Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns



Michael Knox Beran writes that Obama has already begun the process of transforming our nation's institutions in a way that will be very difficult to reverse and that he is in a (potentially) strong position to block conservatives from undoing his work or (what would be even better) substituting their own reforms.  For all the talk of Obama being arrogant or obtuse (and his explanations for the widespread opposition to his policies are as self-serving as they are probably sincere), he is also a principled, determined, ambitious, and strategy-minded politician who holds some pretty good cards.  He isn't like Bill Clinton.  Clinton was willing to work with conservatives in order to maximize his approval ratings.  Obama is willing to trade a lower (but not too low of course) approval rating in return from passing (check) and then defending policies that transform the political economy of the country. 

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Discussions - 37 Comments

holds some pretty good cards.

The public sector deficit is 11% of domestic product, we are looking at Greek debt loads within five years, and the labor market is so badly injured that it could readily take fifteen years to heal. At the rate they are going, it will take commercial banks another two years and change to write down their sour loans even if there is no further deterioration in the quality of their loan portfolios (quite apart if they can recall just who owns the promissory notes on the loans they merely service). To what good cards are you referring?

He holds the veto pen, and he has a D senate to push through another SCOTUS nominee or two. Obamacare will not be repealed or defunded. The best the R House can do is slow down the lurch to the left. The only thing that'll really stop it is a complete financial meltdown.

No, that won't stop anything. A complete financial meltdown is a crisis and they will not let a good crisis go to waste. A complete financial meltdown -- runaway inflation, say, caused by the Fed. policy of ... what are they calling their inflation? Ah, quantitative easing -- is the perfect excuse to do more, not less.

Beran, who consistently delivers quality, has several key arguments. One of them briefly refers to the new Stanley Kurtz book, Radical-in-Chief, which decisively shows that our president, whatever he is now, which only he and God really knows, was for his entire adulthood and career up into the aughts a Democratic Socialist, and directly linked to the Michael Harrington organization of that name, the Democratic Socialists of America.

(BTW--Utter ignomious shame upon the MSM and the conservative media as well for not finding this out sooner.)

Many of us have the impression that as socialists go, Harrington was an admirable man, and that it would be unfair to simply categorize the DSA as socialist, given the common American understanding of the word, when it typically functioned as simply the lucid and economically-grounded part of the left wing of the Democratic Party. Similarly, we thought, the DSA always was stoutly committed to working within democratic rules, and eschewed the old nationalization-of-industry socialist line. Reading Kurtz's book begins to erode all those impressions--that is, a much more devious vision of "working within democratic rules" by most DSA-ers and their allies emerges, with (then? or still?) stealth socialist Barack right in the thick of the deviousness revealed.

One particular strategy Kurtz discusses is that of enacting "non-reformist reforms," such as those Beran links to Peter Dreier, a campagin advisor to Obama in 2008, and the author of a 1979 piece explicitly calling for democratic enactment of economic-crisis causing "reforms," that will thereby create greater class conflict and a greater demand for more and more government control of the economy.

1979 is a long time ago politically, a campaign advisor is a campagin advisor, and even half-way through Kurtz's book, I really do doubt that causing an ecnomic crisis is what Obama is after. Conservatives should proceed carefully here before making wild charges. My own hypothesis is that "stealth socialism" got Obama to where he is, but that for some time he has been ideologically adrift, grasping for a gradualism that is both pragmatic and democratic-socialism-bound in the long, long term.

But Kurtz's book is a bombshell...and it puts some of the wildest theories-of-Obama at least on the table of consideration.

You need to read it, and journalists need to start relentlessly asking Obama about it.

So what is it, another banking crisis or inflation?

I would think another crisis (there were four between September of 1929 and April of 1933; we have seen two thus far) would not enhance his standing to do more than propose ad hoc measures to address immediate problems. Our experience in the Fall of 2008 indicates that the default mode of our political class is mad improvising. I doubt B.O. would be of greater significance as a motor of events than was G.W. Bush during his last four months in office.

