Entitlement and elections

“A new urgency has swept into President Obama’s campaign,” begins a story on the Hill,[1] as, in so many words, it has become apparent that defeating Mitt Romney will not be the cakewalk so many campaign workers seem to have presumed it would be. There is a sense of entitlement—a sense I last felt with Romney’s protracted effort to defeat primary challengers—that is palpable throughout the story.

It’s as if the president has done a good job and deserves re-election and, of course, good must triumph over evil. As if the first two of these were true and the last had any chance in a thoroughly corrupt political system that abandoned the last pretense of prioritizing people rather than the prosperity of the top 0.1 percent in the late 1970s.[2] It’s as if the ongoing state of war[3] in which countless innocents have been killed, maimed, and traumatized was a good thing. It’s as if embracing and extending the discredited policies of the Bush administration,[4] the same policies that were discredited six years ago,[5] was a sign that Barack Obama has delivered on his promises of “hope” and “change.”

Actually, people do believe Obama has changed the country. A Hill poll

found 68 percent of likely voters — regardless of whether they approve or disapprove of Obama — believe the president has substantially transformed the country since his 2009 inauguration.

The feeling that Obama has changed the country for the worse is strongest among Republicans, at 91 percent, compared to 71 percent of Democrats who support Obama’s brand of change.[6]

Even 71 percent of Democrats—people who will, for the most part, presumably, vote for Obama this November—disapprove. It’s hard to imagine how this translates to an enthusiastic base that turns out in vast numbers to re-elect their president. And why should they? Paul Krugman blasts those who advocate economic austerity, writing that “economic recovery was never the point; the drive for austerity was about using the crisis [as an excuse to dismantle social programs], not solving it.”[7]

Krugman has a point. Even as suicides soar in Greece as people are reduced to dumpster-diving for food,[8] austerians deny that there has been austerity.[9] While cities go bankrupt, largely due to the collapse of property values[10] resulting from massive and politically-enabled financial sector fraud,[11] but for which workers—especially unionized workers—are demonized and must pay the price,[12] Jim Quinn points to all the indications of increased misery in the U.S. and concludes his assessment, writing,

This scathing assessment of Obama’s economic policies is by no means an endorsement of Mitt Romney or his economic plan, since he has never provided a detailed economic plan. After four years of a Romney presidency, the national debt will also be $20 trillion as his war with Iran and handouts to his Wall Street brethren replace Obama’s food stamps and entitlement pork. There was only one presidential candidate whose proposals would have placed this country back on a sustainable path. The plutocracy controlled corporate mainstream media did their part in ignoring and then scorning Ron Paul during his truth telling campaign. The plutocracy wants to retain their wealth and power, while the willfully ignorant masses don’t want to think.[13]

Ron Paul now seems unlikely to be our next president, but even so, the manifest failure of austerity is not recognized as a failure but rather as an impetus for yet more austerity. It is, as Krugman suggests, a means of shafting ordinary people. It is an opportunity to attack everything that conservatives see as wrong with our society. As Charles Reich put it in 1970,

Every step the New Deal took encountered the massive, bitter opposition of Consciousness I people. They found their world changing beyond recognition, and instead of blaming the primary forces behind that change, they blamed the efforts at solving problems. They totally lacked the sophistication necessary to see that a measure such as the Wagner Act might be redressing an existing oppression rather than creating oppression. The businessmen who were the most vocal in their opposition had a pathological hatred of the New Deal, a hatred so intense and personal as to defy analysis. Why this hatred, when the New Deal, in retrospect, seems to have saved the capitalist system? Perhaps because the New Deal intruded irrevocably upon their make-believe, problem-free world in which the pursuit of business gain and self-interest was imagined to be automatically beneficial to all of mankind, requiring of them no additional responsibility whatever. In any event, there was a large and politically powerful number of Americans who never accepted the New Deal even when it benefited them, and used their power whenever they could to cut it back.[14]

From the moment in November 2009, barely a year after being elected, Obama uttered those heartless words I keep referring to, “We all know that there are limits to what government can and should do, even during such difficult times,”[15] he has effectively conceded the argument for austerity. And as unemployment stubbornly remains—in the Bureau of Labor Statistics U3 reckoning—above eight percent, Obama sounds like a broken record.[16] After yet another spectacularly dismal month for job growth, he said it again: “That’s a step in the right direction.”[17]

That’s not the basis of an argument for re-election, let alone the entitlement his campaign workers seemingly subscribe to.

