My thoughts on Obama calling GOP bluff on debt, crumbling of Democratic liberalism, Immelt and Chamber of Commerce whining about “certainty” and Cisco firing people to grow profits >> If you want to receive my adVantage Points every weekday morning in your inbox, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Debt Talks Display Crumbling Of Democratic Liberalism
Raising the debt ceiling has absolutely nothing to do with future spending. In fact, in a sputtering economy where the private sector is sitting on record profits and capital reserves but not creating jobs, government spending that creates jobs rebuilding infrastructure and educating the next generation is the solution, not the problem. That Democrats are helping kill government investment, instead of defending it, is a nod to the long-term victory of conservative ideology over liberalism.
Obama Should Call Republicans’ Bluff – story
If Republicans refuse to raise taxes even modestly on the couple hundred Americans who are faring damn well in this economy, Obama should call their bluff and use his Constitutional power to honor our nation’s debts anyway — and impeaching the Republican leadership for violating their oath of office to uphold the Constitution.
Jobs vs. Profits: Cisco Considering Layoffs To Boost Earnings - story
These are the CEOs who need more tax breaks! Conservatives heralding the allegedly-free market as the fabled savior of both millionaires and working stiffs should take note that big business, left to its own devices, will very often chose profits over people. But hey, I’m sure that with real unemployment at 20%, those Cisco employees will have no problem finding new jobs — maybe making parts for corporate jets?
If you’re like me, you often find yourself in a room of supposedly well-meaning liberals who say things from time to time that make you cringe. Often, they’re blatantly racist or anti-immigrant jabs carefully disguised to seem merely classist. But often, it’s conversation in the form of complaint—an attempt to deny that many of us are, in fact, the oppressor by one-upping each with evidence of our own supposed oppression.
“I had to drive around for 40 minutes to find parking.”
“My iPhone is running way too slow now with all the apps I have installed.”
“We were planning a trip to Paris but the Euro is just way too strong.”
Think of these as modern versions of “Good help is so hard to find.” And though they make me cringe, I’ve said them too. Chances are, if you’re reading this post, at least one or two have crossed your lips…
Such problems, a friend recently suggested, are not in fact problems at all. They are pribbles—problems of a privileged existence. Those of us who live in socio-economic bubbles think they’re real problems because, other than on CNN, we very rarely come face-to-face with any real problems in our lives.
That’s not to say that privileged people can’t have real problems. Serious illness. Getting fired. Anything involving a sex tape. In fact, the pribbleness (yes, it works as an adjective) of other such events in life is patent when confronted with real problems.
If you’re still not sure of the difference, let’s look at a few examples:
Pribble: I don’t have the right bottle of wine to go with my dinner.
Problem: I don’t have dinner.
Pribble: My kid is getting a B- in pre-calculus at school.
Problem: My kid is getting jacked by a junior high gang at school.
Pribble: I bought too much tequila on vacation in Mexico and can’t fit it in my suitcase.
Problem: I don’t have enough money to pay the coyote who smuggled me across the border in his suitcase.
I’m not entirely sure how to end this post on a succinct and witty note. Fortunately, that’s just a pribble…
It is impossible to turn on the television or open a newspaper today without apocalyptic speculation on the status of Obama’s presidency. The opinion media, pack animals that they are, have latched on to the storyline that stalled health care reform plus Massachusetts election results plus a still-sputtering economy means the White House is stumbling. But what’s more noteworthy than the media blowing a story out of proportion to have something dramatic to talk about is the fact that liberals seem to also be piling on to the narrative.
Once afraid to criticize the White House lest they be disinvited from the cocktail parties or Common Purpose meetings, even the usually tow-the-line liberals are now sharpening their elbows (see, e.g., this, this and this). Freud would call this transference. In lemming-like fashion, the liberalati are joining the chorus undermining Obama to distract attention from where the fault really lies. Let’s look in the mirror and acknowledge what is really happening…
Liberals failed to build any real power in the period leading up to Obama’s election.
While it’s fair to say that liberals laid the moral and political groundwork for Obama to win, he mostly won on his own — thanks to the unpopularity of Bush, the faltering economy and an unprecedented grassroots organizing effort the Obama campaign built largely on its own. With a few exceptions like MoveOn and SEIU, which did genuinely offer some muscle that helped Obama to victory, the rest of the left had little practical claim on Obama’s presidency. So any seats at the table the left were given stemmed from the benevolence of the White House not the demands of powerful constituencies. And the nature of any power—but especially false, illusory power we don’t feel we have a legitimate claim to—is that it creates a desperate insecurity. You don’t want to do anything to jeopardize your seat.
It’s not surprising that it is only now that Obama seems on the ropes—and thus the seat at the table depreciating in value—that more liberal leaders are stepping out to critique Obama. But to the extent their criticism isn’t about opportunism but genuinely holding the White House accountable to the best interests of the majority of Americans, it’s too little, too late.
Liberal interest groups have lacked the audacity and ideology to channel the frustrated, populist majority.