Given the quantum of balances due on underwater mortgages, a shot of inflation would be a good thing. Such has been recommended by Kenneth Rogoff, among others. Please note, the Federal Reserve has increased the size its balance sheet by $250 bn since June of 2009. The increase in consumer prices since then has been 1.27%. The capacity of the economy to absorb liquidity is abnormally high right now.

He will have 52 votes in the Senate. That is insufficient to break a fillibuster or even garner a hypothetical majority for his more gruesome nominees unless the Republican caucus elects to lie down as they did in 1993-94. I suspect Sen. Leahy's behavior in recent years has precluded that for a good long time.

His veto can prevent the legislation authorizing Obamacare from being repealed - for the next two years. It cannot induce appropriations, and the state of public finances. The thing is, the public finances of the United States are so precarious that actually implementing a new general entitlement three years down the road may prove impossible.

Pete has been entertaining this idea that the economy will simply begin a rapid expansion in the next couple of years a propos of nothing in particular. Wouldn't bet a brass farthing on that.

To induce a crisis which will provide additional pre-texts for extension of state control, he would need the co-operation of miscellaneous parties who have no history with Michael Harrington's crew. I cannot see Sheila Bair or Dr. Bernanke on board with that.

"A complete financial meltdown is a crisis and they will not let a good crisis go to waste."

I can't believe how the right makes such hay of Emanuel's (not very original) line. Well, I can believe it, but considering how 9/11 was exploited - and still continues to be - well, the shamelessness is really just hard to fathom.

It would be a different matter if such things were noted without the attitude of righteous disgust, but they're not.

AD, I only see the possibility of enough growth and perceived improvement of the labor market (not a return to mid-2007 conditions) that woud allow Obama to claim enough credit for recovery that he could win reelection under the somewhat different demographic conditions of 2012 (though not simply for reasons of demography.) I think that in the medium (as in over the next ten years) the combination of the size of the debt, and the reordering of interest group politics as a result of Obamacare, and the entitlement crisis, that the (not very) center-left could implement a set of policies that include the rationing of health care at all levels of the age distribution (though with the regular promises of how you will get all the health care you need) and primarily tax increases (though there are many ways the tax increases could be structured) as the main ways of bringing the debt under control

Uh huh.

1. What is the case now, and what was not necessarily the case 50 years ago, is that Congress is too sclerotic to get much of anything done (other than passing out bon bons) unless one party or the other has a considerable supermajority. Even under these circumstances, what gets accomplished is often messy and laden with all kinds of goodies for favored constituencies. You are positing a scenario which has the Democratic Party retaining the Presidency for the better part of a decade and re-acquiring supermajorities in Congress, something that has been the state of affairs for about six of the last 42 years. The only occasions in our history since 1792 where the public finances have been in the circumstances they are in today were during wars of national mobilization. The Roosevelt Administration was (prior to the war) a model of fiscal restraint compared to this crew. So, they trash the public finances and get to keep control of the whole ball of wax? You said it, not me.

2. Over the last eighty years, there has been precisely one occasion where an American President was returned to office under circumstances somewhat similar to those you describe. It occurred in 1948. The country did suffer a violent recession just after the 2d World War and was suffering considerable inflation as well. What we did not have was 10% unemployment, hundreds of distressed banks, and the looming danger of a sovereign default. And sorry, he ain't no Harry Truman.

Various and sundry parts of the Democratic Party (including Rahm Emmanuel, formerly an 'investment banker' with Wasserstein Perella) responded to our economic and financial problems by:

1. Concocting sweetheart deals with the United Auto Workers;

2. Refusing to implement debt-for-equity swaps to recapitalize the megabanks, distressed securities firms, or mortgage maws, instead partially nationalizing Citigroup, giving government guarantees to hundreds of billions in banks bonds, and committing the central government to financing the deficits of the mortgage maws indefinitely; there's a reason Messrs. Soros, Buffett, Blankfein, Rubin, and Dimon are all Democrats.