  1. [1]Amie Parnes, “New urgency for Team Obama,” The Hill, July 12, 2012, http://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/237475-new-urgency-within-anxious-team-obama
  2. [2]Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson, Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington made the Rich Richer and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2010).
  3. [3]Roger Lee, “United States Military History,” The History Guy, http://www.historyguy.com/american_military_history.html
  4. [4]Justin Elliott, “The latest Obama cheerleader is … Dick Cheney?” Salon, January 17, 2011; Daniel Strauss, “Cheney: Obama has learned that Bush policies were right,” Hill, January 17, 2011, http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/138341-cheney-obama-has-learned-from-experience-that-bush-moves-were-necessary
  5. [5]Walter Shapiro, “A decisive year for ‘the decider’,” Salon, December 26, 2006, http://www.salon.com/2006/12/26/year_in_politics_3/
  6. [6]Sheldon Alberts, “The Hill Poll: Majority of voters believe Obama has changed country for worse,” The Hill, July 9, 2012, http://thehill.com/polls/236627-hill-poll-majority-feel-obama-has-changed-country-for-worse
  7. [7]Paul Krugman, “The Austerity Agenda,” New York Times, May 31, 2012, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/01/opinion/krugman-the-austerity-agenda.html
  8. [8]Nikolia Apostolou, “Athens suicide: a cry for dignity from downtrodden,” Christian Science Monitor, April 5, 2012, http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Europe/2012/0405/Athens-suicide-a-cry-for-dignity-from-downtrodden-video; Deutschewelle, “Pensioner’s suicide triggers Greek austerity protests,” April 5, 2012, http://www.dw.de/dw/article/0,,15860196,00.html; Teo Kermeliotis, “Austerity drives up suicide rate in debt-ridden Greece,” CNN, April 6, 2012, http://articles.cnn.com/2012-04-06/world/world_europe_greece-austerity-suicide_1_pharmacist-dimitris-christoulas-shot-suicide-note-anti-austerity
  9. [9]Tyler Durden, “On Europe’s Phantom Austerity Spending Cuts,” Zero Hedge, May 8, 2012, http://www.zerohedge.com/news/europes-phantom-austerity-spending-cuts
  10. [10]Guy Adams, “Broken America: The towns left in financial ruin,” Independent, July 7, 2012, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/broken-america-the-towns-left-in-financial-ruin-7920654.html; John W. Schoen, “Thousands of towns face budget squeeze in downturn’s wake,” MSNBC, July 10, 2012, http://economywatch.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/07/10/12665523-thousands-of-towns-face-budget-squeeze-in-downturns-wake
  11. [11]L. Randall Wray, “Right Now, A Complete Collapse Of The Financial System Is Not Out Of The Question,” Business Insider, November 4, 2010, https://disunitedstates.com/content/right-now-complete-collapse-financial-system-not-out-question
  12. [12]Steven Greenhut, “If Stockton Is Broke, Then Why Isn’t San Diego?” Business Week, March 1, 2012, http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-03-01/greenhut-if-stockton-is-broke-then-why-isn-t-san-diego
  13. [13]Jim Quinn, “Economic Report Card – Fail,” Zero Hedge, July 8, 2012, http://www.zerohedge.com/news/economic-report-card-fail
  14. [14]Charles A. Reich, The Greening of America (New York: Crown, 1970), 56-57.
  15. [15]Barack Obama, “Remarks by the President on the Economy,” White House, November 12, 2009, http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/remarks-president-economy-jobs-forum
  16. [16]David Benfell, “Dickens Redux,” DisUnitedStates.org, August 3, 2011, https://disunitedstates.org/?p=4279
  17. [17]David Jackson, “Obama: Jobs report ‘step in the right direction’,” USA Today, July 6, 2012, http://content.usatoday.com/communities/theoval/post/2012/07/obama-jobs-report-step-in-the-right-direction/1; Barack Obama, “Remarks by the President at a Campaign Event,” White House, July 6, 2012, http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2012/07/06/remarks-president-campaign-event

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