Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Obama's Early Embrace of Austerity

Although few liberals took note, Obama and the Democrats began soon after the 2008 election to discuss the idea of doing what George W. Bush himself couldn't do after he won in 2004: eviscerating and privatizing social security. This was Obama's message right out of the gates: "we'll need to make tough choices", "we need to start living within our means", etc.

Millions of Americans probably wondered, "who the hell is we?"

Of course, what Obama and the Dems meant was that ordinary people would have to have austerity forced down their throats. Ordinary people would have have to bear the burden of the global capitalist crisis that has dramatically dried up tax revenues.

But whereas the vast majority of us were being told how we would be screwed, there existed another group to whom no such imperatives applied. That group was the rich and powerful, the very group that nearly brought down the entire world economy. I'm talking about the financial elites and owners of the commanding heights of the economy. These folks were never told by Obama that they had to live within their means. They were never told that they would have to face tough choices. Instead, their dominance was taken as a fixed point- the unquestioned starting point for all further policy decisions.

Accordingly, Obama enthusiastically continued the bailout program put in place by Bush and Paulson, refuse to hold the recipients accountable, allow them to dole out massive bonuses, etc. In effect, Obama's government, like Bush's before him, transferred private capitalist debt from banks and corporations to the state: massive private losses were socialized for the public to pay for. But while Obama was showering the rich with funds, he was also telling the vast majority of us to brace for a punishing blow. He was telling us that we can expect austerity measures and cuts in the near future.

Scour the globe if you like, but you won't find a single society on the planet where ordinary people take kindly to austerity and cuts. The vast majority of people grasp what the drill is with austerity and budget cuts. Their living standards will be pushed down, their jobs will be cut, their public services slashed and burned, their schools forsaken or closed, their transportation networks scrapped. It's no surprise that they don't take it lying down.

Powerful politicians in both factions of the US's single business party know this. They know that while their misleading talk about tax cuts might seduce some who'd do well to know that they were being misled, talk about slashing and burning public spending is not popular.

So they don't do the slashing and burning right before elections. This is true of Republican and Democrat alike.

OK- back to the leading question of this post. I've pointed out Obama's "liberal" use of the language of austerity, his innuendo lending credibility to privatizing Social Security, etc. This is all just a way of saying that Obama didn't embrace the politics of austerity as a result of Republican pressure. And if he is more aggressively pro-cut after the midterms, we should not assume that the reason has to do with Republican pressure either. The point I'm making is that he and the Dems have been floating the idea of punishing cuts to Medicare and Social Security for a while, and now that the election has past they have some space to do it. No politician, Republican or Democrat, was screw over the majority of the population with cuts right before an election. This is especially true of the Dems in recent years- since their crushing majorities would have made it rather difficult to blame on the Republicans (though many dogmatic Obama apologists would no doubt have tried to do so).


Richard said...

it was even earlier than the dates of the articles linked in your post

Obama emphasized the urgency of "entitlement reform" during an interview around January 10, 2009, 10 days BEFORE his inauguration

I linked it in a post somewhere last year, that's why I remember it

t said...

Even better- that makes the point even stronger that he and the Dems embraced austerity long before they were allegedly "forced" to by the lowly Republicans.