December
10th 2010
Shockholm Syndrome

Posted under: American history, unhappy endings, wankers

Robert Kuttner writes at The American Prospect:

It was nothing short of astonishing to see Obama, at his surprise press conference Tuesday, with harsher words for members of his own party than for Republicans. It is the Republicans, after all, who have been blocking his efforts, wall-to-wall, while liberal Democrats have been his staunchest if often exasperated supporters.

Also rather surprising was Obama’s misreading of his own incrementalist beliefs into the history of Social Security and Medicare. It’s factually incorrect, contrary to the president’s assertions, that Social Security began as help for “widows and orphans.” The basic provisions of Social Security, as a retirement benefit for workers, was right in the original 1935 legislation. The first retiree began collecting benefits in 1939, a necessary delay while the program accumulated funds. And Medicare, despite Obama’s misunderstanding of its history, was legislated as a full-blown program of health insurance for the elderly in 1964.

Seriously?  Which sentient adults are really shocked, shocked” that Barack Obama has more contempt for the Left than the Right?  Surely not anyone who paid attention to his 2007-08 campaign or anyone who’s picked up a newspaper pretty much any day since his inauguration.  Praising Ronald Reagan as “transformative” during the 2008 primaries?  Check.  Winning all of the Red State caucuses while losing every closed primary in Rust Belt/Big Labor/Big Dem states, even after “the math” said Hillary Clinton couldn’t win the nomination?  Check.  Larry Summers and Timmy Geithner still have jobs in the Obama administration*, and tens of millions of worthy Americans don’t have jobs at all?  Checkaroonie!  Continuations of George W. Bush’s wars in Afghanistan, on “terror,” and on the Fourth Amendment?  Check, check, and check.  Continuations of Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell, the 2001 Bush tax cuts for bazillionaires, and the for-profit health “insurance” industry?  Checkcheckcheck. 

The only thing that’s shocking to me is that “liberal Democrats have been his staunchest if often exasperated supporters.”  (That’s been pretty shocking now going on three years, so I guess you could say I’m just benumbed by the shock at this point.)  It’s like the Left picked an alcoholic father who was clearly an abusive drunk all along, and now it’s crying itselt to sleep every night wondering why Daddy is so mean and why Daddy isn’t the Daddy it wants him to be.

I’m really uninterested in the debates on the left about Obama these days, which boil down to arguments as to whether he’s evil or stupid, or quite possibly both.  What’s in his mind or his heart doesn’t matter, although it may be of interest to historians after the fact.  Campaigns are about language and character and promises, but Presidents are ultimately judged by what they do.  Their priorities are clearly visible through their works, not their words, and not their stated intentions.

By now, we’ve got a pretty good idea about Barack Obama’s priorities, and they’re not the priorities of the American Left.

(*Yes, I know that Summers is on his way out, but because he resigned, not because he was given the gate.)

26 Comments »

26 Responses to “Shockholm Syndrome”

  1. Western Dave on 10 Dec 2010 at 8:37 am #

    It’s not factually incorrect to say that the origins of social security are rooted in helping widows and orphans. Theda Skocpol and others have explored this pretty fully. Social Security did represent a shift away from the federal government just helping widows and orphans. Otherwise, what you said.

  2. koshem Bos on 10 Dec 2010 at 9:32 am #

    The niceties of SS and Medicare notwithstanding, I totally agree that by June 2008 we knew that the guy is fishy and by August we learned that he is a cheat and a racist. It went downhill since then.

    “By now, we’ve got a pretty good idea about Barack Obama’s priorities, and they’re not the priorities of the American Left.” I would drop the word ‘left’. Obama is a major danger to the country as a whole. As said, he is both evil and stupid, as well as arrogant. God help America.

  3. Roxie on 10 Dec 2010 at 9:44 am #

    From the cranky broads who still have a Hillary bumper sticker on one of their cars: If you are “astonished,” sweet pea, you really have not been paying attention.

  4. Historiann on 10 Dec 2010 at 9:58 am #

    koshem Bos–how is it that Obama is racist? I don’t get that.

