In Salon.com, David Daley interviews Thomas Frank, author of “What’s the Matter With Kansas” and “Pity the Billionaire.” Frank now calls President Obama’s leadership a “dramatic failure” that fell far short of his campaign rhetoric and blames his “conciliatory nature for a first term that looked like Bush’s third.” While Mr. Frank is not the first nor will he be the last to proclaim his disillusionment, his particular complaints are fascinating in their cognitive dissonance; all the more significant since Frank’s work was something of a rallying cry against a new conservative movement:
[He] makes the case that Obama’s conciliatory nature has been a tragic flaw, one exploited by conservatives in Congress again and again. But he also argues that Obama has “enthusiastically adopted” the ideas of the right when it comes to deficit spending, Wall Street regulation, torture policies, healthcare and more.
Bingo. But compromise and enthusiasm do not belong in the same sentence. One cannot be both “conciliatory” and “enthusiastic” in adopting the policies of a predecessor, particularly one whom the President condemns on a daily basis and blames for all our ills. Frank also complains that for all President Obama’s “outreach,” and his “bowing to their household Gods,” Republicans have depicted him as “a socialist and a radical leftist.” That much is true, but isn’t this just part of the Kabuki Theatre we have come to expect from both parties? How serious is either side about helping the people on Main Street? Demagoguery is much more practical for their purposes. Exploit our fears to fill their coffers.
Frank writes that “What Barack Obama has saved is a bankrupt elite that by all means should have met its end back in 2009. He came to the White House amid circumstances similar to 1933, but proceeded to rule like Herbert Hoover.”
While Mr. Frank is quick to note there are differences between the Obama and Bush presidencies regarding Iraq (yet Obama adhered to Bush’s withdrawal timeline), how the stimulus was handled, the Labor Dept., and the EPA, Frank feels Obama failed because he did not tackle the economic crisis as Roosevelt would have:
There was a real failure of imagination throughout his presidency. The bailouts, the differences between Obama and Bush on the bailouts are insignificant. Obama deliberately went way out of his way to signal continuity on that front, which was probably the most important issue of them all. The bailouts have been (this is the sort of original sin that is dragging him down) the thing that has been most unpopular.
A failure of imagination? How about inexperience. You can’t know what you don’t know. How could anyone with only two years in the Senate, even with the best of intentions, be expected to have any clue how to solve the nation’s problems, or have the discernment to gather the proper actors who would know.
Frank also claims that Obama’s announcement that he was willing to negotiate with Republicans cut his own legs out from under him:
“[Obama is] an intellectually committed conciliator. He’s a philosophical believer in bipartisanship.”
Oh? Frank’s assertion flies in the face of Obama’s saying “Well, I won” to Republicans two days after he was inaugurated, or later summoning Paul Ryan only to single him out and shame him before Congress. Even President Obama admitted after the first year of his Presidency that his votes had been strictly along party lines. Doesn’t sound bipartisan to me – neither does his telling Republicans to sit at the back of the bus and be quiet.
Let us say, for the sake of argument, that Bush not only got us into a mess with two wars but that Republicans in Congress were wrong in everything they did. Mr. Obama is still the President of all of us, Dems, Repubs and Indies – not just the people who voted for him. The insults he dished out are personal to people on the ground who did not get us into this mess. They did not deserve to be disrespected or punished. Arrogance is not a good substitution for leadership.
But Frank insists that Obama has been “conciliatory.” Bear with me, I am harping on this word for a reason. Frank states:
Reaching across the aisle and making friends with the other side is in some ways precisely the wrong thing for the moment. The public is in the throws of this revolt against elites, and against insiders. Against Wall Street insiders, Washington insiders, whatever you want to call it. And this is both left and right; this is Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party movement. And here’s Obama saying, you know, if we just put experts in charge they’ll fix everything, and we all need to get together here in Washington and fix everything. It’s exactly the wrong message for the moment.
The worst part of it is that he didn’t seal the deal after he won in 2008. He did not want to talk about the economy and what went wrong; he did not want to talk about what went wrong with the Bush administration, and you think of all of the sort of regulatory disasters … You want to talk about what went wrong, about the people regulating Wall Street, and you couldn’t have an easier way of making that case about regulatory capture. You look at these agencies, who was in them, who was in charge of them, who they answer to, and they’re filled with lobbyists from the financial industry. It was open and shut. He doesn’t want to go back and talk about it.
