Barack Obama and the debate
It’s a truly remarkable thing that a country so clearly poised four years ago to make a clear break from almost 40 years of neoliberalism is within striking distance of electing the most right wing neoliberal Republican ticket since at least Herbert Hoover.
The high point for the vast majority of Americans in this century was the 1960’s and early 70’s, the culmination of a democratic struggle that began many decades earlier. Neoliberalism is nothing if not a direct attack against those gains. And it’s been quite successful: median wages are lower and dramatically so if related to actual per capita GDP growth, Social Security benefits are lower, Medicare is under a potentially fatal attack, pensions are gone, unions are a neutered force, job insecurity is higher, poverty is rampant in every city in the country, inequality of income and wealth is at historic highs, tax rates on top incomes are at historic lows, and un/under employment is at obscene levels.
Neoliberalism was on its death bed in 2008 and we must single out Barack Obama as its key resuscitator. Like Clinton before him, he was seen by those in power as a talented salesman for the status quo. No space need be taken here to highlight the utter failure of his administration as a progressive force. We need only note that he ruled as a center-right Republican and has shown himself to be devoid of any worthwhile ideas to help the majority. In fact, his only real proposal is to actually attack them further by cutting “entitlements” and federal spending, all while making only modest increases in individual taxes and cutting corporate rates. His Bowles-Simpson committee even proposes to reduce tax rates from where they are today.
I can’t help but think that his pathetic performance in the debate last night is just his normal behavior when meeting with Republicans. Behind closed doors, we know he’s eager to negotiate away critical programs and accept their framing of issues; in a public debate though it’s a bit more difficult of a situation. How can one be both a populist and a center-right Republican at the same time? Clinton was often able to pull this off, but he’s proven to be the most talented of con men. What we saw last night may simply be the public display of the angst that must surround the hypocrisy of the persona of Barack Obama.
The Mike Norman Economics site has posted a revealing video of a JFK speech in which he energetically defends “entitlement” programs and the importance of progress. It demonstrates how different things were in the 60’s and how absent in today’s neoliberal world is any similarly powerful voice for the great majority. “Barak Obama…you’re no JFK!” it notes. I couldn’t agree more.