Do We Want to be Ruled by Banks or the Law?

Mar 3, 2011

Yves Smith found a nice press release from North Carolina's Guildford County Register of Deeds regarding the continuing criminal fraud of the banks and mortgage industry. The elected county official, Mr. Thigpen, states:

For me the question is clear. Do we want land records in America to be governed by major banking conglomerates on Wall Street or the people and laws of the United States of America?

Yves Smith found a nice press release from North Carolina's Guildford County Register of Deeds regarding the continuing criminal fraud of the banks and mortgage industry. The elected county official, Mr. Thigpen, states:

For me the question is clear. Do we want land records in America to be governed by major banking conglomerates on Wall Street or the people and laws of the United States of America?

That indeed is the question for all of us on many matters -- financial, economic, and political. It is no mistake this question is coming not out of DC or NY, but the true foundation of this republic, the counties. As Jefferson said, "Divide the counties into wards." There America lies your reformation, revitalization, and renewal. The three Rs.

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The Current Republican Philosophy in Wisconsin and Beyond: Union-busting as Economic Growth

Mar 1, 2011Mike Konczal

The battle isn't just about collective bargaining rights; it's about handing all the power to corporations.

I've been trying to get a political economy mental map of where the Republican Party and conservative movement stand. Several things that were present but hazy in the past have become much clearer since Governor Walker's overreach in Wisconsin. These include:

The battle isn't just about collective bargaining rights; it's about handing all the power to corporations.

I've been trying to get a political economy mental map of where the Republican Party and conservative movement stand. Several things that were present but hazy in the past have become much clearer since Governor Walker's overreach in Wisconsin. These include:

Jobs: Conservatives don't really have a jobs plan. There's the 'cut the budget during a fragile recovery' plan, which Goldman is predicting will put a serious dent in growth. But even more generally, their explanation for why we have high unemployment is strange.

Last year we reached out and talked about the economy with 30 conservative economists (part 1, part 2). I got the sense that they had an Ayn Rand, Groundhog Day version of the recovery: every month, the productive leaders of the economy (corporations) peek their head out from their hole, check the field for the shadow of the unproductive parasite class (workers) and politicians looking to leech off them; the proper role for government then is to clear the field of parasites and leave tax and cash goodies to help bring the leaders out of their hole and start with job creation.

Public Sector: I associate Wisconsin Republicans with Tommy Thompson. I had several moderate conservative friends from Madison who campaigned for Thompson, and he struck me as a good Republican. He wanted to reform welfare, but in doing so spend just as much, if not more, in order to do it right. He didn't want to "reform" welfare as code for slashing it.

Walker wants to attack public unions. He told someone he believed to be David Koch that as Reagan brought down the Soviets by being tough with the air traffic controller unions, this is their moment to be tough and show the enemies of conservatism who is in charge. He even pulled out a picture of Reagan to show his staff to remind them what the stakes are. Walker and the conservative movement's approach is all about portraying teachers and public workers as, in Rush Limbaugh's phrase, parasites when compared to Tommy Thompson. This isn't about getting to pay some teachers more while paying others less.

I haven't found anyone making the case that the public sector workers in Wisconsin are overpaid. Andrew Biggs of AEI, who watches public sector compensation closely, replicates data and research done by EPI and incorporates his version of benefits and concludes, "At the end of the day, I just don’t think we can make any final conclusions on state/local pay [in Wisconsin] because so much of the data, particularly on the benefits end, is still too loosey-goosey. There’s just more work to be done." Mind you, that's the strongest attack by a conservative wonk using the data I can find: it's too tough to tell one way or the other. Given that the teacher's unions are willing to take a hit on benefits, their position is actually to the right of AEI's.

Relations With the Corporate Sector: As many have noted, Walker is worried about a budget crisis, but also slashing corporate taxes. Ryan McNeely (whose new blog is a must-add for policy fans) noted something similar about New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s budget: "What the budget represents is a blunt shift to perennial conservative priorities like school choice and tax cuts rather than a fundamental shift in the overall size of the budget." This isn't about shrinking the budget or a government you can drown in a bathtub; this is about shifting the priorities of the budget away from public work and towards gifts for corporations.