3. Spending over a year producing a bill revising the financial architecture of the United States and then producing at 2,000 page mess worked out by lobbyists debating in Barney Frank's office. The distinguishing feature of this mess is opaque rules from which officials (appointed by the likes of B.O. and Fwank) then grant you waivers. There's a reason Messrs. Soros, Buffett, Blankfein, Rubin, and Dimon are all Democrats.

4. Postponing serious action to improve financial architecture in order to implement another 1,000 page mess meant to 'correct' non-acute problems with health care finance, with the usual impositions-cum-waivers built in.

5. Eschewing any sort of fiscal stimulus that might be implemented rapidly (e.g. suspending the collection of payroll taxes) in favor of a $787 bn spending bill laden with material drawn from the extant wish lists on Democratic Party politicos.

6. Planning and implementing a 31% nominal increase in the central government's expenditures at a time when the nominal domestic product was likely to increase only by only 5% or so.

7. Raising the minimum wage and sticking means tests on mortgage modification programs guaranteed to induce a retreat from the labor market on the part of beneficiaries.

8. Attempting to put the Census Bureau under the supervision of political hacks.

Shameless, indeed.

AD, as to your point 1, actually I am arguing that unless Obamacare is repealed in short order, the seeming logic of our health care politics will be toward greater government control as a way to manage ever rising premiums. I also think that as a the debt becomes more obviously unsustainable a combination of tax increases, and government health care rationing (along with some cuts in discretionary spending) becomes more plausible under what would be called emergency conditions. I don't favor those policies of course. But that all assumes Obama gets reelected.

So as to your point 2: From your keyboard to the electorate's ears. But if the labor market seems to be moving in the right direction, beating Obama won't be easy. His job approval ratings are still around 45% under conditions that are not only lousy, but stagnant too. Things (I fear) don't have to improve much to make things easier on him. If things don't improve hardly at all or little or none of the public is at all impressed with a slow decline in the unemployment rate, then he probably loses to all but the most incompentent Republican opponent

Though I would add that I would (in theory) be for some tax increases if they were combined with certain health care reforms and paired with some kind of means-testing/raising the Social Security retirement age. But I don't think that is what Obama has in mind.

Look for no concessions from Obama. He'll work the PR machine to paint the conservatives as the "party of gridlock" and it'll gain traction. He'll work to replay the government shutdown of the Gingrich tenure with the hopes of the same effect.

We have an economy with anemic growth rates quite early in the business cycle. You are going to see only modest improvement in the level of revenue from that source, which means the deficit will have to be addressed by reductions in spending and tax increases, IF the political class is able to function. SInce the most recent Congress was unable to pass a budget resolution and Mr. Boehner is not a profile in courage, I would not bet on that.

An optimistic scenario is that the buffoons that rule us manage to contrive measures which close the deficit over four or five years. While Dr. Romer's research suggests that tax increases to close deficits are not particularly contractionary, neither are they stimulative. Dr. Rogoff has been telling anyone who would listen for two years that recessions borne of financial crises tend to have durable after effects. You are not going to have rapid growth in the coming years.

The pessimistic scenario is for a sovereign default and some sort of Argentine-scale economic implosion.

You do not recall, but should, that the healing of the British labor market after the recessions of 1979-82 took about 15 years or more and that unemployment rates reached their peak in the early months of 1986. The Democratic Party has done what it could to make employers risk-averse and price low-productivity labor out of the market.

All of which is to say that your speculations about the "logic of our " blah blah blah assume a context of normal politico-economic circumstances and the presence of the Democratic Party at the levers of power. The conjunction of both of these sets of circumstances is unlikely. The fiscal circumstances make this terra incognita.

As for the useless ephemera about B.O.'s approval rating: it is about where Mr. Bush's was in the wonderful month of September 2005; it is about as low as it ever got for Mr. Ford. Mr. Reagan's tenure saw a brief period in this zone, in late 1982. None of the foregoing were given kid-gloves treatment by any of the major media. The policy dilemmas he will face in the coming years will not induce any improvements in this sort of metric.

