Mike the Mad Biologist

There are a lot of progressives whom Stalinists would have called useful idiots. I present to you Greg Sargent:

Could Obama have adopted a far more aggressive posture while negotiations were going on? Absolutely. But the simple fact of entering into talks inevitably reinforced the sense that Obama and Dems were not prepared to allow default — no matter what — reinforcing a set of dynamics that were stacked against them. Was that avoidable?

…It may simply be that the dynamics of the situation were insumountable: Obama and Dems were not prepared to let the country default no matter what. Were Republicans prepared to allow the country to default? We can’t know — but Obama plainly decided he didn’t want to take the risk of finding out…

Whatever the reason, we simply can’t know whether a more aggressive approach from Obama would have changed the basic dynamics of the situation or resulted in a better deal.


But what this ‘analysis’ misses is that Obama had other options–he didn’t have to negotiate. Even if you want to take the 14th Amendment option off the table, he had the legal option of coin seigniorage (weird, but completely legal). That would have made whatever the Republicans wanted to do irrelevant.

Yet Obama chose not to do that, and instead will accept cuts (including, no doubt, funding for basic scientific research) in discretionary spending–and depending whether triggers are activated, Medicare.

He wanted something like this, since he’s been promising various kinds of ‘entitlement reform’ from day one (actually, during the campaign too).

Useful idiots.

Comments

  1. #1 Phillip IV
    August 1, 2011

    Whatever the reason, we simply can’t know whether a more aggressive approach from Obama would have changed the basic dynamics of the situation or resulted in a better deal.

    Yeah, the good old Italian strategy: we might as well surrender at the start of the battle, because who can tell if we wouldn’t be forced to surrender at the end, anyway – and then we’d just have wasted the whole day.

  2. #2 Lynxreign
    August 1, 2011

    Yet another reason not to vote for Obama next time around. I’ll be looking for someone to run to his left in the Primaries, but I doubt that’ll happen. I’ll vote for every liberal I can downticket, even ordinary democrats if I can’t find a liberal, but Obama’s lost my vote.

    The real question now is which is a more “effective” protest vote, voting for a third party or leaving the presidential level blank?

  3. #3 Lynxreign
    August 1, 2011

    Hey Mike, on the off chance you’ll read the comments, any chance you’ll be headed to FreeThoughtBlogs?

  4. #4 mikeyB
    August 1, 2011

    Lets face it – Obama is the political equivalent of Neville Chamberlain. There are few real progressives (non completely corporatized dems) left – Nancy Pelosi and Bernie Sanders being a couple of holdouts. The combination of Corporate America, Idiot America and the Tea Party now rule America until the next great depression.

  5. #5 Josh Rosenau
    August 1, 2011

    Serious question: Given that the fear from default was credit downgrades, what are the odds that bond raters would take coin seigniorage or the 14th Amendment option as serious, long-term solutions to the problem? My sense is that the raters wanted not just an immediate technical fix to keep the money flowing to bondholders (they said short-term extensions would lead to downgrades, etc.), but a serious sign that the government was going to keep paying its debts in the long term. The 14th amendment option is legally iffy and could fail in court (the administration’s own lawyers shot it down, and I recall you taking a negative view of the President’s ignoring OLC guidance on Libya), and precisely because coin seigniorage is a gimmick, I can’t believe the raters would take it seriously as a solution, either.

    This isn’t my field, but I have a hard time thinking those two options would really solve the problem. It seems like some sort of legislative debt ceiling hike was probably necessary, at which point you get to Greg Sargent’s points. At best, the platinum coin or threat of 14th Amendment circumventions of Congress could have been used as strong negotiating positions, which was surely a lost opportunity.

  6. #6 TylerD
    August 1, 2011

    I don’t buy into the alarmism about credit downgrades in any case. Contrary to popular myth, the corporate bond rating long lost its reputation as a reliable proxy for risk. I highly doubt that investors will be any less willing to buy government debt based on the same ratings. Look at the rates on inflation-protected treasury bonds, neither short maturity or long maturity rates have changed much at all even through the debt ceiling mess. (IIRC, short maturity interest is actually negative.)

