Why Obama’s Conservatism Will Cost Him The Election

Obama’s tried.  He’s negotiated with the opposition, attempted to assess all the factors and bring in the stakeholders.  But if he agrees to the budget cuts that the Republicans are proposing, he will lose the 2012 election.

Obama should recognize that the fantasy of “cut and grow” simply doesn’t hold.   Even capitalists don’t believe it.  In fact, in the Goldman study cited, the budget cuts would further contract the economy.    What Republicans are betting on is a win-win strategy for them:  keep talking about deficits; if Obama blinks, he strangles the economy.  Then the Republicans and blame him for his economic mismanagement.    They know that balancing the budget and stimulating the economy can’t be done together.  Guess which policy actually wins elections.

Obama should refuse to play the deficit cutting game.  What is on the horizon, alas, is steep price increases.  Republicans will argue that this has to do with the deficit, when it has everything to do with supply and demand.     Yet, if he doesn’t create jobs, there will be rising food and oil prices, and a more dissatisfied populace, who will be more likely to give bad economic policies a try in a different president (although, personally, I think Huckabee is more likely to have the populist capital to actually raise taxes).

So by 2012 Obama may do what the Republicans want him to do: cut the budget, thereby diminishing the economy – ensuring he becomes a one term president.   He has an alternative:  focus on jobs; and do what Harold Washington did when the aldermen talked smack about his leadership.  Visit them in their home state and tell the people directly what he can do for them.  In this way he challenges Republicans on their home turf; instructs the population how supply and demand really work; and begins his campaign for reelection.

No Labels

As someone who has often claimed unusual monikers to describe my political persuasion, I’m fascinated by this week’s gathering of a number of politicians and thinkers I respect.  I respect them not because I agree with their political ideology, but because most of them are effective leaders.   They understand power, are committed to the common good, and recognize that ideology isn’t the way to get work done.

But I admit a little puzzlement.   Our current president comes from this set of people.  He compromises.   He takes ideas from different groups.  There seems to be some serious misinformation that President Obama is a partisan, a socialist, a “left winger.” The opposite seems to be the case:  he is a moderate who works with organized power, caught in the middle of a policy fights where there is no serious organized “left-wing.”

I am also confused by the complaint we need a new moderate party.    But moderation seems to be less a set of ideas than a description of a certain sort of person.  Radicals can become practical when necessary; Reactionaries can accept modest changes.    If were actually looking for moderate ideas, our current president embodies it, to everyone’s dissatisfaction.

What we really need is a party that represents the interests – the real interests – of the working and middle class.   Unfortunately, the Democrats have abdicated this role by taking money from Wall Street.  And their supporters – trial lawyers, teachers, unions, African Americans and Latinos – are poor at relationship based organizing.

There is a multi-million dollar industry of not-for-profits, churches, social welfare institutions and schools that have lost their independence from both governments and large corporations.  Progressives who might work for a more responsive democracy entered these institutions, losing their ability to actually build long-term power organizations that could put pressure on the government or businesses.   They do good work, but they are fragmented and ineffective.

The institutions that did not want effective government, who found environmental, civil rights, and workplace regulations arduous have funded, for the last 40 years, a highly sophisticated network that has diminished the power of smaller democratic, people led institutions such as the church.

We may need another party.  But it needs to be a party that is responsive to the great majority of people, and isn’t too timid to defend those interests.   It may look like a labor or socialist party in another country, but I suspect it would be different because Americans have less instinctive class resentment and tend to prize individualism.   But we do have an interest in good schools, a reliable infrastructure, and insurance programs that mitigate the precarity of everyday life.

We definitely need more people who care about the common good.  But we also need organizers who can build relationships with institutions apart from government or business, and a party that can truly represent those interests in the halls of congress.

But if this movement can identify those Republicans and Conservatives who seek to serve the common good rather than destroy it, may it thrive.

Learning to Obey the Law

Over the last year, most progressives have disparagingly noted the Obama’s administration to defend Bush’s wiretapping policies in court.  It’s disappointing; it seems to reveal Obama’s flexibility about issues that most civil libertarians hold dear.  But I suggest there is an upside.

By defending, and losing, Obama’s placing the executive branch within the bounds of law.

Bush’s administration tried to circumvent the law.  It’s view of the executive was high; it went where it wished because it’s task, theoretically protecting Americans, was deemed more important than process. The law was inconvenient:   if it lost a case, it would just find another way of maneuvering around the pesky intrusions of the judiciary.

