Monday, August 16, 2010

Let me say again that Elizabeth Warren isn't so much unconfirmable to the CFPB as she is unnominatable


by Ken

There has been much online chatter, bordering on excitement, among our online brothers and sisters of the Left regarding the New Republic cover story by John Judis, "The Unnecessary Fall: A counter-history of the Obama presidency" (unfortunately available free only to subscribers).

Our friend Jimmy the Saint passes along the above link, which seems to take us to the full text of the Judis article "without giving Peretz any money," as he puts it, referring to the magazine's infamously scummy proprietor. This strikes me as an altogther worthy goal.

I think these early grafs summarize the basic proposition:
Politicians, such as Franklin Roosevelt or Ronald Reagan, who found a way of using populism’s appeal during downturns have enjoyed success, while those who have spurned it have suffered accordingly. If, in circumstances like the present one, you don’t develop a populist politics, your adversaries will use populism to define you as an enemy of the people. That’s what Carter discovered during the stagflation of the late ’70s. And that’s what has happened in the last 20 months of the Great Recession to Barack Obama and to the Democratic Party he leads.

Obama took office with widespread popular support, even among Republicans, and some of his first efforts, including the $800 billion stimulus, initially enjoyed strong public favor. But that wide appeal began to dissipate by the late spring of 2009. Disillusion with Obama fueled the November defeat of Democratic gubernatorial candidates in New Jersey and Virginia. By January 2010, it was a crucial factor in Republican Scott Brown’s astonishing victory over Martha Coakley in Massachusetts.

In the postmortem debate over these defeats, some Democrats have blamed Obama’s dogged pursuit of health care reform while the economy was hemorrhaging jobs. That may have been a factor, but the real damage was done earlier. What doomed Obama politically was the way he dealt with the financial crisis in the first six months of his presidency. In an atmosphere primed for a populist backlash, he allowed the right wing to define the terms.

It's an eminently solid piece, very much worth your attention, but I'm not entirely sure I understand what the fuss is about. Is there anything in it that isn't thrice familiar to, say, the average Down With Tyranny reader who's been paying attention since the dawn of the Obama administration? True, Judis does a nice job of bringing it all together: the public 's well-justified perception that administration economic policy is being made by (and for) Wall Street insiders, which "colored its view of the auto bailout, the stimulus, and health care reform"; the "delayed and muddled response to the BP disaster in the Gulf"; the deaf ear the White House economics team turned to economists of the stature of Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz coupled with the president's "inability to explain to the public why he sought such a large stimulus" and subsequent public abandonment of the jobs issue; the president's own well-documented "strange aversion to confrontational politics," which has led to a "disastrous" attempt "to elevate Obama above the hurly-burly of Washington politics" and enabled the Right to define his "otherness." See anything new there? Anything we haven't all be screaming about for many months now?

In addition to stringing all of this together, the piece certainly has the built-in virtue of appearing in that bastion of right-wing non-liberalism The New Republic, so that it can't be dismissed by smarmy asswipes like White House Press Worm Robert Gibbs as the drug-induced ravings of "the professional left."

For all the excited chatter on the Left, I can't say that I see even yet any indication that anyone inside the administration grasps any of the stuff Judis cites, which dumbfounds me, but then, what's new about that? For how long now have I been dumbfounded?

It's not as hard to understand in the case of someone as fundamentally corrupt as Rahm Emanuel. Wasn't Howie warning as soon as the president-elect tapped the party's leading megacorporate superwhore to be his chief of staff that this was likely to be the death knell for his administration? My own apprehensions were targeted slightly differently: that in the chief of staff's crucial gate-keeper's role, he would control access of people and information to the president. That really doesn't seem to be an issue. Rahm seems to "protect" the boss from things he really wants to be protected from.

