Browsing the archives for the progressive tag.

From relief to suspicion and back: Eyeing up Team Obama

Economy, Politics, US Economy, US Politics

Again with the caveat that I haven’t really caught up yet with the transition news of the last week, the confirmations from before surely mean that there’s one man who must not be happy. On the day after Obama’s victory, Dissent‘s Mark Engler celebrated:

Obama rose to the top of a Democratic pool that, as a whole, positioned itself notably to the left of what we had come to expect in the Clinton-Gore years, when top officials scrambled to prove their pro-corporate bona fides and to declare their allegiance to the Democratic Leadership Council. Today’s contenders, while far from perfect from a progressive perspective, campaigned as opponents of an unjust war and of faulty trade agreements such as NAFTA, as advocates of pro-worker labor law reform and of serious national health care.

But he already warned:

To be sure, the .. more contemporary fight to thwart the rightward-pushing forces within the Democratic Party .. is not over. The likes of Robert Rubin and Larry Summers hover over Obama’s victory.

Larry Summers at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, 2007

Larry Summers at the World Economic Forum in Davos, 2007

I bet he didn’t realise just how much they’d “hover”. With the appointments of Geithner, Summers and Orszag, I’m guessing Engler must have gotten a lot more worried still. As Ezra Klein noted:

For critics of so-called Rubinomics, [..] watching Rubin’s proteges step into every major economic staffing position in the new administration has been concerning. Watching them do so as Goldman-Sachs, which Rubin once led, and Citigroup, which Rubin recently advised, get buffeted by the subprime collapse is almost perverse.

To be fair, however, the opposition within the Democratic Party between the neoliberal, Rubinite cheerleaders of deregulation and the progressive sceptics of free market solutions no longer has the bitter edge it had in the 90s. And the main reason for that is that experience has taught Summers et al. to be more sceptical themselves.

Consider what The American Prospect’s Robert Kuttner, himself a progressive critic of Rubinomics, wrote about Geithner last September:

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“What a Progressive President Might Say”: How will Obama match up?

Politics, US Politics

I didn’t have any spare online time the last week or so, so I’m no longer current on the latest transition news. This was a good find just before, however. After it was confirmed that Melody Barnes would be the Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council under President Obama, TNR The Stump dug up a link to an op-ed she wrote in January 2007 for the WaPo — which was framed as the State of the Union address a progressive president might give.

She gives fashion advice too.

She gives fashion advice too. Not kidding - the Washingtonian profiled her as one of "Ten Well Dressed Women".

Most striking about the piece is just how on message she already was for what would become the framing of Obama’s candidacy and presidency. No wonder she was picked for a top post.

Most encouraging is how she placed escalating income inequality right at the top of domestic policy priorities. What’s hopeful in particular is the way she presented it as the container issue through which other domestic policy questions are framed. Tackling the rapidly increasing concentration of resources in the hands of the few is not just a question of upping the minimum wage. It’s the basic challenge of socio-economic policy that major social issues like education and health care all tie back into.

The acknowledgment of this in Barnes’ piece does warm the progressive heart – both the urgency with which she posits the issue and the ability (and political will) to contextualise pressing sectoral issues like health insurance as more than just individual issues that have come up. Implicit is the understanding of these issues as part of a broader failure of the market economy, or at least of the lurch toward an ever less regulated market economy since the eighties.

A somewhat disappointing part of the piece is the contrast between the paragraphs on Iraq and health care. In both cases, the general diagnosis is solid. For Iraq, however, there is an unambiguous plan of withdrawal. On health care, on the other hand, it’s mostly what’s not mentioned that’s interesting. What to do about the uninsured? Who should ensure them? A state program or private insurers? If a state program, one that’s open to all, or just those without coverage now? Funded how? And if private insurers, how would they be compelled to do it? What about mandates?

A State of the Union obviously doesn’t need to dig way into the details, and a brief op-ed posturing as one cannot possibly do so. But some idea of what path of action she was imagining would have been instructive, especially since her portfolio will include health care and education.

The same goes for energy. The op-ed raises all the right points, but it’s wildly vague on courses of action and priorities. While the paragraph on science underneath includes a pointed reference to embryonic cell research, there’s nothing in the way of even a general approach (say, cap and trade) here.

Still, the fact that one of the top domestic policy advisors to President Obama actually authored an op-ed specifically imagining a progressive presidency is definitely encouraging. Barnes comes from the Center for American Progress, which might calm some nerves about the lack of progressive Obama appointments. The post she will fill is potentially a very powerful one. Now the only question is, what kind of influence will she be able to exert?

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Spread the wealth? What Americans think

Economy, Politics, Presidential Elections, US Economy, US Elections, US Politics

In my post, after the third presidential debate, about McCain’s efforts to make “spreading the wealth around” sound like the most ominous thing, I quoted Ezra Klein as saying that “for most folks, spreading the wealth around probably seems like a good idea” right now.

