|Senator Bernie Sanders (VT) President Dwight D. Eisenhower|
Some Reflections on Obama's State of the Union Address
The first article reproduced below reflects on the how Obama came across as so centerist last Wednesday ...and what the present redefinition of "center" seems to be.
The second one is a short video editorializing on portions of Obama's speach ...and wondering about the "state of the States" (which is clearly abysmal) and where the money will come from to revive them. The implied question is: If most of the 50 states are in a state of economic freefall and the Federal Government will not even loan them the money they need to continue functioning, how can one be at all optimistic about "The State of the Union"?
AlterNet / By Rachel Maddow
The huge ever rapid shift rightward makes Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon look like lefty radicals today.
January 28, 2011 | The following is a shortened version of Rachel Maddow's opening monologue from her show on Wednesday on MSNBC:
For the next hour, we begin with the president of the United States addressing the nation and calling for a massive investment in this country's infrastructure, rebuffing the idea of giant tax breaks for the richest Americans, and warning anyone who would dare touch Social Security to keep their hands off.
You want to talk about red meat for the base? Listen to some of the language the president used. "Workers have a right to organize into unions and to bargain collectively with their employers. And a strong, free labor movement is an invigorating and necessary part of our industrial society." Wow.
How about this one? "Only a fool would try to deprive working men and women of their right to join the union of their choice."
Listen to the way he goes after the right here. "Should any political party attempt to abolish Social Security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things, but their number is negligible and"--and the president says--"their number is negligible and they are stupid."
That is not what Barack Obama said last night. That is way to the left of any national Democrat at this point. That was all Republican President Dwight David Eisenhower. That was all the stuff he said when he was president.
Republican President Dwight Eisenhower, president when the top tax bracket for the richest people in this country was 92 percent. President Eisenhower defended that tax bracket. He said we cannot afford to reduce taxes until, quote, "the factors of income and outgo will be balanced." Eisenhower insisting there must be a balanced budget and that taxes on the rich are the way to balance it. Dwight Eisenhower, you know, noted leftist.
|Plots of income inequality (top) and marginal tax rate (bottom) added by blogger.|
The Republican Party platform of Eisenhower's 1956 called for expansion of Social Security, broadened unemployment insurance, better health protection for all of our people. It called for voting rights--full voting civil rights for D.C. It called for expanding the minimum wage to cover more workers. It called for improved job safety for workers, equal pay for workers regardless of sex.
This is the Republican Party circa 1956. The Republican Party.
The story of modern American politics writ large is the story of your father's and your grandfather's Republican Party now being way to the left of today's leftiest liberals [emphasis added]. If Dwight Eisenhower were running for office today, he would have to run, I'm guessing as an independent, and not as some Joe Lieberman, in between the parties, independent. He'd be a Bernie Sanders independent.
In 1982, who passed the largest peacetime tax increase in U.S. history? That would be Ronald Reagan.
Who called for comprehensive health reform legislation during in a State of the Union address in 1974, a program that was well to the left of what either Bill Clinton or Barack Obama ultimately proposed? That would be Richard Nixon.
Eisenhower and Reagan and Nixon--they were not the liberals of their day. They were the conservatives of their own time.
But the whole of American politics has shifted so far to the right in the last 50 years that what used to be thought of as conservative is now considered to be off-the-charts lefty.
Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens pointed out this whole phenomenon of American politics shifting to the right when he told "The New York times" this--he said, quote, "Including myself, every judge who's been appointed to the court since Lewis Powell in 1971 has been more conservative than his or her predecessor, except maybe Justice Ginsburg." That was the one exception he could come up with.
Over the past half a century, the center in American politics has gone further and further and further to the right. Halfway through Barack Obama's first term, his State of the Union address last night is being pretty universally hailed as centrist, as not too liberal, not too conservative, but right down the middle of American politics.
And that is something that Americans like to hear. The instant reaction polls to President Obama's speech last night were almost comically positive. CBS reported that 92 percent of the people who watched the speech approved of Mr. Obama's proposals, 92; CNN reporting that 84 percent of people had a positive response.
Those sorts of numbers do not happen in politics. Those are crazy numbers.
Historically, the process of a Democrat trying to find the center in politics has seen Democrats chasing the center as it moves to the right. The thing that's different about the left and the right in this country is that there isn't an equal and opposite force on the left that's anything like the conservative movement on the right. The conservative movement exists outside the Republican Party, and it serves to constantly pull the Republican Party further to the right.
So, when you have a president like Bill Clinton who found popular centrist decisions by splitting the difference between where the Republicans were and where the Democrats were, and the Republicans kept moving further to the right because they're being pulled there by the conservative movement, when you have a president who triangulates like that, what you end up with is a president who as a Democrat moves the country further to the right, because he shifts to the right every time he takes another centrist position.
Is President Obama doing the same thing?
The dynamics on the right are the same as they've ever been. The right word drift of Republican politics from Eisenhower to Nixon to Ford to Reagan to Bush, Sr. to Bush, Jr., it's less of a steady drift now than a fast rightward jerking motion. The rightward movement in Republican politics is going faster, I think, than it ever has before.
For example, George W. Bush, he ran for president on a platform of comprehensive immigration reform. He ran for president saying that he has supported the assault weapons ban. But by the time he was president, supporting the assault weapons ban was no longer all that tenable, so he let that ban expire. He did try for immigration reform, and then he abandoned it.
Then his entire party ran against him on it by the time they needed a new presidential nominee. It was a quick turnaround.
You know, it was only 2008 when John McCain and Sarah Palin ran for office by saying they supported a cap-and-trade energy program. Remember that? Cap-and-trade used to be their idea, used to be a Republican idea.