    I heard two excerpts from an NPR interview with Obama this morning. Here are his thoughts on the longer-term issue of paying down the national debt:

    OBAMA: I think there’s going to have to be a fundamentally different approach to things. And I described earlier what I think that approach has to be. It’s not an issue of big government versus small government. It’s an issue of smart government.

    . . . . .

    And under that category, I’d put things like research and development, education, making sure that we’re sending our kids to college, rebuilding our infrastructure to compete on the 21st century, making sure that this country is safe.

    The other stuff, then, we have to debate and figure out, can we get by with a little bit less in some of these other spending categories? And that’s going to be a tough discussion, but it’s one I’m confident we can have.

    Notice what didn’t get mentioned in the “necessary” category: Social Security. As we like to say around here: awesome!!!

  5. rustonite on 10 Dec 2010 at 10:34 am #

    ::sigh:: it’s frustrating. I never had a choice about voting for him- I was living in a late primary state, so he was the candidate by then, and then what was I going to do? Vote socialist?

  6. GayProf on 10 Dec 2010 at 11:09 am #

    I don’t think Obama is either evil or stupid, but he lacked experience. It turns out, that is kinda important. As a result, he (like Bush, Jr.) surrounded himself with “experts” who convince him of things that he has no choice but to believe. But, hey, according to Obama, Summers did “a heck of job.”

  7. Indyanna on 10 Dec 2010 at 11:35 am #

    I agree with GayProf. I said during the 2008 campaign that Obama would be a great Democratic president. Beginning in January, 2017. After spending some time in the D-league. But nooooo, this was a heaven sent historically transformative moment, so we had to start a rookie. The proverbial Old Coach was never wrong about the incidence, and the cost, of the proverbial “rookie mistakes.”

    @ Roxie: I’ve still got my Hillary sign up so high up on my office window that I can’t dare climb that far anymore, so I guess it will just stay there until the cardboard self-composts. Or I can get a winter weatherization rebate, whichever comes first!

    Today’s front-page in the NYT makes it sound like he’s pushing toward a “flat tax” scheme, because businesses are saying they can’t stay globally competitive if they’re spending all their time looking for individual deductions. Neither can I.

  8. Profane on 10 Dec 2010 at 12:00 pm #

    Hmmm. So how is the New Boss different from the Old boss? The only significant things that spring to mind are that he is a greater spendthrift, and a greater advocate of corporate welfare. UGH.

  9. a little night musing on 10 Dec 2010 at 1:06 pm #

    rustonite, I don’t understand your comment. Hillary Clinton ran in ALL the primaries, early and late. Remember “Why won’t that stupid b*tch quit”? Remember the RFK smear? Heck, she even ran in Puerto Rico! Obama wasn’t the nominee until after the convention anyway. So what prevented you from voting for her, or someone else?

  10. a little night musing on 10 Dec 2010 at 1:11 pm #

    Oh, I didn’t intend to be still obsessing over the primaries…

    I wanted to reiterate what Koshem Bos said in the second paragraph. The poll mentioned by Krugman today* says that Obama’s priorities are not the priorities of the American people as a whole, not just the left. (And the populace, if you ask about specific policy, is always more Left than I realize or than the MSM likes to present it.)

    * http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/12/10/so-you-say-you-have-a-democracy/

  11. Comrade PhysioProf on 10 Dec 2010 at 4:57 pm #

    Keeping with the alcoholic daddy metaphor, my view is that the left is now in the position of the child of an alcoholic daddy who is kind of mean and never brings home any toys or candy, but whose mommy tells to be nice to daddy, because otherwise current alcoholic daddy is gonna leave, and the new alcoholic daddy is gonna not just be kind of mean when he gets drunk and not bring home any toys or candy, but is gonna beat the living shit out of you and kick you out of the house.

  12. truffula on 10 Dec 2010 at 5:24 pm #

    It’s not an issue of big government versus small government. It’s an issue of smart government.

    Oh gag me with a spoon.

  13. comparatrice on 10 Dec 2010 at 6:20 pm #

    It’s like the Left picked an alcoholic father who was clearly an abusive drunk all along, and now it’s crying itselt to sleep every night wondering why Daddy is so mean and why Daddy isn’t the Daddy it wants him to be.

