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False Dichotomy


I’m not a generally a big fan of trying to determine what public officials “really want,” not least because there’s no way of extricating policy goals from political goals and perceptions of political viability. But I certainly agree in broad terms that Obama is a moderate Democrat of the Clinton school who cares inordinately about the deficit and would accept spending cuts to advance deficit cutting.

But it doesn’t follow from this that Obama didn’t blunder. After all, (as Glenn quietly concedes) he didn’t get much of a deficit-reduction bill; he got some spending cuts but not the revenue increases he wanted. The deal that he accepted addressed Republican priorities, not moderate Democratic priorities. It’s entirely possible to understand that Obama isn’t a left-winger and still think that he made negotiating mistakes that produced an even worse deal than was necessary.

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  • NadePaulKuciGravMcKi


    middle of the road
    What debt deal?
    911 deceptions
    the pretenders
    10 years after

  • wengler

    He’s simply not very good at his job. I really do hope he thinks that Republican policies are awesome, because they are the ones that he will be running on in 2012.

    BTW I can’t wait for the hippie punching that will be going on in fall 2012. Fall into line and support austerity now you assholes! Or else the Republicans will win!

  • jeer9

    Whew! It’s a relief to see that Lemieux’s judgment of Obama remains appropriately level-headed. After all, our president says and does things which could be easily misinterpreted, there’s “plausible” deniability regarding his motives, and he’s only screwing around with people’s livelihoods in the final analysis, setting the stage for entitlements to be trimmed from the poor, the elderly, and the young. Now if he were a French philosopher defending a friend from a charge of alleged rape and using the worst sort of aristocratic/chauvinistic sophistry on that friend’s behalf, that would get his dander up! Lemieux’s a veritable tiger when he witnesses such dishonesty. … And to think some people believe everything’s political? Really. Where do intellectuals come up with this stuff?

    • Boudleaux

      You took Lemieux’s post as being an equivocating defense of Obama?

      Have someone help you read it next time.

      • cer

        You were able to decipher a point from that? I’m impressed.

    • dave3544

      What if Obama is just trying to heighten the contradictions?

      Holy fuck, has anyone ever seen Obama and jeer9 in the same room at the same time? I haven’t!

      • jeer9

        Then how ’bout Obama and the Dems come out and say “The far right fringe of this the Republican party held the nation hostage. We had to do whatever they said in order to avoid world economic collapse. This is a bad deal. It will make people suffer when they should not have to so that millionaire and billions can avoid a small increase in taxes. Moreover, it will hurt the economy. It will slow recovery, if not put us back in a recession. This is a Tea Party deal that will continue to haunt us for years.”

        You know, the truth.

        Instead, I have a video in my inbox wherein Obama is touting the bipartisan solution to the crisis that will remove all doubt about the economy and really get it moving again. I am also supposed to be celebrating deficit reduction during a recession, as if I had never heard of 1936.

        Reid’s out there talking about how now Americans will see that Dems are serious about deficit reduction, too! We’re just like the GOP America! Serious!

        Dave 3544,
        Try to make up your mind. Otherwise, get some medication for the schizophrenia.

        Lemieux: The deal that he accepted addressed Republican priorities, not moderate Democratic priorities. It’s entirely possible to understand that Obama isn’t a left-winger and still think that he made negotiating mistakes that produced an even worse deal than was necessary.

        But he’s still a moderate Democrat who blunders! As long as the policy is a negotiating mistake rather than an intentional strategy, I won’t have to take my head out of my ass.

  • DrDick

    I would have to agree with this analysis. Like Clinton, he is a moderate and not a progressive and I think he has actually moved right on some issues since the election. He is not, however, as competent a politician as Clinton and seems to have a hard time dealing with the reality of the Republican Party, as opposed to the fairies and unicorns in his head. Worst negotiator EVER!

    • Joe

      competent a politician as Clinton and seems to have a hard time dealing with the reality of the Republican Party

      Yeah, just look at health care and gays. On both issues, Clinton has him beat!

      So tiring. Really. Who the heck knows how Clinton, who was such component he was impeached, would have handled a very different situation, one in part different because his own actions helped Bush get elected in ’00?

      Clinton, Mr. End Welfare as We Know It, would have been reamed by the same bunch that rails against Obama around here. Probably did in some forum in some cases.

      • Joe

        That could have used a bit more editing.

      • DrDick

        I said that they were generally similar, but Obama seems not to be able to stand up to the lunatic Republicans and has been pushed steadily to the right. Clinton (best Republican president in 40 years IMHO) at least knew how to fight back instead of rolling over and playing dead.

        • Joe

          Obama who had a lot more to deal with is clearly no match to Clinton. He didn’t sign DADT, he just helped get rid of it. He didn’t have a health plan stopped, he just watched his party pass one even after a great liberal lion died and the 60th vote was lost. He wasn’t impeached yet either. Of course, it helps just to ignore all that he managed to do and instead say he “played dead.” Also, don’t know where he was “pushed” exactly.

