June 06, 2010

The Cargo Cult Economic Recovery Under the Rahm Emanuel Administration

Sometimes I say to myself, "Self (for I want to get my attention), what's the deal with this Obama Administration? Why is it setting the table for the Tea Party?" I'm willing, you see, to ask myself the tough questions. Others may dodge them, but in the privacy of my own mind, I follow the facts where they lead.

What I'm coming around to is the slow realization that the country is actually led by Obama's Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel. If I think of it that way, it mostly makes sense. Rahm is Old School, a political deal-maker who operates pretty much as his brother Ari does in the show biz agency game. If you want to get things done, what you do is get a bunch of power players in one room and cut a deal. This is how Pragmatic People get things done. It's not a lot of airy-fairy, Hopey-Changey bullshit. That's fine for getting elected - give the suckers what they want to hear. But once you're in charge, you have to act like a grownup, and grownups deal with the possible.

Health care "reform" was done this way, the energy bill will be done this way, financial "reform"
is being done this way. Emanuel and his Democratic Leadership Council cohorts are running a kind of Names Project where the big bills have the titles of real change without any of the substance. You want Health Care Reform? Here. And what you get is a large, unfunded expansion of the Medicaid program, and not much else. That looks doable to the Big Boyz, so they do that. Financial reform? Okay, we'll limit what the Bank of America can charge you when you get cash back at Safeway on your ATM. Satisfied? Who cares if you aren't satisfied.

The people summoned to the back offices of the West Wing of the White House do fine under the existing economy, so they don't want to change much. In this sense, Barack is useful to them. Obama, I get the feeling, is something of a naif, a political neophyte, and more or less a tool for the Powers That Be. He's in over his head. His natural inclinations are conciliatory and "compromising," which the political sharks swimming around him take as an invitation to do things their way. It's kind of endearing and touching that Barack has this enduring belief in the good intentions of all the assholes in the federal government, but it's massively displaced and it has shanghaied his Presidency and made him ineffective.

The only satisfaction I get out of watching the U.S. economy thrash and struggle in the La Brea Tar Pits of the current Depression is the realization that Rahm Emanuel's Cargo Cult expectation that the economy will spontaneously "recover" is being systematically destroyed before our eyes. It isn't happening. Barack, Joltin' Joe and Rahm have been reduced to using Census Bureau overhiring (at ridiculous levels) as a sign of recovery. Nothing of the sort is happening. This is not a "cyclical downturn," and blaming all of what is happening on a "subprime crisis" is simply wishful thinking. We are experiencing the natural result of about three decades of allowing the U.S. middle class to be hollowed out and wrecked, and of permitting ever greater fractions of national wealth to be concentrated in financial elites who operate at the multinational level. It's really that simple. The middle class was kept viable for a couple of decades by massive borrowing, but now the collateral for such borrowing has been destroyed, average income will not support the previous standard of living, and the Moment of Truth has arrived.

To extend and pretend for a while longer, the U.S. has led the international community in taking private debt on to the public ledger, running huge deficits and turning what was a private catastrophe into a sovereign debt crisis. The alternative was to face the truth, something the political system will not allow. It would have taken a very forceful, self-confident, visionary, intellectual-sprung-from-the-head-of-Zeus leader to take us in the right direction, and Obama is not that person. Nor is Rahm Emanuel, who is running the show, although he is a great deal more savvy than the President. Rahm decided that it was innovative enough just for Obama to be the first minority President; beyond that, it was to be business as usual, with the Clinton Presidency as the cultural and political model. Thus, vacations on Martha's Vineyard, dinners in Georgetown, flexing of American military muscle to keep the Right Wing off balance, forgiveness of war crimes, continuation of Bush/Cheney outrages in detainee civil liberties abuses, expansion of unnecessary wars. All the same stuff, including (and unlike Clinton) an actual increase in military spending.

The only hope for the American economy in the long run is (a) a fundamental change in the energy paradigm and (b) protectionism in the form of tariffs and abandonment of the free trade fetish. The economy runs on energy. So many people could be employed, so much could be done at so little environmental cost, if we moved to solar power, in all its various forms, on a massive basis. And it here that Obama-Emanuel have been all talk and no effective action. The money, as always, goes to the Pentagon. From the 2011 Federal Budget description:

Encourages the Early Commercial Use of
New, Innovative Energy Technologies that
Will Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions.
The Budget substantially expands support for
DOE loan guarantees for innovative energy
technologies, by adding $36 billion in new loan
authority (for a total of $54.5 billion) for nuclear
power facilities and an additional $500 million
in credit subsidy to support $3 to $5 billion in
loan guarantees for innovative energy efficiency
and renewable energy projects. The loan guarantee
program also will continue to support a
range of commercial renewable energy programs
and other facilities that help reduce pollutants
and greenhouse gases while simultaneously
creating clean energy jobs and contributing to
long-term economic growth and international
There you have it. All of those "millions of Green Jobs" that Obama talked about on the campaign trail: that's what is supposed to get it done. "Loan guarantees" for innovative energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. And the cost of maintaining the military occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq under the new budget? $170 billion, as part of $700 billion in official Pentagon spending. Obama/Emanuel do not want to give the Right Wing ammunition for the accusation that they are "Socialist," so they will not do what needs to be done, a true Manhattan Project for alternative energy. Too "radical." Politics is the art of the possible, and that just isn't possible. I understand the difficulty, I believe, but it doesn't make sense to be pragmatic when practicality keeps a country mired in stagnation. If you're going to Change things, you really have to be willing to Change things. Alas, it is not to be.

So let's wait, like the South Sea Islanders, for the cargo to float ashore again, as it has in years gone by. Let's pay about 16 bucks an hour to one in every 500 Americans to count the rest of us and call it "job growth." Let's screw around and just keep doing the same things and expecting different results. Let's all go to hell in a handbasket, but look Presidential doing it.

1 comment:

  1. Machipongo John3:02 PM

    Presidential Naifness:

    Roosevelt: not a Naif
    Truman: Naif
    Eisenhower: not a Naif
    Kennedy: Naif, but had a brother said to be "a sinister little bastard".
    Johnson: not a Naif
    Nixon: not a Naif
    Ford: Naif
    Carter: Naif
    Reagan: Naif
    Bush: not a Naif
    Clinton: not a Naif
    Bush: Naif with really nasty friends
    Obama: Naif? Remains to be seen.
    So is Naifness good or bad? Score: Naifs 6, non-Naifs 6 for the second half of the 20th and first decade of the 21st.