New York Times: What the Hell is Obama Doing?

The ruse, it seems, is up for the New York Times, which on Sunday ran one of the most scathing liberal indictments of Barack Obama since 2008—written by Drew Westen, a progressive professor of psychology at Emory University. Titled "What Happened to Obama?," Westen shows how Obama's failure to address the working class in his inaugural speech fanned out into policy, including a series of decisions made under the guise of "compromise" that have gotten us where we are now. It's incredibly well written, and incredibly damning. To wit

When faced with the greatest economic crisis, the greatest levels of economic inequality, and the greatest levels of corporate influence on politics since the Depression, Barack Obama stared into the eyes of history and chose to avert his gaze. Instead of indicting the people whose recklessness wrecked the economy, he put them in charge of it. He never explained that decision to the public — a failure in storytelling as extraordinary as the failure in judgment behind it. Had the president chosen to bend the arc of history, he would have told the public the story of the destruction wrought by the dismantling of the New Deal regulations that had protected them for more than half a century. He would have offered them a counternarrative of how to fix the problem other than the politics of appeasement, one that emphasized creating economic demand and consumer confidence by putting consumers back to work. He would have had to stare down those who had wrecked the economy, and he would have had to tolerate their hatred if not welcome it. But the arc of his temperament just didn’t bend that far.

Westen argues that Obama's oft-cited brilliance at speechwriting isn't all that brilliant after all: that his failure to capture the American imagination, to get us on board with his more progressive policies are what helped lead him into the predicament where the Tea Party is pushing the narrative ever further right. But he doesn't let the Democrats in Congress off the hook, either:

To the average American, who was still staring into the abyss, the half-stimulus did nothing but prove that Ronald Reagan was right, that government is the problem. In fact, the average American had no idea what Democrats were trying to accomplish by deficit spending because no one bothered to explain it to them with the repetition and evocative imagery that our brains require to make an idea, particularly a paradoxical one, “stick.” Nor did anyone explain what health care reform was supposed to accomplish (other than the unbelievable and even more uninspiring claim that it would “bend the cost curve”), or why “credit card reform” had led to an increase in the interest rates they were already struggling to pay. Nor did anyone explain why saving the banks was such a priority, when saving the homes the banks were foreclosing didn’t seem to be. All Americans knew, and all they know today, is that they’re still unemployed, they’re still worried about how they’re going to pay their bills at the end of the month and their kids still can’t get a job. And now the Republicans are chipping away at unemployment insurance, and the president is making his usual impotent verbal exhortations after bargaining it away.


Like most Americans, at this point, I have no idea what Barack Obama — and by extension the party he leads — believes on virtually any issue.

So, is it a messaging problem? Westen seems to think so, but he also accuses the Administration of basing decisions on imprecise ideas of "centrism," and plunging average working Americans into the depths of the recession while working to amp its own re-election value.

Read it all right here.

AlterNet / By Julianne Escobedo Shepherd

Posted at August 8, 2011, 4:23am

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