Monday, February 09, 2009
Centrism and bipartisanship can, in extreme cases, lead to social catastrophe and mass murder posted by Richard SeymourNotwithstanding the chorus of disappointed tuts and boos from Obama's liberal supporters regarding the pared down 'stimulus' package, some - such as the genuinely endearing Michael Tomasky - are in a mood to celebrate. A hammering victory over the Republicans, he cheers, a decisive sea-change in American politics, the return of big government liberalism! And hell, even if we have to make the odd concession, liberals are still getting 80% of what they wanted. Eighty percent! It's time for another street parade, already. Bring out the banners: "Yes, He can".
Tomasky, to be fair, has a niche role to fulfil. He apologises to the world for his fellow liberals, and their odd ideas, and then patiently explains to them why they should support the Democratic centre in all its wisdom. Thus, he spent much of the war on terror resisting the twin threats of Cheney and Chomsky, while explaining that liberals needed to be as tough and hawkish in foreign policy as the GOP. Adopting the politics of Richard Perle (with added incoherence and a frontispiece of selective multilateralism) was at the time the Democratic mainstream, and Tomasky was its avid advocate. Today, in a similar role, he explains that liberals are too used to being negative ninnies and, for this reason alone, fail to savour the taste of victory - in the jaws of defeat? (Luckily, Newsweek doesn't fall for any of that liberal nonsense, and has determined the real story: We Are All Socialists Now.)
What if one were to start from different assumptions? Perhaps, following Paul Krugman, one should start by being as radical as reality itself. Rather than tail the Republicans, American liberals should gauge the scale of the challenges they face and measure any putative successes against that. To be sure, if McCain had won, the bill before the House of Representatives and Senate would probably have much more emphasis on upper class tax cuts and fewer concessions to what are invariably called 'middle class' interests. Liberal activists can take their share of credit for the defeat of the Republican electoral machine, and the pressure this momentum brought to bear on Washington - so there is something for them to be cheerful about. However, it has to be said that even this would have been impossible had Obama's supporters all been as timid as Tomasky. And if they now adjust their expectations to accord with Obama's agenda, they will get even less than they presently think they are settling for. First of all, it is important to note that American liberals aren't getting 80% of what they asked for: they are, if the bill passes, getting some reduced version of what Obama proposed, which is not the same. Secondly, Obama's proposals were horribly inadequate. Here is Krugman:
Even if the original Obama plan — around $800 billion in stimulus, with a substantial fraction of that total given over to ineffective tax cuts — had been enacted, it wouldn’t have been enough to fill the looming hole in the U.S. economy, which the Congressional Budget Office estimates will amount to $2.9 trillion over the next three years.
Yet the centrists did their best to make the plan weaker and worse.
One of the best features of the original plan was aid to cash-strapped state governments, which would have provided a quick boost to the economy while preserving essential services. But the centrists insisted on a $40 billion cut in that spending.
The original plan also included badly needed spending on school construction; $16 billion of that spending was cut. It included aid to the unemployed, especially help in maintaining health care — cut. Food stamps — cut. All in all, more than $80 billion was cut from the plan, with the great bulk of those cuts falling on precisely the measures that would do the most to reduce the depth and pain of this slump.
On the other hand, the centrists were apparently just fine with one of the worst provisions in the Senate bill, a tax credit for home buyers. Dean Baker of the Center for Economic Policy Research calls this the “flip your house to your brother” provision: it will cost a lot of money while doing nothing to help the economy.
All in all, the centrists’ insistence on comforting the comfortable while afflicting the afflicted will, if reflected in the final bill, lead to substantially lower employment and substantially more suffering.
This is the trouble with apple pie sentimentality about bipartisanship, and all of the usual "neither Republican nor Democratic, but American" garbage. It is harmful to your jobs, to your healthcare, to your food cupboard. And it can, as in the case of Iraq, lead to mass murder.