I've noticed all these in isolation but haven't been able to put them together into a whole. But Ed Kilgore just wrote a great piece for the New Republic that puts it into a narrative. This is about taking the smokestack-chasing model of growth of the 3rd world and combining it with the Moonlight and Magnolias Deep South model of development:

Walker also has an economic vision for his state -- one which is common currency in the Republican Party today, but hitherto alien in a historically progressive, unionist Midwestern state like Wisconsin. It is based on a theory of economic growth that is not only anti-statist but aggressively pro-corporate: relentlessly focused on breaking the backs of unions; slashing worker compensation and benefits; and subsidizing businesses in order to attract capital from elsewhere and avoid its flight to even more benighted locales. Students of economic development will recognize it as the “smokestack-chasing” model of growth adopted by desperate developing countries around the world, which have attempted to use their low costs and poor living conditions as leverage in the global economy. And students of American economic history will recognize it as the “Moonlight and Magnolias” model of development, which is native to the Deep South.

Just take a look at the broader policy context of the steps Walker is taking in Wisconsin. While simultaneously battling unions and calling for budget cuts, he’s made the state’s revenue quandary much worse by seeking to cut corporate taxes and boost “economic development incentives” (another term for tax subsidies and other public concessions) to businesses considering operations in Wisconsin... Even before the arrival of Haley, this was the default model of economic growth in Southern states for decades -- as the capital-starved, low-wage region concluded that the way it could compete economically with other states was to emphasize its comparative advantages: low costs, a large pool of relatively poor workers, “right to work” laws that discouraged unionization, and a small appetite for environmental or any other sort of regulation. So, like an eager Third-World country, the South sought to attract capital by touting and accentuating these attributes, rather than trying to build Silicon Valleys or seek broad-based improvements in the quality of life...

Why is this model of economic growth so appealing to the Tea Party? For one, it tends to jibe very well with the Ayn Randian belief in producerism: the idea that “job creators” --  business owners -- are the only source of economic growth in society, and that everyone else - the workers, government employees, and the poor -- are just “useless eaters” shackling those who exercise individual initiative. While many Democrats are baffled by Scott Walker’s attack on the unions -- shouldn’t he be focused on jobs rather than eliminating workers’ protections? they ask -- the fact is that today’s conservatives believe this is the right and only way to create jobs. The same delusion is present at the federal level, where House Republicans insist that deregulation and spending cuts are the only ways to create jobs...

So what is at stake in Wisconsin, and across the country, is not just the pay and benefits of public employees, or their collective bargaining rights, or the specific programs facing the budgetary knife. We are contesting whether Americans who are not “job creators,” by virtue of wealth, should be considered anything more than cannon fodder in an endless war between states -- and countries -- over who can attract the most capital by slashing the most regulations. In this sense, standing up to Scott Walker is a truly worthy fight.

I encourage you to read the whole thing. It's a really stark vision of the role of the state in the economy, and really brings home the idea of a third world America. What's your take?

Mike Konczal is a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute.

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Stop Socializing the Downside and Privatizing the Upside

Jan 31, 2011Joan Williams

wanted-signWanted: A grand narrative about the people's right to share in prosperity-- and not just pay for economic catastrophes.

wanted-signWanted: A grand narrative about the people's right to share in prosperity-- and not just pay for economic catastrophes.

I have been watching Clint Eastwood films lately and thinking about his role in fueling the belittlement of government. In Dirty Harry, for example, the Eastwood character is a loner who stands up to lily-livered bureaucrats who lack the cojones to do what needs to be done and to morally corrupt politicians who cave in to bad guys for a living. This kind of film was part of a sustained, and dazzlingly effective, cultural agenda to discredit government.

A key mechanism of enforcing this view is the snarl -- it's not really an argument -- that having the government undertake any given task is... socialism.

For thirty years, Democrats have lacked a cogent response. In the debate over health care, they tried to counter the socialism charge by designing reform according to Republican principles: no to single payer, no to the public option, yes to private health insurance (an industry so inefficient that Americans spend one third of their health care dollars on paperwork, but I digress).

Democrats are left still facing sneers of socialism. Trying to counter this charge by messing around with policy design details is a strategy fated to fail. What we need instead is a way of reframing the debate that begins to reverse the discrediting of government.

The financial crisis presented a golden, largely squandered, opportunity to begin this process. No better time than the present. Americans recently heard reports of bank profits so high that major banks are declaring dividends. This presents a teachable moment to send a much more effective message than Obama's old fashioned populism that demonizes bankers as "fat cats."

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Here's a fresh response: What conservatives are proposing is to privatize the upside of the economy while socializing the downside.

