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New York Times: What Happened To Obama?

August 7, 2011

The New York Times has an excellent read out today titled: What Happened To Obama, it is written brilliantly by Professor Drew Westen, a professor of psychology at Emory University.

I encourage everyone to take the link above and read the entire 4 page article, it is a fast read, and it is well worth it.  Full Disclosure: I voted for Obama.  One of the main reasons I voted for him was because he always had Paul Volcker at his side.  Paul Volcker in case you didn’t know was the man who broke the back of inflation in the late 1970’s and into the 1980’s.  He was the head of the Federal Reserve under Carter and Reagan.  You didn’t mess with Paul Volcker, and if he were running the Federal Reserve during the second Bush administration we would not have had a massive housing bubble which has led to a devastating financially driven downturn with its inevitable popping.

But, after the election, no one heard from, nor did anyone even see Paul Volcker anymore. We saw Timothy Geithner, Lawrence Summers, and some others who had gotten us into this mess from the beginning…I felt swindled to say the least.  Obama’s failure to go after the financial criminals in this country has created a problem for his reelection, he looks weak, and now not only the right is spending ink in skewering him, as this piece in the New York Times shows, it is also coming from the left:

Like most Americans, at this point, I have no idea what Barack Obama — and by extension the party he leads — believes on virtually any issue. The president tells us he prefers a “balanced” approach to deficit reduction, one that weds “revenue enhancements” (a weak way of describing popular taxes on the rich and big corporations that are evading them) with “entitlement cuts” (an equally poor choice of words that implies that people who’ve worked their whole lives are looking for handouts). But the law he just signed includes only the cuts. This pattern of presenting inconsistent positions with no apparent recognition of their incoherence is another hallmark of this president’s storytelling. He announces in a speech on energy and climate change that we need to expand offshore oil drilling and coal production — two methods of obtaining fuels that contribute to the extreme weather Americans are now seeing. He supports a health care law that will use Medicaid to insure about 15 million more Americans and then endorses a budget plan that, through cuts to state budgets, will most likely decimate Medicaid and other essential programs for children, senior citizens and people who are vulnerable by virtue of disabilities or an economy that is getting weaker by the day. He gives a major speech on immigration reform after deporting a million immigrants in two years, breaking up families at a pace George W. Bush could never rival in all his years as president.

In fact, the average American had no idea what Democrats were trying to accomplish by deficit spending because no one bothered to explain it to them with the repetition and evocative imagery that our brains require to make an idea, particularly a paradoxical one, “stick.” Nor did anyone explain what health care reform was supposed to accomplish (other than the unbelievable and even more uninspiring claim that it would “bend the cost curve”), or why “credit card reform” had led to an increase in the interest rates they were already struggling to pay. Nor did anyone explain why saving the banks was such a priority, when saving the homes the banks were foreclosing didn’t seem to be. All Americans knew, and all they know today, is that they’re still unemployed, they’re still worried about how they’re going to pay their bills at the end of the month and their kids still can’t get a job. And now the Republicans are chipping away at unemployment insurance, and the president is making his usual impotent verbal exhortations after bargaining it away.

THE real conundrum is why the president seems so compelled to take both sides of every issue, encouraging voters to project whatever they want on him, and hoping they won’t realize which hand is holding the rabbit. That a large section of the country views him as a socialist while many in his own party are concluding that he does not share their values speaks volumes — but not the volumes his advisers are selling: that if you make both the right and left mad, you must be doing something right.

But the arc of history does not bend toward justice through capitulation cast as compromise. It does not bend when 400 people control more of the wealth than 150 million of their fellow Americans. It does not bend when the average middle-class family has seen its income stagnate over the last 30 years while the richest 1 percent has seen its income rise astronomically. It does not bend when we cut the fixed incomes of our parents and grandparents so hedge fund managers can keep their 15 percent tax rates. It does not bend when only one side in negotiations between workers and their bosses is allowed representation. And it does not bend when, as political scientists have shown, it is not public opinion but the opinions of the wealthy that predict the votes of the Senate. The arc of history can bend only so far before it breaks.

Obama’s advisers really need to wake up.  We need less Jimmy Carter, we need less “nice-guy” – what we need is more FDR.  We need fiery speeches that explain who is responsible for this mess, we need more populism from Obama, and we need him to throw grow a firm backbone and take to the bully pulpit and hammer home how we get out of this mess.


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