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Economic Populist: The Radical Populist Case for Voting for Obama{+}

by BruceMcF Fri Nov 2nd, 2012 at 12:09:41 AM EST

{+} in swing states

I don't know whether you've seen Matt Stoller's the Progressive Case Against Obama, Peter Coyote's The Progressive Case For Obama, Cassiodorus' The case against the case for Obama, or Priceman's Peter Coyote's Failed Status Quo Exercise in Condescension , but it seems making out "Progressive" cases for and against the incumbent US President is all the fashion. Not to be left out, I composed a little piece along the same lines for radical economic populism. Crossposted from Voices on the Square

Burning the Midnight Oil for Economic Populism

The case against a radical Economic Populist voting for Obama is pretty straightforward:

  • The Obama administration is a neo-liberal administration, and buys into the fantasy that eliminating the deficit somehow fosters growth;
  • The "all of the above" energy strategy is a path to slightly slower climate suicide than the "all in for oil and coal" strategy
  • Support for "smart wars" instead of "dumb wars" means more Americans die as a result of overseas conflicts that we do not have to have than dismantling the American Empire and eliminating the root cause of most attacks on Americans overseas.

I am aware of an argument that a vote for Obama is a vote for a "more effective evil" because the radical reactionary alternative is such an "extreme evil" that it is going to be "less effective". I am not going to address that argument. This is more directed to the "no effective difference" argument.

There are two arguments in opposition to the above Radical Economic Populist case that I can see.

Climate Chaos

There are lots of things that can be done to lay the groundwork for a genuine push to fight climate chaos under the All of the Above framework that will not be pursued under the "hand Energy Policy to the Oil and Coal companies" framework being offered as an alternative.

One of the key institutions that we require are feed-in tariffs for sustainable, renewable electricity. Under the (government-chosen) marginal pricing of wholesale electricity, when sustainable, renewable electricity pulls down the average cost of electricity, by reducing the average days per year when expensive peak power plants must operate, and by stretching the supply of less expensive hydro-power electricity, it threatens to undermine the repayment of the loan of the capital intensive, fuel-free sustainable renewable harvesting of wind, solar, and etc. That risk increases the cost of finance to utility scale wind and solar. Its a good deal for wind and solar to offer a moderate, fixed rate when power is available, paying more in cheap "off peak demand" periods and substantially less in expensive "peak demand" periods.

Even without a Federal feed-in tariff, a state can pursue substantial development of sustainable renewable power with a feed-in tariff. Under existing law, it cannot establish a feed-in tariff that is greater than avoided costs ~ but under an Obama administration regulatory decision, it can use the penalties in a sustainable power portfolio standard when computing avoided costs, which in fact frees up a state to establish a feed-in tariff at a level sufficient to ensure construction of utility scale wind and/or utility-scale solar and/or residential-scale solar.

A Romney administration can simply reverse that ruling to close down that threat to coal companies.

One of the key infrastructure investments that we require to avoid stranded wind in the substantial Northern Plains wind resource is transmission capacity between the Northern Plains and the Great Lakes / Midwest. We know that the Obama administration energy policy is favorable for that infrastructure, because its being built as we speak. That again is vulnerable to radical reactionary regulatory capture, since this is an intrinsic question of interstate electricity transmission: we do not have any states that are so large they contain entire wind resources.

In transportation policy, a key element of the establishment of a modern intercity transport system that is not oil-dependent is the reformation of our 1950's era rail regulatory regime. We have made substantial progress on that front in the past four years, but it would be easy to double the effective cost per track mile of both Rapid Passenger Rail and High Speed Passenger Rail by appointing an anti-passenger rail head to the Federal Rail authority.

Four more years of half measures on Energy and Transport policy is substantially superior to four more years of radical reactionary policies on Energy and Transport policy, let alone a possible eight more years of radical reactionary policies.

Four more years versus Eight More Years

The second argument is simpler. Four more years of Obama and then the Obama administration is over. Four more years of Obama means the incumbent President and whatever malicious mischief he is getting up to is off the table as far as working toward raising the profile of a Radical Populist challenge in the 2013-2014 second midterm campaign season and the 2015-2016 Presidential campaign season.

Electing Romney means we are back in 2001. We have another 2004 election season to look forward to ~ "shut up about all that, don't you realize how bad this guy is? we got to get rid of him". Winning that fight means we are back in 2009 with a newly elected Democratic neoliberal in office. Except its 2017, and in 2021 we are caught in the same "but if you don't support the current LOTE you will get the GOTE instead!".