Take the banks. Back during the Great Recession, they were only too happy to socialize risk. But now, with profits aplenty, banks have lost interest in sharing. After we socialized the downside risk, now they want to privatize the upside risk.

This doesn't make a whole heck of a lot of sense. But it's a consistent theme in Republican proposals. Take the new Republican health care proposal. It wants to preserve for private industry the right to insure relatively healthy people off whom insurers can make a profit. Again, Republicans want to privatize the upside and let industry keep those profits, and socialize the downside -- and then deride government for needing to levy taxes to cover the costs of shouldering that risk.

A similar dynamic is at work at the local level. A recent California ballot initiative makes it more difficult for local governments to impose fees on developers as a condition of approving development. The fees required the developers to pay for the costs of the water, sewers, schools, and parks that would serve the new subdivisions. Not surprisingly, the developers hate fees because they prefer to socialize the costs of infrastructure and privatize the profits of development.

So here's the message: The next time Republicans snarl "socialism," Democrats need to re-examine the baseline assumptions. Often you'll find a proposal to privatize profits and socialize risk. Calling that out is the first step towards changing Americans' negativism towards government.

Joan Williams is the author of Reshaping the Work-Family Debate.

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A Toast to the Revolutionary Patriot Thomas Paine

Jan 28, 2011Harvey J. Kaye

thomas_paineHarvey J. Kaye will give the following speech to celebrate Thomas Paine's birthday with Florida Veterans for Common Sense in Sarasota, Florida on January 29th.

thomas_paineHarvey J. Kaye will give the following speech to celebrate Thomas Paine's birthday with Florida Veterans for Common Sense in Sarasota, Florida on January 29th. It is drawn from his book, Thomas Paine and the Promise of America.

Greetings to friends of Thomas Paine!

We gather all across the USA -- believe me, ALL ACROSS THE USA! -- to celebrate the birthday of the man who in 1776 grabbed hold of Americans' finest hopes and aspirations and not only called for an independent United States of America but also articulated America's world historic purpose and promise -- to liberate men and women from tyranny and pursue freedom, equality, and democracy; indeed, to deny the claims of the powers that be and forever struggle to extend and deepen freedom, equality, and democracy.

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Common Sense, The Crisis, Public Good, Rights of Man, The Age of Reason, Agrarian Justice: "The sun never shined on a cause of greater worth!"

The powerful, propertied, prestigious, and pious had reason to fear Paine. With his pen he enabled us to see ourselves as citizens not subjects -- citizens in every respect: politically, economically, culturally, intellectually.

Long live the memory and legacy of the revolutionary patriot and citizen of the world, Thomas Paine.

Harvey J. Kaye is the Ben & Joyce Rosenberg Professor of Democracy and Justice Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and the author of Thomas Paine and the Promise of America. He is currently writing The Four Freedoms and the Promise of America. Follow him on Twitter: www.twitter.com/HarveyJKaye

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David Lane: New Assistant to the President and Counselor to the Chief of Staff

Jan 27, 2011Bo Cutter

Shaping the future with today's choices.

Shaping the future with today's choices.

I want to add to my brief comments about Bill Daley that David Lane will also be joining the White House as Assistant to the President and Counselor to the Chief of Staff. David is extraordinary. In the 80's he worked as a young staff assistant to Senator Gary Hart. He worked with me for several years both in business and in the Clinton National Economic Council, and then with Bill Daley, both at Commerce -- as his chief of staff -- and in the Gore campaign. He was then a senior officer of the Gates Foundation, and finally has been CEO of the One Campaign, an advocacy group for international economic development and foreign assistance. He has also become one of the major collectors of outsider art in the country, supporting the artists and their work.

I should underline David's work on development and global poverty, the area he and I have worked together or in parallel on for the last several years. David has shown unmatched effectiveness as a creative spokesperson for the field and is unique in his ability to bring very different, often opposing voices together in support of this cause.

David's substantive capabilities, in economics, policy development, and global economic development are major but they are dwarfed by his principal skill: David solves impossibly complicated political/substantive/managerial problems entangled with men and women who cannot stand each other. He never raises his voice; and when he finishes, the problem is solved and the people all like each other.

I told David that you should never be a counselor or deputy unless you understand the four facts of life: They (1) do all of the work; (2) get none of the credit; (3) take all of the blame; and (4) are always lied to. He is going anyway, and The White House will be a much better place because David is there.

He is also a baseball obsessive.

