December 07, 2013

Charles Pierce takes a swim in the Obamiac wading pool

I like a lot of Charles Pierce's political writing. I like some of it a lot. (And, I like some of his sports writing a lot, too.)

His Morning Dooley and Evening Jemmy on his Esquire politics blog are fun stuff. His calling Politico "Tiger Beat on the Potomac" is hilarious, and he has an eye for the turn of phrase like that in both politics and sports. He can be a good, even scathing, critic of inside-the-Beltway mindsets, of politics as chess match, and more.

And yet, despite his affection (a bit overdone, in my book) for the Occupy movement, and other things, at times, there's something missing. And, that "something," appears to be a lack of critical thinking. Not that he can't do it, but, on occasion, he fails to do so.

Hence, the title of this post, based on my take on his blog about President Obama's income inequality speech. I don't see it as much more than White House boilerplate, but he gushes, including claiming it's so great precisely because D.C. Village media ignore it.

Let's take the last point first, to quickly dismiss it. The Village also ignores the Green Party, and even more various Socialist parties, but I didn't see you talking up Jill Stein in 2012 just because the Village ignored the Greens' presidential candidate.

But, let's get to the meat of my plaint, and why I see Pierce swimming in the Obamiacs' kiddie pool. (At least he didn't go in the adult area, at least not yet.) And, to do that, I direct you to the actual speech.

Nowhere in the speech does he say what he's going to do about about income inequality. And, nowhere in his blog post does Pierce mention that highly salient fact.

This is even as Obama pushes the Trans-Pacific Partnership.This is even as Obama is arguably as much a full-blown free trader as the Slickster and Shrub combined. And, that's Pierce's biggest failure on the piece.

Past issues that he's mentioned from previous eras in American history? 

Education: Obama fails to mention that he and many other neoliberals are OK with a big-business model of higher education that will likely only increase its cost for many Americans.

Unionism: Obama, like presidents both Republican and Democratic from Carter on, have done little to bolster private-sector unionization. Republicans have, as on many of these issues, been worse, but Democrats have generally been part of the problem, too.

Social Security: Obama and other neolibs want to raise the retirement age, use chained-CPI to reduce benefits hikes and more. So does the Catfood Commission Obama formed. So does the Center for American Progress Obama lauded at the start of his speech.

As for bits Obama does seem to propose? First, they're vague generalities, and second, most probably won't help.

Simplify the tax code: I saw nothing about making it more progressive. Ending any tax credits or exemptions that help corporations send jobs overseas is nice, but a drop in the bucket.

"A trade agenda that grows jobs": But, what jobs at what pay? We already have a trade agenda growing jobs at places like Amazon warehouses. If it does grow jobs at longshoreman-organized ports, Team Obama has been AWOL on supporting strikes by the various longshoremen's unions.

"Streamlining regulations": First, this is the stock neoliberal answer to "waste, fraud and abuse." Yes, there are government regulations that can be streamlined, but, by and large, this is a straw man.

"A responsible budget": What the hell? You don't get vaguer than that. Well, actually, the Catfood Commission IS less vague, and a true liberal doesn't want that, do they, Mr. Jemmy Pierce?

Jobs stuff: ENDA and the Paycheck Non-Discrimination Act are "nice." But, they're more special interest civil liberties shout-outs to LGBT and women than they are about labor issues in general.

Minimum wage: Real stuff. But, why didn't Congressional Dems, including you, then-Sen. Obama, hike it even more than you actually did, in 2007? Why didn't you index its future growth to inflation? Will you do that now? Give the minimum wage a COLA?

"Promise Zones": Yes, my skepticism in politics sometimes veers close to cynicism, but this sure sounds like a neolib version of enterprise zones. 

In short, typical neoliberalism. No grand vision, no great new ideas. Just market-based nibbling around the edges. I mean, Pierce even admits that about the start of the speech. For some reason, though, he seems to think there's something drastically new about the second two-thirds, and there just ain't.

Now, on to a couple of other issues with Mr. Pierce, in which I may get a bit more snarky yet. Head below the fold.

First, Charles, maybe Dear Leader's habit of controlling press coverage is part of why these things don't get covered more? 

And, if this speech is so great ... uh, then where was it, oh, say, three years ago? As for the second two-thirds being something new and grand? Charles, it's called Rose-Ex. Removes rose-colored tints from glasses in a jiffy.

Or, as I've told many a full-on Obamiac, either directly or in previous blog posts?

There's a great line from George W. Bush: "The soft bigotry of low expectations." And, it applies in spades to Obama. Just as is expanded in that large size pull quote up top.

But, more on Pierce's analysis:
The crash of 2008 was not inevitable. It had human causes that were very much avoidable.  
Ahh, yes. And Dear Leader has done little heavy lifting to try to make those causes avoidable. He's done a lot to keep them in place, though. Stiff-arming Paul Volcker. Throwing Elizabeth Warren's potential leadership of the Consumer Finance Protection Agency under the bus. And, that's just for starters. I already mentioned the Catfood Commission. Oh, and we can't forget that the once-styled Bush tax cuts are now the Obama tax cuts.

I will give Pierce one kudo at the end, that, for now, redeems him from having taken a swim in the adult pool. It's his last graf:
But, as we often say around here, faith without works, Mr. President. For example, the egregious Trans-Pacific Partnership is coming down the fast track. You can't find a better example of something aimed at enriching the people, and empowering the forces, that deliberately have engineered income inequality, or a better example of who engineered it and on whose behalf. Your move, Mr. President.

You could mention Keystone XL and other things, too, Charles.

But, "the egregious Trans-Pacific Partnership is coming down the fast track" is the wrong language. To use a turn of phrase you've probably styled somewhere, you wrote that in the "political passive voice." See, Charles, trains normally have engineers. This one does, and his name is Barack Obama. Until you get honest about that, we may have another excuse-making column in six months.

And,  per Jim Hightower, here's that freight train that Obama is driving. I want to pull quote one section:
Jobs. US corporations would get special foreign-investor protections to limit the cost and risk of relocating their factories to low-wage nations that sign onto this agreement. For example, an American corporation thinking about moving a factory would know it is guaranteed a sweetheart deal if it exports to a TPP nation like Vietnam. The corporation could skirt Vietnam's laws and demand compensation at an international tribunal for any government policy or action (such as a hike in the minimum wage) that undermined its "expected" profits. These guarantees would be strong incentives for corporate chieftains to export even more of our middle-class jobs.
So, there's talk, and then there's action.

Yes, it's nice that Obama is talking about income inequality. But why now? Probably because more and more others have already started, and speaking of trains, there's one he sees leaving the station and he doesn't want to miss it. It's called "Legacy Express."

And, I wish people would stop trying to defend him until he specifically renounces things like Keystone and the TPP. You're being enablers.

1 comment:

Randel said...

Much of your criticism of Obama and the Democrats is well founded but remember that we did not get here as a nation overnight. It took about 40 years or more so reversing the damage will be as slow and incremental. Compromise is incredibly difficult with this congress and likely the next so the grand plans of systemic overhaul are DOA. That is the reality we must deal with when it comes to reining in government and/or altering direction. At least we are all talking about it and that is the first step.