AD, I don't expect any significant tax increases in the next two years though they are probably coming. If the labor market gets worse or is merely flat (job growth just keeping up with population increase, but little or no decline in the unemployment rate) then Obama is in quite big trouble. Obama approval ratings are a little higher than Reagan's at the same period (though within the margin of error), but at least people in 1982 were seeing a drop in the previously very high inflation rate. Obama won't see the kind of growth that made it possible for Reagan to win a landslide, but modest growth will do to make his reelection quite possible - though not certain.

I agree with AD on most of this, but I agree with Pete that beating BO in 2012 will prove difficult -- indeed, impossible if we run another lame-ass candidate like Dole or McCain. Think about it. 45% approval under these conditions. The man isn't principled or savvy (he's an empty suit who simply lacks the imagination of Bill Clinton), but he's black and has a certain amount of structural charisma. His electorate is automatic, in other words.

It will take every soccer mom in the 'burbs to beat him, yea verily, even those who drive hybrids!

His electorate is automatic, in other words.

For some portion thereof, an expression of approval for B.O. is an affirmation of identity. Most voters have some sensitivity to social conditions, even if they do not evaluate them through the same prisms. It was the case a generation ago that the Democratic Party had a much larger core of loyalists than the Republican Party, with the latter performing better among voters not strongly aligned. I think at that time the core of the former was said to be about 18% of the electorate and the latter 9%. If that is still the case, the quantum of approval of B.O. among the fluid electorate is at this time as low as Mr. Reagan's ever was.

The other day I was reminded that if I put together a link-filled comment it does not appear. I was miffed, but that is not why I have not returned to this argument; I plead busyness.

To AD, I don't think we will see a banking crisis, but I do think we will see inflation. The Fed is worrying about how to force money into the markets (Why do they call it "hoarding"? Didn't that used to be called saving?) and today I heard on the radio news that people are not spending on their credit cards, but are trying to pay those off and this is a problem. I suppose if it gets bad enough (paying off expensive credit cards is bad?) credit card companies will begin to reduce rates again to entice us all to credit-buying. Of course, that would be helped by consumer confidence as in "I can spend this money now as I am sure to have the money for it later." which no one has.

Yes, the Fed has been inflating -- printing money like crazy -- to monetize the debt and I think America can take it. The rest of the world probably cannot and will have to inflate their currencies to keep up. Then where are we? Today, Kevin Warsh of the Fed. has an opinion piece in the WSJ calling for pro-growth economic policy. "I consider the FOMC's action as necessarily limited, circumscribed and subject to regular review. Policies should be altered if certain objectives are satisfied, purported benefits disappoint, or potential risks threaten to materialize. " They are gambling and they know it. The US economy does not function independently of the rest of the world. A weaker dollar has an effect, especially on economies that hold a lot of our dollars -- inflation pulls those into the market.

Ah, here is TOM LAURICELLA saying "The Fed, which controls the amount of money available in the country, essentially creates new dollars out of thin air and uses that money to buy existing U.S. Treasury bonds from investors. The move doesn't increase the government's debt. By increasing the amount of dollars in the economy, the Fed effectively dilutes the value of existing dollars -- creating inflation to fight deflation....[going to the conclusion] While a slow decline in the dollar can provide these opportunities, it's a different story should the dollar go into a free-fall. That could destabilize global financial markets."

There is a crisis.

Craig, my point is that for someone like Obama who already believes in government control of the economy and dislikes allowing the markets to find their own way, step one of the process -- printing money to pay for debt -- seems sensible. The consequences are not. If global financial markets are destabilized, is Obama going to say, "Oh, let' sit back and let the markets work this out." I don't think so. Do you?

See AD's comment for additional reasons why we might be skeptical if you said Obama & Co. are not opportunistic in pressing a leftist agenda.