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Bo Cutter is formerly a managing partner of Warburg Pincus, a major global private equity firm. Recently, he served as the leader of President Obama’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) transition team.

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Where Are the Values? A Tale of Two Obamas

Jan 26, 2011Richard Kirsch

President Obama should remember the narrative about the role of government told by candidate Obama.

President Obama should remember the narrative about the role of government told by candidate Obama.

When he ran for President, Obama told a story about the relationship between government and individuals, steeped in values, which resonated with a broad cross-section of Americans. But in his State of the Union Address last night, the narrative and values disappeared. Instead, the President retreated to the same mishmash of programs that Democrats are most often criticized for. The contrast with the Republican response offered by Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, whose entire remarks were about the Republican idea of limited government, was unmistakable.

For those who think that Democrats don’t have a powerful narrative, the best retort is the core of the speech Obama gave when he accepted the Democratic nomination for President in Denver:

What -- what is that American promise? It's a promise that says each of us has the freedom to make of our own lives what we will, but that we also have obligations to treat each other with dignity and respect. It's a promise that says the market should reward drive and innovation and generate growth, but that businesses should live up to their responsibilities to create American jobs, to look out for American workers, and play by the rules of the road. Ours -- ours is a promise that says government cannot solve all our problems, but what it should do is that which we cannot do for ourselves: protect us from harm and provide every child a decent education; keep our water clean and our toys safe; invest in new schools, and new roads, and science, and technology. Our government should work for us, not against us. It should help us, not hurt us. It should ensure opportunity not just for those with the most money and influence, but for every American who's willing to work. That's the promise of America, the idea that we are responsible for ourselves, but that we also rise or fall as one nation, the fundamental belief that I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper. That's the promise we need to keep. That's the change we need right now.

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In his State of the Union, Obama listed many of the same policies: investment in research, education and infrastructure and environmental and consumer protections. But the idea of a government that “works for us” was buried under a list of programs. The notion that businesses have a responsibility to look out for American workers was replaced by the proposal that businesses have no choice but to race to the bottom to compete internationally. The values of mutual responsibility and common humanity were still there, but harder to find; competition took center stage.

For me, the most remarkable line in the entire speech was, “We have to make America the best place on Earth to do business.” What about making America the best place on Earth to work? To raise a family? That would require the opposite of what businesses want: good wages and benefits, family-friendly policies like paid family and medical leave, day care, flexible work, and strong environmental and consumer regulations. And tax policies that force businesses to either use their hordes of accumulated cash to invest in good jobs in America or pay higher taxes to a government that would put people to work when business won’t.

Obama passed his signature health and financial reform regulations when he put aside his reluctance to attack corporate power and went after the health insurance and financial industries. He was successful when he tapped into the popular disgust with the way corporate America makes obscene profits at the expense of everyday Americans. Of course corporate America fought back! Those in power always fight the hardest when their power is threatened. But capitulating to their power and adopting their agenda won’t put people back to work or improve the lives of average families.

A great strength of the Republican message is that it is consistent; they stick to the same vision no matter what through all the ebbs and flows of time and events. We need Democrats to do the same. When he ran for President, Obama laid out a powerful, values-based story of the role of government in helping to foster a society based on our common humanity, on interwoven values of freedom and responsibility. If progressives are to succeed in the long run, we need to keep telling our story and projecting our vision. We need to consistently champion an America that works for all of us, based on an economy and a government that works for all of us. We need to reverse the devastation of rising income inequality and make it clear that a strong America is built on a strong middle class. And we need to keep telling our story and projecting our values over and over again -- even when a President who shares those beliefs runs away.

Richard Kirsch is a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute and is writing a book on the progressive campaign to enact health reform.

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SOTU: Like FDR, Obama Could Become Teacher-in-Chief

Jan 19, 2011Harvey J. Kaye

fdr-roosevelt-at-podium-150He may not have legislative victories ahead, but he can still tell the real story of American history.

fdr-roosevelt-at-podium-150He may not have legislative victories ahead, but he can still tell the real story of American history.

Okay, Obama is no FDR -- at least not the FDR who placed himself "at the head of the urban and agrarian masses," as progressive critic Max Lerner put it in 1939, and led one of the great "upsurging movements of American democracy."

So I won't waste time suggesting that Obama, in his State of the Union Message this coming Tuesday evening, should try to sound like the Second Coming of Roosevelt-the-New-Dealer. To say such things would be foolish, not only because the Republicans control the House, but also because Obama -- despite his community organizing experience -- just doesn't seem to have FDR's progressive spirit in him. Nevertheless, Obama does have in him something of the 32nd president, and I would urge him to start exercising it.

