Thursday, January 2, 2014

The populist committed to dealing with income inequality: President Obama

Sometimes I get really tired of reading the lazy superficial political analysis of many of our so-called "liberal" pundits. This time its E. J. Dionne who joins the chorus of people suggesting that newly inaugurated Mayor Bill de Blasio joins Senator Elizabeth Warren in sparking a resurgent left to combat the radical right. In his view, politics sounds like a game of tug-o-war and the problem has been a lack of muscle on the left forming a counter-weight to the lunacy on the right.
For a long time, the American conversation has been terribly distorted because an active, uncompromising political right has not had to face a comparably influential left. As a result, our entire debate has been dragged in a conservative direction, meaning that the center has been pulled that way, too.
If you listen carefully to what he's saying, its all an either/or struggle and if the left got as uncompromising as the right, we'd wind up somewhere in the middle. Yeah, right. I guess it never dawns on these people that that's exactly what the strategists on the right gridlock that sends everyone away screaming "a pox on both your houses!" Or perhaps Dionne just thinks that the Republicans have been fooling us all these years with their commitment to total obstruction and that they would have caved in their demands if only there had been a more uncompromising left. That's why I call this kind of analysis lazy. I doubt he's even bothered to think it through. Its a theory that sounds good in abstract. But when you go beyond the superficial, it makes zero sense.

Of course Dionne trots out the tired old lefty arguments to bolster his case about how Obamacare was simply a give-away to the insurance companies with - GASP - no public option.
Obamacare is complex because the government is trying to create a marketplace in which people shop for private insurance and receive government subsidies if they need them. It goes to a lot of trouble to preserve the private insurance market. The system does not even include a government plan as one option among many.
There is no mention of the fact that Obamacare begins the process of decoupling health insurance from employment, includes the largest expansion of Medicaid in the program's history, or initiates huge changes to the private insurance business model (no exclusion for pre-esisting conditions, no medical underwriting, no lifetime limits, guaranteed essential benefits and overhead/profit limited to 15% of premium dollars). What we got is the most sweeping progressive change to health care in our country's history after over 100 years of failed attempts. But in Dionne's eyes, it was all just a cave to the uncompromising right.

Dionne goes on to herald the populism of politicians like de Blasio for talking about income inequality. And like Peter Beinart (who started this whole meme) he totally misses that the populism was also fueled by the new Mayor's gorgeous bi-racial family and his promise to end the ridiculous stop and frisk policies of his predecessor. In other words, de Blasio energized the Obama coalition in New York City...big time! You want leftist populism - that's where you're going to find it in this country's future. Our mostly white punditry keeps missing that one.

If you want to find a national figure that has championed populism to take on the issue of income inequality, you need look no further than our current President. As I've demonstrated before, tackling those issues is something President Obama has talked about from the beginning and is the reason he ran in the first place. Campaigns that were fueled by small donors, efforts to build on that with OFA and a message that "nothing can stand in the way of millions of voices calling for change" might not rely on the word "populism," but no one can doubt that it is at the heart of what he has been committed to from day one.

So I welcome these new faces like Mayor de Blasio and Senator Warren to the table. But lets not forget who set it in the first place. That would be the guy who threw out the failed tug-o-war gridlock way of thinking about politics and built a coalition to actually get some real stuff done.


  1. Dione's is just another typical misreading of the Overton Window. It goes something like this: if you just put out liberal ideas as acceptable ideas then the weight of the public conversation will shift more to the left and thus liberal ideas will become more likely to occur since politicians will pay attention to where the public conversation is. This is right only in that the first step to making liberal ideas happen is to make it acceptable to talk about them. This is why I praise Warren and others for talking about raising the minimum wage and *increasing* Social Security benefits.

    But it is wrong when it thinks that all you have to do is change the public message and the system will naturally come along for the ride. It's the old idea that if you talk about it enough then it will just happen. The failure to acknowledge the dirty side of politics, actually passing legislation that will make these ideas real, is where the Overton Window accolytes fall down. They think that any compromise with the other side in getting legislation passed is a betrayal of the messaging concept. Because doing so says that the ideas of the other side have merit and you must never do that.

    That is the way of the Tea Party and the way of permanent gridlock. Reagan succeeded not because he was an uncompromising idealogue but because he managed to pass Republican friendly policies while making them seem acceptable to a larger share of the public (i.e., Reagan Democrats). How did he do that? By allowing the Democrats to join in on the ride and put their name on some of the policies.

    Obama tried to do that with his health care plan. The one thing he didn't count on was that the Tea Party faction would be as strong as it is and be so uncompromising that they weren't willing to put any shine of approval on Obama's policies. But just because Obama tried to get them to sign on does not mean he was making a deal with the devil. He was just acknowledging the reality that long term success for liberal policies requires buy in by more than liberal believers.

    The fact that Obama has been as successful as he has been *despite* not getting Republican buy in is one of the more remarkable aspects of his presidency. Yet I doubt this will be widely acknowledge any time soon.

  2. The problem with the wordy abstractions of emotarians is that we live in a representative democracy based on the rule of law. Debate is necessary as well as many kinds of dialogue, but action is what brings about change. The emotarian left can't seem to get it through its thick skull that they are a minority, that they are often more of a hindrance than they are helpful, and that it is not the way politicians and pundits talk, but who and how many people they convince that moves the Overton Window to the left.

    Those in the emotarian left are so stuck on themselves that they spend most of their time alienating people who are also liberal and discouraging people from voting. They are childish in their demands and need for instant gratification. They don't pay attention. They don't ask good questions. They don't seek reliable sources or relevant information. They're lacking in a healthy curiosity. They are reactive. They are quick to jump to conclusions. They're dismissive of people who accept that change is incremental. They don't give credit where credit is due, because all they want to do is pat themselves on the back and always be more right, pure, and noble in their aims than everyone else. Consequently, their thinking is poor, their solutions are rainbow farting unicorns, and they are what too many people think of as "liberal" and rightfully despise.

  3. the Left just like the Right has a hard time giving kudos to this President...IMO 2 sides of the same coin...


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