Reich vs. Black: a smart, decent establishment liberal vs. a shrewd and principled progressive (sometimes the difference is appreciable)

[With President Obama cutting his Christmas vacation short yesterday and rushing back to Washington last night, the Fiscal Cliff-predicated “Grand Bargain” follies have apparently resumed.  Although it looked for a moment like the Tea Party-Republicans had inadvertently managed to save the day, preventing this deplorable deal through sheer unreasonableness (ironic, I know), the president is once again demonstrating his commitment to needlessly slashing entitlements and imposing austerity on the U.S.  And again, if we’re going to stop this train wreck (please, please, please), NOW would be a good time to call/write/fax your representatives, senators, and the White House and tell them that you oppose any “Grand Bargain” that cuts entitlements, even through sleight of hand B.S. like the “chained CPI” which will cut $130 billion from Social Security benefits over the next decade.]

Today I hope to illustrate a general point, suggested in the title of this blog, which is simply this: In today’s America, one must go beyond the establishment if one hopes to get a truly clear picture of what’s going on — and the best place to go is to principled progressives like Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, Amy Goodman, Glenn Greenwald, Dean Baker, Jane Mayer, and (in the Invitation2Artivism.com spotlight today) Prof. William K. Black, the dogged former bank regulator who played a prominent role in resolving the Savings & Loan debacle of the 1980s (back when bankers who committed fraud on a massive scale were actually investigated, prosecuted, and jailed).

While I like a lot of Establishment Liberals (ELs?) just fine — from Jon Stewart to Paul Krugman to today’s featured EL, President Clinton’s former Secretary of Labor, Prof. Robert Reich — I have learned to greatly value the difference between a decent (somewhat solid/fairly reliably progressive) EL like Mr. Reich and a boldly uncompromising progressive voice, like that of Mr. Black.  Carefully examining Reich’s and Black’s latest blogs and responding to various points they each make, I hope to impart some of that acumen to readers of this blog.  And here we go…

I. Responding to Prof. Reich’s latest blog (wherein the good prof. basically recommends that we head over the “Fiscal Cliff” — a fine idea that, if it comes to pass, will dramatically improve our chances of surviving this political crisis with entitlements intact… at least until the next debt ceiling “crisis” is hatched):

With language that promises to please liberals, Prof. Reich begins by comparing House Republicans to “fanatics” playing “chicken” with the president, with regard to the “Fiscal Cliff.”  The professor suggests that Speaker Boehner can use his caucus’s scuttling of his own (GOP-proposed) “compromise” measure (raising marginal income tax rates for millionaires a tiny bit in order to gratuitously slash entitlements) to plead powerlessness.  In essence, John Boehner can now assert that this failure proves that the GOP is unable to make concessions — and therefore the president must continue doing so in order to seal this abominable deal.  To reiterate: Obama must continue negotiating with himself, further and further to the right, until finally he can bring these recalcitrant Tea Party-Republicans on board…

Basically, Reich is saying that Boehner and the Republicans are playing “Good Cop/Bad Cop” to Obama, maneuvering the president into once again giving them “98% of what (they) wanted,” just as they did in the debt ceiling “negotiations” of 2011.  It’s a reasonable analysis and Reich is a very smart fellow, but his allegiance to the Democratic Party is showing.  Were party loyalty not a factor, I suspect the former cabinet member would be joining Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), economist Dean Baker, and countless other principled progressives in condemning the president for needlessly breaking his promises and relentlessly hawking the bogus “Fiscal Cliff” in the first place… as if he wanted this entitlement-slashing, economy-hobbling deal more than anyone else involved in these negotiations (else WHY cut that holiday vacation short, Mr. President?  And WHY offer to cut taxes for those making OVER $250,000 per year?  WHY offer to raise the Medicare eligibility age to 67 and now propose the cruel and politically inept “chained CPI” that Democrats have rejected for decades?  WHY???).

