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The Mechanics
« Alderman Flores Talks Budget, Part 1 Obama Needs to Be the Big City President »

IL-SEN Tue Dec 01 2009

Financeghanistan

I tend to focus on the differences between the Democrats. I probably don't want Mark Kirk to become the next Senator from the state of Illinois. I say "probably" because I need to make sure it'll make a difference who represents us in the U.S. Senate.

The way I'll make sure it'll make a difference is by ignoring everything but the explicit commitments candidates makes to issues that matter.

The issues that will matter in the 2011 Congress are Afghanistan, and reform of the financial system. Especially that latter one.

Now, there will be lots of issues the Senate will deal with, and it's important that none of our candidates are morons or crooks. I don't think any of the major candidates are moron crooks. Glad we dealt with that.

But we need to look at the major issues that politicians habitually give up on once they are in power and under the influence of party leaders and powerful corporate and policy institutions. Perhaps if you're a reactionary you think EFCA will destroy America; fine. That's your thing. But you're picking an issue to vote or die on. The way the financial system works affects every other thing. And our commitment to a monstrously deadly, dangerous, and expensive war in Afghanistan not only costs American lives and saps our diplomatic strength in dealing with problems like, say, the trafficking of millions of women every year, it also helps drive up the enormous deficits that make it easy for phony "deficit hawks" like Evan Bayh and other conservative Democrats to characterize discretionary spending as reckless. Also, call me a hippie, but I don't want the country to be at war. I'm not being asked to sacrifice much for it, but being a nation at peace and being a nation at war is a choice, and I want us to choose to be a nation at peace. Also, please don't call me a hippie.


Lots of people said that then-candidate Obama was making just the right early exchanges, like a clever chess player, to make sure he could effect long-term change. For example, he said things like that he "believed in the free market," and he brought in hard-headed players like Rahm Emanuel and well-connected get-things-done-rs like Larry Summers and Tim Geithner to manage the crisis situation they were inheriting. I think 2009 has shown that this supposed clever strategic posture has been disastrous. Little of what the Left wanted has gotten done, and, in fact, little that anyone wanted to get done has gotten done. Certainly there has been no fundamental change.

You want to be a realistic journalist or a lefty activist? Then your goal needs to be to find out how willing Hoffman, Giannoulias, Jackson and Meister would be to stand up to the President and party leadership. Let's stop pretending that some minor personality or ancient professional issue has a real bearing on what kind of senator we'll get.

Now here's the thing: I found a fairly detailed plan for reforming the financial system from the Hoffman campaign and Giannoulias campaign. Jackson and Meister don't provide nearly as detailed plans. And there are ideas out there--in the mainstream of academia, too, not just in the dense-text drab Marxist journals I probably subscribe to--on how to really regulate the banks in a way that will return financial power to the people, not allow capital to simply keep accruing in the casino houses of Wall Street.

Democratic primary voters should be concerned with which senator will go to Washington and represent an ideological position on the side of the people and hold to it. No more narrative nonsense or pretending to be outraged by fundraisers. Are we electing a senator to speak for the people, or a vote to be turned by special interests and party bosses?

 
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Dan / December 1, 2009 1:36 PM

"I think 2009 has shown that this supposed clever strategic posture has been disastrous. Little of what the left wanted has gotten done, and in fact little that anyone wanted to get done has gotten done. Certainly there has been no fundamental change"

I disagree. I think you're understanding of presidential power is erroneous, and I'll leave it to Ezra Klein to explain why:

The strength of Barack Obama's young presidency has been its depressing realism about the limits of legislative achievement in the age of the filibuster and unrelenting partisan polarization. Health care might pass -- and might is an important word there -- because Obama didn't try to do too much. Big as people think this bill is, it really only affects the insurance situations of 30 or 40 million Americans, most of whom would be otherwise uninsured. Helping 30 or 40 million people is a big step forward, but it is not reform of the health-care system. It is an expansion of it.

Similarly, Obama isn't drawing lines in the sand on universality (as Clinton did), or on full auction of carbon permits. Christina Romer told the administration it needed a $1.2 trillion stimulus, and the administration settled on $800 billion because that seemed passable. And it still didn't get a single Republican vote in the House. We live in an age where we expect, and arguably need, the president to do much more, but where the structural constraints confine him to doing much less. Obama, by aiming squarely for the middle of that Venn diagram, will probably manage to do quite a lot, while still not doing nearly enough. He won't content himself with noble failures, but we will not see full solutions.


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