Losing, however, establishes an important precedent:  it allows Obama to set an example of obeying the law against his will.   This establishes a precedent of losing with integrity.  And that benefits the country because it curtails executive power more assuredly than if he had just withdrawn the cases.

Issuing an executive order to switch gears, while laudable, would have simply signified that the executive’s priorities had changed.  It would not have done the more important work of actually exemplifying how an executive should behave.    Executives can push.  They can win.  And they can lose.  It’s important that when they lose, they obey the law.

The Bush years were marked by a radical, revolutionary, disregard for the law.  If anything, this is why he disenfranchised paleoconservatives and Republican moderates.   By Obama fighting for Bush’s policies he may have done a more interesting thing:  demonstrate their illegality.  Not merely because he thought they were illegal.  But because the judges said so.    It had to defend them as best as could be defended; they had to make some process changes as well.   But by fighting and losing, they can more credibly go other directions, with greater executive capital, and a public opportunity to demonstrate restraint.

And that’s a virtue that last administration never had.

Slacktivist on Health Care

Fred explains why we’re not getting raises and knocks down a couple sacred cows.

15. Do you see the point here? You are angrily, loudly demanding that Congress make sure that you never, ever get another pay raise as long as you live. Because of you and because of your angry demands, you and your family and your kids are going to have to get by with less this year than last year. And next year you’re going to have to get by with even less. And if you keep angrily demanding that no one must ever fix this problem, then you’re going to have to figure out how to get by on less and less every year for the rest of your life.

The entire rant.

About the Massachusetts Election

1.  Scott Brown has a compelling narrative.  He is presidential material – he’s telegenic, smart, socially moderate, financially conservative.  He’s strong on defense, and unlike many Republicans, he’s actually served.   In some ways, he is like Obama – very himself, confident and clear.  Furthermore, unlike many conservatives,  doesn’t have the personal animosity towards Obama being fostered by plenty in the wingnut branch of the party.  That suits him.

2.  This MAY presage bad news for the Democrats.  Yes, perhaps they were not responsible for the economic fiasco.  But they were not able to provide a narrative about how we got here, in part because they, also, were complicit.  They were still at the bank’s bidding.   When the union party sells out the unions, a union man might just decide to vote Republican.

3.  Obama has generally been reticent about playing the economic populist.  He’s not an economic populist.  He’s a centrist, a libertarian of the behavioralist school.  In spite of the ridiculous assertions that he’s a closet Marxist, he actually believes that banks have a proper function in the economy.   This means the Republicans, being the alternative party, are getting to play that role.

4.  People don’t get Keynes.   The stimulus may have prevented jobs from being lost, but people don’t quite understand that.   They buy the easy (and possibly false) idea, that the deficit means something.   People are aware that they are not getting much for their taxes.   They don’t seem to understand that our taxes are helping our military, the Iraqis, the Afghanis, the Israelis, and the Pakistanis.   Good causes, to be sure, but its expensive to help millions of people in the rest of the world, and our own military and not get a much else in return, especially when we can’t seem to police our own borders as well as we should (unionized, skilled TSA workers might help).

5.  Scott Brown is more liberal than some southern Democrats.  He’s unformed by focus groups, and may actually be an independent.

6.  The national health care plan is basically Massachusetts but for the entire country.

7.  Perhaps Obama will be forced to form a bipartisan committee with Republicans and challenge them when they oppose a minimum plan.

8. Obama should challenge those companies, including pharmaceutical companies, who oppose legitimate free-market principles.  A national health exchange and allowing imports from Canada are popular, and legit to libertarians.

9.  Obama mainly wants people to be kept on task.  the task is to reform the system.  He can still be an effective leader, but you start with the possible to get to the impossible.

A year after the inauguration

From 2009

Like the two million people who went to the inauguration, I’m captivated by the change in administration.

Although my personal politics are *ahem* non-partisan, or “Red Tory,” I think that Obama has demonstrated – even apart from his political slant – sophisticated and agile leadership. The most important evidence is his ability to stay connected to people who think differently. He is motivated by curiosity and a sense that everyone has a view worth sharing.

I share some interests with our President. I moved to Chicago in 1992 for because Chicago was where community organizing was part of the Divinity School curriculum. The city’s physical landscape was organized around neighborhoods. In 1982 it elected Harold Washington, who some think was one of the truly great politicians of all time – a man who combined realism with idealism in a way that transformed Chicago. At the time, I was fascinated by the city more than New York.