Like FDR, Obama has more than oratorical talents. He also has teaching talents. We need him to put them to work to counter the bizarre renditions of America's past propagated by the likes of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Senator Jim DeMint, Governor Rick Perry, chalk-boarder Glenn Beck, media hound Sarah Palin, and AEI president Arthur C. Brooks.

I would seriously urge Obama, the former law professor, to go pedagogical.

I would press him to go up to the Capitol and speak not just as President and Commander-in-Chief, but as Head Teacher. I would tell him to instruct Congress and the nation in American history -- not just the tea party types, but Republicans and Democrats alike. I would encourage him to recover and project the narrative of American experience that reminds us all that the United States was founded as a Grand Experiment. It is an experiment in freedom, equality, and democracy and in extending those ideals. It is an experiment literally inscribed in American life through the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and Bill of Rights, the Gettysburg Address, the Four Freedoms, and the innumerable words and songs delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

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I would then have the president direct our attention and imagination to the National Mall and the monuments we have built to presidents and others who inspired generations to fight for, defend, and advance the nation's historic purpose and promise. I would tell him to fervently recite the words "All men are created equal... Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness... We the People... A new birth of freedom... Government of the people, by the people, for the people... Freedom of speech and expression, Freedom of worship, Freedom from want, Freedom from fear... and We shall overcome." And I would insist that in the wake of doing so, he go out into the nation and tell that story over and over again.

Franklin Roosevelt regularly spoke to Congress and the public of the American experience and what it promised and demanded. In fact, he wanted to emulate his presidential mentors, Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, by writing histories of the United States as they each had. But he did not, for he discovered that he was no author. Still, he articulated a narrative of the nation's history and prospects through his speechmaking. It was a narrative that rejected the story repeatedly told to bolster the rule and status of WASP Americans and the propertied and corporate rich of the Gilded Age. He proffered one in favor of expanding the "We" in "We the People," empowering working people in public and industrial life, and fashioning a social-democratic polity. And when he and his party suffered setbacks in 1938 and 1942, he did not retreat but, rather, sustained that narrative and vision.

Now, when the once-again ascendant right threatens not only Obama's own pro-corporate Health Reform Act, but Social Security itself -- as well as any chance of real recovery, reconstruction, and reform -- and guarantees to return us to the social and economic order of the Gilded Age, Obama cannot win significant legislative victories. But as "Educator-in-Chief," he can cultivate a more progressive American narrative and thereby encourage energies that might once again turn into movements.

Harvey J. Kaye is the Rosenberg Professor of Democracy and Justice Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and the author of Thomas Paine and the Promise of America. He is currently writing The Four Freedoms and the Promise of America. Follow him on Twitter: www.twitter.com/HarveyJKaye

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The New Obama Team Will Get Things Done

Jan 7, 2011Bo Cutter

Shaping the future with today’s choices.

Shaping the future with today’s choices.

With the appointment of Gene Sperling as the new head of the National Economic Council (NEC), President Obama has completely changed up his original White House team. A new NEC head; new OMB Director; new National Security Advisor; new Chair of the Council of Economic Advisors; and, above all, new Chief of Staff. In typical Obama style, it was done with no drama, but the clearly needed reset has happened. I believe this is a superb team. But how can it be characterized?

First, these are pros. Every one of them understands the executive branch and how a White House should function. They will work with the executive and Cabinet and contend with the new Congress better than the previous team.

Second, they are managerially capable. They know how to manage organizations, operate the complicated inter-agency committee machinery that creates and maintains presidential policy, determine priorities, make decisions, and maintain focus. Throughout its first two years, the Obama White House was entirely transactional, a deal shop. Maybe that was necessary then, but it showed. The next two years will demand a much higher level of executive skills.

Third, they have all led other lives and are not Obama insiders. They bring a deep knowledge of other parts of American life. They do not owe everything to their link to the president and know, at least at the start, that their arrival at the White House does not mean they are genetically superior and have God's special favor.

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Fourth, they are not inherently high-maintenance and will jell as a team. Bill Daley will insist on it. For the first two years, there was a constant undercurrent that the "team" disliked each other and found it less and less possible to work together. I heard it from too many directions for that not to be at least partially true.

