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Hope vs. Change: Why Some Democrats Are Turning on Obama’s Legacy

POSTED BY: SIGNYM
UPDATED: Wednesday, January 16, 2019 20:04
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Wednesday, January 16, 2019 4:13 PM

SIGNYM

I believe in solving problems, not sharing them.


Reported at ZH, originally from Vanity Fair

Quote:

If no one seems to care that Elizabeth Warren has made her candidacy for president semi-official, let it also be said that no one seems to care that Joe Biden is about to do the same. As the public’s attention starts to focus on the primaries of 2020—God, didn’t we just do this?—many Democrats are acting as if Donald Trump, who’s having a good day when his approval ratings stay in the 40s, would beat most of the field. Maybe that’s because they’re still recovering from the shock of 2016. But maybe it’s more serious than that. If today’s Democrats can’t beat Trump, then maybe Hillary Clinton wasn’t as bad a candidate as her critics claimed. And if Clinton wasn’t the problem, then what was the problem? Such questions are behind a recent spike of debates on the left over Barack Obama’s record. More and more voices seem to be saying, either obliquely or bluntly, that Obama was a bad president.

Certainly, almost anyone on the left will agree that Obama was preferable to his Republican opponents. If they object to how Obama handled issues such as health care, finance capitalism, immigration, economic stimulus, trade, or war and peace, it’s not because they feel a Republican president would have been better. That makes it tempting to say that Obama is being criticized only for pushing insufficiently to the left, settling for the Affordable Care Act rather than Medicare for All or a stimulus package under a trillion dollars rather than one twice that size. But such an explanation tends to assume a difference of degree rather than kind, with Obama dwelling in a more purplish spot than his bluer critics. In reality, the categories that matter as much as left and right are those of establishment and radical. Obama’s record of siding reliably with the former at a time when the zeitgeist had come to favor the latter is the source of much of the tension over his legacy.

The categories of establishment and radical are tricky to define, except to say that the former wishes to preserve much of the status quo, while the latter seeks more fundamental change. If one side is full of people with opinions on how to set the dials, the other is full of people who say we need a new instrumental panel. This creates interesting alliances of left and right, ones that are less a union of extremes—a product of what political scientists call “horseshoe theory”—and more a union of dissent. A radical is not an extremist, necessarily. It’s someone who believes the fundamentals are flawed.

Many of the disputes between today’s establishment and its radicals are merely continuations of where we were about 25 years ago. When Bill Clinton intervened in the war over Kosovo, in 1999, the establishment center supported him, while the outer bands of right and left opposed it. Similarly, trade agreements such as NAFTA in 1993 and GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) in 1994, passed on the strength of a broad center, while Democrats and Republicans on the edges voted no. On immigration, the center took a high-influx view while the disruptors took a more restrictive one. On business policy, the establishment center supported things like the Export-Import Bank of the United States, while the left and right radicals deplored it as a special interest or, as a candidate named Barack Obama would one day put it, corporate welfare.

Several factors reduced the urgency of these divisions for about a decade. One was blistering economic growth in the late 1990s. Another was a reasonably harmonious world. Then came 9/11, which reshuffled everything but also caused the right (with plucky exceptions such as Ron Paul and the founders of The American Conservative) to put aside internal disputes and, for the most part, fall in line behind George W. Bush. After the failures of Iraq and other Bush policies, though, the divisions roared back to life. If there was a crystallizing moment, it was when Wall Street as we knew it was about to collapse. In the eyes of the establishment, left and right, an unforeseeable real-estate crash had threatened the survival of the country’s vibrant financial sector and, with it, the wallets and neighborhood A.T.M.s of every American. In the eyes of the radicals, our financial sector was an out-of-control predator built on a rotten edifice that was finally about to crumble. Its collapse wasn’t the threat; it was the cure. For the first time in years, an immense policy question was breaking out not between parties but within them. Among both Democrats and Republicans, an establishment wing was supporting the bailouts, while the radical wing was opposing them.

This was Obama’s moment of truth, and it happened months before he was elected. Would presidential candidate Barack Obama side with the radicals? Much of his campaign rhetoric suggested he would. Or would he side with the establishment? Again, much of his campaign rhetoric suggested he would.

When Obama appointed Geithner was an indication of which way he would go. But then he buckled on healthcare, went on a nation-destroying spree, and shredded the Constitution more than Bush.
Quote:

We all know how he chose, and people will long debate whether it was right or wrong. Siding with the establishment certainly earned him plenty of defenders, and it was the safer choice. But it also came at great cost. Only one Wall Street executive ever went to prison for his part in the financial crisis. For millions of Americans, any residual trust in the competence and integrity of the ruling class was lost, and Obama had become part of the problem.