The individual mandate for health reform--that used to be a Republican idea.
The DREAM Act on immigration--that was sponsored by John McCain once upon a time. But by the time Democrats brought it up for a vote, John McCain had turned against his own idea. Why? Because Republican politics are jerking so fast to the right that Republicans are being forced to turn against their own policy positions when the new right wing position dictates it. They can't even keep up within their own careers.
On the right, the process that has dragged the political center to the point where Dwight Eisenhower would be denounced as a socialist now, Ronald Reagan wouldn't even pass a Republican purity test, he'd be the guy they excluded from the debates for being a wingnut, that process is still very much in tact. On the right, things are working sort of the way they always have, if not faster.
But heading into last night's State of the Union address, the question was: would President Obama continue to change Republicans to the right? There are two ways to approach this, right? There are two ways to claim the 92 percent instant approval rating of sounding like the man in the center.
One way is the Clintonian way--to let your policies just drift right because the Republicans drifted right, too.
But there's another way. A way we heard about last night. It is to claim the center, to claim the political spoils you get for sounding like you're in the center, that 92 percent CBS rating, right, but to put the center back vaguely somewhere where center actually is.
January 26, 2011
Big Question is the State of the States
Bob Pollin and Bill Fletcher: State of the Union featured clean energy but didn't address funding states and cities on verge of bankruptcy
JAY: If you put so much emphasis on education, and we know we're at a moment where states are going bankrupt or talking about going bankrupt--they're certainly in great fiscal crisis--and many states are cutting funding to municipalities, and thus laying off teachers. I mean, the educational system's in enormous crisis. It's not primarily, at least in the most urgent sense, a crisis of quality of teaching; it's a crisis of defunding, is it not?
FLETCHER: The point that he would not talk about, that we remain in this great recession, that we have millions of people out of work--. As you said, the states are facing the fiscal crises that are going to lead some to declare bankruptcy as a way of getting out of pension obligations and destroying unions. There was none of that urgency contained in his speech. It was as if that was not happening. So it was a speech that was, I think, aimed at making us feel that--particularly in the aftermath of Tuscon, that we actually can come together as a country and walk forward and figure out ways of problem-solving. That's sort of what I think that this, the objective of the speech, was. It was not about the kind of policies that we need fundamentally in the middle of this profound economic and [environmental] crisis.
JAY: But isn't that part of the problem, that if what they cooperate on (meaning "they", the Democratic leadership and the Republican leadership) is essentially a freeze in spending, more talk about debt cutting, and that the recession, the back of the recession's been broken, he says, very little talk about unemployment--I mean, if that's what the collaboration's about, then why is that good for the rest of us, Bob?
POLLIN: You're both absolutely right that the thing that was missing was discussion about solving the recession, which is still--may even be entering its most severe phase. When we talk about, as Bill just did, these reports that are coming out that state governments are contemplating declaring bankruptcy and breaking their pension fund obligations--which, by the way, in my view, is probably the worst outcome of the recession that I've heard about so far, if that's how far our political leaders are willing to go, as opposed to raising taxes on the rich. Now, there is a simple way to prevent that, which is to fund state governments, which is what we've been doing for the last two years. Revenue sharing to state and local governments have prevented these kinds of severe cuts thus far, including from my own institution where I'm sitting right now, UMass Amherst, which got a $50 million stimulus check. We need another one. And the alternative of cutting pensions and busting public-sector unions, which is a big story, right, was not discussed. And that's something that, you know, progressives in government and fighting in Washington are going to have to focus on quite strongly in the future. And it's true Obama left that out entirely from his discussion.
JAY: But isn't that the whole point of what's facing us now is that the economic crisis, the recession that, as you say, could be getting even worse--. I mean, this speech seemed to me designed to get a maximum amount of applause from both sides of the aisle.
FLETCHER: And the decision of this administration, particularly in the aftermath of the November elections, is to basically create a government of national unity. And this is exactly the wrong path that needs to be taken. It--even if Fox News is saying that they approved of the speech, that's what they're saying now, and in 12 hours they'll find something else to go after. The point is that the people that are watching this program and others need to realize that nothing short of mass movements is going to make any difference in terms of this, because this, the direction, the comfort level, the comfort level of this administration, is focused on trying to build some sort of rapprochement with the Republicans. And we're going to have to shake that up.
POLLIN: Now, are the Democrats willing to sit there and watch pension fund contracts get broken? I don't really know the answer to that, and I don't think any of us know that. The severity of the state and local budget crisis is just starting to happen because up to now the federal government has funded it through stimulus funds. But if we're going to start seeing cuts in pension funds, cuts to teachers, cuts to firefighters and cops, cuts to health-care workers immediately, and then the implications of that flowing through the community, I think we're going to see very quick sharpening of the debates around the things that really do matter in terms of the recession.
Robert Pollin is Professor of Economics and founding Co-Director of the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. His research centers on macroeconomics, conditions for low-wage workers in the U.S. and globally, the analysis of financial markets, and the economics of building a clean-energy economy in the U.S. Most recently, he co-authored the reports "Job Opportunities for the Green Economy" (June 2008) and "Green Recovery" (September 2008), exploring the broader economic benefits of large-scale investments in a clean-energy economy in the U.S. Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a columnist, activist, author and labor organizer. He is the Executive Editor of The Black Commentator and his newest book, cowritten with Fernando Gapasin, is entitled "Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path Toward Social Justice". He is the a cofounder of the Center for Labor Renewal, has served as President of TransAfrica Forum and was formerly the Education Director and later Assistant to the President of the AFL-CIO.