    I do agree with your overall point, but that’s a hell of a mixed metaphor. What kid picks his/her father? I’m more on board with CPP’s amendment: the existence of a second abusive parent (the political leadership/Very Serious People) to stick the kid with the first makes more sense. Still — being born to abusive parents is not anything like electing an official, nor is it really the same as identifying with your captor. If you’re peeved at the Left for their words and actions, why portray them as victims? Can you think of a real-life situation where a person culpably chooses that sort of victimization? I’m trying, but the “victim” and “blameworthy” poles keep skidding apart…

  14. KC on 10 Dec 2010 at 7:03 pm #

    The stuff that bothers the American “left” is really small stuff, in the grand scheme of things. I mean, really, really, small stuff. Getting agitated about whether tax rates for the top bracket will be at Bush-level or Clinton-level for the next 2 years is just extremely pedantic and, in the larger picture, completely unimportant.

    Why is the left more agitated about tax rates than about the impact of American empire around the globe? Because like everyone else in this country they are caught up in partisan bullshit. It’s both narcissistic and pathetic.

    And before anyone says that the left cares about those other things too, I call bullshit. It took this tax cut deal to get people talking about primarying Obama. It took the tax cut deal to get “progressive” Democrats to issue letters denouncing the deal. This whole faux-scandal just confirms that all the American “left” really cares about is protecting the supposedly beleaguered, suffering “middle class.” They don’t give a shit about anyone other than themselves, and their ideological “purity” on this issue doesn’t impress anyone other than themselves.

    Yes, I’m bitter. Sorry for the language. Needed to vent. Thanks.

  15. Z on 10 Dec 2010 at 9:39 pm #

    Well, he’s weak and under heavy pressure, and so on, and conservative. I’ve said before many times, I think the O vs HRC debate is hair splitting; perhaps that is why people are so passionate about it. I am with KC on this and I really had thought O would be a little less imperialist than he is and I took his invocation of Reagan as rhetorical, although I was disabused of these notion as soon as he made his VP and cabinet choices. But my point is, what KC said.

    I also have an idea: could Obama and Biden reregister as Republicans for the next election? Then there would be respectable Republican candidates, comparatively speaking, and the Democrats would have to offer a serious alternative. I realize this is a fantasy, but…?

  16. Indyanna on 10 Dec 2010 at 10:20 pm #

    I think Fratguy called it a year or maybe two years ago when invoked the image of Jimmy Carter. He *may* be as philosophically conservative as he often seems to be these days, or possibly just trying to co-opt the omnipresent “middle” of the American political road, confident that most of the people will eventually meet him there. But from a lot of what I see he just seems to be in over his head and too early, kind of like a Harvard Law Review editor trying to win complex litigation in his first year out of school while figuring out what “discovery” is; something I imagine is not the biggest thing they study up there in Cantabrigia. Hope I’m right, because in that case he might pull out of it. I don’t see any Ronald Reagan’s on the horizon on the other side of the aisle.

  17. Charlie on 11 Dec 2010 at 8:17 am #

    Obama is clearly disappointed that it’s come to this–he’s been reusing the phrase “tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires” all year. So when he cut this noxious but necessary deal, and then sees supporters accuse him of being a sell-out when clearly he swallowed a very bitter pill, I think he got miffed. I honestly can’t blame him. I think he made the best of a terrible situation that was largely created by Republican mendacity and Democratic cowardice in Congress.

    I think a significant portion of the left has, perhaps in response to all the abuses of executive power during the Bush years, developed a hugely inflated notion of presidential power. Many complaints about Obama assume he has powers that are more likely found in comic books than the Constitution. Why didn’t the mighty Obama flatten the health care lobby and all of K Street with his super-breath a declare single payer law of the land instead of passing a bill that offers the existing health care players significant incentives not to destroy it? Why didn’t the mighty Obama wave his magical bully pulpit wand and convert the minds of a terrible cadre of center-right Senate Dems and House Blue Dogs towards supporting more progressive bills ?

