Friday, September 3, 2010

Thoughts on September 11, 2010

September 11, 2010 is going to be a very big day.

1) It will mark the ninth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Likewise, it will reinforce one of the greatest foreign policy travesties in American history - namely, that the evil man who perpetrated those attacks, Osama bin Laden, is still at large. The legacy of George W. Bush will be forever tarnished by his failure to bring our nation's worst mass murderer to justice, and if Barack Obama allows his term to expire without capturing the man, his historic reputation will be similarly damaged.

2) It will be the day when Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin hold a special rally at the Dena'ina Center in the Alaskan city of Anchorage. Considering that (a) this is being held in Sarah Palin's native state, (b) both Beck and Palin are darlings of the Tea Party movement (Palin was a main speaker at Beck's Washington rally last week), (c) this event falls on a solemn occasion notorious for being mined by conservatives for political gain, and (d) her political stock is already rising within the Republican Party, after a string of Palin-endorsed candidates have soared to victory in GOP primaries this year... in light of all this, it seems entirely possible, even plausible, that Palin will use this event to announce her 2012 presidential candidacy.

3) It will be the 600th day of Barack Obama's presidency. At that time, he will have accumulated an impressive array of accomplishments to credit his historical legacy, most significantly passing the biggest health care reform bill in more than forty years, strengthening regulations on Wall Street, and fulfilling his campaign promise to end the war in Iraq. Sadly, though, his timidity in confronting the defining issue of his presidency - i.e. the ongoing economic crisis - will have overwhelmed all of the good he's achieved in other areas.

That isn't to say that his stimulus package and other economic measures (including legislation that helps struggling homeowners, protects consumers from exploitative practices from credit card companies, and extends unemployment benefits) were entirely unsuccessful. Quite to the contrary, they succeeded in preventing a full-fledged depression, providing relief to Americans who had been hit hardest by the recession, and ensuring that many of the injustices which contributed to this calamity won't occur again in the future. The problem is that, because Obama was too timid to propose initiatives that would have actually improved conditions instead of merely stopping them from getting worse, he has created a deep dissatisfaction with his presidency among broad swathes of the public.

What was needed in early 2009 was a stimulus bill comparable in scope to the economic mobilization project which pulled America out of the Great Depression during World War Two; a job creation program modeled after the National Industrial Recovery Act from the First New Deal; a labor protection program modeled after the Fair Labor Standards Act from the Second New Deal; and, as a means of both paying for these programs and simultaneously reducing the exploding deficits left by George W. Bush, raising taxes on the wealthy back to pre-Reagan levels and cutting wasteful spending, particularly in the military-industrial complex and the war on drugs (the latter could also be further supplemented by legalizing marijuana, which not only cut spending but add hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue). Most experts agree that Obama refused to do these things because (1) he believed that they would get him denounced as a Socialist and (2) he would not be able to get the support of conservative Democrats and Republicans in Congress.

The second point is easily debunked; he didn't need Republican support to pass his agenda and had enough political capital in early 2009 to strong-arm conservative Democrats into supporting him (either by setting himself up as a populist and depicting conservative Democrats as tools of Wall Street and big business or, should the bill have still failed, blaming their intransigence for America's ongoing economic maladies). As for the first concern, it not only overlooked the fact that the people who would accuse him of socialism never support Democrats in the first place (as the fact that the charge has been levied against him anyway has proven), but it also failed to remember that passing economic bills that didn't end the recession would cause Americans who MIGHT support Democrats to turn against him for his ineffectiveness.

Assuming that he doesn't turn things around (which sadly seems likely), the probable consequence of his mistake on this issue will be disastrous losses for the Democrats in the 2010 midterm elections, followed by two years of partisan gridlock, vicious political showdowns over everything from the federal budget to culture war hot buttons, and harassment of Obama's White House via the kind of hyper-partisan legislative investigations conservatives have used against Democratic presidents from the days of HUAC right up to the Ken Starr inquiries. There can be little doubt that this will stymie President Obama, to say nothing of rendering the entire federal government dangerously impotent at a time when drastic action is needed more than ever.

At best, Obama will luck out in the end either by having the economy turn around on its own (as happened to Ronald Reagan in 1984 and Bill Clinton in 1996) or by inadvertantly benefiting from the actions of the Republican-led Congress either because (a) they hound the president so viciously that the public winds up rallying behind him out of sympathy and/or (b) they become so obstructionist that the perceived blame for our ongoing difficulties shifts from the president to them. The more likely outcome, though, is that the persistence of our economic crisis will counter all other variables in the public's eye, causing Obama's popularity to plummet and Mitt Romney to win the White House in 2012 (see:

Sadly, even that isn't the worst case scenario. More terrifying is the possibility presaged by the Beck/Palin rally in Anchorage. After all, since most Tea Party protesters are registered Republicans anyway, it is not inconceivable that a Sarah Palin presidential candidacy will mobilize them to storm the Republican primaries, earn that party's nomination for their champion, and then ride a wave of economic dissatisfaction to electoral victory in November 2012.

Thus my greatest fear is that, when historians look back on the six hundredth day of Barack Obama's presidency, they will remember his greatest legacy as being the election of Sarah Palin.

1 comment:

Matt Rozsa said...

PS: Ironically, my worst case scenario would actually be ideal for Michael Bloomberg, should he choose to run for president. After all, the main selling point of a Bloomberg candidacy would be the claim that he can rise above partisan bickering and achieve meaningful results. If American voters are dissatisfied with Obama's performance but perceive the Republican alternative as being undesirable (due both to congressional viciousness and Palin's personal weaknesses), this would be the ideal climate for Candidate Bloomberg to make the aforementioned pitch. Indeed, it was that very appeal which caused Ross Perot, despite his well-known eccentricities, to take the lead in the three-way race between himself, Bill Clinton, and then-President George H. W. Bush in the summer of 1992.

Perot, of course, was destroyed by erratic behavior that aroused concerns about his mental stability, in particular his arbitrary decision to drop out and then re-enter the race. Bloomberg's personality is nothing if not stable, although he is not bereft of skeletons in his closet, from that which is his own fault (such as the shocking sexism he displayed when handling various gender rights cases as a CEO) to that which in an ideal world would be a non-factor (such as the fact that he is Jewish). Yet while it is ultimately impossible to project whether or not Bloomberg could get elected, it is reasonable to assume that an Obama-Palin contest would provide him with his best opportunity to find out.