This is correct, Brian Schaffner of the CCPS argued yesterday at his new home on Taking as lead how the ABC/WaPo poll hasn’t shown any movement this month on the question which candidate is trusted more on the question of taxes, he digs up data showing so from a 2003 survey conducted by NPR, the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Kennedy School of Government.

Moreover, in case you’re feeling doubtful about those sponsors, the same thing is largely confirmed by Gallup data, which the polling firm’s in-depth look at the issue on Thursday revealed.

Schaffner argues that the McCain camp’s insistence that Obama’s proposal to raise taxes on the top 5% of income-earners smacks of class struggle and socialism doesn’t drill into much of a popular perception. It isn’t surprising “that McCain hasn’t gotten much traction by criticizing the fact that Obama wants to increase taxes for high income Americans,” Schaffner writes, because the 2003 survey actually showed that most Americans believe “high income people pay less than their fair share”. Over 60% of Independents, over 70% of Democrats and even a plurality of Republicans  agreed. Barely over 10% of independents and some 30% of Republicans, on the other hand, thought that high income people “pay more than their fair share”:

The Gallup polling data doesn’t directly address the question whether wealthy Americans pay enough taxes, but it does show a majority of Americans believing that “the distribution of money and wealth in this country” isn’t “fair”. Throughout intermittent polls in the last twenty-odd years, an ample majority opined that wealth should be “more evenly distributed among a larger percentage of the people,” while just 27-37% believed that the current distribution is fair:

Two details strike me in this graph. The opinion that “spreading the wealth around” seems like a good idea isn’t just something that’s coming up “right now”, in the face of a financial crisis; it’s actually been pretty consistent through the years. But there’s two kinds of variations over time.

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Spread the wealth around!

Debates, Media / journalism, Politics, Presidential Elections, US Economy, US Elections, US Politics

One of the oddest features about Wednesday’s debate was John McCain’s repeated, dismissive references to how Obama wants to “spread the wealth around”. McCain repeated that line no less than nine times, each time derisively, and nine times is a lot in a debate like this. In comparison, he mentioned “education” six times, and “health insurance” three times (which Obama mentioned ten times).

(By the way, if you’re looking for Wordles of the two candidates’ words during the debate, like the ones I made for the second debate, check out these ones that Flickr user spudart made.)

I was actually looking whether there was a YouTube video splicing together all his “spread the wealth around” lines. Because if I knew how to edit videos, I’d make one. I mean, just go to the wonderful NYT interactive election debates tool, type in “spread” in the neat search box above the coloured bars, and use the forward and play buttons to the right to switch between all the references. It’s wonderfully bizarre. (OK, maybe you have to be a geek.)


Wages have stagnated for a decade .. For most folks, spreading the wealth probably seems like a good idea. (Image used under CC license from Flickr user M J M)

The weird thing about these invocations is that, as Noam Scheiber pointed out, he “repeatedly invoked Obama’s line about ‘spreading the wealth around’ without explaining what makes it so offensive (beyond his own menacing tone).” As Scheiber adds, “it didn’t strike me as self-evidently damning.” Right. I mean, God forbid anyone would want to spread the wealth – give other people a shot at it too. As Ezra Klein adds, “Median wages have stagnated for a decade … For most folks, spreading the wealth around probably seems like a good idea.”

McCain got the quote from Obama’s answer to “Joe the Plumber” (who isn’t actually a licensed plumber, doesn’t actually make $250,000 and wouldn’t have to pay higher taxes under Obama’s plan even if he did buy that company), when they met during a campaign stop. It’s worth watching the whole answer Obama gave. There’s nothing particular controversial in his answer as a whole, and the “spreading the wealth” line came in the context of giving people who are where Joe was earlier in his life tax cuts so they would be helped making it too. But as Campaign Diaries points out, the McCain campaign wants you to see the line as “code words for socialism”.

The thing is that McCain didn’t actually bother to make that argument in the debate. He appeared to think that just repeating the line would make people go, “oh yeah, that’s terrible – spreading the wealth around, how can he say such a thing – he must be a socialist”. This equation strikes me as typically one of those things that only works within the bubble. Maybe because for most people, a $250,000 income is so far removed from their world, they can’t even imagine. After all, it’s just the top 3% who earns that much. It’s five times the median household income, and eight times the median individual income.

It is not far removed, however, from the lives of those reporting on politics for us. For network TV reporters, for pundits and politicians, for anchormen and talk show hosts, it’s not that much. They do know people who make that much, because they are often among the top earners in America themselves. So for them, it hits close to home. And because pundits and anchormen hang out with other pundits and anchormen, their view of what is normal is warped – for a striking example see the video below the fold. And this has serious consequences for the opportunities to market liberal economic policies.

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