    Look, there is a lot to criticize the president about. His too-small initial stimulus, his prolonging of the Afghan War, his glacial pace on closing Guantanamo, and his delay on DADT. But in light of all the structural disfunction and corruption of our system, his first term is packed with extraordinary accomplishments.

    Within my own family, Obama has made a real difference in our lives. My sister, who has MS, no longer has to worry that losing her job means losing her health care thanks to her pre-existing condition, and she can be thankful that Obama has lifted the Bush-era funding restrictions on stem cell research. My brother, who was days away from being laid off as an architect, found a new job working with an engineering firm tasked with major stimulus projects.

    In less than two years, Obama has built a legislative legacy that dwarfs Bill Clinton’s. Indeed, many Clinton fans seem to have forgotten that Hillary was the top advisor of the President who enacted Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, who signed the Defense of Marriage Act, who supported and signed Welfare “Reform,” who supported and signed the gutting of Glass-Steagall and a host of other deregulation and corporate welfare bills. Bill Clinton’s greatest accomplishment was being lucky enough to take office at the dawn of a major tech boom and a global economic expansion. Obama had no such luck.

    You disillusioned progressives don’t have to love Obama or even like him, but it’s clearly in your interest to support him, and maybe, just occasionally, respect him.

  18. Historiann on 11 Dec 2010 at 9:08 am #

    Sorry, Charlie: I don’t truck with lectures about how it’s “in [my] interest” to give any pol my support or respect. I’m so over the Democratic party.

    The strong presidency has been growing for the better part of a century at this point. George W. Bush and Dick Cheney understood this and leveraged a loss in the popular vote and 50-50 control of the U.S. Senate to get exactly what they wanted in Bush’s first term. As Indyanna said, this guy is clearly over his head and (I would add) has no theory of how to use Presidential power outside of coasting on his own “awesomeness.”

    And if you really think this is the “best of a terrible situation,” then I can’t help you. When even Congressional Dems are in revolt and showing more spine than Obama, that’s an index of just how incredibly craptastic Obama’s fold really was.

  19. m Andrea on 11 Dec 2010 at 9:44 am #

    KC, if it’s “pathetic” that the Left care about tax cuts, isn’t it also “pathetic” that the Right does as well? According to your argument, shouldn’t republicans just stop worrying about what liberals want to do regarding tax cuts when republicans should be worrying about situations around the globe?

    And, yanno, since the republicans shouldn’t care, then why are they making such a fuss by deliberating preventing democrates from doing what they want?

    And what, precisely, is your alternative to “caring about the middle class”? Caring about the ogliarchy instead?

    In other words, you’re concern trolling.

  20. Charlie on 11 Dec 2010 at 9:45 am #

    My apologies for the long comment, Historiann, and I’m sorry if it came off as a lecture. I feel as passionately about this as you obviously do. I really enjoy this blog and its commenting community (been a faithful lurker for a while now), but I felt compelled to present the case for Obama here. I shudder to think what the future would be like for my sister without HCR or my brother without the stimulus. And my own experiences make me all the more sympathetic for those with far less resources or luck than my family, whose unemployment insurance had run out and who could desperately use the payroll tax cut that Obama negotiated for.

  21. KC on 11 Dec 2010 at 10:15 am #

    m Andrea,

    Absolutely it is pathetic that the right cares about tax cuts. But everyone knows that the right is basically insane right now, and that the left are the only reasonable people left in the room. (Thus you get events like the “Rally to Restore Sanity” some weeks back, where a bunch of young people on the Left tried to position themselves as the only reasonable people left in American politics.)

    I am just sick and tired of rhetoric about the poor, beleaguered middle class. It’s a joke. I’m in the middle class, and I know it’s a joke. The middle class is the recipient of a lot of welfare, in the form of tax credits for home buyers and mortgage payments, etc. At the same time, in the last 15-20 years, Democrats have been all too willing to gut much of the safety net that is in place for the lower class. But more importantly, Democrats are also all too willing and eager to advance the interests of the American middle class over the interests of poor people around the globe. Because I would argue it is a fact that in this age of global capitalism, the “lower class” has been exported to Third World countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and elsewhere. There are now real borders between classes, because of the way global capitalism works. And Democratic policies (see for instance the existence of farm subsidies) protect American interests while doing tremendous harm to the poor in countries throughout the world.

