On Obama’s centrism

How might one make Obama’s reactionary economic policies appear reasonable? Achieving this would be a real trick since a reactionary politics is nearly unreasonable by definition. A transformation such as this requires a bit of magic. The trick: The magician needs to utter the words, “He’s a centrist” and “He’s a pragmatist,” and presto: The class warrior Barack Obama turns into the ‘savior’ of Social Security and Medicare!

The New York Times shows how it is done:

President Obama made no apparent headway on Monday in his attempt to forge a crisis-averting budget deal, but he put on full display his effort to position himself as a pragmatic centrist willing to confront both parties and address intractable problems.

At a news conference preceding the latest round of debt-reduction talks with Republican and Democratic Congressional leaders, Mr. Obama said he would not accept a temporary agreement to kick the problem down the road a few weeks or months.

He said that he was willing to take the heat from his own party to move beyond entrenched ideological positions and that Republicans should do the same. And he continued to insist on “the biggest deal possible,” saying that now is the best opportunity for the nation to address its long-term fiscal challenges.

Republicans dismissed his performance as political theater. But Mr. Obama’s remarks appeared to be aimed at independent voters as well as at Congressional leaders, and stood in contrast to the Republican focus on the party’s conservative base, both in the budget showdown and in presidential politics.

There is so much irony here. A part of it issues from the fact that Obama’s deficit politics sit to the right of those held by the Congressional Republicans (see this)! Lest we forget, Obama’s maximalist demands will, if realized, destroy the remnants of the New Deal and the Great Society. It is because of this that Obama is publicly redefining the party he leads! Obama is not seeking to implement structural reforms intended to benefit the “lesser people,” reforms that will actually maintain the integrity of America’s sparse social safety net by putting this net on a stronger fiscal foundation. Obama wants to implement an austerity program during an economic downturn. Even Lawrence Summers calls for another stimulus. Barack Obama, the transformational President, is now pushing the Reagan Revolution closer to completion.

The irony increases in intensity because the Deficit Crisis is nonsense. The United States has a demand constrained economy. Aggregate demand today will not prompt investment in the real economy, thus triggering job growth. If investors lack confidence in anything, it is because they believe — correctly! — that markets do and will not exist for the goods they would produce if they were to invest in the real economy. Therefore, at this very moment, the Federal government ought to increase the deficit by implementing programs meant to pull the economic system it governs out of its slide back into recession. Obama, as we have seen, will have none of that. He wants to give away the store, to enrich his rentier benefactors. He also wants to degrade further the conditions of labor in this country by securing a high-unemployment, low-wage labor market. This is a political decision. It is one that he has made. And we know he made this decision because his administration now has a contractionary fiscal policy, and a policy such as this lacks an antidote to the unemployment crisis. But the social problems caused by a high-unemployment, low-wage economy which also lacks a welfare state able to secure the well-being of those entitled to its benefits do not trouble Obama. I would guess he believes their solution will come sometime in the future, perhaps not long after a single-payer system comes on line.

A final irony, as I see it, is this: The Republicans and the Tea Party crazies are, at best, impediments to achieving Obama’s great reactionary political cause. They mostly seem to be stalking horses Obama uses to achieve the policies he wants. This is, as Elich points out, “Class war without mercy.” It is a war of choice for Barack Obama.

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