From that point on, it was predictable that Obama, when forced to choose, would side with the establishment. Those who knew best told him to send a surge of troops to Afghanistan, so he did it. They told him to keep the records of detainee abuse under Bush concealed, so he hid them. They said that nationalizing the banks or prosecuting the executives would be too risky, so he avoided it. They said that our trade agreements enriched the nation, so he promoted them. They called him callous when he originally refused to intervene in Libya, so he toppled its leader.

Many of these positions, welcome as they were within the Beltway, were out of sync with the mood of the country. In the 1990s, the radicals had been on the fringes, but that was no longer the case after 2008. An anti-war and anti-corporatist message sent Ron Paul riding surprisingly high in 2012, and a filibuster by Rand Paul in 2015 over the issue of drone strikes prompted even Democrats to deploy the #StandWithRand hashtag. Tea Party Republicans began to team up with Democratic union members to oppose Obama’s trade deals. Fury over the bank bailouts made its way into the congressional campaigns of Republicans and Democrats alike.

Let's not forget the Occupy movement.

Quote:

Where does this leave us, and what does it portend for Democrats in 2020? On the one hand, it’s unfair to call Barack Obama an establishment president,
No, it's extremely fair, because it's accurate
Quote:

with all the status-quo overtones of the term. He gave us the Affordable Care Act, the stimulus, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform, an executive action for Dreamers, the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” a nuclear deal with Iran, diplomatic relations with Cuba, a climate deal in Paris, a New START treaty, a reform of student-loan programs, and two liberal Supreme Court appointments.

On the other hand, many of the country’s most ominous trends proceeded apace under his watch. The financialization of the economy kept increasing. Student debt kept exploding. Trade policy kept its same priorities. Opioid addiction kept spreading. Suicide numbers kept rising. Disparities in life expectancy between rich and poor kept widening. Union membership kept declining. Illegal border-crossers kept coming. Our defense commitments kept growing. In towns like Jasper, Indiana, and Mebane, North Carolina, factory workers—a hundred here, a couple of hundred there—kept losing their middle-class jobs, outcompeted by giant Chinese mills with appalling conditions.

The concise and indispensable new book The Nationalist Revival, by the left-leaning John B. Judis, contains one especially haunting statistic: 3.4 million jobs lost to the growth of trade with China since 2001, when China joined the World Trade Organization. For many of these forgotten Americans, Obama’s final State of the Union address lauding a manufacturing surge rang hollow, and so did his vision of making “change work for us, always extending America’s promise outward, to the next frontier, to more people.” They had already heard, many times, that “they may have to retool, they may have to re-train.” It was Bill Clinton, still a canny reader of the public, at times, who had to observe that “millions of people look at that pretty picture of America he painted and they cannot find themselves in it.”

Radicalism deferred was radicalism intensified. Donald Trump is failing in countless ways, but he is, if nothing else, a radical—so much so that telling him he can’t do something makes him likelier to do it. Elizabeth Warren is betting that voters will see her as a radical, even though she’ll have to embrace Obama’s record along with her own. Joe Biden is betting that Americans are done with Trump’s experiment and wish to return to the establishment. Other Democrats, such as Cory Booker and Kamala Harris and Beto O’Rourke, seem to be betting on a bit of both—establishment-friendly economics and radical-friendly social views—assisted by charisma, youth, and identity. Each bet could win or lose, because Trump is a wild card. Still, while revolution must give way to a new establishment eventually, the mood doesn’t seem to favor it yet, and our shifts are still ongoing. (Just look at Tucker Carlson’s recent monologue attacking our ruling class and its quest to “make the world safe for banking.” Much of it could have been delivered by Bernie Sanders.) You could say Obama spent eight years deferring a radical disruption. His tragedy is that he could have led it.


https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2019/01/why-democrats-are-turning-on-o
bamas-legacy

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Wednesday, January 16, 2019 4:31 PM

CAPTAINCRUNCH

... stay crunchy...


Obama should be impeached, NOW!

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Wednesday, January 16, 2019 7:51 PM

REAVERFAN


I think he wanted to live through both terms.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2019 8:02 PM

6IXSTRINGJACK

[/i]


Quote:

Originally posted by captaincrunch:
Obama should be impeached, NOW!



Remember you said that.

If fff.net is still around in 2026 I'll say it about Trump then.

Do Right, Be Right. :)

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Wednesday, January 16, 2019 8:04 PM

6IXSTRINGJACK

[/i]


Quote:

Originally posted by SIGNYM:
Reported at ZH, originally from Vanity Fair



I don't know why you do that Sigs. I mean, I do, but you have to know by now that they automatically tune out when they hear ZH.

They might have actually read it.

If vox or motherjones is cited I automatically tune out too. At least nobody here ever quotes buzzfeed news.

Do Right, Be Right. :)

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