          • Also, Clinton signed all sorts of legislation deregulating the financial industry, and actively supported much of it.

            Obama spent a great deal of political capital passing the most extensive financial regulation in 70 years.

            • witless chum

              And he’s not going to get much credit for that because it seemed like he should have been able to get more, given what the bankers just did to our economy. And he hasn’t been stridently anti-Wall Street and he’s appointed a bunch of insiders to his treasury department. Going all populist against bankers would have been good politics for Democrats after they got tarred with passing TARP.

              • “Seemed” being the operative word. It is frustrating that the scope of achievement are judged by how close they come to an ideal state, rather than how much they surpass what came before.

                Sure, Marris hit 61 home runs. Why didn’t he hit 80? I wanted 80.

                Going all populist against bankers would have been good politics for Democrats after they got tarred with passing TARP.

                Barack Obama once made a statement to the effect that politicking is for campaigns, and governing is different from politicking. A noble sentiment, but it can be taken too far.

                • witless chum

                  I know who I voted for and I can’t turn him into Denny Kucinich by wiggling my ears or grumbling, but I’d just like the guy to be good at advancing Democratic political interests. That’s the baseline I really want from the Democrats, is that they be reasonably good at keeping the Republicans out of office.

              • DocAmazing

                And Dodd-Frank is as full of holes as a lace curtain, but hey, it’s extensive.

        • Ed

          Whatever else you may think about him, Clinton has an appetite for such battles. Obama doesn’t. That gave some of us pause years ago, but I believe we were assured, not least by Obama himself, that this was a feature not a bug and with him in office we need have no fear about a return to “the divisiveness of the Nineties,” which Obama liked to hint was equally the fault of both sides.

        • Clinton wasn’t pushed steadily to the right during his term?

          Clinton, who came into office passing a tax increase and the assault weapons ban, and who tried to get rid of the ban on “gays in the military” (you young’uns, that’s actually the language that people used. People who supported ending the discrimination – “gays in the military”), and ended up with school uniforms and financial deregulation?

          • I might have to post the legislation signed by Clinton again, but I find it amusing that radicaler-than-thou Obama critics have found a consistent liberal warrior in the guy who signed DOMA, welfare “reform,” gutted habeas corpus, deregulated the finance industry, etc.

            • Malaclypse

              gutted habeas corpus

              I forget that one, and am curious. Drug-war related?

              • Scott Lemieux
                • DocAmazing

                  If memory serves, thanks to Clinton you can actually get the death penalty for growing too much pot. I’d have to go through the law again; it’s been a long time since I read through it.

                • Malaclypse

                  Thanks. I’d managed to forget that.

            • Ed

              I haven’t seen anyone here say that Clinton was a liberal warrior??? To say that he had a taste for this kind of melee that Obama lacks is to state the obvious at this point, I should think.

            • dms

              So, two wrongs make a right, literally.

  • TT

    This strikes me as exactly right. A president who surrounds himself with Rubinites as opposed to Krugmanites or Stiglitzites does so because he more than likely agrees with that particular camp over the latter two. Economically speaking, the Rubinites of the 1990s believed fervently that balancing the budget was a key component in igniting the prosperity of that decade. Politically speaking, they worked amidst divided government for six out of eight years, and were likewise used to getting around 20% to 40% of what they wanted out of Congress as opposed. (They also believed that excessive liberalism contributed to Clinton’s crushing defeat in the ’94 midterms.)

    Suffice to say, Obama began his career in the 1990s and was most likely studying Democratic political strategy and economic policy at the national level. My sense is that this informed, and continues to inform, much of his thinking on political economy. It follows that he would naturally gravitate toward architects of those policies such as Summers and Geithner. How that has worked out for him depends entirely on where you sit.

  • Brad P.

    I can’t believe how angry some are with a deal that basically guarantees revenue increases or back-loaded and defense heavy cuts.

    This whole thing is such a joke. Congressional republicans going apeshit over the deficit and compromising for tiny deficit reduction and still $6T more in debt over the next ten years. And democrats dropping the T-Word and republicanesque shit like “Satan Sandwich” and “Satan Fries” when entitlements are barely going to be touched.

    Its a damned soap opera, and a lot of campaign coffers got lined.

    • The most important thing to Protest People is their self-image as Protest People.

      If they aren’t yelling and screaming, what are they?

      • DocAmazing


        • Irrelevancies?

        • jeer9

          The only political observers who really care about people are the party hacks working hard each day to toe the line and the VSP like Lemieux who worry over the re-election of Obama and thus temper their “indignation” in the passive tense using weasel words like blunder and negotiating mistakes.