Then you have the oil spill disaster, where the regulators were, again, asleep — completely missed it. Another perfect example, perfect object lesson for him to go back and talk about what’s wrong with the regulatory state. He never does. And this is something where protesters on both the left and right are talking about regulatory capture now, and about the insiders ruling the country. Everybody is talking about this—except for him. He let that victory just slip through his fingers because he doesn’t want to go and speak about the dark side of people’s suspicions. He wants to remain cheery and upbeat.
And the coup de grace…
Every financial commentator of the last 20 years was proven to be an ass; Alan Greenspan and all of them, looked like fools. All the people who were put in charge, all the people who were on the Op-Ed pages, like the New York Times, all the popular financial books, everything. I thought that we really had arrived at a kind of day of reckoning, and here was Barack Obama to make it happen. You think back to the 1930s, and there was this huge intellectual shift. It wasn’t just political, it was intellectual, in the academy and in magazines, everywhere you looked, in the way people felt about the economy. And that didn’t happen this time. All those people who were so badly discredited, they hung on. They’re still there; they got to keep those jobs. They just went from the old administration to the new one. He just brought in a couple of Clinton retreads and even a couple of Bush retreads, and they just kept going. There was no fallout for these people. There were no consequences for these people.
Frank is right. There were no consequences, but if he wants to blame that on the fact that Obama was “conciliatory,” this is likewise hogwash. He cannot admit that Obama is beholden to the ruling class and never wanted to “defeat them” as Mr. Frank puts it.
President Obama is keeping a lot of these actors in place because he got big contributions from them. This is not just about being “conciliatory” for its own sake or as a governing philosophy. Otherwise these Wall St. thugs who played fast and loose with everyone else’s retirement would be in jail right now. As Mr. Frank himself points out, everybody is still exactly where they were, and collecting more bonuses. At a certain point, it is even more insulting of Mr. Frank to aver that the President just did not know how to navigate any of this — or was busy being too nice. Like Frank, I have grown very cynical about both parties, who rail against one another on the floor of Congress, and then behind closed doors, enjoy a drink and a good laugh. This is all a dumb show to get us to sacrifice more and accept and expect less, no matter who is in office.
A President’s words carry great weight. Obama has not attempted any influence on job creators to alter the current job situation or work place philosophy. He has also not met with the jobs council he created this year. To my mind, neither has he offered us a ‘we can overcome’ message in terms of the current economy. His words may sound pretty, but his tone is an indicator that our best days are behind us. We remain in a fear based employment model – you do more for less – you do the work of three people for the same salary and you like it. You’d better like it or you’re gone and there are ten more lined up who would be more than happy to take your place.
Frank then continues to voice his frustration and cynicism with our current crop of Democrats and with President Obama, even flirting for a split second with Romney/Ryan. It is quite damning that he spends this entire article discussing how wrong Republicans are in their fiscal prescriptions and outlook, yet talks about “[letting] Paul Ryan get in there and do his tricks” — It seems Frank’s ultimate reason for saying ‘no’ to such a notion is the extremist moron Todd Akin. So if not for the likes of Akin, Mr. Frank would be going with Romney/Ryan? Is that what he is trying to say? He really is depressed! Frank also states he will likely vote Obama in for four more years after averring he was a dismal failure, using Akin as his excuse. Everyone who thinks Romney equals Akin, raise your hand…
He concludes by observing what disenfranchised Hillary Democrats have been saying for years:
They’re Democrats, but they don’t like being Democrats. What they want to be is a kind of Tom Friedman Democrat. (In other words, a rich Democrat). I’m serious, they believe in free trade and the world is flat and all that kind of bullshit. It’s not the vision of the Democratic Party of FDR or Harry Truman or even Lyndon Johnson.
But by all means, Mr. Frank, keep voting for them. As long as we act like we are content to vote for the “lesser of two evils,” that is all we will ever get.
Anita Finlay is the author of Dirty Words on Clean Skin: Sexism and Sabotage, a Hillary Supporter’s Rude Awakening, available on Amazon in print and Kindle editions. Also available at Barnes&Noble.com.
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