Fifth, they are all centrists and pragmatists. And they are all substantive. They will want to make serious progress on an important agenda. They will be willing to work with the new Republicans to move that agenda when it is possible. But they will be skillful political infighters when things come to that -- and things will.

As I have said in other blogs, President Obama has an uphill climb. The electoral arithmetic, the debacle he inherited, and what I consider strategic mistakes combine to make re-election a real challenge. But this new team are realists. They will not be Pollyannish about their situation; they will have a real strategy, and they will work the strategy. To paraphrase from a friend of mine from decades and another life ago, the Republicans clearly think they can whip Obama. But they better bring their lunch -- it'll be an all day job.

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Bo Cutter is formerly a managing partner of Warburg Pincus, a major global private equity firm. Recently, he served as the leader of President Obama’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) transition team.

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Drop the Hopey-Changey Thing. Redeem the Vision, Cultivate the Narrative

Dec 31, 2010Harvey J. Kaye

What’s coming in 2011?  We asked thought leaders to share their perspectives on the biggest challenges for the year ahead, along with the changes they’d like to see and the hopes they cherish. Harvey J. Kaye calls on liberals and progressives to cultivate a narrative that can drive political action.

What’s coming in 2011?  We asked thought leaders to share their perspectives on the biggest challenges for the year ahead, along with the changes they’d like to see and the hopes they cherish. Harvey J. Kaye calls on liberals and progressives to cultivate a narrative that can drive political action.

The challenges we face as a people are daunting and nothing less than America's very purpose and promise are at stake. We need to reinvigorate American economic life -- not to increase Wall Street's profits and bonuses, but to create good jobs and provide better wages for working people. We need to put people to work rebuilding and improving themselves, their communities, and the country's deteriorating infrastructures. And we must address the nation's staggering inequalities of wealth and power before they completely overwhelm what remains of American democracy.

However, the politics of the day afford little hope that we might do any of that.  Two years ago, Americans surprised the world and put a black liberal Democrat into the White House and progressives seemed poised to address the disasters of the Bush administration and the devastations of thirty years of conservative governance and corporate greed. Today, rightwingers and reactionaries prevail in the nation's public spaces, airwaves, and attentions (not to mention the Supreme Court).  They are now also about to take control of the House of Representatives with ambitions of not simply obstructing new liberal initiatives but also undoing, first, the reforms of the past two years and, then, the most critical social-democratic development of the twentieth century, Social Security.

Once again the left finds itself on the defensive (at best), and once again working people will suffer the consequences. As the editors of the New York Times observed on December 27:

In past economic crises, populist fervor has been for expanding the power of the national government to address America's pressing needs. Pleas for making good the nation's commitment to equality and welfare have been as loud as those for liberty. Now the many who are struggling have no progressive champion. The left have ceded the field to the Tea Party and, in doing so, allowed it to make history. It is building political power by selling the promise of a return to a mythic past.

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So, what do we do?

Like Sarah Palin, though for different reasons, I too am sick and tired of the "Hopey-Changey thing." Of course, I would like to believe that Obama can and will try to redeem his presidency. And I readily confess that in my wildest dreams I see him delivering a State of the Union Message that redeems FDR's vision of the Four Freedoms -- Freedom of speech and expression, Freedom of worship, Freedom from want, Freedom from fear -- and renews the 1944 call for an Economic Bill of Rights. I imagine a State of the Union Message that advances a program of recovery, reconstruction, and reform promising not more tax cuts for the wealthy, but public action, public investment, and public engagement that would mobilize the energies and enthusiasms of middle- and working-class Americans, especially young Americans. Furthermore, in those fantasies I see the President reaching out anew to labor and other progressive groups and calling on his fellow citizens to join him in building a movement to pursue the realization of such a vision, agenda, and program. And finally, I see him daring conservatives and moderates to try to oppose the energies of a newly energized citizenry.

But who am I kidding? For all his campaign rhetoric and speechifying, Obama has refused to mobilize Americans to carry out the politics and labors of "transformation." Instead, he has cut deals with corporate capitalists and conservative politicians. As I have recently written, Obama is no FDR.

Well, Obama may not be FDR. Hell, he may not even be Harry Truman. But that doesn't absolve us, America's liberals, progressives, and radicals, of our sins and errors -- that is, of our own failure to build a movement that would redeem America's purpose and promise and champion the needs and aspirations of working people.