The university itself was also the center of rigorous conservative thought. It avoided an instinctive leftish position but was rigorous and fair, generally unimpressed by identity politics. Obama’s teaching at Chicago was a time when he would have been connected to both social action, politics, and conservative thought that would help ground his ability to look at the world in complicated ways. I think this is a worthy gift – being able to see the world through many different lenses.

He inherits a challenge. Yet, our role is not to assent without understanding, to idealize without reflecting, or to worship. We must still organize ourselves as witnesses to love in the world, speak truth to power, and hold up a mirror to our leaders, holding them accountable for their actions. We can do so by remaining magnanimous and remembering the cardinal rule of organizing: there are no permanent enemies. Which is another way of saying, “love your neighbor.”

A couple notes about NY-23

As someone who misses the liberal wing of the Republican party, I am pleased that Scozzafava was vindicated. Michelle Malkin (who I actually went to college with) is doing her best to spin this. I suspect she wrote two articles. If Owens had lost, she would have declared victory. He won, so she is still declaring victory, but over the Republican elite.

The truth, however, is that a Democrat has won in a district that has gone Republican for more than a century. This should have been an easy district for Republicans to win.

But her band of revolutionaries lost it. The anti-tax, flat earth wing of the corporate party didn’t fly with the traditionalist old school voters considering bread and butter issues prior to the confused ideologies of the Armey/Palin wing. They didn’t need a carpet bagger or outsiders wanting to fight the culture war in NY state.

Note that both Republicans who won in VA and NJ are moderates who may govern responsibly. In the end, this election had little to do with Obama. But people do wish things might move a bit faster. Nate analyzes the data.

Michelle Malkin and her supporters seem content to remain in a minority party, having sacrificed practicality with an authoritarian ideology masking as libertarianism. In the end, for her ideology is more important than governance. And I suspect many people know that when conservatives enter government, they would rather wreck it than run it. Which is why sensible voters won’t go the revolutionary, radical route currently masquerading as real conservatism.

“Liberal” Wing of the Republican Party? There were many. They were conservatives in temperament, but willing to move cautiously for human feeling and integrity.

Jacob Javitz.
Fiorello Laguardia.
Millicent Fenwick.
Barber Conable.
Amo Haughton.
Lowell Weicker.

They supported civil rights, good government, and anti-corruption in both parties.

I suspect that when Obama talks about bi-partisanship, he misses them also. I also bet some Republicans miss them as well. But they have been held hostage by those who demand ideological purity before good government. Whether right or left, the Manichean view that elevates purity and perfection above practicality is a mask for the psychology of tyranny.

Old school, patrician, liberal Republicans knew this, which is why they opposed the radical left. And why they now must oppose the radical right.

Kanye West and Joe Wilson

Although I’ve tittered at the media spectacle of Joe Wilson, Kanye West and others, I’m going to hold back on making any grand comments. I haven’t read the health care bill, nor have I ever been interested in the Video Music Awards.

I do think there is a general anxiety about the loss of order around us. To some extent we’re relearning and creating the etiquette, the simple rituals and courtesies, that order our common life. Gone, it seems, are titles and euphemisms. Instead, equality and directness.

The old school perspective was like so: honor the traditions of your fathers and mothers – they still make sense. Hold on to your principles. Respect the rituals that keep us gathered. Be loyal to your family and friends. Acknowledge that there are culturally holy places. Respect the role and office, even if you disagree with person holding it. Let there be civility.

Here’s the critique: sometimes etiquette masks and legitimates provinciality, ignorance and arrogance. It perpetuates injustice by evading simple issues of fairness. In these cases, speaking out makes sense, because the truth needs to be spoken. And the old school perspective is hard to maintain when money needs to be made at civility’s expense. Rudeness sells.

We need both reverence and the shock of truth. When we aren’t sure of what is going on, then we may respect the red lights, the stop signs and the social cues around us. Sometimes in the midst of disorder, being more intentional about respecting others is crucial. But when we need to make a change, speaking the truth is part of how we move forward.

Of course, sometimes we may be wrong when we speak. That’s another risk. But we can survive our mistakes because the tension between order and the catalyzing force of truth is held together by one thing: charity. It may not have been shared with us. But it is necessary for us to survive things changing, and the many mistakes we make along the way.

