Monday, August 1, 2011

first principles

Let's suppose that, contrary to what some of my detractors say, I am actually someone who is inclined to give Obama the benefit of the doubt. You don't have to believe that I do. Let's just work from that assumption as a thought experiment.

I'd like to lay out some of my broad stances on contemporary American politics, and for the sake of fairness, I'll try to restrict myself to what I think is at least plausible within our system and leave out my crazy socialist preferences. Now, you read this list, and tell me where I'm supposed to draw comfort from the Obama administration. (And I'll insist that you do it based on the Obama administration that actually exists, rather than the wishful thinking Obama that I read about all the time or the eleventh dimensional chess playing Obama that is supposedly working all of these crazy angles.)

1. I believe that both the practical and moral interests of the United States are served by providing for the least well off and through building a robust social safety net which ameliorates the negative effects of chance, providing all Americans with a minimal level of material security and opportunity. I further think that Social Security and Medicare are two of the most vital parts of that safety net, and that any liberal or Democrat should take defending these institutions as an absolute non-negotiable duty.

2. I believe that civil liberties are at the core of democracy, and that we must protect them forcefully against incursion by government. This includes keeping rights of the accused sacrosanct, trying suspected criminals in an open and fair court system, not permitting a national domestic surveillance state, and maintaining a principled objection to cruel and unusual punishments or interrogation techniques such as torture. I also believe that, human nature being what it is, democratic structures require internal watchdogs and whistle blowers who can shed light on abuses or illegalities in powerful bureaucracies, and that any society interested in the rule of law will protect such people when they come forward.

3. I believe that it is not in the best interest of our country or the world to engage in armed conflict except when absolutely necessary for the immediate protection of our country or allies that we are obliged to protect through treaty. I believe that expansive military operations damage our democratic credibility, drain our resources, undermine our legitimacy in the eyes of the world, and threaten our ability to engage in truly necessary conflict, such as in times of self-defense. I believe that armed conflict, whether called a war or not, should require the approval of both the legislative and executive branches of the government, and that the ability to continue to wage these conflicts must continually pass review from autonomous parts of government. I believe that playing policeman to the world is neither within self-interest nor the moral authority of the United States.

4. I believe that a counter-cyclical, Keynesian macroeconomic philosophy is in the best interests of the United States. I believe that governments can and should spend more than their current revenues when faced with economic downturns in order to stimulate the economy, especially when those governments enjoy a powerful fiat currency and access to the printing press. I believe that the best economic evidence demonstrates that austerity measures slow the growth that is the only reliable engine of fiscal security and is thus counterproductive. I believe that surpluses can be generated in economic boom times which can pay down national debt and provide for the fiscal solvency of the nation when times are lean again. I believe the federal government is nothing at all like a typical household and that making major economic decisions based on faulty analogies comparing the two is demonstrably bad policy.

5. I believe that widespread employment in healthy and safe conditions for decent wages is an absolutely elementary part of the basic American social compact, and that in times of high unemployment the federal government should make every available effort to create jobs, up to and including directly hiring more government employees. I believe that providing opportunity for all Americans is a far more important priority for the country than protecting the ability of the already rich to grow richer.

6. I believe that efforts to maintain fiscal responsibility must be pursued first through fair and progressive taxation. I believe that there is no injustice in those who already enjoy great material wealth having some higher portion of that wealth taxed away. I believe that it has been amply demonstrated that this country enjoys top-end incomes that are so robust that high marginal tax rates can be levied against those incomes without demonstrably hurting those at the top. I believe that it is absolutely just, practical, and sensible to expect those who have enjoyed the great fruits of our democracy to contribute a disproportionate share of the money that ensures our democracy remain solvent.

7. I finally believe, on a purely tactical level, that rewarding bad behavior inevitably reinforces that behavior and ensures that it will continue. I don't open the door when my dog whines to come in; I wouldn't give a child throwing a tantrum the toy he is asking for. Capitulation to terrible behavior sends the unmistakable message that terrible behavior is rewarded and should be repeated.