Bur for all we hear of discordance inside the administration, there really doesn't seem to be any serious counterweight to the Rahmesque world view as X-and-O-ed by Larry Summers and "Tiny Tim" Geithner. I get the feeling that Gabbling Gibbsy is just a knuckle-dragging imbecile, of no importance except insofar as he (a) does such an execrable job of representing the administration's views to the media and (b) is allowed to treat the Right worshipfully while liberally trashing the Left. More to the point, that all of the administration insiders remains so uniformly clueless, how can that happen?

A lot of progressives given to hopelessly wishful thinking keep pointing to even the compromised initiatives of the administration as being "starts" that can be built on. Do they have working brains? Do they really not see that this administration has degraded and discredited every authentically progressive program it has laid its grubby mitts on? In the case of the health care giveaway to the insurance companies, I mean "reform," it will be years before average Americans see any meaningful benefits, years in which their economic footing is becoming at best increasingly shaky and at worst just plain freefall.

Because of the way the "reform" was bludgeoned through, it has almost no friends and mortal enemies, popular and political, all over the political spectrum, enemies who will be lying in wait for its failure, doing everything they can to facilitate its failure. As for the climate and energy "reform" package the administration tried so pathetically to squeeze through,, it contained so much simply monstrous anti-progressive regression that even now nobody I trust on environmental matters will say that it would have done more good than harm.

Immigration reform? This administration hasn't a ghost of a whisper of an idea how it might be accomplished, and contented itself with unconscionable sops to the demagoguing right-wing nativists like that $600 million the administration found somewhere, at a time when it couldn't find a paltry few bucks for teachers, whose only effect -- apart from throwing $600 million down the drain (unless you want to count it as economic-stimulus spending) -- is to legitimize anti-immigrant demagogues' insane delusion that "fortifying" the border in any way whatsoever enhances our security or economic well-being, thereby making any kind of reality-based immigration reform even more impossible.

And of course this monstrous giveaway didn't pick up a single vote for a rational reform program, or redirect the discussion, except in the direction of accepting ever uglier and more dysfunctional xenophobic "thinking" on the subject of immigration. And so on down the policy-initiative line.

Maybe that's what the Obama administration's passivity and first-resort waving of the white flag are all about: They're fraidy-scared that Republicans will say bad things about them.

I suppose a better explanation, and one that my esteemed colleague Ian Welsh keeps coming back to, is that the Obama administration really hasn't compromised anything in terms of its beliefs and goals. Which is certainly a cleaner explanation than falling back on the sheer ineptitude of its nuts 'n' bolts "getting stuff done" apparatus -- though I really do think that these people have no clue as to how serious new initiatives do get done. (For an instructive counter-example, see below.)


One theme that recurs in much of the leftish response to the Judis piece is the heightened importance of the administration nominating Elizabeth Warren to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). It makes you wonder about these people.

Let me say again, they're dreaming. Yes, Treasury Sec'y "Tiny Tim" Geithner got shamed into denying that he was personally blocking such a nomination, and saying how much respect the administration had for Professor Warren, and that she would definitely be considered for the CFPB job.

Oh, sure, she'll be "considered." I stand by the suggestion I made when I wrote about this last month, that she'll be "considered" more or less thusly:
Dear Professor Warren:

After careful consideration, we've decided we would sooner eat poison than let you anywhere near the CFPB.

Have a nice life.

Yours truly,
A Senior White House Official

Again, if by chance political pressure forces her down their throats, you can be sure the bureau will be frozen out in terms of support and funding. Which is probably what's going to happen anyway, and that's in a Democratic administration. Can you imagine in, say, a Romney administration?

I shared the above opinion with a listserv and got the response, from someone with actual "inside" White House experience, that the funding can't be cut because of language Professor Warren herself got inserted in the enabling legislation. That seems to me hopelessly naive. To imagine that the White House that really wants to freeze an agency out can't find by rough count a jillion ways around a minor legislative impediment like that? Clueless as the Obama people seems to be in most respects with regard to the levers of government, trust me, they'll find all jillion of those ways. Leaving the presumptive consumer financial protectors, if any, whining to nobody who's listening, "But they can't do that! It says so!"

