Monday, April 9, 2012

What If We Stand and Fight?

After spending time determining what I believe -- in the public-policy sphere -- I offered the proposition that the U.S. might not be the place to look for an advanced (or at least advancing) society. We might best just move to where the cool people are, like the Netherlands or Denmark. Some might think of that as pragmatic. Others might think of it as cowardly. I understand why either might be valid.

What if, as the Republicans might suggest, you decide not to "cut and run?" What if we decided to stand and fight? What form then does our struggle look like?

If only it were true...

In taking the position that we couldn't turn to violence, where we follow the lead of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi (you know the drill), I'm left to say our fight has to be a political one, using the tools our Constitution -- and the state constitutions and local ordinances that derive from it.

Eric Alterman wrote a fascinating and spot-on critique of the recent liberal strategies in his New York Times piece called "Cultural Liberalism Is Not Enough." Here's the money quote of his thesis:
In other words, economic liberalism is on life-support, while cultural liberalism thrives. The obvious question is why. The simple answer is that cultural liberalism comes cheap. Supporting same-sex marriage or a woman’s right to choose does not cost the wealthy anything or restrict their ability to become wealthier. But there is more to it than that.
The "more than that" is all about this:
The failure of liberals to plan for the failure of their plans — what Saul Bellow once called the “Good Intentions Paving Company” — resulted in a bitter, resentful scramble for the remaining scraps. Liberal politicians proved unable to face up to the harsh realities. “The great liberal failing of this time,” Daniel Patrick Moynihan observed as early as 1968, was “constantly to over-promise and to overstate, and thereby constantly to appear to under-perform.” This not only alienated key constituencies, but it also diminished the trust between the governing and the governed that previous generations of liberals had worked so hard to earn.
 The problem is not that liberals had it wrong. We just over-promised. Interestingly, Ronald Reagan over-promised: His supply-side, tax-cutting, "Morning in America" agenda delivered us a gargantuan national debt. Since, however, that debt financed a decent economic boom -- 80 percent of which ended up in the hands of the wealthy where it largely remained -- conservatives have been able to crow ever since.

Now, I knew how to over-promise!

Conservative pragmatists like George H. W. Bush paid for their pragmatism by being voted out. Clinton was luckier. His pragmatism, which led to the first federal surplus in generations, was fought tooth and nail. His economic boom was fueled not by debt but by over-investment in the dot-com dream, which did lead to a minor recession at the beginning of the George W. Bush years.

Next, W. fueled his tepid economy with tax cuts and deficit-funded defense spending. Since none of those tax cuts, primarily for the wealthy, did much trickling down, what passed for economic growth for much of his last six years was funded by private debt, especially in the housing markets. This bubble popped, not only bringing our country -- and much of the world -- to its knees but also exposing the shadow banking industry for what it was: a giant Ponzi scheme financed by mortgage-backed securities and credit default swaps that turned out to be largely a fantasy world of funny paper.

"Hey Geitner, if we give some back, can we do it again later?"

Barack Obama, tagged from the beginning by the lunatic fringe as illegitimate, much as Bill Clinton was, did his best to get a stimulus package through that could do some serious Keynesian magic. Some say it was worthless (that view is demonstratively fallacious), some say that is saved our economy, though not doing nearly enough, and some say that Obama never fought for a package much larger, saying that it was the best he could do. Some leaked memos unfortunately paint a portrait of a less ambitious Keynesian.

Still, combined with TARP, bailouts for the auto industry, ample unemployment compensation extensions and payroll tax holidays, Obama was able, in concert with the Fed's various quantitative easing programs, to get and keep our economy out of the ditch -- just barely.

Many of us, watching this process, came to realize that Barack Obama was the moderate he appeared to be, if you were actually listening to him back in '08, his inspirational rhetoric notwithstanding. Am I disappointed? With his failure to hold the previous administration responsible for crimes against humanity, yes. With his continuing acquiescence to the expanding surveillance society and tragic softening of our 4th Amendment rights, yes. With his war on government or journalistic whistle-blowers, yes. With his less than heroic but at least pragmatic health care solution, yes. I haven't found any way around this disappointment other than to concede that the conservatives are so much worse. And that's slim comfort.

I'm moderate, so neither side likes me much. You'd think I would have foreseen that.

As Obama ratchets up the rhetorical games -- showing some serious populist outrage, which is heartening -- and Mitt Romney lets the "centrist" rhetoric slowly -- and not so Etch-A-Sketch-like -- seep into his speeches, we head into the general election with a very slippery contest. Obama is actually a recognizable version of his rhetoric, and he appears more genuine in his abandonment of appeasement. From my perspective, I've no choice but to vote for him. Mitt Romney, on the other hand, is nothing other than one, basic litmus test: you dip a strip into him and it comes out either red or blue. It's up to you to decide. His game is that he doesn't want anyone to actually know what the colors mean. I hope he doesn't succeed with this charade.

A liberal would never vote for Romney. A conservative has no choice but to. The so-called independents who aren't actually in the middle (there is no middle) are Romney's targets. "What do you want me to be? I'm him!" is the core of his message. Listen or take him seriously at your peril.

I hope President Obama does get mad, does get honest, and stands up and fights. As tepid as my support is (and I do support him), a mad-as-hell Obama that calls out the conservative agenda is an easier candidate to stand with. I'll grant him that. I'll stand with him, hoping he leads rather than follows. Which it will be isn't apparent yet.

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