Look, I get it: I'm a crazy socialist asshole who no one likes. Cool. I've just described what I have to think is a perfectly anodyne, totally conventional and essentially moderate liberal vision for the presidency. Can anyone claim that the Obama administration has done anything whatsoever to advance my interests? Not a day goes by where I argue politics online without some Obama supporter hurling invective at me and insisting that I have no choice, that if I refuse to vote for Obama I am in essence voting for Michelle Bachmann, that it's a two party system and I should just take it and like it, or, most absurdly, that he secretly is pursuing my agenda and I'm just too stupid to read the tea leaves and SEE. (Andrew Sullivan's "meep meep" thing has become the rallying cry of daydream believin' Kool-Aid drinkers everywhere.)


I am a citizen in a democracy. It's my duty to support politicians that advance my interests and that I believe work for the betterment of our country. I am asking sincerely and openly: given that I have the commitments I've laid out above, how can I possibly support Barack Obama? He bragged-- bragged-- yesterday that this deal would be lowering non-defense discretionary spending to its lowest levels since the Eisenhower administration. That is, he bragged about his role in ending essential government programs that defend our environment, educate our children, provide crucial scientific and medical research, and in a myriad of ways contribute to the flourishing of our country and our people. At some point, the charade can't continue. This is not merely a person who doesn't deserve my support. This is a person who is unequivocally and demonstrably not an American liberal, and someone who has no interest in defending the historical constituencies or commitments of the Democratic party.


Oh, and during the election next year, will they still call him a crazy Kenyan Marxist socialist, and will it still work? You betcha.

20 comments:

redscott said...

It's a simple view of politics as it used to be practiced, a transactional one where you asked politicians to deliver tangible things to you in exchange for votes and/or money. If they didn't, then why should you give them anything? Support people who support the things you believe in and want; if they don't and actually do the opposite, it's stupid and self-defeating to continue to enable them. This isn't hard.

Anonymous said...

"I'm a citizen in a democracy..."

No, you're not. You're a citizen in a REPUBLIC. That you don't know that basic fact doesn't instil a lot of confidence in me to trust the rest of your post.

Joseph FM said...

How about this: on all points aside from 2 & 3, Obama is essentially powerless without an effective and powerful Congressional leadership, which he has never had, and he's is therefore stuck trying to spin his own failures as victories in order to maintain popular support. Essentially, you shouldn't draw any comfort from anything - because this is the best anyone could manage, regardless of what their actual principles are.

The reason people say you're nuts (and I'm not saying that, because I mostly agree) isn't that you're a socialist; it's that you naively think things like "principles" actually have a place in politics.

Freddie said...

http://i57.photobucket.com/albums/g213/vastleft/AE/American-Extremists-08-01-11.png

DURRRRRRR

Creon Critic said...

I’ll preface this by saying you have a perfect right to decide what issues are deal breakers for your vote. But answering as to how you could possibly support Barack Obama, well, we have a first past the post electoral system strongly advantaging two major parties – Duverger’s Law and all that. Obama leads the major party nearest to the positions you outlined - with emphasis on the “nearest”.

So one need not reach the nightmarish scenario of a President Bachmann, choosing one example of many: What President will select the next one or two Supreme Court justices? The difference is as stark as that between Roberts and Alito on the one side and Kagan and Sotomayor on the other. Just to be clear, support to me doesn’t mean refrain from criticizing the Obama administration. To me, any administration requires criticism, activism, etc.. And anyone saying you “should take it and like it” is clearly wrong.

Mike at The Big Stick said...

Freddie - as a conservative this comment will probably sound very partisan and self-serving, but I will say it anyway. This is a fantastic post. Not because you are slamming the President but because it is a clear and concise statement of principles and a brave declaration of why you have lost your faith in the President.

I'm on the south side of 30 now, starting to finally feel like a grown-up and a slightly grouchy one at that. I have similar feelings about my side of the aisle more often these days. Whenever I can pull my thoughts into something half as coherent as this, I hope I can do as well as you have.

Freddie said...

Thanks, Mike.

ovaut said...

i like you mate

Plinko said...

I think Obama is the best conservative president we've had since Eisenhower.

Other than that, spot on on all points.

Anonymous said...

Your politics are a cool throwback to the Populist era. Back then, L'Hote would have featured broadsides lambasting the evil gold interests and our annexation of Guam. And more attacks on circumcision, no doubt.

Judd said...

I like it, Freddie. It's refreshing to see someone so open and forthright about what they believe in. However, I must echo other comments in that you should probably support the candidate who is closest to your own ideas - it will never exactly match up.

