron Suskind’s book, Confidence Men.  I don’t think there’s anything new here except that Krugman and Wells confirm what all of us have been thinking.  Obama as a politician sucks.  He squandered his Democratic majorities and his famed “judgement” lead him to appoint political asskissers like Larry Summers and finance industry mole Tim Geithner.  Their opening critique of Thomas Frank’s book Pity the Billionaire: The Hard-Times Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right sums up why this was a very bad combination:

Frank focuses on what is, as he says, “something unique in the history of American social movements: a mass conversion to free-market theory as a response to hard times.” It is indeed remarkable. After all, for three decades before the financial crisis American politics and policy had been increasingly dominated by laissez-faire ideology, by the belief that markets—and financial markets in particular—should be allowed to run free. Then came the inevitable crash. But far from demanding a return to stronger regulation, much of the American electorate turned to the view that the crisis was caused by too much government intervention, and rallied around politicians aiming to dive even deeper into the policies that led to crisis in the first place.

How did this happen? Frank’s answer is that it was the bailouts that did it. By doing things Geithner’s way—by bailing out the bankers without strings or blame—the Obama administration left an understandably angry American public with the correct sense that someone was getting away with something. And the right proved adept at exploiting that sense. The famous February 2009 rant by CNBC’s Rick Santelli that started the Tea Party movement was a denunciation of TARP, the big bank bailout passed in the waning days of the Bush administration (although a plurality of voters believe that it was passed under Obama). True, Santelli focused all his ire on a tiny piece of TARP, the planned aid for troubled homeowners (aid that mostly never materialized), not the much bigger aid for banks. But at least he was blaming someone, which the Obama administration was refusing to do.

And by the time Obama began, tentatively, to suggest that some bankers might have misbehaved a bit, it was too late. The entire Republican Party and much of the electorate had settled into a narrative in which the financial crisis of 2008—a crisis that followed fourteen years of hard-right Republican congressional dominance and eight years in which hard-line conservatives controlled all three branches of government—was caused by…too much government intervention to help the poor and, especially, the nonwhite. As Frank writes:

“Back to the usual, all-purpose culprit: government…. The feds forced banks to hand out special loans to minority borrowers…and…the entire financial crisis was a consequence of government interference.”

Moving along to Thomas Edsall’s book, The Age of Austerity: How Scarcity Will Remake American Politics, they get only part of the mental picture of the Republican party voter.  There is a dominant narrative of scarcity, which is ridiculous because there’s plenty to go around if the wealthy would just get off their massive piles of ill gotten booty.  Edsall says the Republican party voter is also scared of losing dominance:

So where does the embittered politics come from? Edsall himself supplies much of the answer. Namely, what he portrays is a Republican Party that has been radicalized not by a struggle over resources—tax rates on the wealthy are lower than they have been in generations—but by fear of losing its political grip as the nation changes. The most striking part of The Age of Austerity, at least as we read it, was the chapter misleadingly titled “The Economics of Immigration.” The chapter doesn’t actually say much about the economics of immigration; what it does, instead, is document the extent to which immigrants and their children are, literally, changing the face of the American electorate.

As Edsall concedes, this changing face of the electorate has had the effect of radicalizing the GOP. “For whites with a conservative bent,” he writes—and isn’t that the very definition of the Republican base?—

the shift to a majority-minority nation [i.e., a nation in which minorities will make up the majority] will strengthen the already widely held view that programs benefiting the poor are transferring their taxpayer dollars to minority recipients, from first whites to blacks and now to “browns.”And that’s the message of Rick Santelli’s rant, right there.

Now, the GOP could in principle have responded to these changes by trying to redefine itself away from being the party of white people. Instead, Edsall writes, the response has been to “gamble that the GOP can continue to win as a white party despite the growing strength of the minority vote.” And that means a strategy of radical, no-holds-barred confrontation over everything from immigration policy to taxes and, of course, economic stimulus, some part of which would be paid to minorities.

Ok, this is where I think it would help for Krugman and Wells to visit Central PA.  I don’t doubt that the Republican voters in the South (and Arizona) are very concerned with brown people.  It is an irrational fear with some historical roots in segregation in that part of the country.  But the irrational Republican leaning voters that *I* have to put up with aren’t bothered by immigration or african Americans.  Noooo, they’ve got their knickers in a twist over the degradation of the culture from loose women and gay people.  They’re concerned that the Christians are losing their edge and immigrants are probably a lot more religious than the young’uns who believe in evolution that they pick up in those satanic public schools.

