Thursday, January 24, 2013


Much as I try to avoid Obama's speeches, somehow it all leaks in anyway. I think I've probably heard the whole thing by now just from listening to my favorite radio shows, read this or that snatch of it in the parade of blog posts and articles scattered around the net, and so on. Most everyone agrees that it was a surprisingly liberal speech, but some people appear to take this to mean that Obama will suddenly take off in a new direction toward the American mainstream. I don't think so, since for all his liberal-sounding phrases, his favorites still put in an appearance:
We understand that outworn programs are inadequate to the needs of our time. We must harness new ideas and technology to remake our government, revamp our tax code, reform our schools, and empower our citizens with the skills they need to work harder, learn more, and reach higher. But while the means will change, our purpose endures: a nation that rewards the effort and determination of every single American. That is what this moment requires. That is what will give real meaning to our creed.
This is the stuff he's been saying from the beginning. Experienced Obama-watchers recognize the codewords of his constant refrain about "outworn programs" as a dig at the Rooseveltian structure that, far from being outworn, served us very well until our legislators started chipping it away by a succession of antidemocratic "reforms". "Reform" itself is a word that has been transformed from corrective to destructive. Obama used phrases earlier that appeared to echo FDR's recognition that you can't have freedom without economic security and that programs like Social Security help supply that freedom. But Social Security is precisely the "outworn program" he means to "reform" until it offers no such security, no such freedom.

Many people were cheered by references to signal moments in the history of civil rights for blacks, gays, and women, but saying "Seneca Falls" does not change the fact that this president actually put the Hyde Amendment into his "signature" health care bill, even though he didn't have to - a slap in the face of women's autonomy and everyone's personal privacy and freedom.

David Brooks, of course, bemoaned the fact that Obama's speech wasn't free-market enough, although others figured it was plenty free-markety, as it obviously was. (In fact, if it hadn't been for all his favorite code-words, I would have thought that speech came from someone who actually understood what a real free market was, the way FDR understood it. But deregulating, privatizing and voucherizing everything in sight is not a free market, especially when you're granting special breaks, piles of taxpayer funding, and patent monopolies to pharmaceutical houses.)

Some were inspired by Obama's commandeering of Martin Luther King Day as his inaugural day even though his official inauguration was, as the law requires, the day before, and the nearness to the anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, so that Obama could stand astride the shoulders of two great men, at least one of whom opposed nearly everything that Obama has done during his time in national office. Sure, if equality means you don't have to be better than any white man to get the job, Obama is a wonderful symbol of equality, having proven to be at least as bad for us as his unsightly white predecessor. Wow, what a victory. But I do believe it would have served us better to have a Thurgood Marshall than a Barack Obama to play that role.

Yet Obama did, for the most part, make the case for liberalism, even though he spouted his usual nonsense along with it. Someone not looking for codewords heard that those 1930s solutions he deplores actually were good things (as they are!) and that we have freedom and innovation because of them. Sam Seder stressed this on his show, and clearly wished he could believe Obama meant those things - but he knows, and we know, that Obama is Obama, and he's famous for talking a good game and going in the opposite direction.

* * * * *

"Everything You Think You Know About Health Care Spending Is Wrong" - This is, unfortunately, Yglesias, who of course ruins it at the end with a nod to the imagined upside of overspending on health care without any apparent awareness that much of the overspending in question doesn't go toward innovation but rather to subsidizing an industry that price-gouges, and that other countries do lots of innovation, too, even though they don't overspend to the degree we do. But there's a nice, straightforward little graph showing that the Canadian taxpayer pays less than the American taxpayer does for maintaining their healthcare system, once again highlighting the ripoff of Americans by the collusion of corrupt officials and the price-gougers.

"Our Obama Bargain (Part 2 of 3)" - Still waiting to see if Perlstein is being coy or if he really doesn't get that Obama's moves look so nonsensical because he is playing for the other side.

Too Big To Jail? The Top 10 Civil Cases Against the Banks

A hot new magazine succeeds in its mission as a jargon-free Marxist publication: Jacobin.

Dean Baker says, "The Skills Shortage: It's on the Management Side."

When a Homeless Person Owns a Dog

The TRUTH About The Hostess Bankruptcy - my new video

Dean Baker, "Patent Monopolies Lead to Corruption, # 21,508."

Rick Perlstein remembers Dear Abby (and Ann Landers) as a liberal force for good.

Beyond Vietnam: A Time To Break The Silence

Janis - there's actually a picture here I hadn't seen before.


  1. Is "repressive tolerance" out of fashion?
    I avoided the Inauguration too, remembering the total Jekyll to Hyde transformation minutes after the last (brilliantly staged) one. But "Seneca Falls, Selma, Stonewall" don't threaten corporate hegemony. Obama's smarter than the Republicans, not that that's much, and has more emotional clarity. Equal pay for equal work doesn't lift starvation wages, voting rights are useless with nothing to vote for, and who else cares if {sexual bad word}s can visit each other in the hospital?

  2. "Yet Obama did, for the most part, make the case for liberalism,"

    Care to say what that is?
    Both Liberalism, and the case for it?

  3. Compare Greg Sargent (linked in the post):

    But Obama laid out an expansive philosophical blueprint today that liberals now have the opportunity to hold him to.

    to Glen Ford:

    Actuality, Obama embraced nothing: he merely peppered the speech with progressive buzzwords and references – just enough notes to get the faithful to fill in the empty spaces with their own internal music.

    Sargent illustrates Ford's point. An expansive philosophical blueprint? That must have been Sargent's internal music because every phrase I read was subject to interpretation, from spreading democracy to reforming schools. It's not enough to say we need collective action without defining what that means. (Great essay on what it means with regard to education policy )

    You can't wage a fight without taking realistic stock of the opposition.

    On another subject, Janis was lovely, wasn't she?

  4. Since the end of the "fiscal cliff" bullshit, and the republikan's unexpected caving/delaying on the debt ceiling, and with Obama's suddenly less threatening stance on cutting entitlements, I find myself not on the verge of rage so much lately. But I know we are not any safer this month than last. I think this just means that some sort of deal has been, or will be worked out and they plan to spring it on us really fast. If there is too much build up, there will be too much pressure on the pathetic "progressive" caucus to finally stand up (and mean it) to Obama. If they do it at the last minute, I think there won't be time for them to organize enough opposition. Not that they really want to oppose, they just don't want to be standing there with their dicks in their hands while the rest of us scream at them to *DO* something about that PO(TU)S.