The most conspicuous response I got to my previous post, titled "Of course Elizabeth Warren would be confirmable as CFPB head. The real question: Is she nominatable?," was a tweetback to Howie's tweet of the title from someone I formerly had big-time respect for, chiding us for going the way of Sarah Palin into making up words. Which successfully compounded insult with ignorance -- of the English language, and of course what is actually so buffoonish about Princess Sarah's linguistic blundering.

First off, I wonder how many dictionaries the writer consulted in declaring "nominatable" a made-up word. Personally, I would have proceeded very cautiously, because -- just like "confirmable," which by astounding coincidence appeared cheek by jowl with it -- it's a word formed according to an absolutely fundamental and familiar process of English coinage: adding "able" to a verb that indicates a process capable of being accomplished. Yes, a bit of levity was intended, also as a way of calling attention to the concept of nominatability, a word that is surely understandable to any reader of English, and for which there actually is no "official" word.

Poor Princess Sarah, when she was caught "refudiating," had been fed a fact that she was totally unequipped to argue: that writers frequently make up words, not least Shakespeare. Alas for the princess, "refudiate" wasn't any kind of neoloigism, it was simply a blunder by someone with an alarmingly shaky familiarity with the language. I would argue that "nominatable," by contrast, whether or not it conveyed a bit of fun as well as extra meaning to readers, was created in one of the most time-honored modes of word coinage. That is, assuming it truly doesn't exist in any dictionary.

Do you remember all the way back in 2008 when the top-level Obama administration appointments were being announced, and Tom Daschle was going to be both HHS secretary and health care czar? Until he wasn't going to be? And there was a growing sentiment among some of us that the perfect person for the job, way perfecter than Daschle, would be Howard Dean? After all, he has all that experience both as a medical practitioner and as a pol who has grappled in the real world with health care policy. It's a subject he understands in depth. It seemed so logical, especially considering that the Obama team unaccountably (ha ha!) hadn't tapped the governor for any other federal job.

It all seemed so logical. Except that the chances of its happening were, on a scale from zero to a zillion, minus infinity, for reasons both personal and political -- which turn out to be pretty much the same thing in this administration. Master Rahm hates Howard Dean, to put it as mildly as I've heard it put. Dean isn't by history or temperament all that "liberal," but he's everything Rahm isn't, and loathes: a decent, socially concerned, conscientious public servant who believes that solutions to our problems must be found which work for the public at large. The Obama circle apparently believes that any changes that are made to the way we govern ourselves must be done without in any way inconveniencing the country's financial and political elite class.

And I'm suggesting that, transposed to the financial world, Elizabeth Warren is Howard Dean redux. The only way the Rahmists would give even the slightest consideration to a Warren CFPB appointment is if it could achieve the opposite result from that fantasized by my deluded colleagues on the Left: if they're satisfied that it's possible to make it absolutely impossible for her to cause any disruption to the megacorporate status quo and in the process, by locking her into the job, silencing her as a potential critical voice of the job done by the first CFPB director.


In his TNR piece Judis offers a significant counter-example that I think we could all benefit from pondering.
Contrast Obama’s attempt to develop a politics to justify his economic program with what Reagan did in 1982. Faced with steadily rising unemployment, which went from 8.6 percent in January to 10.4 percent in November, Reagan and his political staff, which included James Baker, Mike Deaver, and Ed Rollins, forged a strategy early that year calling for voters to “stay the course” and blaming the current economic troubles on Democratic profligacy. “We are clearing away the economic wreckage that was dumped in our laps,” Reagan declared.

Democrats accused them of playing “the blame game,” but the strategy, followed to the letter by the White House for ten months, worked. The Republicans were predicted to lose as many as 50 House seats, but they lost only 26 and broke even in the Senate.