Even without any nuts-and-bolts role in the election of Obama, the left could have projected itself as the rightful representative of the majority of Americans. But that would have required believing that (a) the majority of Americans support bold ideas for changes to our economic and political system (which poll after poll shows they do — for instance) and (b) liberals are ideologically and morally positioned to lead that majority. Therein lies the rub. In 1980, when Ronald Reagan was elected, “born-again” Christians represented at most 15% of the electorate. And despite the fact that Reagan won mostly because Carter lost (evangelicals had previously backed Carter by a four-to-one margin), Jerry Falwell and other leaders of the evangelical movement boldly claimed to represent a governing majority in the wake of the election (i.e., “Moral Majority”). Their audacity became one of the most successful self-fulfilling prophecies in recent political history and re-shaped our legislative and cultural landscape, despite the fact that fundamentalist Christians were not and have never been a majority of Americans.
On the other hand, the majority of Americans think our economy is working for the elite but not for working people, that we need health care reform and financial regulations and government investment to spur recovery, that the interests of communities should be balanced against the tyranny of big business. While it’s far time we get beyond the false dichotomy of right-versus-left, the kinds of policies average Americans are clamoring for are most commonly identified with classic liberalism. And liberals and Democrats are championing these policies, they’re just doing so in an apologetic, cautious way. Imagine if Democrats and liberal interest groups had acted from the get-go as though most Americans support bold health care reform. Do you really think we’d have the cobbled-together, compromise-destroyed policies now stalling in Congress?
The Tea Party movement swayed political power not because it actually represented the majority of Americans (witness the poor turnout at the national conference) but because they projected such power. Meanwhile, liberals actually represent the majority but are failing to rhetorically and demonstratively connect with the populist masses. Maybe its because we’re afraid we can’t explain our failed attempts at centrist accommodation, including policies that got our country into the mess we’re in. Perhaps it’s because liberals are psychologically accustomed to being underdogs. I’m not sure. But what worked for Obama in the election was that he spoke from his heart and articulated his hopes and dreams as the hopes and dreams of the nation. That’s Obama at his best. Rather than critiquing the President for when he falters from his heights, the left should aspire to replicate anything close to moral leadership.
The original phrase, “the winter of our discontent,” comes from Shakespeare. In Richard III, Shakespeare characterized King Richard as a deeply negative, even malevolent character. It turns out, this was just a dramatic plot device, to make Shakespeare’s story work. Rising liberal discontent with Obama may serve the same purpose—to further our convenient narrative in which the left is righteous and effective but not victorious because of the failure of forces beyond our own control. Good grist for the talking heads in the media. But not helpful for a movement in need of deep self-criticism and self-correction.
Some of you know that I’m writing a chapter on “radical equality” for Michael Edwards‘ forthcoming Oxford Handbook on Civil Society. So I had reason to bone up on civil society theory, including public sphere theory — the idea, credited to Jurgen Habermas, that the point of non-governmental, not-for-profit associational life is for the public to engage in robust conversation and debate that, in a participatory way, ultimately shapes government and the market. Sort of like dinner table conversation shapes how family members operate during the day at work and at school, the moral rules they agree to follow together, etc.
Anyway, I came across a wonderful piece from the feminist scholar Nancy Fraser. She critiques Habermas’ idea that, even though there is inequality in society, we can ignore such inequality in the public sphere because, supposedly, we have some higher, shared goal of equality. Fraser delivers the best argument I’ve ever read of why minority voices are easily marginalized in majoritarian contexts. It’s not lame or apologetic, just sensible. Writing of Habermas’ time (but equally applicable today), Fraser writes:
Discursive interaction within the bourgeois public sphere was governed by protocols of style and decorum that were themselves correlates and markers of status inequality. These functioned informally to marginalize women and members of the plebeian class and to prevent them from participating as peers. Here we are talking about informal impediments to participatory parity that can persist even after everyone is formally and legally licensed to participate.
In other words, culture discriminates — and cultural biases reproduce inequality.
I have always thought that the difference between conservativism and liberalism is that while conservativism denies that unjust inequality exists (any inequality that is acknowledged is merely the just by-product of differential effort or talent), liberalism acknowledges the theoretical existence of inequality while denying it matters in practice. Liberalism assumes that political systems can offer after-the-fact correctives to inequality; that we can achieve a just society not by eliminating inequality itself but by ameliorating its effects. Fraser has sharp elbows on this point:
Liberal political theory assumes that it is possible to organize a democratic form of political life on the basis of socio-economic and socio-sexual structures that generate systemic inequalities.
Take the current financial crisis. Liberalism seeks to put Scotch tape on the fault lines of capitalism through which poor and, increasingly, working class families fall. Radical progressive politics seek to change the fundamentals of our economy so that no one systematically falls in the first place. Important distinction.
Anyway, I recommend the article: http://www.apass.be/dpt/APT/3564-rethinking_the_public_sphere.pdf
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