Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Perlstein meets Klein

One of my favorite political writers, the historian Rick Perlstein, uses the theories of another of my favorite political writers--Naomi Klein--to argue that Barack Obama should use the sense of crisis in America to push for a new New Deal. And this was back in August, 2008:
Progressive political change in American history is rarely incremental. With important exceptions, most of the reforms that have advanced our nation's status as a modern, liberalizing social democracy were pushed through during narrow windows of progressive opportunity -- which subsequently slammed shut with the work not yet complete. The post–Civil War reconstruction of the apartheid South, the Progressive Era remaking of the institutions of democratic deliberation, the New Deal, the Great Society: They were all blunt shocks. Then, before reformers knew what had happened, the seemingly sturdy reform mandate faded and Washington returned to its habits of stasis and reaction.
That is a fact. A fact too many Democrats have trained themselves to ignore. And it sometimes feels like Barack Obama, whose first instinct when faced with ideological resistance seems to be to extend the right hand of fellowship, understands it least of all. Does he grasp that unless all the monuments of lasting, structural change in the American state -- banking regulation, public-power generation, Social Security, the minimum wage, the right to join a union, federal funding of education, Medicare, desegregation, Southern voting rights -- had happened fast, they wouldn't have happened at all?
Relevant still today, no? Unfortunately, I'm afraid the Democrats--Obama included--don't get it. They are letting a golden opportunity slip right through their hands. Worse than that, they will probably muster enough Republican support to pass something very similar to the bill defeated yesterday. This bill is better than the original Paulson plan, but is still not very good. It may do some good in the short term for the credit markets--which, by the way, is where the big problems are; we should be watching them, not the stock market, to see how things are going. But it doesn't address the underlying problem of lots of pricey mortgages on over-valued houses. Nor does it do anything to push forward needed progressive reforms not just of our financial system, but of our infrastructure and healthcare systems.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Democrats and the Bailout

Now that the Republicans have scuttled the proposed bailout plan, the Democrats have a couple of options. They could keep the basic plan they thought they had Republican agreement to, and hope that Bush and Paulson can convince the Republicans to go along with the deal. This may happen, if McCain scuttled the deal only to allow himself to seem more involved in the eventual solution. But McCain may not have much influence with the revolting Republicans (those from the House, primarily), so his support for any deal may not mean much. There may be significant political gains for the Republicans if they are the ones "blamed" for the collapse of the bailout. No one likes the bailout. Being able to run against it in the next election may be a big plus.

A better plan for the Democrats (and the country, I think) is to forget the untrustworthy Republicans, and come up with their own bailout plan--something smaller than the $700 billion Paulson figure (a number that Treasury came up with only because they wanted something really big), and more focused on assisting the people in danger of losing their homes. If I had my way, the plan would also include universal healthcare and a large infrastructure improvement program, something like Dennis Kucinich has proposed.

There are several alternative bailout plans out there that seem much more reasonable that Paulson's $700 billion proposal. The Center for American Progress thinktank has one that calls for mortgage-backed securities to be reunited into whole mortgages, bought by the Treasury and restructured. Economist James K. Galbraith has a much more modest plan, one that looks past the immediate crisis and toward the coming recession during the next 3-5 years.

Another option, of course, is for the Democrats to do nothing. They can say, "look, we had a plan agreed on, and the Republicans walked away. If they've got a better idea for solving this crisis, let them settle their differences among themselves, and then bring us the plan." This is not a terribly responsible option, however, as it risks financial meltdown for the sake of political benefit for the party. But the Republicans are doing just this, and are counting on the Democrats to be more adult then they are.

Why can the Republicans do this--and even benefit from it at the polls? Because for the last 30 or 40 years, they've been a political party uninterested in governing. They use goverment to make themselves and their friends rich, and to build their political power. But if the actual process and bureaucratic infrastructure of government itself falls apart under their leadership, they don't care. It's just more evidence that government doesn't work.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Preemptive assault on protestors

I bet in all the coverage of the Republican convention, few mainstream journalists will ask any serious questions about what seems to be pretty horrendous abuse of local, state and federal police powers to disrupt protests and detain protesters and journalists, in part by raiding the houses where they're staying.Can't have any dissent messing up the carefully planned shots of McCain and his nomination, can we?

It all sounds pretty disgusting, and I hope it gets the attention it deserves from our ailing fourth estate. But I won't be surprised if it doesn't. After all, isn't Sarah Palin's teenage daughter pregnant? Now that's news.