I appreciate Robin Wells’ perspective on the south and racial tensions that linger and I’m not denying that this is what is motivating nuts in Alabama to turn school kids into the INS.  But it’s not the South everywhere and the operatives in the Republican party are very good at picking at the fears of an older generation that sees itself besieged.  It watches way too much Fox News than is good for it and is scared to death of death. They’re consumed with stories of pedophiles, violence, rape, murder, burgled houses.  They’ve lost the ability to connect cause with effect.  The world is mysterious and chaotic.  The Republican party is worried about losing its numbers because these older, easy to manipulate voters are dying off and the new American voters that are rising to replace them are Internet babies who aren’t particularly religious, are open to gays getting married, like their contraceptives, thank you very much, and are pretty comfortable with diversity.  If it were only white people, they’d still have time, but it’s all this modernity that’s creeping in with the information superhighway that is dooming the Republican party.

It’s not that the Republican party is becoming a refuge of white voters. The problem is that the Republican party becoming the party of the id.  Every phobia, prejudice or dark archetype that lurks in the human soul is being given permission to run free without any inhibitions.

The guy I wrote about the other day, Bryan Fischer, even admits that this is part of the plan.  He is going to make it safe to discriminate against gay people.

Democrats are missing the point here.  It’s not just race, and by the way, it is perfectly reasonable to disapprove of Obama’s performance without being a racist or harboring racist tendencies.  Krugman knows that the Republican party is insane but he doesn’t realize that the way they’re doing it is by giving their voters permission to act like barbarians and making it feel like civilization.  There is no one responsible in the Republican party who is calling a halt to the bad behavior.  So long as that continues, the party will continue to devolve into a mob of human animals all seeking their own power.  They’ve only got a small window of opportunity to kill the New Deal so the operatives have to amp up the crazy now.

If there were a God, now would be a good time to ask for his or her intervention.

17 Responses

  1. Part of this is cultural and more of it is class based than race based. Yes, McCain won whites by 55-43 over Obama but that is much more than the votes of southern whites. According to exit polls, Obama not only lost whites in the south but in all the normal Republican states in the Rockies and farm belt as well as in PA, NJ, and MD. It was very clear to me that Obama was in the pocket of the banksters and the well to do and was going to do nothing for the middle and working classes. Unfortunately, I was right (I not only voted Green but talked others into doing it).

    This is a replay of the austerity kick and politics that rode in during the Panic of 1893 with the election of a conservative anti-labor Democrat (Grover Cleveland) following the term of a conservative crack pot who screwed up the US economy (Republican Benjamin Harrison). The 1% of the time fought back against populism by racism in the south,and fear in the industrial north and especially the midwest. The electorate swung like crazy but the banksters pulled it out (the Republican gains in the House in 1894 represented the single biggest House switch in US history, 125 seats in a 357 seat chamber) and Democrats, despite the opposition of the Cleveland led “gold democrats” were actually picking up seats in 1896 while losing the Presidency. Only the assassination of McKinley and Mark Hanna’s stupidity of naming Teddy Roosevelt as VP to remove him from the governorship in NY stopped the gilded age/robber baron mess.

    The economy was a lot like ours with five years of real, double digit unemployment following a long sluggish conservative economy (what Krugman calls the Long Recession of 1873-98.

    It is interesting, btw, to look at the influence of the Former Confederate States (FCS) on US policy and politics since Nixon’s “southern strategy” was introduced in 1968. None of the presidential elections since 1972, Nixon’s last, would have stood up as is without southerners. None. In 1976, Carter, a southerner, defeated Ford 297 electoral votes to 240. Take out the FCS and Ford wins 228-179. More importantly, by far, Regan woulkd not have given Ford a stiff contest for the Republican nomination and would have had his national career blown away. It was total victories in NC , Texas and other southern states that kept the old blowhard viable and his supporters bitter.

    No Reagan and the elections of 1980 and 1984 look a good deal different. Possibly, too, no Carter, and a different Democrat would have emerged with more effective policies.

    The Bushes and Bill Clinton come from FCS territory. In fact, all three candidates in 92 (Clinton, Perot, Bush I) have connections to Arkansas and/or Texas. Without the FCS, Democrats would have won in 2000 and 2004 easily. Without the FCS, Obama would not have been nominated.

    Without the FCS, Democrats would have held on to the House and had a veto proof margin the Senate after the 2010 elections (and with an effective President in office, the election would have gone better.

