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Obama does not see the United States as systemically broken and therefore, I think he believes he's doing a pretty awesome job. Obama is the product of the system and it worked for him. So, how could it be broken?

There's a new article out in Vanity Fair by Todd Purdum that paints a picture of Obama realizing Washington is broken, but doesn't think he can do anything about it, so he's just going to plow ahead with what he thinks is right and hopes history will prove him right (because of course history is never written by people with an ax to grind).

I'm with you on this, Magnifico. A much better article was this one by John Judis, "The Unnecessary Fall," noting the many shortcomings of the Obama Administration. My reaction to that article was very much along the lines of what you just wrote.

Obama doesn't see the US as systematically broken. He just thinks it needs the right technocrat in charge. It's not just that Obama believes in elite individuals - he believes in elite institutions. He believes the supposedly "collegial" Senate processes are good and should be respected (which was the content of his only appearance at Daily Kos, back in 2005 to chide the netroots for criticizing the Senate's acquiescence to the John Roberts nomination).

He believes the financial industry is inherently good and should be respected - sure, there were some reforms that were needed, but those reforms were intended to help the existing financial industry continue to do what it is doing. He believe health insurance and pharmaceutical companies can play a constructive role in health care delivery and that we shouldn't try to cut them out of the process.

All of this speaks to someone whose political instincts and values stopped evolving sometime around 1996. He hasn't accepted that each of those elite institutions have completely failed and need either dramatic overhaul or outright abolition, since he still believes in these elite institutions and the individuals who run them.

I also believe Judis is right that Obama abhors confrontation - his political philosophy as laid out in "Dreams of my Father" and "Audacity of Hope" make that quite clear - and that fits well with someone who is neither temperamentally or ideologically willing to challenge the elite forces that destroyed our economy. Obama understandably surrounded himself with advisors who shared that view - members of the existing elite. Obama brought on board Geithner, Summers, and Emanuel because they were part of an elite that Obama respected and thought was generally working pretty well.

As a result, Obama has a team of people who reinforce his own instincts - which misjudge the political mood, and which misunderstand the policy needs, of the country.

Judis is right that Obama risks repeating the Carter Administration, and all it'll take is a Romney or someone like that to look at the camera and ask "are you better off now than you were four years ago?" for a president who is out of touch with the public mood and unwilling to challenge a failed elite to not be given a second chance.

And the world will live as one

by Montereyan (robert at calitics dot com) on Tue Aug 17th, 2010 at 11:35:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I see this:
Obama doesn't see the US as systematically broken. He just thinks it needs the right technocrat in charge.

followed shortly thereafter by this:
Judis is right that Obama risks repeating the Carter Administration,

And I wonder if perhaps he's actually risking a repeat of the Gorbachev administration...

Regards
Luke


-- #include witty_sig.h

by silburnl on Wed Aug 18th, 2010 at 12:30:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
silburnl:
I wonder if perhaps he's actually risking a repeat of the Gorbachev administration...

During the last ET meet-up in Paris last year, we had a discussion where I said I thought Obama could be the American Gorbachev. That wouldn't be a bad legacy. Today, I think it would be the best case scenario...  

"Ce qui vient au monde pour ne rien troubler ne mérite ni égards ni patience." René Char

by Melanchthon on Wed Aug 18th, 2010 at 12:46:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And I wonder if perhaps he's actually risking a repeat of the Gorbachev administration...

That depends.

The way the USSR fell apart can be read in several ways. In one reading, it was a disintegration of a coherent political entity, similar to the disintegration of Yugoslavia, the Austro-Hungarian empire or a hypothetical disintegration of the United Kingdoms into Scotland, Wales and England. In another reading, it was the disintegration of an empire, similar to the de-colonisation of the British and French overseas territories in the postwar period - a reality that was obscured by the fact that the Russian colonies were directly bordering the heartland or other colonies, rather than being visually separated by the sea.

I very much doubt that the US will fall apart in the former sense. On the other hand, we are witnessing a disintegration of the American colonial empire, partly by seeing it co-opted by other powers and partly by the collapse of the post-Bretton Woods economic system on which it depends.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sun Aug 22nd, 2010 at 01:51:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Excellent post but going further, let's assume Obama is a 'normie' conventional elite thinker but can see something when it's placed directly in his face. That would necessitate modifying one of your paragraphs as follows:  

He accepts that to get along and move up you need to pretend to believe that the financial industry is inherently good and should be respected - sure, there were some reforms that were needed, but those reforms were intended to help the existing financial industry continue to do what it is doing. He accepts that to get along and move up you need to pretend to believe that health insurance and pharmaceutical companies can play a constructive role in health care delivery and that we shouldn't try to cut them out of the process.

