When I finally got around to reading today’s speech from the president on the economy (Macleans), I expected to be disappointed. I did not expect to be so appalled.
The president began by getting history wrong…very wrong:
In the period after World War II, a growing middle class was the engine of our prosperity. Whether you owned a company, swept its floors, or worked anywhere in between, this country offered you a basic bargain – a sense that your hard work would be rewarded with fair wages and benefits, the chance to buy a home, to save for retirement, and above all, to hand down a better life for your kids
Really? From what I read of the “period after World War II” (namely, the 1950s), there were three recessions, the last of which extended into 1960 and allowed JFK to blast the economic performance of the Eisenhower Administration. There are many on the right who see Barack Obama as a reborn Richard Nixon. Whether or not you agree (and I have my doubts), Obama doesn’t help his case by essentially endorsing the Nixon ’60 candidacy.
Besides, if the “period after World War II” was so wonderful, why did Lyndon Johnson throw down a bill of indictment on it with his “War on Poverty”?
Then things go further off the rails…
But over time, that engine began to stall. That bargain began to fray. Technology made some jobs obsolete. Global competition sent others overseas. It became harder for unions to fight for the middle class. Washington doled out bigger tax cuts to the rich and smaller minimum wage increases for the working poor. The link between higher productivity and people’s wages and salaries was severed – the income of the top 1 percent nearly quadrupled from 1979 to 2007, while the typical family’s barely budged.
From 1979? Is he kidding? Most economist recognize that the Great Inflation – which turned the steady improvement of American salaries into a nominal sham – began in 1968. The consensus on the productivity decline is even stronger – and places the start year for that debacle in 1973. The president chose 1979 not based on economic history, but political history – it was a deliberate attempt to indict the Administrations that sought to reduce government’s size and influence, either deliberately (Reagan), in theory if not practice (Bushes), or against its inclinations (Clinton).
OK, so maybe just history buffs and econ geeks would get upset about the above (I happen to be both), but the real problem comes in the president’s discussion of the present and the future.
On health care, all the president did was tout his corporatist-wet-dream, the “(Un)-Affordable Care(-less) Act.” At least this time he didn’t repeat the already debunked foolishness that everyone with a current health insurance plan will keep it. However, he also said nothing about the cozy relationship between Medicare and the AMA on rate-setting, even though he could have easily blamed it on the 1979-2007 crowd. His silence was deafening.
He was even worse on food prices. Even as the House Republicans grooved a fastball down his hotzone by ramming through rob-the-poor-to-pay-the-rich farm subsidies and ethanol policies that drive up the price of corn, meats (which feed on corn), sugar, milk, and – wait, do I really need to go on?
Instead, all he said was…
But a faction of Republicans in the House … gutted a farm bill that America’s farmers and most vulnerable children depend on.
He took the pitch! If the president was half the political genius he and his supporters think he is, he would have spent three paragraphs ripping the entire House Republican caucus on the farm bill fiasco (only 12 GOPers voted No). It was - it is – a political and policy slam-dunk. Yet the Pitchfork Corporatists (“America’s farmers”) get even billing with their victims.
Meanwhile, what was the first thing the president said he would “be fighting for”?
So I’ll push new initiatives to help more manufacturers bring more jobs back to America. We’ll continue to focus on strategies to create good jobs in wind, solar and natural gas that are lowering energy costs and dangerous carbon pollution.
In other words, more corporatist loopholes and giveaways which light up the tax code like a Christmas tree – with the rest of us (including folks who could create jobs without industrial-policy-writ-small if they didn’t have to pay for someone else’s sweetheart deal) footing the bill.
Gee, that sounds a lot like the “short-term thinking” the president himself ripped in the same speech.
Most will read (or hear) the president speech and see the same old big government. That would be accurate, but incomplete. The president likes to tell us he would use government where he can to combat corporate largess, but in fact, he actually proposes (and defends) using it to enhance corporate largess.
Whether or not this is “socialism” depends on one’s political position, but it is inarguably corporatism – and a very damaging corporatism at that.
Cross-posted to Bearing Drift (albeit with a different title)