Saturday, September 17, 2011

Some Reflections on Obama's Jobs Bill

I know I'm weighing in a bit late here, but I'd like to say a little bit about the "jobs bill" proposed by Obama.

As always, I think a bit of context is important here. It's not unfair to say that this is too little too late. Obama has spent the lion's share of his tenure in the White House thus far pandering to ruling class interests. From the large share of Goldman alums he brought into his cabinet to the billion dollar bank bailouts, to the extension of Bush's tax breaks for the rich, Obama has time and time again proven his pro-business credentials. And he has time and time again thrown progressives under the bus in order to do it.

Moreover, the recent charade over the debt ceiling evinced a deep-seated allegiance to the interests of finance capital. During that debacle, polls routinely showed widespread disillusionment with the whole mess, and growing anxiety over soaring unemployment figures. Since the onset of the global crisis -and with it, mass unemployment- there has been a need at the Federal level for a comprehensive jobs plan. But Obama has done nothing and said nothing about this problem, until now. Even if it were a serious plan, which it isn't, it would still be too little too late. And even if it did have serious progressive content, which it doesn't, it is little more than a rhetorical campaign move, since Obama is well aware that Congress won't pass it. It's a low-risk move, since he can externalize responsibility by blaming the fact that it doesn't pass on the reactionary Republicans. But anyone who's paid attention during the last 3 years knows that this is little more than a cheap trick. It's not the Republicans who've stopped the Democrats from pursuing modest reforms aimed at easing the pain of working people during the worst crisis since the Depression. It's been the Democrats themselves who've put the breaks of reform. A quick glance at their record during the period when they held supermajorities confirms this. They don't "lack backbone". They simply don't aim to do anything that seriously challenges the pro-business consensus in Washington that grounds the Democratic Party as much as the Republican Party.

On the environment, Obama reversed his position on offshore drilling and came to the defense of the corporate crooks running BP. In Afghanistan, Obama has actually expanded operations. On the Arab Spring, Obama had the same position as his Republican predecessors: keep repressive client regimes "stabilized", arm authoritarian monarchies to the teeth to put the break on popular uprisings, and maintain control of the region given its political/economic significance for global competition. On tax breaks for the super rich, Obama pushed to extend Bush's policies rather than roll them back. On the question of budget cuts, Obama and the Democrats have been more than willing to make punishing cuts to the arts, health care, student aid, education and public transport. On education, Obama and the Democrats have embraced and repackaged Bush's No Child Left Behind while taking a fierce anti-teacher position that would make Reagan blush. On the bank bailouts, Obama continued Bush's policies and defended CEO bonuses. All of these positions were shared by the Democrats in Congress, and by the National party apparatus in general. A progressive party they are not. A party of the people they are not. To blame all of this on the Republicans is to suggest that the Democrats have no agency of their own. But they do have agency, and what they choose to do with it is to butter up the haves at the expense of the have nots.

But what about the content of the "jobs bill"? I haven't looked at it closely, but it's my understanding that it suffers from many of the same problems as the stimulus bill. It is, first of all, much too small to deal with the problem. This isn't a fuzzy, touchy-feely affair: the scale of the problem is objective and easily observed by glancing at unemployment figures. Second, the bill includes a disproportionate share of tax breaks which will do little to address unemployment. The idea that tax breaks for corporations always increases their likeliness to invest in new jobs is discredited nonsense. There is no such automatic relationship, as recent events make crystal clear. And, of course, this bill still does nothing to address the basic contradictions that produced this crisis in the first place. Nor does the bill do anything to address the huge loss of purchasing power and the large levels indebtedness that the working class has sustained as a result the crisis. It would be far too generous to say the bill is weaksauce. It's more like watered down weaksauce lite, except we won't even get to try it because it won't get passed. So I guess it's more like a TV advertisement for weaksauce lite that we're forced to watch even though we can't afford to buy it.

Some liberals are rejoicing that this is the "Obama we voted for in 2008", but that is crazy. They're being taken for a ride.

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