The rest of the comments are very good speculation on political prospects on 2012 -- and who knows? I would only argue with Redwald about this: "I agree with Pete that beating BO in 2012 will prove difficult -- indeed, impossible if we run another lame-ass candidate like Dole or McCain." Does the GOP have another such candidate to offer? Who does the establishment GOP see as the guy whose "turn" it is in 2012?

he's black and has a certain amount of structural charisma. His electorate is automatic, in other words.

Yeah, sure - you're party's not made up of bigots. Not every black person votes for Obama, asshole. I'd be even more offended by your comment if I was one of them.

Silly black people - always voting so mindlessly . . .

Oops. I meant "your" in that first sentence. I'd hate to sound too ignorant . . .

Hmm...can't spell, and uses abusive language. Gee, I feel rebuked!

Listen, black people do vote mindlessly 90+% of the time. Not my fault, but it is a fact.

And you can peddle your epithets elsewhere. It's been a long time since I was sensitive to being called a "racist" or "bigot." When a group of people act/vote in such a monolithic way, it's not a stereotype, asshole.

When a group of people act/vote in such a monolithic way, it's not a stereotype, asshole.

Actually, it is. When you believe that you know something about individuals simply because they are a certain color, that is the definition of bigotry. Will it make you especially bothered if I, a black person, call you a moron? Will that sting more since I'm clearly not a thinker?

And how do you know their votes are "mindless"? You can't imagine any black people voting Democrat for policy reasons? Every one of them just votes for Obama because he is black?

This is why your party has no shot of winning over more black people - it is the party of racism against black people. I'm sure that most of the people in the Republican party and on this blog do not agree with Redwald, but he's part of your "movement" and you should be ashamed of it.

If I am not mistaken (the statistics are at the Federal Reserve site under 'Factors Affecting Reserve Balances'), little of the quantitative easing which has taken place has been in the form of purchasing Treasury issues (i.e. monetizing the federal debt). They purchased Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac issues because in the fall of 2008 the interest rates on Treasury issues made such issues nearly the equivalent of cash. Per Charles Calomiris, they also purchased the issues of structured investment vehicles of European banks.

I think Capt. McCain received about 2% of the black vote the last election. Since 1964 or therabouts, the norm has been around 10%.

While we are at it, why don't you elaborate on the logical steps you followed to get from point A (one man's complaint about the political culture of the black population) to point B ('your party's filled with bigots').

It might be advisable to distinguish between people who vote a particular way as an affirmation of identity
(atypical in this country at this time but commonly found in loci where you have severe communal distinctions - e.g. Ulster) and people who vote for the jumble of reasons commonly do (family history, economic interest, miscellaneous policy preference, &c). Even in my lifetime, our political parties were not strongly distinguised from each other as bearers of policy. Region and subculture and family history were the drivers of affiliation.

It ought be noted that around 3/4 of the public will tell the pollster they do not follow public affairs as a matter of course, many who do lack a framework to make much sense of the news they consume, and nearly all of us are ignorant of a wide swath of what it is useful to know about our public world. Those of us not motivated by communal affiliations are not necessarily all that mindful when we do vote.

While we are at it, why don't you elaborate on the logical steps you followed to get from point A (one man's complaint about the political culture of the black population) to point B ('your party's filled with bigots').

Sure, Art:

I thought I made it clear in my second post that I didn't think most Republicans were bigots. In the heat of the moment of my first post, I did make it seem like I thought that and I apologize.

My point is, the majority of white supremacists (the thoughtful Redwald included, of course) seem to align themselves politically with the Republican party.

My larger point to Redwald, and the point I think you were alluding to in your post to him, is that it is absolutely bigoted to assume that black people simply go out and vote for other black people thoughtlessly. That's racist bullshit (and if using that word gets this comment deleted quicker than Redwald's racist comment here on NLT, I will not be shocked).

Redwald does not think much of the political culture of the black population. How does than make him a 'white supremicist'? (Keep in mind, the discourse within the subcultures of which I am a part gets little respect from the political opposition and often little from putative allies).