    So I for one just find it absolutely grotesque that the American left wants to draw a line in the sand NOW, because tax cuts that the middle class enjoy are being kept for the upper class as well for another two years. It is this, and not the farm subsidies, or use of drones in Afghanistan, or even America’s absurdly horrible prison system, the largest in the world, and one that has clearly become a weapon against African Americans, among others, that gets the left upset. It’s absolutely disgusting and endlessly pathetic. And what it shows, in my mind, is that at the end of the day, Democrats, including those on the left, aren’t so very different from Republicans, or those on the right. If the end of the left’s rope is a two-year tax cut extension for those making over $250,000, well count me as being among those that, looking at the larger problems facing the world, simply doesn’t care.

  22. Historiann on 11 Dec 2010 at 11:04 am #

    KC–it seems to me like you’re conflating the Democratic party with the left. I think the only way for the left to survive is for it to detangle itself from the Dems, which clearly have more in common with Republicans than with the actual left.

    Agree with you too on the disappearance of the poor from our political conversations. But the last president to talk openly about the poor was Lyndon Johnson, and the last prominent politician to talk about the poor (“Two Americas”) was John Edwards. And look how far that got him! (I’m not saying it’s right, I’m just explaining the political calculations of our times.)

    Finally, tax policy is very important in making other reforms possible. Just search OBRA on this blog or on TalkLeft for a little refresher on the OBRA of 1993 and the stimulus it provided for the economy in the 1990s. I agree with Big Tent Democrat: that was the most progressive legislation passed by any Prez since LBJ.

  23. LadyProf on 11 Dec 2010 at 12:07 pm #

    Well, Charlie, what did all those campaign promises mean to you back in 2008? While campaigning, a politician says he will close Guantanamo, get rid of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, include a public option for health care reform, abolish the Conscience Clause, on and on, up to this week’s tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires that Obama RAN AGAINST, and you took him to be saying … what? “Maybe I’ll do pwoggy things sometime, if Republicans don’t mind?”

    And I’m puzzled by your advice to readers of this blog that we should smile and feel thankful for all Obama has achieved. Why? What does that attitude achieve when we’re dealing with a politician who continually blows off the left? Shouldn’t we influence his calculations by making him worry about alienating us?

    Thanks for those gratuitous slurs on Obama’s primary opponent, blaming her for the shortcomings of her husband. At least that politician knew what she was up against. She would have had a lot of difficulty governing, but she would not have confused compromise with crapped-out capitulation.

  24. Historiann on 11 Dec 2010 at 2:21 pm #

    Clearly, we’re too stupid to understand what’s right for us. American politicians (and their surrogates) always get lots votes by lecturing us that we’re too dumb to grasp the awesomeness of their achievements.

    That worked out just great for Obama and the Dems last month, didn’t it?

  25. Charlie on 11 Dec 2010 at 2:53 pm #

    Historiann and LadyProf, I really don’t want to fight about this. I apologize if my own little rant was condescending. That wasn’t my intention, though rereading it, I can see how it reads like that. I think most liberal people are feeling pretty lousy these days. We all have some general frustration because things are so shitty and our system feels so broken. But I’m sure we likely agree on what we’d like the future to look like, though we may see different paths for getting there.

  26. Z on 12 Dec 2010 at 9:16 pm #

    Well, I don’t like Obama, but I’m glad we don’t have McCain, and if we had HRC I don’t know that things would be all that different, and I’d also not like it and yet be glad we didn’t have McCain. It’s the Patriot Act that bothers me the most. But Bill Clinton was another Republican in Democrat clothing, and none of this is entirely new as has been pointed out up thread.

    I voted for Obama this time but I often vote third party for President and people often tell me how irresponsible this is. But I really think it is time to get another party. The Republicans have gone crazy and the Democrats have staked out their old position. So, what to do? Various new parties have started up and withered in the past few years.

    Is it suicidal to say the word socialist? My mother votes PFP: http://peaceandfreedom.org/home/

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