Some commentators have noted Reagan’s popularity was even lower than Obama’s. But, on key economic questions, he did much better than Obama and the Democrats are currently performing–and voters expressed far greater patience with Reagan’s program. According to polls, even as the unemployment rate climbed, a narrow plurality still expressed confidence that Reagan’s program would help the economy. On the eve of the election, with the unemployment rate at a postwar high, a New York Times/CBS News poll found that 60 percent of likely voters thought Reagan’s economic program would eventually help the country. That’s a sign of a successful political operation. If Obama could command those numbers, Democrats could seriously limit their losses in November. But Obama has not been able to develop a narrative that could convince people to trust him and the Democrats.

I hope I don't need to add that I utterly loathed (and loathe) the goals of Reagan's advocacy. But when a president really and truly wants to bring about change, this is a real-life example of what it can look like.

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At 6:29 PM, Blogger Jimmy the Saint said...

Check your mail for my instructions on how to read the whole article with out giving Peretz any money.

At 6:40 PM, Blogger KenInNY said...

Thanks, Jimmy. I'm going to add your suggestion to the post. I've read the whole piece (not as a TNR subscriber, let me hasten to add!), but I'm happy to make it possible for other DWT readers to do so.


At 7:28 PM, Anonymous me said...

some Democrats have blamed Obama’s dogged pursuit of health care reform


the way he dealt with the financial crisis

Again, nope.

Obama's problem is that he promised CHANGE, yet delivered MORE OF THE SAME.

We voted to end the same old bullshit, especially an end to AND PROSECUTION OF criminal behavior by the ruling class.

Instead, we saw Obama give free passes to all the criminals, backing off his stands on gay rights, Guantanamo, and government secrecy, to name but a few.

We saw Obama kowtow to republicans on health care reform, financial services reform, military overspending, corporate welfare, corporate criminality, corporate takeover of government (even to the point of letting BP give orders to the Coast Guard!! Unbelievable!), and a host of other issues.

And on top of all that, Obama's mouthpiece keeps telling the Left to kiss his ass.

Obama promised change, but acted like a republican on nearly every issue of substance. He didn't even attempt to deliver on his promises! That's why he has lost support, and that's why I've said before and I'll say it again: Fuck Obama!

At 7:41 PM, Anonymous me said...

Here's just one tiny example. From the article,

financial speculation, outright fraud, and irresponsible and sometimes illegal housing-loan practices had played a very large role in precipitating the crisis

Yes, indeedy! But what did that worthless jellyfish in the White House do about it? Did he call out the malefactors? Did he sic the Justice Department on them? Did he put people in prison, and recover at least some of the hundreds of billions of dollars they stole?

Here's what Obama did about it (drum roll): Nothing.

Not a goddamned thing. WTF kind of head of the Executive Department would do that??

Here's a VERY obvious question. Faced with a multi-gazillion dollar fraud perpretrated by corporations against the country, how is Obama's reaction different from what Bush would have done?

Fuck Obama.

At 9:53 PM, Anonymous bmaz said...

The other possibility is that the WH does nominate Warren, but slow walks the nomination past the election when, after the loss of even a few seats in the Senate, there is no way in hell she can get confirmed. Never forget what they did to Dawn Johnsen.

At 1:57 AM, Blogger Evan Rowe said...

Hey, what's your contact email, I want to ask you some questions about organized crime, the cuban mob in miami, the Diaz Balarts, Meek, and Wasserman Schultz.

At 11:42 AM, Blogger DownWithTyranny said...

Evan, you can write to Howie at

At 2:23 PM, Blogger KenInNY said...

bmaz, that's devilish!

Actually, I still think Warren is totally confirmable, but then, I think Dawn Johnsen was too. Just not by these people, who really have no idea how to fight for, or even defend, their own appointments. They seem almost to look for reasons -- they probably think of them as "opportunities" -- to cut and run.



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