Bird that Sings

September 14, 2011

Barry One Term and the Lesser Depression

Filed under: Politics,Uncategorized — admin @ 3:32 pm

On November 30, 1967 Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota declared his candidacy for the Democratic Nomination for President against the sitting Democratic President, Lyndon Johnson.

Johnson’s Presidency, born of the assassination of John Kennedy and consecrated in the Voting Rights Act of 1965, was in trouble over the War in Vietnam.

While McCarthy’s announcement roused a bunch of college students to cut their beards, stop smoking so much dope, and go “clean for Gene,” the official response to McCarthy was much more tepid. The New York Times invariably described McCarthy’s anti-war, protest candidacy as “quixotic;” as in Don Quixote, Cervantes faux knight who “tilted at windmills.”

Then in February of 1968, came the Tet offensive where the North Vietnamese regular Army along with the guerilla Viet Cong of the South launched a coordinated assault on the 500,000 strong American Army in Vietnam, all things considered probably the most powerful Army ever assembled, and suddenly Americans came to the shocked realization that in Vietnam there was no light at the end of the tunnel.

A month later, on March 12th, McCarthy came within a few thousand votes of defeating Johnson in the New Hampshire primary and then on March 16th, Johnson’s biggest political nightmare came true: New York Senator Robert Kennedy, the anti-war brother of the martyred JFK, announced his candidacy for the Democratic Nomination.

Two weeks later Lyndon Johnson, who’d won reelection to his own term as President in 1964 by the largest margin since FDR beat Alf Landon in 1936, officially withdrew his name as a candidate for the Democratic Nomination, having been beaten, not by Eugene McCarthy, but by history.

The “Tet moment” in the context of the 2011/12 Election cycle will probably come with the financial crisis triggered by the collapse of several European Banks in the Fall of 2011. Whether the crisis triggers a world wide credit freeze like in 2008, a sovereign debt default of Italy and Spain or the exit of either the EuroZone’s economically strongest or weakest nations is too early to say, but the cost to the World Economy will be staggering.

Just as the Vietnam War was not going well before the Tet Offensive, the US economy is already in “lesser depression” according to many economists.

While people know–and feel– this, unlike the Great Depression the current economic hardship has not affected either politics or the culture in a meaningful way. We’re still talking in the same political, social and cultural terms we were before the slump began.

This aura of normalcy has been a major achievement of the Obama Presidency but has also proved politically mistaken. Up until now, the guiding principal of the Obama Presidency has been “don’t do nothing stupid,” but in the eyes of many Americans the perception is “they didn’t do nothing” and that especially means nothing on jobs.

Aside from playing along with Big Business, the Banks and Wall Street, the big tactical mistake Obama and the Democrats made— most notably during the 2010 midterm elections— was their insistence that the economy was in a slow recovery rather than acknowledging the signs of stagnation many of the public were living with every day.

Now Obama has discovered we’re in a jobs emergency, but it’s too late: too late to change the politically minimalist narrative of his Presidency and also too late for the half measures he’s proposing. The entire political-economic landscape is about to change and the Administration is not only behind the curve, it’s about to get lapped.

This is the big reason Obama needs to be primaried. Among the blue collar middle class–never Obama’s base– there is already an understanding that there never was no recovery. Crystallization of the knowledge that things are going to continue getting worse for the foreseeable future will likely make Barry One-term unelectable in 2012.

At the very least Obama has to defend his ideas–as ideas–in another political arena and not just against a Republican Party simply bent on destroying him. Obama’s constant back pedaling on everything from health care, to tax cuts for the Rich to protecting Medicare and Social Security have earned him only contempt, both from his ex supporters and his enemies.

As for the up-until-now only imagined anti-Obama candidate in Iowa and New Hampshire, 2012 is going to be a year for insurgents, not incumbents and will favor boldness, rather than the conventional neo-liberal thinking that continues to hold Obama captive.

An insurgent Democratic Presidential candidate has to propose a simple agenda that promotes job growth while symbolizing the underlying problems in both the political economy and culture.

Here are a few suggestions.

1) Compulsory National Service
A National Service program for young people would be made up of two components. One would be the option of military service that would replace the volunteer army. The other option would be either domestic service in an enlarged and re-imagined AmeriCorps-Vista or foreign service in a fully funded Peace Corps.

National Service would not only provide a huge macro economic stimulus giving gainful employment to an entire generation who are currently underemployed at .  . . well, Depression era levels, but provide de-facto job training as well as a reinvention of Citizenship and the Democratic idea.

2) Carbon Tax
A carbon tax would serve several purposes. It would help level the playing field for American products and manufacturing, making them comparatively more affordable by factoring in carbon costs of foreign made products. It would create new American manufacturing jobs while serving as a powerful disincentive against outsourcing existing ones and would also discourage the use of conventional petro carbon based fuels and packaging. A carbon tax would encourage energy alternatives; hopefully before we begin dropping dead in droves on Main Street.

3) Fund National Infrastructure bank/end Bush Tax cuts for the Rich
True, Obama has proposed a version of this as well as new taxes on the Rich. They’re good ideas. The problem with Barry One-Term’s proposal is that he can’t get enough Federal money to make it effective, having already ceded the stimulus debate to Republicans by his timid refusal to address the underlying dysfunction of Finance Capitalism that led to the crisis in the first place.

Instead of Obama’s proposal, his primary opponent should call for enactment of Ed Rendell’s original National Infrastructure Bank proposal, to be fully funded by ending George Bush’s tax cuts for the Rich. This, yet another initiative that Barry One-Term already whiffed on last December.

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