    Of course, going even further back, Lincoln was able to pass a generation of reform bills only due to the absence of the FCS. FDR had to slow up the New Deal once the economy was back to 1929 levels due to the insistence of southern Democrats. That saved the Republicans from going the way of the Federalists.

    A generation of Reganite influence in congress was only possible due to members from the FCS both Democrats and Republicans.

    An astounding number of people somehow believe the lie that Obama is not an ineffective conservative but is, instead “a socialist” with nothing but the repetition of Fox News and their allies to back this up.

  2. This is said in present tense:

    “It is elites who are creating a conventional wisdom that an incumbent president must run on his economic performance – and therefore must convince voters that things are moving in the right direction.”

    A president running on his economic performance been true all my life and I remember my grandparents asking something similar…so that takes us back to the 19th Century. I could believe a lot of negatives about the “elites”, but sorry, this meme pegs the BS meter.

  3. This has been generally true throughout US history with several notable exceptions. In 2000, despite temporary sluggishness, voters split evenly and the Supreme Court and Florida mobs “chose” W despite a long boom. In 1968, LBJ was ousted in the primaries and Humphrey was defeated by Nixon despite a boom because of the Vietnam War. In 1876, the election was clearly stolen by the “corrupt bargain” despite the Panic of 1873 and Republicans remained in office.

    The only Republican who may have been ousted despite the economy was Taft who finished third in 1912 behind Wilson and the far more popular Teddy Roosevelt. That election turned on other issues. I suspect that the economy was also not a factor in the election of 1800 when Adams’ high handed policies were the issues (the Alien and Sedition Act, the “midnight” appointment of judges, etc.).

    The 2000 Democratic Primaries and especially the caucuses were made to turn despite economics on 1) racial politics and 2) Republican sleazeball attacks against Bill Clinton and 3) Wall Street and banker insider money. Bad choice, huh.

    One can also argue that the 1976 election was based on non-economic issues. In this case, it was the Republican who lost due to a) Watergate b) the pardon of Nixon and c) Southern voters choosing Jimmy Carter because of his “local” roots.

    Republicans consistently try to base elections on “character” not “economics.” That usually means sex and abortions but allows for the selection of a draft evading drunk like Bush. Some “character.”

  4. Wow. This is a fascinating post from Matt Stoller (Naked Capitalism):

    Many criticize Obama, with the idea that he doesn’t understand, and if only he understood, he would change his mind. This is part of his false narrative of hope and change. But Obama reads Paul Krugman – he studied the left intensely and spent years as a community organizer. He understands his opposition, those crying out for justice against the powerful, and finds them laughable, finds in them weakness at best, a punchline at worst. He reads his left-wing opponents so he can absorb the talking points, and rebut them. Some think that Obama can be appealed to around the better angels of nature, that he’s naturally with “the left” but must be gently praised. But again, this is more of the false hope and change narrative. Obama understands Saul Alinsky. He gets left-wing ideas. But he hates the left, with the passion of any bully towards his victims. To him, they are chumps, weak, pathetic, losers. They are such pathetic losers, in fact, that they will believe anything he tells them. And Obama has no better nature, he is what he’s done in office, someone who murders children with drone strikes and then jokes about it to his rich friends.

    My brain is reeling. Has he don’t a complete about-face? Or am I thinking of someone else?

    • I’ll raise your “Wow” an “OMG.”

    • Did Stoller apologise for being a Naked O-bot, or did he pretend he never was?

      Like AA members the bots have to admit their addiction first before any real change can happen. *Cough* Chris Matthews *Cough*.

      If Obama wins in november he won’t have to disguise his Banksterlove. I look for hime to nomnate Wall Street/Corporate America judges to the SCOTUS.

    • There is very little time left till DemCon 2012. How big an “over the threshhold load” of people would it take to torture the DemParty into giving into the need to perform a Nominee Transplant? If Matt Stoller could bring with him a whole bunchload of people towards that “threshhold loadful” of people that put it over the top; would it be worthwhile recruiting Matt Stoller to the cause? (If the cause has an organized movement face?)

      And if it would be worthwhile recruiting Stoller to any organized Replace Obama movement which might emerge; would it pay to accept Stoller’s former enemy status if Stoller were clearly a converted ex-enemy now? Can Stoller be flipped? And if so, would “telling him so” about who was first to see the truth help or hinder the flipping process? Should Stoller’s late-blooming sense of rage and betrayal be mocked and ridiculed? Or should it be leveraged and weaponised in a “replace Obama” movement if such emerges?

