It was clear watching President Obama's press conference last week (the one where most of the media claimed he showed some actual emotion and intensity – criticizing his progressive base, the "purists," those who would be happy with only "symbolic" victories) that in addition to the president being emotional, one thing largely unnoticed was that he was being truthful. Obama really believed what he said, at least in those remarks denouncing the purists that day. He believes he is the world-wise pragmatist, not one of the effete ideologues, but the man who is getting what he can from those taciturn and gloating Republicans. He believes his way is the right and superior way.
Given that, there is nothing for progressives to do, but sit back and watch. And what are they watching? The answer to that is also the answer to why there was such a sharp reaction from progressives – including me – to Obama letting the Bush sweet tax rates for the rich continue. (And for letting the estate tax, the "death" tax, settle at a low of 35%, only kicking in on the first dollar past five million.) It is because Obama's "deal" has served as the last straw.
Progressives have been oddly mild in their reactions to the president for continuing the Bush II war plans in Afghanistan and Iraq; and the lack of fight in him for the Public Option hurt, but didn't cause a breach. (Yet another example Obama held up for derision as pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking in his press conference.) But the last straw is not so much collapsing just the Obama presidency, as it signals the collapse of the half-century or more march toward progressive values in America, starting with FDR. And it announces victory for the forces aligned against Franklin Delano Roosevelt since his acts of "class betrayal" after the Great Depression – FDR was denounced as a class betrayer by his fellow rich and privileged of the period. Again, the class war is over and the rich have won. Obama's "deal" was the white flag being waved.
That is why there was such a large outcry at this point – by the heretofore rather complacent members of Congress, as well as Obama's shrinking base throughout the country. It just isn't the continuation of the rich getting richer, seemingly for now and forever, and the poor getting poorer, but a tombstone placed on America's goal of being egalitarian in economic as well as personal ways.
And, once again, the payroll tax reduction, turning Social Security into a 401K, might be loved by economists for its "efficency," because no checks need to be cut, no bureaucracy needs to be created, no hindrances put up to block the delivery of the cash, but it still undermines the system, much to all the schemers and privatizers' joy who stand against the Social Security System. So, the Obama deal may well be a mini-stimulus, but it comes at a high price, one that capitulates both the high and low ground to the right wing Republicans who are, seemingly, in charge. I know why the Senate doggedly hangs on to its filibuster rules, but when one looks at the Senate vote to strip the rich of their low tax rate, 53 - 37, one does wonder why the 37 gets to win. It should be a new T-shirt slogan for our upside down world: 53 - 37. 37 Wins!
The FED chief, Ben Bernanke, during his 60 Minutes interview of a week ago, on Dec. 5 (that guy loves being on high-end TV), was warning against a second dip in the current Great Recession, something Obama's team thinks his "deal" will prevent – though not Bernanke; he seems to think it will happen. And, when asked, he did show some alarm at the fact that the concentration of the wealth has gotten so out of hand at the top end. But he had no proposals for how that might change. And, alas, neither does our president, who is certain he is doing the right thing. How can we change the mind of a man who has no doubts about what he does and how he does it? The answer is self-evident. We can't.