Losing that prospective 2016 fight means eight years of radical reactionary government. And while the fight against a radical reactionary government has its thrilling moments, and the feeling of building a movement in reaction to the reactionary, and the hope that it will lead to a bright dawn of a newly forged progressive populist coalition in power ...
... it also likely means waking up in 2021 back where we were in 2009, with a Democratic neoliberal in power on the back of a promise of hope and change that we can believe in.

So, that's the case that I can see.

So, that's the Radical Economic Populist case that I can see for voting for Obama in a swing state.

Obviously if you live in a "safe" red or blue state, there's nothing that you vote can do in the short term, and the only vote you can cast that has the slenderest change of doing some good over the longer term is a vote for a third party.

However, I believe that there are premises under which it makes sense for a Radical Economic Populist who lives in a swing state to cast a vote for Obama.

With a different set of premises, of course, whether regarding the importance of climate suicide or regarding the utility of laying a physical foundation now to support for a more serious policy in the future, or regarding the likelihood of recycling 2000-20012 but worse if we elect another George W Bush (but worse), YMMV.

Message from Marley:

For me, it's fairly straightforward: judicial appointments.  If Obama loses, we get four and probably eight years of appointees whose swastika armbands will hide nicely beneath black robes.
by rifek on Fri Nov 2nd, 2012 at 07:01:07 PM EST
Obama's judicial appointments aren't anything to cheer about but despite the determined arguments of the 3rd party electioneer in chief at Voices on the Square, in my view they are quite clearly the Lesser of Two Evils.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sat Nov 3rd, 2012 at 10:03:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Under the American facsimile of democracy, you don't vote for a candidate in the general election. You vote against the other dude.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sat Nov 3rd, 2012 at 02:57:32 AM EST
Let's look at American democracy the way it's suppose to work ... a body with 2 hearts, one pumping in favor of the wealthy/corporations, the other pumping in the opposite direction for the workers and the less well off. Only one pump works at any time. the one in the WH. But today the pump which is suppose to be pumping for us (the Dems) is really like the valves in your veins; they don't pump in the other direction, they make sure that there's no backflow after the Repubs are voted out of office. Translation: The current system needs to be replaced before we're all dead.

They tried to assimilate me. They failed.
by THE Twank (yatta blah blah @ blah.com) on Sat Nov 3rd, 2012 at 07:41:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Its supposed to work that way?

Is that supposed to as in "was designed to", or supposed to as in, "it would be nice"?

I reckon it was a money dominated Republic since its founding. Its "supposed to" screw the worker, it was just that with the expansion of the franchise, old Franklin Delano sorted out a way to rig the system to work against its original design.

What we are doing now that is going against the original design is the Empire. We were designed by merchants and landowners to be a property-dominated Republic, not a property-dominated Empire. They well knew the way that the pursuit of Empire would lead to a government that infringed on the rights of property, and they were agin it.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sat Nov 3rd, 2012 at 09:59:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
OK, so I'm either an idealist (very possible) or all I'm saying is that the current system simply doesn't work. Kind of like a blown engine ... somewhere along the way you have to accept the fact that you ran the engine out of oil, it's a huge fused block of metal, it will never function again as is, and wishing won't change that. Example courtesy of my ex-wife less than 3 months after we were divorced decades ago ... I just love that story.

Time to go grocery shopping.

They tried to assimilate me. They failed.

by THE Twank (yatta blah blah @ blah.com) on Sat Nov 3rd, 2012 at 10:37:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What its not supposed to be is to work so that an aristocracy can use the system to secure their position against threats to their inherited wealth.

Which is how it works now, with a strong corporatist wing in each of two potential governing parties and with the establishment of a new corporatist aristocracy.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sat Nov 3rd, 2012 at 12:26:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I explicitly avoided saying that.

I cited two things to vote for:

(1) Obama, while unwilling to pursue a serious policy to ameliorate climate change, is willing to, and has, pursued portions of a sustainable energy policy that lays the foundation for a serious policy to ameliorate climate change; and

(2) Obama is term limited, so voting for Obama is a vote for an open election in 2016.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sat Nov 3rd, 2012 at 10:06:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I get a little angry ever time I hear the "both parties are the same" line, especially as I think it is far less true than it was a few years ago, and for the right reasons.