Also, that Anonymous who claimed the US is a republic, not a democracy, is being stupid. We're a democratic republic. The to things are not mutually exclusive.

Mysterious Man from the shadows said...

Out of curiosity, who do you consider the best President at upholding these principles in modern times?

I'm thinking the last guy who came close was LBJ, but he clearly failed terribly at #3.

Filler said...

@anon 11:57am:

There are two common definitions of the word "republic"--a state without a monarchy (note that this means you can have both democratic and non-democratic republics), or the definition that Madison used, which is synonymous with representative democracy (here's a good post that elaborates on this further).

Maybe you shouldn't scold people over things you don't know anything about.

JARGOn said...

i like your sayings
you can be a politician

Freddie said...

I like praise so much I'm leaving this spam right here up.

Darren Gasser said...

"Can anyone claim that the Obama administration has done anything whatsoever to advance my interests?"

The PPACA.
Expansion of GLBT rights.
Restoring the civil rights division of the Justice Department.
Justices Kagan and Sotomayor (who, as pointed out above, are far more likely to support your principles for many years to come, contra Justices Roberts, Alito, or Thomas).
The stimulus bill.

And while Greenwald and others may be right that Obama is just itching in his heart to cut Social Security and Medicare, it hasn't happened yet. So far he's still in accordance with your principle of maintaining these programs.

And yes, I do think it's a valid argument to point out that a President McCain, Bachmann, Perry, or even Romney would be substantially worse on every single one of your principles. Supporting the lesser of two evils is not irrational.

Art Deco said...

4. I believe that a counter-cyclical, Keynesian macroeconomic philosophy is in the best interests of the United States. I believe that governments can and should spend more than their current revenues when faced with economic downturns in order to stimulate the economy, especially when those governments enjoy a powerful fiat currency and access to the printing press. I believe that the best economic evidence demonstrates that austerity measures slow the growth that is the only reliable engine of fiscal security and is thus counterproductive. I believe that surpluses can be generated in economic boom times which can pay down national debt and provide for the fiscal solvency of the nation when times are lean again. I believe the federal government is nothing at all like a typical household and that making major economic decisions based on faulty analogies comparing the two is demonstrably bad policy.


Well, if you can make it work. The last datum I recall seeing put the multiplier associated with the stimulus spending at 0.6.




5. I believe that widespread employment in healthy and safe conditions for decent wages is an absolutely elementary part of the basic American social compact, and that in times of high unemployment the federal government should make every available effort to create jobs, up to and including directly hiring more government employees. I believe that providing opportunity for all Americans is a far more important priority for the country than protecting the ability of the already rich to grow richer.


A. What is 'decent'?;

B. Why not pose a question as to why labor markets function so poorly in this country, and what can be done to ameliorate that?;

6. I believe that efforts to maintain fiscal responsibility must be pursued first through fair and progressive taxation. I believe that there is no injustice in those who already enjoy great material wealth having some higher portion of that wealth taxed away. I believe that it has been amply demonstrated that this country enjoys top-end incomes that are so robust that high marginal tax rates can be levied against those incomes without demonstrably hurting those at the top. I believe that it is absolutely just, practical, and sensible to expect those who have enjoyed the great fruits of our democracy to contribute a disproportionate share of the money that ensures our democracy remain solvent.

Whatever. You should clarify in your own mind, however, whether you are proposing to tax their income or their assets.

7. I finally believe, on a purely tactical level, that rewarding bad behavior inevitably reinforces that behavior and ensures that it will continue. I don't open the door when my dog whines to come in; I wouldn't give a child throwing a tantrum the toy he is asking for. Capitulation to terrible behavior sends the unmistakable message that terrible behavior is rewarded and should be repeated.

I have been saying for years that incorrigibles should be removed from elementary and junior high schools and put in holding pens run by the Sheriff's department. Thanks for your endorsement.

I've just described what I have to think is a perfectly anodyne, totally conventional and essentially moderate liberal vision for the presidency.

And one which leaves unaddressed salient problems of consequence.

Art Deco said...