It's probably important to remember that Obama is both a member of the ruling elite and 100% a lawyer, and the basic approach in that industry is serving clients' needs regardless of your own personal beliefs. I'm sure he has personal beliefs on the above, but they're very general/flexible and not particularly important to his job. His job is to survive politically while serving his clients, a word he (like all mainstream politicians) interprets as meaning 'campaign contribution heavy hitters'. And those clients' fundamental demand is to write most of the specifics of laws, including 'reforms', directed at their industries.

fairleft

by fairleft (fairleftatyahoodotcom) on Wed Aug 18th, 2010 at 12:41:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... I find it vaguely disturbing how the insurance and pharmaceutical companies are so often conflated (in the entire debate, not just in your particular post).

Pharmaceutical companies actually make products that enhance the survivability, convenience and comfort of the human condition. Furthermore, pharmaceuticals is a technically sophisticated industry with high capital requirements and long lead times. This being the case, it needs government support, either in the form of direct subsidies, underwriting of risk or some other way to suppress the market mechanisms that are so manifestly ill-equipped to deal with lead times longer than a quarter or so.

The health insurance "industry," on the other hand, is (like the private pension funds "industry") a purely parasitical entity that offers no redeeming features of any kind. Like a rat infestation, it arises because the sovereign puts insufficient or effort into maintaining basic infrastructure, such as hospitals, sewers and retirement benefits.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sun Aug 22nd, 2010 at 02:00:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There's a new article out in Vanity Fair by Todd Purdum that paints a picture of Obama realizing Washington is broken, but doesn't think he can do anything about it, so he's just going to plow ahead with what he thinks is right and hopes history will prove him right (because of course history is never written by people with an ax to grind).

I'm with you on this, Magnifico. A much better article was this one by John Judis, "The Unnecessary Fall," noting the many shortcomings of the Obama Administration. My reaction to that article was very much along the lines of what you just wrote.

Obama doesn't see the US as systematically broken. He just thinks it needs the right technocrat in charge. It's not just that Obama believes in elite individuals - he believes in elite institutions. He believes the supposedly "collegial" Senate processes are good and should be respected (which was the content of his only appearance at Daily Kos, back in 2005 to chide the netroots for criticizing the Senate's acquiescence to the John Roberts nomination).

This is interesting, given that the first 6 paragraphs of the Vanity Fair article include things like
We think of the presidency as somehow eternal and unchanging, a straight-line progression from 1 to 44, from the first to the latest. And in some respects it is. Except for George Washington, all of the presidents have lived in the White House. They've all taken the same oath to uphold the same constitution. But the modern presidency--Barack Obama's presidency--has become a job of such gargantuan size, speed, and complexity as to be all but unrecognizable to most of the previous chief executives. The sheer growth of the federal government, the paralysis of Congress, the systemic corruption brought on by lobbying, the trivialization of the "news" by the media, the willful disregard for facts and truth--these forces have made today's Washington a depressing and dysfunctional place. They have shaped and at times hobbled the presidency itself.

...

The evidence that Washington cannot function--that it's "broken," as Vice President Joe Biden has said--is all around. For two years after Wall Street brought the country close to economic collapse, regulatory reform languished in partisan gridlock. A bipartisan commission to take on the federal deficit was scuttled by Republican fears in Congress that it could lead to higher taxes, and by Democratic worries about cuts to social programs. Obama was forced to create a mere advisory panel instead. Four years after Congress nearly passed a comprehensive overhaul of immigration laws, the two parties in Washington are farther apart than ever, and hotheaded state legislatures have stepped into the breach. Guantánamo remains an open sore because of fearmongering about the transfer of prisoners to federal prisons on the mainland. What Americans perceive in Washington, as Obama put it in his State of the Union speech, in January, is a "perpetual campaign where the only goal is to see who can get the most embarrassing headlines about the other side--a belief that if you lose, I win." His chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, whose Friday-afternoon mantra has become "Only two more workdays till Monday!," sums up today's Washington in terms both coarser and more succinct. To him, Washington is just "Fucknutsville."

So, I think it is quite likely that the way Obama is painted as aware that Washington is systemically broken is accurate
And so it is. But one can also ask: Even if Washington is broken, is it still partly usable? Is there a way to play the Washington game--on its own ugly terms, and even to play it ferociously, because you have to--and yet transcend the game in some fundamental way? This is the central question of the Obama administration, as its senior officials are well aware--because, in countless ways, their boss has told them so. They all talk candidly about that question, which remains unanswered. But a day in the president's shoes offers a glimpse of the size of the challenge.