    In other words, Moody’s and S&P can do whatever they want. I personally think they should go back to rating subprime mortgage-backed securities AAA. ;)

  7. #7 mikeyB
    August 1, 2011

    Despite Obama’s spinelessness, we gotta still vote for him again. The idea of a third party is a joke. The alternative is complete Tea Party America takeover, and new supreme court justices that will seal the corporatocracy practically forever. Of course it’s happening and may be inevitable anyway given the large swarth of IdiotAmerica perpetually conned into voting against their own interests. It looks like a terrible choice between a gentle slope to disaster (corporate lite democrats) or a giant cliff to disaster (complete corporatist whores).

  8. #8 MikeB
    August 1, 2011

    I don’t know which is more depressing – hearing someone from the FT trying to argue that its partially Obama’s fault for not cutting more earlier (although still not as bad as the offical GOP talking point that its a good thing), or Obama apologists saying that he had no choice.

    You play the cards that the dealer gives you, but from the start, Obama and his advisers seem to misread the cards at best, or simply not understand the game. He allowed the Republicans to set the terms, and Stockholm Syndrome like, seemed to agree with everything they said. Joe Romm likens the Republicans to the average 4 year old, and since my youngest is 4, I concur (its going to be a long school holidays). You don’t allow them to set the rules, you set your own rules, and then say ‘No’.

    The media has to take its share of the blame as well. Instead of ‘have you no shame?’, the media asked process questions, or allowed the GOP to argue it was but a small number who were going to vote against.

    Its worse than that. A fair number want to take things to the edge, and probably over, but what of the rest? Its like a guy in a room with a suicide vest. Instead of his friend telling him to take it off, he’s using him for leverage. There is another friend in the room, but he just stands back and does nothing (he deplores the situation, but hey, while I’m here…). All three are as bad as the other. Its simply that nobody is calling them on it.

    Obama – Ethelred the Unready is nearer the mark.

  9. #9 Vince whirlwind
    August 1, 2011

    I don’t understand why Obama didn’t offer to sort out the debt problem by slashing defence spending, cancelling the aid program to Israel and getting rid of subsidies to farmers.

    The right-wingers would agree to these savings, surely?

  10. #10 SocraticGadfly
    August 1, 2011

    I haven’t voted for a Democratic president this century. I “saw through” Obama the brand by the end of 2007. I’ll be voting Green again and invite others to take that as a first step.

    @Josh… as Krugman and others have noted, last December, Obama specifically passed on a chance to tie the debt ceiling to Bush tax cut extensions because the GOP allegedly wouldn’t do what it just did. That said, I’m with Krugman – Obama WANTED to have this happen. The sooner more people learn that the sooner we can get more people to either promote a real primary opponent to Obama at the minimum, or better yet, step outside the 2-party duopoly and fight to expand the powers of third parties.

    Here’s my take on his Yalta: http://socraticgadfly.blogspot.com/2011/08/debtmaggedon-obama-shafts-house-dems.html

  11. #12 Lynxreign
    August 2, 2011

    mikyeb @7

    Despite Obama’s spinelessness, we gotta still vote for him again.

    No, we really don’t. Other than who has been nominated for the Supreme Court, what would really be different if a Republican got into office? Heck, even his Supreme Court nominees aren’t great, they’re centrists and you could get more of the same if you push back in Congress.

  12. #13 AndrewD
    August 2, 2011

    Well as a Briton, my comment on the election of President Obama was, Americsa has it’s own Tony Blair.

  13. #14 MikeB
    August 2, 2011

    As a fellow Brit, I have to ask the question – is he friends with Rebekah Brooks?
    The answer is probably yes….since he still believes in what Boehner says.

