Why Did the President Cross the Road? To Kneel Before the Corporate Throne of the Chamber of Commerce
Editor's note: It's interesting how two analyses of the same event -- in this case President Barack Obama's speech to the Chamber of Commerce on Monday -- can be so different. In the article below, David Swanson interprets key portions of the President's speech as a capitulation to the Chamber and its right-wing agenda, especially when it comes to Obama's freezing domestic spending for the next 5 years. Obama appeared to blame entitlements for the deficit, and he avoided factoring in defense and military spending as potential solutions, even though the U.S. spends more on its military than the rest of the countries of the world combined.
Over in AlterNet's Hot News and Views, Jed Lewison, writing for the Daily Kos, strongly argued that Obama challenged the Chamber to support his agenda, and found his speech to be strong and heartening. We'll let you decide who you agree with.
Why did the President cross the road? To kneel before the corporate throne of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. And here's what he had to say there on Monday.
President Obama again stressed that he wanted to freeze non-war/military spending well into the next president's tenure:
"That's why I've proposed that we freeze annual domestic spending for the next five years. Understand what this means. This would reduce the deficit by more than $400 billion over the next decade, and bring this spending -- domestic discretionary spending -- down to the lowest share of our economy since Eisenhower was president. That was a long time ago."
President Obama again pretended that Social Security is breaking a budget that it is not in any way a part of, and that Social Security is in trouble. (In reality the damage he did to it a few months back could be repaired and more by simply requiring people with large incomes to pay in at the same rate as people with small ones):
"Because the driving force on our deficits are entitlements spending. And that's going to require both parties to work together, because those are some tough problems that we're going to have to solve. And I am eager to work with both parties and with the Chamber to take additional steps across the budget to put our nation on a sounder fiscal footing."
Which branch of the government is the Chamber exactly? I need one of those Constitutional refreshers that Congress attaches to bills now. And how can the Chamber support, i.e. destroy, Social Security or Medicare or Medicaid if it is not a branch of government?
Obama avoided, at least for a while, the topic of spending on that majority of the budget that goes to the military and wars, and which he has proposed not to freeze. There were more important matters to attend to first. Such as lowering corporate taxes (who knew there still were any?):
"Now, another barrier government can remove -- and I hear a lot about this from many of you -- is a burdensome corporate tax code with one of the highest rates in the world. You know how it goes: because of various loopholes and carve-outs that have built up over the years, some industries pay an average rate that is four or five times higher than others. Companies are taxed heavily for making investments with equity, yet the tax code actually pays companies to invest using leverage. As a result, you've got too many companies ending up making decisions based on what their tax director says instead of what their engineer designs or what their factories produce. And that puts our entire economy at a disadvantage. We need something smarter, something simpler, something fairer. That's why I want to lower the corporate rate and eliminate these loopholes to pay for it, so that it doesn't add a dime to our deficit. And I'm asking for your help in this fight. I think it can be done."
And removing regulations:
"Which brings me to the last barriers we're trying to remove, and those are outdated and unnecessary regulations. I've ordered a government-wide review, and if there are rules on the books that are needlessly stifling job creation and economic growth, we will fix them. Already we're dramatically cutting down on the paperwork that saddles businesses with huge administrative costs. We're improving the way FDA evaluates things like medical devices, to get innovative and lifesaving treatments to market faster. And the EPA, based on the need for further scientific analysis, delayed the greenhouse gas permitting rules for biomass."
Obama threw in praise for regulations along with his promise to reduce them. And then he came, in a roundabout way, to the topic of war:
"And I'm reminded, toward the end of the 1930s, amidst the Depression, the looming prospect of war, FDR, President Roosevelt, realized he would need to form a new partnership with business if we were going to become what he would later call the 'arsenal of democracy.' And as you can imagine, the relationship between the President and business leaders during the course of the Depression had been rocky at times. They'd grown somewhat fractured by the New Deal."
Somewhat fractured? Yes, I suppose an attempted coup qualifies. The funny thing is, though, that FDR did not propose any of the remedies laid out above. He did, however, spend tons and tons of public dollars on the military.
"Some, like the head of GM, hadn't previously known the President, and if anything had seen him as an adversary. But he gathered his family and he explained that he was going to head up what would become the War Production Board. . . . And in the years that followed, automobile factories converted to making planes and tanks. And corset factories made grenade belts. A toy company made compasses. A pinball machine maker turned out shells. 1941 would see the greatest expansion of manufacturing in the history of America. And not only did this help us win the war; it led to millions of new jobs and helped produce the great American middle class."
Never mind that investing in peaceful jobs would have produced more and better paying jobs. Obama's pretense that investing in war saved the economy illustrates where he is headed. If he wanted jobs he could invest in green energy or infrastructure or education and produce many more jobs with a broader impact on the whole economy. Instead he wants to turn plowshares into swords. He wants to push the war economy to the breaking point.
Obama could have walked a block east and visited the AFL-CIO, which would have gone right along with his agenda. But he didn't want to. He doesn't want unions interfering in the Chamber's winning of the future. He doesn't, in other words, want a middle class. He wants to be liked by the boys at the Chamber. He may even aspire to running the place someday. That vision might be characterized by some people as embodying the audacity of hope. I have other words for it.