      I suppose those questions are really for anybody who finds them intriguing and possibly useful.

      Meanwhile, I saw another example of what an utter uber metaliar Obama really is . . . buried in a Naked Capitalism thread.

      Hugh says:
      June 20, 2012 at 12:38 pm
      Obama put together the Bowles-Simpson aka Catfood Commission and favored its recommendations. One of these was to cut the top tax rate for the rich and corporations from the current Bush tax cut level of 35% to 23% for the rich and 26% for corporations while eliminating some of their deductions. Overall, it would be yet another windfall for them.

      Late last year, he tried to get the Republicans to sign off on a Grand Bargain that would slash Medicare and Social Security in exchange for the elimination of only a few tax perks for the rich. The Republicans refused. Now some key Republicans have softened their position and there is a real likelihood that should Obama win reelection there will be a Grand Bargain struck in the lame duck session after the election.

      We are far enough along in this that you really should stop believing all the partisan nonsense. It’s just atmospherics. Democrats are every bit as corporatist and pro-rich as the Republicans. Any differences are rhetorical and meant to confuse the rubes.

      Nathanael says:
      June 23, 2012 at 8:11 pm
      Correction: Obama put together the Bowles-Simpson Commission, which *made no recommendations* because it could not come to agreement (because there were too many sane people on the commission to agree with the insane Simpson and Bowles).

      Simpson and Bowles then got together and made a private set of recommendations. Obama dishonestly passed this off as the “Commission” recommendation, and has been pushing it ever since.

      Lying scum. ”

      It seems to me that there’s an awful lot of tire irons lying around for members of the once-and-future HRC volunteer network-members to pick up and use. And an awful lot of tender kneecaps to use them on.

  5. katiebird, using the GOOG, I came to this old post http://www.openleft.com/showDiary.do?diaryId=5637 in which Matt Stoller sounds pretty much like any Obot. So, yeah, complete about-face.

    The world would be a different place if so many people could see the pothole *before* falling into it.

    My question is the same as Krugman’s: Why do the people who were wrong have the visibility?

    • If you mean why is it that blogs like ours get the cold shoulder while people like Matt are still welcome in the club, the answer is:
      “One step ahead makes you a leader, two steps ahead makes you a martyr”
      We were just way ahead of the game. But it didn’t take a rocket scientist or Harvard grad to see what Obama was up to and how bad he was going to be for us. All it took was a chemist, a librarian-programmer and a bunch of other intelligent misfits.
      At this point, I can’t be angry with them anymore about falling under the Obama spell. The peer group pressure tactics were pretty strong.
      What bothers me now is that they keep on rejecting the one person who could get the attention of the Democrats and make them do what we want. And they reject her for bizarre and unconvincing reasons.
      It’s not too late. The candidate is not official until the balloons drop in Charlotte.

      • If the MOGW who own both major parties didn’t let that happen in 2008, when Hillary actually was running, why would they let it happen now?

        • If every person who really truly will not vote for Obama but would vote for Clinton were to tell all the appropriate Democrats about that fact, the DemParty Hierarchy would have that information about the votes they will or will not get for their Dem PrezVice ticket depending on who is on it or off it. If thousands of people conveyed that information about their pre-decision to the DParty Hierarchs, they will ignore it. But would they ignore it coming from millions of persons? Maybe.

          One thing for sure. They will laugh at sentiment expressed on blogs.
          They will register sentiment sent in on letters or postcards or at least phone calls. Will it matter? The experiment deserves to be run.

          Do all the meatspace analog person-networks which worked for Clinton all during the primaries still exist? Can they be called back into action? Could they organize a “contact your Democrats” campaign about their decision to vote against Obama?

    • Quixote,

      In partial answer to your question, perhaps Woody Allen’s quote is pertinent: “Eighty percent of life is just showing up.”

      Highly ambitious social climbers or political climbers or analysis climbers or whatever climbers . . . just keep showing up and showing up and showing up.

  6. “………..and by the way, it is perfectly reasonable to disapprove of Obama’s performance without being a racist or harboring racist tendencies.”

    Not if you’re part of the Daily Kult (sorry…….. Kossacks).

  7. The title makes me think of this phrase: “Jane, you ignorant slut!” :mrgreen:

  8. “One step ahead makes you a leader, two steps ahead makes you a martyr

    Love that!

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