    Sadly, Democrats will have to vote for him again, because at least he’s better than Michelle Bachman. On the other hand, they don’t have to give him any money, don’t have phone bank, and dont have to knock on doors. It will be interesting to see how the White House deals with the ‘enthusiasm gap’. Probably by more denial.

  14. #15 Lynxrign
    August 2, 2011

    MikeB @14

    That’s a big assumption that Michelle Bachman is going to get the nomination. If Romney gets it, I don’t think there’ll be nearly as much “voting against” as you’d see with Bachman. The “enthusiasm gap” that’ll be most interesting to watch is the gap between Obama 4 years ago and Obama today. I’m still holding out hope that someone will be persuaded to run to his left in Democratic primaries.

  15. #16 Josh Rosenau
    August 3, 2011

    Lynxreign: The rating agencies got leverage over national fiscal policy around the time we started taking out debt. For instance, George Washington on the importance of maintaining the government’s credit: http://balkin.blogspot.com/2011/08/george-washington-on-debt-ceiling.html

    If we don’t care what the credit raters think, why do we care about default at all? The abstract moral principle of paying our creditors? No, we care because of the enormous economic consequences if the credit markets lost full faith and credit in US debt, and we care about credit raters because that’s how the markets assess the risk of borrowing US debt.

    Also: http://whatthefuckhasobamadonesofar.com/

    If a Republican were in office, DADT would still be on the books, no stimulus would have been passed at all, no health care reform would have passed at all, CAFE standards would not have been raised, insurers wouldn’t have to cover birth control, etc., etc. To suggest there’s no difference between this President and a Republican is absurd and ignorant. I’m not happy with all his choices, but can we at least acknowledge that many of those choices were forced on him (or forced to be worse) by teabagger Republicans in Congress, and douchebag Senate Democrats like Ben Nelson? If, in the next election, Democrats oust their sitting president but don’t win back the House and get a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, WTF do you think will really change? In terms of resource efficient use of resources, targeting a few House and Senate races will have much bigger payoffs than trying to win a Presidential primary and then the general election. If you aren’t enthusiastic about the president, get enthusiastic about some downticket race, and work on that.

  16. #17 Lynxreign
    August 3, 2011

    Josh Rosenau

    If we don’t care what the credit raters think, why do we care about default at all?

    That’s part of my point. Default shouldn’t be an issue. It shouldn’t be hanging over this country at all. There’s no need whatsoever for the US to default.

    No, we care because of the enormous economic consequences if the credit markets lost full faith and credit in US debt

    It is often stated that China is one of the largest holders of US debt. China’s leading credit agency has already downgraded US debt twice, but that doesn’t seem to have hurt our debt at all. China’s apparently already “lost full faith” in US debt.

    My biggest problems with the S&P threat to downgrade US debt are
    1) They’ve essentially stated that unless the US holds to their disasterous policy suggestion, they’ll downgrade, which is a threat which should be and possibly is criminal.
    2) These are the same people that called mortgage securities AAA right up until the point they were revealed to be junk bonds. They clearly either have no idea what they’re doing or are manipulating the markets to make money, the later of which is illegal.

    As for your list of what Obama’s done
    DADT would still be on the books Maybe. There were plenty of forces other than Obama working on that and he pretty much let it happen around him.
    no stimulus would have been passed at all Unlikely. They had little choice and Obama did his best to make the stimulus as small as it could be, just like any Republican would have. As a result, it barely stopped the slide and now we’re at risk of falling again.
    no health care reform would have passed at all Big deal, Romneycare for the nation. And as it IS Romneycare, it is entirely conceivable Republicans would have passed it.
    CAFE standards would not have been raised Again, big deal. A half measure that’s more of a loin-cloth than any serious policy.
    insurers wouldn’t have to cover birth control Possibly not, but 1 out of 10,000 IS pretty bad. As has been pointed out, even George HW Bush passed the American’s with Disabilities Act, but I wouldn’t call his Presidency a great success.