An Obama win continues to build momentum in a vaguely leftward direction, by showing that the hard work the various left-leaning volunteer and fund-raising networks can have success.  Grassroots pressure for stronger and more outspoken candidates has resulted in a crop of much better House and Senate candidates, but a lot of them are not going to win without a solid win at the top of the ticket, and will have absolutely no chance to accomplish anything with a Republican president.  Not only does an Obama victory set up the chance for an even stronger progressive at the top of the ticket in 2016, but it also validates the work a lot of people have been putting into the Democratic party.

Further, the corporate money has been really leaning more and more towards the Republicans in recent years, and this really matters for the "both sides are controlled by the same rich donors" narrative.  Fact is, the Koch brothers are NOT donating to Democrats, ever, and thus when Democrats win despite their efforts they are in no way beholden to them.  A solid win for the Democrats in down-ticket races this cycle, despite Citizens United and despite the lopsided pro-Republican spending of the big money interests, can start to free up the Democrats from any need for subservience to those same interests.  Relating back to the first point, I'm guessing that one reason that this cycle has seen a distinctly progressive crop of candidates has been the shift of the big money to the right - there's less and less point in running as a business-friendly Conserva-Dem, because the people who back them have sunk their money into the other side.

In my opinion, the continued hold of Third Way neo-liberalism in the Democratic party is much more an issue of narrative capture than funding at the moment, but even that is weakening.  And every minor little victory that Obama and the Democrats have, and ever time a new government policy helps a few people here or there, that narrative is weakened a bit more.  As the original diarist pointed out, those little victories are happening in energy and transportation policy, they are starting to happen in health care, and they have even happened in financial regulation.  Those little victories can be built upon with momentum.

by Zwackus on Sun Nov 4th, 2012 at 05:24:38 AM EST
Wait, you hate my argument because you hate arguments that say the Democrats and the Republicans are the same, which my argument does not do?

What argument is "this argument" in the subject a reference to?

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sun Nov 4th, 2012 at 10:47:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No, I'm sorry, I should have been clearer about that.

I do not hate your particular pro-Obama argument.  I think it's just fine.

I hate the larger argument it's part of, the "both sides are the same, Obama is just Republican-lite/no they're not, there are real differences between the parties" argument.  It bothers me that it's really necessary to make arguments like yours, or arguments like the one I presented in my article, because it bothers me just how important it seems to so many people.

Now, I'm no less likely to jump into an argument that I hate, rather than an argument that I enjoy.  I wouldn't have written this otherwise.  But still.

by Zwackus on Sun Nov 4th, 2012 at 03:36:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I reckoned as much, but didn't want to presume without asking.

Yes, the "there is no difference" seems to me to be a quite sophomoric argument arrived at by a false dichotomy in which "agree with me" / "disagree with me" is the dimension, and the person making the argument hold a position nobody could hold and take power, so all serious rivals to take government are in the "disagree with my position" camp.

The fact that there is quite a range among the corporatists ranging from serious minded technocrats that labor under a false neoliberal theory of how the economy works and so do not pursue the best policies available, to corporatists that would at one time have been closest fascists, and increasingly in the US right wing are open fascists.

So the line of argument that runs, "the Republicans are corporatist, the Democrats are corporatist, therefore they are equal", or "the Republicans do not propose doing enough to substantially ameliorate climate change, the Democrats do not propose doing enough to substantially ameliorate climate change, therefore they are equal" are both saying, in essence, "the Republicans and Democrats are both members of the status quo establishment."

But both being, by and large, members of the status quo establishment does not thereby imply that they are identical, any more than the fact that a barn is full of horses mean that any particular horse is identically useful when harnessed to plow, or when entered into a horse race.

A lot of progressives in the US convinced themselves in 2008 that Obama was something that he was not, because they needed to pretend that he was a progressive in order to enthusiastically support him. And then when he proved to be who he always was, rather than who they imagined him to be, they felt a sense of betrayal.

Blaming that sense of betrayal on Obama's "broken promises" is perhaps natural, but in the final analysis, they were the author of most of the promises that they felt that Obama had broken. Matt Stoller is an example of that when he uses the "breaking of the promise" to renegotiate NAFTA. Coming from a supporter of corporate trade agreements, the promise to "renegotiate" one of those agreements is an evidently empty one, made to take off pressure for being a supporter of corporate trade agreements, since there is no reason to believe that the result of renegotiating would be a progressive outcome.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sun Nov 4th, 2012 at 04:38:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I agree with pretty much everything you just said.  
by Zwackus on Sun Nov 4th, 2012 at 09:09:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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