The pundits all talk about it, and apparently it’s deliberate. They aren’t fighting back comprehensively. The national party orgs are sending money to individual campaigns, and their 537s are financing ads with local issue emphasis. But there is no Democratic Party message, probably because the incumbents who are in trouble are mostly blue dogs and DLCers – conservative Democrats who don’t want a message they can’t sell to Republican-heavy districts.
So it came as a surprise to me in an interview with Nancy Pelosi I caught after watching the Giants’ win. She said that one of the best kept secrets is that the private sector jobs created in the first 8 months of 2010 exceed those created during the entire 8 years of Bush rule. That’s a profound statement, which goes to long term liberal narrative that while the modern right wing still emphasizes nationalism in rhetoric it has no problem with sacrificing jobs in the interest of economic internationalism, because while wages are national dividends are international. Keeping jobs in the country is not even in the Republican platform – certainly not prominently anyway. It’s a basic equation. We cannot keep jobs in the country as long as free trade agreements lack standards and force us to compete with near-slave labor. It is frustrating that so many of the very victims of the situation are so caught up in the culture war that they can’t, or won’t, see it. Hence the reddening of West Virginia, once one of the bluest of the union states, who like their governor but don’t want him to be Senator because he shares party membership with the scary Muslim black guy in the White House.
The Democrats are going to lose big on Tuesday. Perhaps not as big as the media had been hyping, but big anyway, because they are too timid and lack vision and “audacity” which they can sell to a public suffering the hangover of Reagan’s deregulation, Clinton’s economic globalization, and Bush’s perennial wars.
Eugene Goodheart recently wrote about what he sees as the grave political misunderstandings of Obama’s left wing critics, and he raises some excellent points. Yes, there are structural limitations as well as political and cultural limitations to what a president can do. The Democrats represent an amalgam of political and cultural interests, while the Republicans are much more homogeneous. It makes consensus and party discipline much more difficult for Democrats than Republicans. Add to this that the US despite the progress remains a inherently conservative country, ultimately fearful of government intervention at any level unless it takes the form of an invasion of another country or building roads which support at least the illusion of individual freedom of movement. Everything else government offers is suspect, no matter how successful counterpart programs may be in other countries.
The basic irony here is that financial crisis makes many Americans more culturally conservative. Keynesianism has saved the economy time and again, used by FDR and Reagan, but it is not credited because there is no long term narrative, probably because such a narrative is culturally difficult to sell. Republicans have been successful in whittling down the economic recovery measures, converting to deficit concern after 8 years of apathy on the issue, and ensuring that any new spending is “paid for” which guarantees that no additional money make its way into the economy. Most Americans forget that the bailout for lenders predated Obama and contained no measures for accountability in how the money would be spent by recipients. And the stimulus package was too little, and too heavy on tax reductions and not enough on labor-intensive multipliers. It was enough to forestall a depression, and generate the largest private sector job growth expansion in a decade, but it did not pull enough people out of unemployment to prevent massive foreclosures and pain.
In The Case for Barack Obama, the Rolling Stone points out that:
… the passions of Obama’s base have been deflated by the compromises he made to secure historic gains like the Recovery Act, health care reform and Wall Street regulation, that gloom cannot obscure the essential point: This president has delivered more sweeping, progressive change in 20 months than the previous two Democratic administrations did in 12 years. “When you look at what will last in history,” historian Doris Kearns Goodwin tells Rolling Stone, “Obama has more notches on the presidential belt.”
So why don’t we know about it? Obama is the king of the soft-sell. I think he will be reelected in 2012, and maybe given the realities left by Bush and the corporate free-for-all, the mid-term losses were inevitable.
And in light of my analysis above, R.S. offers this:
Republican critics have blasted the Recovery Act as a failure because it did not hold unemployment below eight percent, as the president’s economic advisers had promised. And liberal economists accused Obama of failing to fight hard enough to enact a bigger stimulus that would have saved more jobs. But since the original stimulus squeaked through, the president has won a series of stand-alone measures — including three extensions of unemployment benefits, the Cash for Clunkers program, a second round of aid for states and a package of loans and tax cuts for small businesses — that have infused another $170 billion into the economy. The Recovery Act itself, meanwhile, has grown from $787 billion to $814 billion, thanks to provisions that were smartly pegged to metrics like unemployment.
In fact, should Obama secure passage of two new programs he has proposed — $50 billion in infrastructure spending and $200 billion in tax breaks for investments in new equipment — he will have surpassed the $1 trillion stimulus that many liberal economists believed from the beginning was necessary. “As the need became more obvious to people, we were able to take additional steps to accelerate progress,” Obama senior adviser David Axelrod tells Rolling Stone. The president, in effect, has achieved through patience and pragmatism what he was unlikely to have won through open political warfare.
The Republicans know we are at a cross-roads. Their narrative does not specifically address recovery actions except the usual tax breaks which their standard-bearers like Rand Paul argue are the only effective stimulus. But most economists will tell you that tax break stimulus is pretty minimal, and Reagan learned that the hard way in 1981 before pushing a military spending spree in which the deficit grew larger than all previous deficits dating back to George Washington combined, by 1984. It expanded the economy however, and Reagan won in the most lopsided contest in American history, thanks in large part to well-packaged economic liberalism. They know that if recovery takes root and is felt before 2012, the transition towards a European style economy will become inevitable. They are not pledging to put the economy back together in two years. They are pledging to take Obama down.
I’ll have more to say about it later, but this is why in this time I won’t be voting Green or other third party, and I won’t be endorsing principled Republicans in any statewide or national office race. The die is cast, and we’re at a crossroads. You can help make the transition easier on Tuesday. Or you can help thwart it by 2012. Really, those are the choices right now.