    Opposing this list we have
    Still in Iraq
    Still in Afghanistan
    Guantanamo still open
    Probably still torturing
    Now in Lybia
    DOMA still around
    A needless dispute placing the “full faith and credit in US debt” at risk
    Social Security and Medicare “on the table”
    Further abuse of classifying things as “National Security”
    Refusal to persue Bush era crimes while fully prosecuting whistleblowers
    A crappy stimulus package that didn’t do what it should have
    A crappy heathcare package that didn’t do what it should have
    Unemployment that’s now likely to break 10%
    And many more that you can find reading links this blog has posted or Dispatches from the Culture Wars.

    To suggest there’s no difference between this President and a Republican is absurd and ignorant.

    Thinking there’s a sinificant difference outside his Supreme Court nominations is absurd and ignorant.

    I’m not happy with all his choices, but can we at least acknowledge that many of those choices were forced on him (or forced to be worse) by teabagger Republicans in Congress, and douchebag Senate Democrats like Ben Nelson?

    Except that they weren’t. Again, reading this blog, links from this blog, Dispatches, etc… make it quite clear that Obama didn’t have to go down the roads he’s travelled. These are results he wanted. He allowed himself to be put in these positions, partly by taking alternatives off the table before negotiations even started.

    If, in the next election, Democrats oust their sitting president but don’t win back the House and get a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, WTF do you think will really change?

    Exactly! A Republican in the White House with things they are means nothing would change.

    In terms of resource efficient use of resources, targeting a few House and Senate races will have much bigger payoffs than trying to win a Presidential primary and then the general election.

    Targeting a few House & Senate races are a good way to make sure you lose or at least don’t have big gains. The best strategy Democrats have had in decades was Dean’s 50 state strategy. All I’m suggesting is adding the Presidency to that strategy. A primary challenge is the only way I can see to try to push Obama to the left and I don’t know if even that’ll work.

    If you aren’t enthusiastic about the president, get enthusiastic about some downticket race, and work on that.

    Way ahead of you.
    If the Republicans nominate a whackjob like Bachman, a primary challenge won’t hurt Obama ’cause he’ll win anyway, but it’ll at least get important issues out there and reframe some of the discussion. It might push him left, it might not, but it’ll at least have the discussion. And maybe the challenger defeats him and wins the general.
    If they Republicans nominate someone less whackjobby, like Romney, a primary challenge can still help Obama if he does the right things and a loss isn’t a foregone conclusion either way, but again there’s the discussion.

    We HAVE to start dragging this country back to the left or we’ll keep ending up with right-wing disasters whether they call themselves Republican or Democrat.

  17. #18 MikeB
    August 3, 2011

    Josh – it could also be argued that if Obama (and the Dem establishment)had a backbone, then DADT would have gone a lot sooner (and wasn’t it the courts who killed it anyway?), and the stimulus would have followed the way Krugman spelled it out and been more effective, rather than the damp squid that Larry Summers and co. thought would be fine.

    Health Reform? Would have been quicker, better, cheaper and a clear political winner. CAFE – lots of wriggle room still there.

    Is he better than Bachman? Yes. Is he better than Romney? Probably, although Obama seems to be channeling him, so its not certain.

    Even today, Obama’s take on the FAA debacle is to talk about ‘Congress’, not Republicans, being responsible. NPR does it because they love ‘balance’, but for the WH to do it really makes you wonder if they’ve even learned the basics.

    Your right about down ticket – put your time and money where it will do the most good for the long term.

    Lynxrign – my take on the ‘enthusiasm gap’ is the same as yours – its how Democrats will be next year, compared with 08. Remember the reports from Nate Silver about the poor ground game for the McCain campaign? The empty seats in meetings, the lack of bodies for phonebanking? That might well be the Dems next year, and all the Wall Street money in the world can’t replace that in a tight race.

    Sadly, what has come out of the WH (and other suspects too) has been poor policy and worse politics.

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