3. I believe that it is not in the best interest of our country or the world to engage in armed conflict except when absolutely necessary for the immediate protection of our country or allies that we are obliged to protect through treaty. I believe that expansive military operations damage our democratic credibility, drain our resources, undermine our legitimacy in the eyes of the world, and threaten our ability to engage in truly necessary conflict, such as in times of self-defense. I believe that armed conflict, whether called a war or not, should require the approval of both the legislative and executive branches of the government, and that the ability to continue to wage these conflicts must continually pass review from autonomous parts of government. I believe that playing policeman to the world is neither within self-interest nor the moral authority of the United States.


A. But what is 'absolutely necessary'?;

B. What is 'democratic credibility' and what is 'legitimacy' in this context? Why are these things of interest?;

C. Why would anyone want appellate judges second guessing foreign policy decision or military operations? They have no relevant expertise and they are often officious above and beyond the call of duty?;

Art Deco said...

1. I believe that both the practical and moral interests of the United States are served by providing for the least well off and through building a robust social safety net which ameliorates the negative effects of chance, providing all Americans with a minimal level of material security and opportunity. I further think that Social Security and Medicare are two of the most vital parts of that safety net, and that any liberal or Democrat should take defending these institutions as an absolute non-negotiable duty.

A. Why the interests of 'the United States'? Why not the interests of local communities?;

B. How are common provision and redistribution to be structured so that people will not be discouraged from functioning as working adults responsible for their own families?;

C. Social Security and Medicare are means to a certain end and the latter has some knotty problems. Why is 'defending' them a non-negotiable?;


2. I believe that civil liberties are at the core of democracy, and that we must protect them forcefully against incursion by government. This includes keeping rights of the accused sacrosanct, trying suspected criminals in an open and fair court system, not permitting a national domestic surveillance state, and maintaining a principled objection to cruel and unusual punishments or interrogation techniques such as torture. I also believe that, human nature being what it is, democratic structures require internal watchdogs and whistle blowers who can shed light on abuses or illegalities in powerful bureaucracies, and that any society interested in the rule of law will protect such people when they come forward.

A. Liberties, civil and otherwise, are agreeable things to have. Measures of liberty form a component of justice. (They do not define justice). Some measure of liberty is necessary for there to be deliberative processes, which in turn is an integral part of popular government. However, liberty has purposes and value apart from its utility for deliberative assemblies. A 'free society' may have a 'free government' which may be a 'popular government', but these are distinct phenomena conceptually and occasionally in practice as well.

B. Once upon a time, I had to be familiar with the stats on the operation of the penal courts in New York. IIRC, about 2% of all convictions were as a consequence of trials in front of petit juries. You had bench trials in front of justices of the peace and you had negotiated guilty pleas. Good luck with constructing a machinery of justice upon juries.

C. The professional culture of our corps of public prosecutors is a big problem. A handful of reprobates being subjected to simulated drowning is a small problem.

Greg Sanders said...

I'd echo Darren Gasser with particular emphasis on the affordable care act.

Obviously we got a stripped down version of the principle of universal health care, but the principle is there.

Social Security and Medicare are important, but they will not help you if you come down with a serious ailment at thirty then your dependent on the more limited options of Medicaid.

We've had forty years of failure to achieve that universality. Medicaid had some key element, SCHIP did great things for children, etc. However, Ted Kennedy thought his failure to get a deal with Nixon was his greatest failure, Bill Clinton couldn't get his program past a democratic Congress, it passed under Barrack Obama.

To be clear, I will glaly admit its weaknesses, but getting in the principle of universality, even if we have to hold the line until 2014, was worth fighting and is worth being proud of. There is much more to be done, but even taking that first step was the culmination of decades, in some cases lifetimes of work.

All of our victories our flawed, sometimes these flaws are crippling but the success of Romneycare in Massachusetts shows that the ACA should have enough in it to dramatically improve conditions for the presently unemployed. (By comparison, I think it's far from clear if Dodd-Frank will be enough to prevent the next crisis.)

I'd say it's important for the movement to acknowledge victories, even ones filled with compromises. Many lives will be changed for the better by the ACA and it was made possible by hordes of liberals, progressives, unions, health care workers, social democrats, and no s small number of outright nose-holding socialists working their butts off. Obviously they didn't do it for Obama, but you get credit for what passes under your administration.

I'm not an expert on social movements, but I think that celebrating even flawed successes that still made a real difference is part of the process. It is one thing to say that on the balance, you find Obama's leadership to be inadequate to your goals. It is another to deny the existence of any real victories that he had a direct hand in.