If we can’t show magnanimity even to our enemies, how can we move forward?

It is difficult to do such. However, the source of that strength is nothing else but faith that we have the strength to be magnanimous in the first place. And the faith that it works. Faith that love is what God wants for us, and part of his infinite beauty. Even Joe Wilson and Kanye West, though they broke the rules, even though they might be wrong, may also in time, be forgiven by God.

The media, however, not so much.

Obama Wins the Peace Prize

I told a friend that he had won.

He said, with a brightness in his voice, “cool. What for?”

I said, “Yeah, exactly.” In fact, that’s kind of what Obama said.

A few think that this shows how meaningless the prize is. After all, the prize survived Arafat and Kissenger. Other conservatives are infuriated. If Obama were walking on water, Michelle Malkin would complain that he couldn’t swim. She suggests that he refuse the prize. Why? He can use the money for some good, and it shows respect the Nobel Committee. Further, that he won is a source of pride for all American Citizens. Besides, if he refused he’d be accused of being a pacifist.

I was also perplexed. Contrary to what most conservatives think, Obama’s not exactly a peace-nik. He’s not taken on the Military-Industrial complex, except in its most egregious forms. He hasn’t pulled out of Iraq, and is probably going to increase troops in Afghanistan.

What he has done is move from an ideological liberalism/neoconservatism that framed Bush’s foreign policy to a pragmatic realist position. Ironically, what Bush showed the world is that a liberal world order can not be achieved through military force.

Winning the Nobel Peace Prize does not mean Obama has been anointed to solve the world’s problems. It says more about how the committee has reflected the world’s optimism now that he is president. We should congratulate him.

A Christian view on Health Care

Christians desire health and wholeness, and call for our public institutions to encourage such.   Just as Jesus’ witnessed to the old, infirm and sick, church communities have been intimately involved with healing.  In our modern age, many denominations established hospitals and mutual aid societies.   But we have a problem: Americans spend the most on health care anywhere, but get the worst health care in the developed world.  This is because of the system of incentives that makes profit the center of the relationship between patient, doctor, and intermediate institutions, not health.

Some would object that it is Churches and not government, who should be working for such a change. Yet, if Christians truly were to embody the virtues of self-control and charity, they would drink moderately, refrain from smoking and keep a trim waistline.   Christian doctors would provide free health care and churches would create free clinics. Churches would also create mutual aid societies and cooperatives that would help mitigate the everyday illnesses and injuries that occur on a regular basis. This would be an appropriate religious response to our current health care crisis.  However, these are often challenging to manage and require immense resources to care for catastrophic events or long-term care.

Until churches make such contributions to their communities, public reform is the next best option.  A public option would decrease inefficiencies in the private health care market, encouraging companies to cut bureaucratic fat and coordinating administrative paperwork.

As institutions, churches would benefit from a reformed health care like other small businesses.  I’m fortunate:  most of my employees have health care under their spouses.   However, I could get the public option, my church would have more money to spend on mission.   My church can’t afford my getting married.  It means I can only marry someone with better health care than I have.

Health care would change the culture in a variety of ways.  One of which is subtle.  It would integrate society in a way we have not seen since the military was integrated.  It is one of the few places where both poor blacks and poor whites will benefit.   That many of the protestors are whites who feel disenfranchised exemplifies how universal health care will crush the ideology that connected socialism, civil rights and liberalism:  a resilient theology that has been losing credibility since both capitalism and civil rights won.

The Democrats should be aware that a policy that penalizes individuals, however, will end their current position as the party in power.  A universal health care system, however, will shift both parties to the left, ending the rightwing alliance of race populism, tax-cuts and nationalism.  A strong health care system would destroy the Republican party.  Blue Dog Democrats should realize that passing such a health care program will make their positions stronger, not weaker, with their constituents.

A universal system will bring down costs, liberate a sector of the economy trapped by insurance bureaucracies, give small businesses greater freedom in hiring employees, and further integrate our culture.  A mixed economy will catalyze the market.  People will need to be employed as caregivers rather than as insurance bureaucrats.  It will be easier to hire people full time.   It will restore that constitutional idea that the responsibility of the government is for the general welfare of all people.

I understand the resistance.  The Israelites resisted Moses.  Many wanted to return to Egypt.  They created false idols.  Remember – for some people, the idols probably worked.   Just as the current health care system works for some people.  But it doesn’t work for everyone.  There is a promised land.  It’s time for us to move toward it.