Uh. Because he clearly thinks white voters are more thoughtful than black voters because they aren't black.

No, that is not what he argues. Redwald does not identify 'being black' as a causal force, but as a correlative indicator of a certain way of looking at the world.

Redwald is making an assessment of what motivates black voters on average and comparing that to the motors of the rest of the population. There are clearly systemic differences between what tends to motivate members of the subpopuation and what tends to motivate members of the general population. That he offers a negative assessment of the political culture and preferences of the black population does not make him an advocate of a society of caste-based orders. He is, in fact, a recognizable subtype of libertarian.

Thanks for the thoughtful defense, AD. This guy is as quick to label someone a racist as Pete. Still, I think people are sick and tired of being shellacked with such epithets every time they make any kind of half-way disparaging comment about this or that minority group's voting behavior. No one thinks twice about disparaging "Joe Six pack" or "rednecks" or "the religious Right" or any other group that hasn't been "mascotted" by the Left.

The fact is, we are finally moving into a "post-racial" America, but not the one the media and the Left imagines. It is increasingly OK to talk about racial matters in non-PC terms. Why? Because the majority of people (and even some people on the Left) are tired to death of racial whining and complaining. This country has gone far out of its way to address true racial/ethnic grievances, but the "grievance machine" has only ramped up its claims. That machine is no longer trying to solve real social problems, but rather has become a giant scam that tries to "guilt" people into doing things that are not in their legitimate best interest. Enough!

AD - You need to re-read those posts. Calling 90% of black voters "mindless" is stupid, ignorant, and racist. There was no discussion of motivation, because their only motivation was assumed to be their skin color.

Redwald - you can cry about the PC police all day, but it won't make your uneducated assumptions about black people any more palatable to reasonable citizens. The most serious problem of people over-using the term "racism" is that it gives real racists something to point to in order to defend themselves.

1. Again, and ascribed trait in and of itself is not a motor of someone's behavior, and Redwald never stated it was. An individual's understanding of the salience of that ascribed trait is a motor.

2. Again, there is such a thing as voting as an expression of communal affiliation. Ethnic particularism is a common feature of political life. The Unionist parties in Ulster are about the purest example. If you call this sort of balloting 'mindless', you are making a negative evaluation of this sort of political expression. You can make a case that this sort of political expression is congruent with a well ordered political life; I do not think most folk would find that case terribly cogent, but you can make that case. The thing is, the utility and disutility of communal voting is a subject of legitimate controversy.

3. I think Redwald has his proportions wrong. My guess would be that about two-thirds of the voting public in the black population vote communally. The Democratic Party has an advantage in the remainder (one might suggest) because the political economy of the black population and certain sorts of aesthetic preferences therein are systemically different from the majority. This has not always been the case. The observable voting behavior of blacks sixty years ago was similar to that of the general population.

4. Redwald and I disagree about most things. We are alike in one way: my opinions are treated with disrespect by the bien-pensants of this world and so are his. 'Fraid counter-complaints cut little ice with either one of us.

Mr. B.A., I'm pretty sure I have considerably more education that you do, on these issues as well as in general. Moreover, I'm likely to be older than you are, and thus more directly experienced in the ways of the American electorate.

As for stereotyping, etc., categorization is the way our minds work (just ask Steven Pinker). When 90% of something behaves a certain way, any unbiased human is likely to draw conclusions about the full 100%. Accurately predict a person's behavior 90% of the time based on a single attribute fully justifies a stereo-type. It's called should try it sometime.

Of course black folks don't vote for "Uncle Toms" in a lockstep manner, but that just reinforces the identity dynamic that is in operation. Indeed, black people who especially hate on people like Clarence Thomas are the true bigots. Since when does belonging to a special group of people REQUIRE a certain political philosophy? Only on the Left, and only among minorities.

Deal with it, jackass.

Heh. Well, here's hoping your racism dies with you, old man.

Name-calling, and now death-wishes. Man, you are a prize.

I hope you gain some wisdom as you age, sonny.

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