By laying out pros and cons we risk inducing people to join the debate, and losing control of a process that only we fully understand. - Alan Greenspan
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Aug 18th, 2010 at 01:49:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
LOL!
Rahm Emanuel recalls that, as a White House aide early in the Clinton administration, he and others compiled a joke binder, full of real and imagined inducements--battleships, bridges, buildings, whatever--that could be offered to members of Congress in exchange for their support of Clinton's effort to pass the North American Free Trade Agreement. They titled it "1-800-NAFTA ('Cause you hafta)," and when he showed it to Clinton in a meeting one day, the president roared with laughter but ordered it destroyed, lest it fall into unfriendly hands or leak to the press. In the health-care debate, Emanuel notes, everybody was asking for Obama "to become Lyndon Johnson" and twist arms. "If we ever did even attempt to do a third of what Lyndon Johnson did--or Ronald Reagan, or Bill Clinton--we couldn't do it." Indeed, Emanuel says, such efforts would probably have prompted not just unflattering stories but a special prosecutor.


By laying out pros and cons we risk inducing people to join the debate, and losing control of a process that only we fully understand. - Alan Greenspan
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Aug 18th, 2010 at 02:05:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The way I read that section - and the article as a whole - was that Obama believes the problem in Washington DC is that it doesn't let the elite technocrats do their jobs. If only people could just sit down, put aside the partisanship and the Fox News-influenced crap, then they could implement a sensible neoliberal agenda.

In other words, Obama sees DC as being fundamentally broken, but is totally misdiagnosing the cause.

I see this all the time here in California in discussions about how to fix this state's crisis. It's all about finding ways to reduce the limits on neoliberals' ability to implement their agenda. "Crisis" gets defined as "the 'center' can't govern."

And the world will live as one

by Montereyan (robert at calitics dot com) on Wed Aug 18th, 2010 at 08:41:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You're equating 'Neoliberal' with 'Center' and both with Obama?

By laying out pros and cons we risk inducing people to join the debate, and losing control of a process that only we fully understand. - Alan Greenspan
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Aug 18th, 2010 at 09:16:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes.

In the US political discourse, "center" is almost always used to describe neoliberal politics and politicians. I'm not using "center" as a neutral term, not as the midpoint between right and left, but to illustrate how someone like Obama or the elite (whose support and affirmation he craves) would see things.

And yes, I strongly believe Obama to be a neoliberal who is convinced he is in the "center" of the US political spectrum.

And the world will live as one

by Montereyan (robert at calitics dot com) on Wed Aug 18th, 2010 at 10:09:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What makes you believe Obama is a neoliberal?

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes
by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Aug 19th, 2010 at 01:25:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Because he does neoliberal.

fairleft
by fairleft (fairleftatyahoodotcom) on Thu Aug 19th, 2010 at 10:52:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That's not an answer, it's a comeback.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes
by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Aug 20th, 2010 at 11:41:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Nevertheless, it strikes to the heart of the Obama paradox; that a man of such fine progressive intentions should enable a wholly neo-liberal policy programme.

But it comes down to what Monterayan was discussing, which is that Obama is a non-confrontational actor who seeks a "centrist" consensus where all of the ground on which this reasonable consensus lies in the neoliberal sphere. Therefore any act to which he commits is neoliberal. that's what he does.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sun Aug 22nd, 2010 at 03:04:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It also comes down to how much discretionary power you view Obama as having. If Obama is effectively a dictator, then it follows that he must believe what he is doing. If Obama operates within sufficiently narrow institutional constraints as to render him effectively an impotent spectator to the policies set in motion by long-dead predecessors, then you can draw no real conclusions about his personal preferences.

Neither extreme is true, of course. But in a way, it shouldn't really matter which side of the fence you're on: Either the best the Democratic Party machine has to offer is ideologically neoliberal, in which case grassroot effort must go into changing the institutional system in a way that makes it impossible for the office of the president to push neoliberal policies. Or else the office of the President is irrelevant, and grassroot effort must go into changing the institutional system in a way that makes it impossible for it to direct the office of the president into neoliberal policies.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sun Aug 22nd, 2010 at 03:55:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think you misinterpret what Buffett says about the Golden Goose. He's talking about the big very succesful American transnational corporations, which indeed are world class. Companies like Walmart, Kraft Foods, ExxonMobile, Coca Cola, McDonalds, Pfizer and so on.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Thu Aug 19th, 2010 at 08:29:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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