Reich overlooks the abundantly obvious conclusion: it is President Obama who is playing “Good Cop/Bad Cop” (with his GOP partners) in order to convince Democrats and the American people that this wretched deal is somehow necessary. The evidence is in the herculean efforts he’s repeatedly made to nullify his many advantages and try to force a deal — when ALL HE HAS TO DO TO PROTECT ENTITLEMENTS IS LET FIVE LITTLE DAYS PASS (at which point, the Bush tax cuts expire and the Republicans’ negotiating position becomes dramatically weaker… at which point, the Democrats can simply put tax cuts for 98% of earners up for a vote and dare the GOP to commit political suicide by publicly opposing them on behalf of millionaires).

After December 31, the GOP’s hand will be so weak that they could probably be forced to accept some desperately needed infrastructure investment (cha-ching!) and economically vital extensions of unemployment benefits and food stamps — and who knows what else?  If the Democrats had the wherewithal to attach such measures to these politically popular (and economically sensible) tax cuts, considerably more would be possible.  The Democrats will have the GOP over a barrel in less than a week — only that’s an advantage they’re working overtime to undo.  After FOUR YEARS of this kind of “negotiating,” the conclusion is obvious: Obama and the Democrats are not interested in winning this debate for the left… or for the American people, who do NOT endorse his entitlement-slashing approach to deficit reduction (the truth is Wall Street wants this deal badly; so therefore does the Democratic leadership).

Reich’s whole framing of this issue — absolving Obama (and Boehner, too!) of all responsibility — is ultimately partisan and far too establishment-friendly (accepting the GOP’s excuses at face value, including the notion that “Boehner’s hands (are) tied,” plays right into Wall Street’s hands).  Reich gives far too much credence to the notion that going over the “cliff” will be “risky” when clearly nothing poses as great a threat to our economy as the kind of austerity that will come with any Grand Bargain.  Most alarming of all, the good prof. suggests that Democrats could “extend all the Bush tax cuts” for another full year in order to avert this “risk,” giving short shrift indeed to the potentially calamitous effects of such a move (it would guarantee at least one more round of hostage-taking/grand bargaining at some undetermined point in the future, with Republicans all but guaranteed to have a stronger negotiating hand than they do now — meaning that entitlements will be up AGAIN for drastic cuts).

Finally, Reich makes a surprisingly naive assertion: that the 2014 midterm elections will give Democrats an opportunity to “loosen the hold” that Republicans have on the House.  What a ridiculous pipe dream!  The sweeping election we just held established pretty clearly that the GOP’s House majority is virtually election-proof, with a million+ vote advantage for Democratic House candidates more than nullified by the outrageously gerrymandered Republican-leaning states.  Barring massive election reform, there is very little hope of a Democratic (or democratic) majority in Congress for many, many years to come.

II. Illuminating the appreciable difference between the establishment and the principled (and therefore marginalized) left, with excerpts from Prof. Black’s latest blog (and this time, for the sake of space, I think I’ll let Mr. Black do all the talking):

“Who insisted on creating the fiscal cliff, threatened Republicans in Fall 2011 when they wanted to eliminate or reduce it, and after the ‘failure’ of the November 2011 ‘super committee’ to reach a deal to inflict even greater austerity on the nation, made a veto threat to block a Republican proposal to eliminate or delay the fiscal cliff? The answer is: Obama.

– “The second question Obama should be asked is: given your warning that the fiscal cliff’s austerity would cause a recession, why are you demanding a Grand Bargain (sic, actually the Grand Betrayal) that would inflict austerity for a decade and likely cause multiple recessions and larger deficits?”

– “Obama’s austerity policy is so incoherent that in the same sentence he says that austerity (in the form of the fiscal cliff) must be prevented because it would cause a recession — and that the nation must embrace austerity not only today but for at least a decade.”

THANK YOU, Prof. Black.  And now, I’ll leave the last word to the president:

“John McCain’s campaign has suggested that the best answer for the growing pressures on Social Security might be to cut cost of living adjustments or raise the retirement age.  Let me be clear: I will do neither.” – Barack Obama, Sept. 6, 2008

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