          In this particular blog post, he prefaces his mild criticism of Obama (tinged with a bit of compassion, if disappointment) by stating:

          I’m not a generally a big fan of trying to determine what public officials “really want,” not least because there’s no way of extricating policy goals from political goals and perceptions of political viability.

          However, when it comes to reactionaries, he has no problem intuitively grasping their motivation; to wit:

          Alas, today the Supreme Court’s Republican appointees made it clear that their real motivation in consistently ruling for big money in politics had more to do with protecting plutocracy than with concerns about free speech. In a 5-to-4 opinion [ pdf], Chief Justice Roberts found that “Arizona’s matching funds scheme substantially burdens protected political speech without serving a compelling state interest and therefore violates the First Amendment.”

          The latter he of course finds infuriating. Obama’s decision-making: not so much.

          Which of course leaves those of us appalled by Obama’s gleeful relief at this deal to wallow in our anti-political narcissism and self-absorbed navel-gazing. If only we could care about people as much as they do. But then physicians and teachers are just in it for the dough. What do we really know about supposed cuts to medical providers or education? It’s all good and was probably the only viable deal – and even necessary at that.

          • DocAmazing

            If only we appreciated how nutritious a shit sandwich really is, and how much work it takes to make one!

    • Ben

      Can you go through how the deal “basically guarantees revenue increases or back-loaded and defense heavy cuts”?

      You’ve got to be talking about that effing ridiculous 12-member super-committee, right, since the stuff that gets put into action now doesn’t include revenue.

      So you’re saying that super-committee will recommend revenue increases? The House Republicassheads will vote it down. Plus Boehner already said he’s not appointing anybody to it that will accept revenue increases.

      Are you saying “be glad about the automatic cuts that will kick in if the super-committee’s recommendation isn’t passed”? Half those cuts are in the military, but the other half are Medicare providers, right? Not exactly something to cheer for. That’s the reason they were put in there.

      I’m kind of confused as to where you’re finding this silver lining of guaranteed revenue increases or back-heavy defense cuts.

      • the other half are Medicare providers, right?

        The cuts to Medicare providers in the trigger are limited to 2% from current levels, which works out to single-digit % of the domestic side triggered cuts.

        • Ben

          Indeed. Thanks.

        • Malaclypse

          The cuts to Medicare providers in the trigger are limited to 2% from current levels,

          Current levels, adjusted for inflation and demographic changes? Or current levels, unadjusted? Because those are two radically different concepts.

          • BradP

            If it follows from the other cuts, 2% cut from the trending baseline, which likely is no cut from current levels at all.

  • binyamin

    Moderate Democrat is a bit of a euphemism at this point. We’re talking neoliberal, no? Obama’s cabinet is neoliberal. Obama’s economic and foreign policies are neoliberal. Unfortunately, he is terribly misinformed about reality. This may or may not be related to the people in his cabinet.

    President Obama asserted:

    “For the last decade, we have spent more money than we take in. In the year 2000, the government had a budget surplus. But instead of using it to pay off our debt, the money was spent on trillions of dollars in new tax cuts, while two wars and an expensive prescription drug program were simply added to our nation’s credit card.

    As a result, the deficit was on track to top $1 trillion the year I took office.”

    This is seriously mistaken.

    The Congressional Budget Office’s projections from January of 2008, the last ones made before it recognized the housing bubble and the implications of its collapse, showed a deficit of just $198 billion for 2009, the year President Obama took office. In other words, the deficit was absolutely not “on track to top $1 trillion.”

    This is what is known as a “gaffe” of enormous proportions. It indicates that President Obama does not have the most basic understanding of the nature of the budget problems the country faces. He apparently believes that there was a huge deficit on an ongoing basis as a result of the policies in place prior to the downturn. In fact, the deficits were relatively modest. The huge deficits came about entirely as a result of the economic downturn brought about by the collapse of the housing bubble. This misunderstanding of the origins of the budget deficit could explain President Obama’s willingness to make large cuts to core social welfare programs, like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

    It is incredible that no major news outlet noted this enormous gaffe on the fundamentals of the most important issue facing the country today.


    • from January of 2008

      Gee, can anyone think of anything that happened in 2008 that would cause the deficit to be higher than it was projected in January of that year?

      • Ben

        You really misread that, man. Read it again. I’m generally onboard with you doing battle against people who call Obama a sellout (if not the sheer volume of your comments) but you really overreached with this one.

        Obama didn’t include the meltdown when listing reasons for the deficit. He was wrong.

        As to the actual point, I agree his cabinet’s neoliberal but I don’t know if his economic policy is completely neoliberal. Didn’t Obama initiate Dodd-Frank, and aren’t there parts of that that go against neoliberal doctrine? Also Paul Volcker kinda throws a kink in the “neoliberal” works.

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