Volumes have been written already about what Obama promised as a candidate and what he actually delivered as president. The cases are often myriad and confusing because there are so many broken promises and the multiple effects of his disastrous policies are too numerous to sum up in an “elevator speech” that is both concise and convincing. That is part of the reason Mitt Romney is still running close with Obama; he has not wanted to use the central issue of character to articulate a broad, simple argument for why Obama must go.
There are likely reasons for that, including that Romney is a decent man who wants to win on his own merits. But the greater reason, I think, is that he doesn’t know how to articulate this argument in terms a liberal-leaning electorate can understand. That’s because he is not actually liberal.
Matt Stoller has no such barriers to his communication of the central issue this election: Obama’s character. Because he has been inside the machine of evolving Democratic politics, he has a clearer understanding of just why Obama is so offensive to both traditional and actual progressive Democrats. I use the modifier “actual” in relation to progressives because we are well aware of how the hagiography that Obama has deliberately provoked among that group has corrupted them and distorted their worldview.
In an article published Saturday at Salon, of all places, Stoller makes the case for why Democrats, progressive Democrats in particular, should not vote for Obama, not even in swing states. Rather than basing it on the civil liberties angle so many of the more intellectually consistent progressives have used, he makes his case on Obama having delivered the antithesis of the kind of fundamentally transformed policies he promised as a candidate.
The civil liberties/antiwar case was made eloquently a few weeks ago by libertarian Conor Friedersdorf, who wrote a well-cited blog post on why he could not, in good conscience, vote for Obama. While his arguments have tremendous merit, there is an equally powerful case against Obama on the grounds of economic and social equity. That case needs to be made.
So why oppose Obama? Simply, it is the shape of the society Obama is crafting that I oppose, and I intend to hold him responsible, such as I can, for his actions in creating it.
The above is a chart of corporate profits against the main store of savings for most Americans who have savings — home equity. Notice that after the crisis, after the Obama inflection point, corporate profits recovered dramatically and surpassed previous highs, whereas home equity levels have remained static. That $5-7 trillion of lost savings did not come back, whereas financial assets and corporate profits did. Also notice that this is unprecedented in postwar history. Home equity levels and corporate profits have simply never diverged in this way; what was good for GM had always, until recently, been good, if not for America, for the balance sheet of homeowners. Obama’s policies severed this link, completely.
This split represents more than money. It represents a new kind of politics, one where Obama, and yes, he did this, officially enshrined rights for the elite in our constitutional order and removed rights from everyone else (see “The Housing Crash and the End of American Citizenship” in the Fordham Urban Law Journal for a more complete discussion of the problem). The bailouts and the associated Federal Reserve actions were not primarily shifts of funds to bankers; they were a guarantee that property rights for a certain class of creditors were immune from challenge or market forces. The foreclosure crisis, with its rampant criminality, predatory lending, and document forgeries, represents the flip side.
The policy continuity with Bush is a stark contrast to what Obama offered as a candidate.
While life has never been fair, the chart above shows that, since World War II, this level of official legal, political and economic inequity for the broad mass of the public is new (though obviously for subgroups, like African-Americans, it was not new). It is as if America’s traditional racial segregationist tendencies have been reorganized, and the tools and tactics of that system have been repurposed for a multicultural elite colonizing a multicultural population.
This is the shape of the system Obama has designed. It is intentional, it is the modern American order, and it has a certain equilibrium, the kind we identify in Middle Eastern resource extraction based economies.
This argument, it seems to me, is true. While we have spent much time and had much fun mocking the idiocy of Occupy Wall Street, who, let me be clear, deserved righteously that mockery, the core of their argument is true, if not the math. I have been making this same argument for a couple of years, in far less offensive terms and without the stupidity of horizontal movement dynamics.
The nature of a free market is that, from time to time, the balance of powers that it is designed to promote becomes imbalanced. Continue reading