We may not get to enact the changes that need enacting in 2011 -- no, let's face it, we won't get to do so. To save the nation, the President will have to use his veto, the Democratic minority will have to block Republican schemes; and the rest of us will have to protest. But we can and must do more.

We can and must work to remind our fellow citizens of who they are and what they might yet accomplish. We can and must combat the distortions and lies propagated by the right about America's past and present. We can and must advance arguments and ideas that inspire democratic memory, consciousness, and imagination. And we can and must cultivate a narrative of America, along with a range of policy options, which will encourage, if not drive, political action in favor of progressively extending and deepening freedom, equality, and democracy.

Harvey J. Kaye is the Rosenberg Professor of Democracy and Justice Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and the author of Thomas Paine and the Promise of America. He serves as an advisor to the Four Freedoms Park Project in New York.

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The Big Reset: The Next 2 Years of the Obama Presidency & the Next Chief of Staff

Dec 29, 2010Bo Cutter

Shaping the future with today's choices.

The presidency of Barack Obama is dangerously close to one term president territory. Events, the nature of the opposition and both strategic and tactical White House errors brought President Obama to this point. Like a sailing ship clawing away from the rocks on a lee shore, the path out of the corner the Administration is caught in is very very narrow.

Shaping the future with today's choices.

The presidency of Barack Obama is dangerously close to one term president territory. Events, the nature of the opposition and both strategic and tactical White House errors brought President Obama to this point. Like a sailing ship clawing away from the rocks on a lee shore, the path out of the corner the Administration is caught in is very very narrow.

That path -- the big reset -- requires three things: (1) a reorganized White House with, first of all, a new Chief of Staff -- the subject of this blog; (2) an audacious economic strategy that the President is determined to run with for the next two years -- the subject of the next blog; (3) a clear understanding by the White House of how it plans to fight and win some inevitable impending battles -- my last blog on this topic. In the absence of such a reset odds are this is a one term presidency. I went through one of those, they are no fun at all.

There should be little doubt that this presidency is in trouble. The November elections were a disaster. The previous losses in Virginia and Massachusetts were troubling. The overall mood of the country is not favorable. The economy is not recovering fast enough to bring employment down far enough. Political finesse and strategic/tactical mastery have not been hall marks of this White House's management -- until, to my surprise, the lame duck session; and the hurdle for the next two years will be higher. And the electoral map is a big problem. I cannot see -- at the moment -- how the President wins Florida, North Carolina, or Virginia, but without these states he cannot get to 270 electoral votes. And, I forgot, his base -- the left of the democratic party -- now hates him.

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The first thing the President must do is find himself a new chief of staff. This is not said with any disrespect for the present acting chief of staff -- Peter Rouse. He is said to be a fine man and he certainly did not cause the current problems of the President -- in fact the successful lame duck session is probably due to him -- but he also cannot solve them. He deserves a serious role but not chief of staff. This White House is a highly comfortable, deeply-pleased-with-itself culture of true Obama believers. At its best -- in the Rahm days -- it was completely transactional. It has never been strategically managed, and as a result has never had any apparent strategy. People I trust who are in a position to know emphasize that it is not well organized, and shows little apparent concern with accountability. It is composed, essentially, of long time Obama insiders. Another insider will find it hard to confront these problems. (Nor is it clear an outsider can solve them, he or she could be cut to ribbons by the rest of the staff.)

To cope with all of this a new chief of staff has to have the following characteristics: first, he must have sufficient stature to stand up to all of the status quo arguments he will get, and still make the tough choices that are required. A lot of these are going to be about people. Second, his experience has to be managerial and, ideally, executive branch. This is not a task for a former Congressperson. Every instinct that background fosters is wrong for now. Third, he must have the experience to understand that the Executive Branch and the Congress - even the democrats in Congress - are different. Think permanent hard nosed negotiations. Fourth, he must be able to (and temperamentally willing to) manage the Cabinet. And, finally, he has to be able to stand up to the President.

This set of skills is not easy to find. I can think of two obvious candidates: Erskine Bowles and Leon Panetta, both of whom were wonderful chiefs of staff. I suspect they do not want to do it twice but President Obama needs someone with similar skills. But when he finds someone of that caliber he will be asked the obvious question: "what is the job?" That means: is this intended to be a role that pursues modest changes in the current course or is the President committed to real change? I hope the President's answer is the second.

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Bo Cutter is formerly a managing partner of Warburg Pincus, a major global private equity firm. Recently, he served as the leader of President Obama’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) transition team.

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