Glenn Greenwald: Why Do We Assume Obama's Actually Trying to Enact a Progressive Agenda?
Continued from previous page
That tactic in the context of economic policy has the added benefit of keeping corporate and banking money on Obama's side (where it overwhelmingly was in 2008), or at least preventing a massive influx to GOP coffers. And just look at the team of economic advisers surrounding Obama from the start: does anyone think that Bill Daley, Tim Geithner and his army of Rubin acolytes and former Goldman Sachs executives are sitting around in rooms desperately trying to prevent budget cuts and entitlement "reforms"?
Why would Obama possibly want to do anything different? Why would he possibly want a major political war over the debt ceiling where he looks like a divisive figure and looks to be opposing budget cuts? Why would he possibly want to draw a line in the sand defending Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security from any "reforms"? There would be only two reasons to do any of that: (1) fear that he would lose too much of his base if he compromised with the GOP in these areas, or (2) a genuine conviction that such compromises are morally or economically intolerable. Since he so plainly lacks both -- a fear of losing the base or genuine convictions about this or anything else -- there's simply nothing to drive him to fight for those outcomes.
Like most first-term Presidents after two years, Obama is preoccupied with his re-election, and perceives -- not unreasonably -- that that goal is best accomplished by adopting GOP policies. The only factor that could subvert that political calculation -- fear that he could go too far and cause Democratic voters not to support him -- is a fear that he simply does not have: probably for good reason. In fact, not only does Obama not fear alienating progressive supporters, the White House seems to view that alienation as a positive, as it only serves to bolster Obama's above-it-all, centrist credentials. Here's what CNN's White House Correspondent Ed Henry and Gloria Borger said last night about the upcoming fight over entitlements and the debt ceiling:
Henry: I was talking to a senior Democrat who advises the White House, outside the White House today who was saying look, every time this president sits down with Speaker Boehner, to Gloria's point about negotiating skills, the president seems to give up another 5 billion dollars, 10 billion dollars, 20 billions dollars. It' s like the spending cuts keep going up. If you think about where the congressional Democrats started a couple of months ago they were talking about no spending cuts on the table. It keeps going up.
But this president has a much different reality than congressional Democrats.
Borger (sagely): Right.
Henry: He's going for re-election, him going to the middle and having liberal Democrats mad at him is not a bad thing.
That's why I experience such cognitive dissonance when I read all of these laments from liberal pundits that Obama isn't pursuing the right negotiating tactics, that he's not being as shrewd as he should be. He's pursuing exactly the right negotiating tactics and is being extremely shrewd -- he just doesn't want the same results that these liberal pundits want and which they like to imagine the President wants, too. He's not trying to prevent budget cuts or entitlement reforms; he wants exactly those things because of how politically beneficial they are to him -- to say nothing of whether he agrees with them on the merits.
When I first began blogging five years ago, I used to write posts like that all the time. I'd lament that Democrats weren't more effectively opposing Bush/Cheney National Security State policies or defending civil liberties. I'd attribute those failures to poor strategizing or a lack of political courage and write post after post urging them to adopt better tactics to enable better outcomes or be more politically "strong." But then I realized that they weren't poor tacticians getting stuck with results they hated. They simply weren't interested in generating the same outcomes as the ones I wanted.