Blogger Meeting with Obama: A Missed Opportunity
On October 27, 2010, a group of 5 "liberal" bloggers met with Obama: Duncan “Atrios” Black of Eschaton, John Amato of Crooks and Liars, Barb Morrill of Daily Kos, Oliver Willis and Joe Sudbay of AmericaBLOG. Bloggers often criticize the MSM for asking lame questions, not focusing on the important issues, being easily fobbed off with pap, and not following up. Reading the transcript of their interaction with Obama, I would say they got rolled and performed pretty much on par with the MSM.
The general form went something like this:
Obama: blah, blah, blah
Blogger: Thank you
Obama began with some ego stroking saying how bloggers like them hold his Administration and the media accountable. He then set up the format. Each blogger to ask one question, and then open it up after.
John Amato immediately took things off track by asking about the incident in Kentucky where a Rand Paul supporter stepped down on the neck of a protester from Moveon who was already being held on the ground by two other guys. Jobs, the banksters, the wars, foreclosuregate, and this is the best Amato can come up with? Obama could have said it was despicable. Instead he said "we can disagree without being disagreeable" and that there are some lines that we should not cross. I mean most of us could have ghostwritten Obama's milquetoast response.
Obama also said that we should not demonize the other side or consider them evil. I think there is a poisoned subtext here, the criminalization of policy differences as Cass Sunstein described it. When people commit criminal acts whether they step on somebody's neck, perpetrate massive control frauds, torture, or start illegal wars, they should be investigated and prosecuted. Being civil in such circumstances is not a remedy.
The next question was about working with Republicans after the election given that they haven't worked with him up to now. Obama said, "I don’t give up just because I didn’t get cooperation on this issue; I’ll try the next issue." This sounds like a good recap of Einstein's definition of insanity, doing the same over and over and expecting a different result.
It took until the third question (by Atrios?) to bring up the economy. He mentioned the 9.6% unemployment rate. As both lambert and I have tried to stress, the real level of un- and under employment, of disemployment, is 20% and represents more than 31 million Americans. Even the U-6 measure is at 17.1%. Citing the U-3 rate allows a politician like Obama to dodge the magnitude of the problem. He also alluded to foreclosuregate but then weakened his thrust by asking about "further" intiatives after the election. Why didn't he say, the three biggest issues in this country are jobs, jobs, jobs. Yet what Americans see from you is that your 3 top priorities are the banks, the banks, and the banks. Your stimulus was too small and poorly constructed to create many jobs, and its effects have already run their course. There was no follow up to it, and now Americans see with foreclosuregate that your main priority is once again to defend the banks. As long as these are your priorities, why should any American vote for you or any Democrat?
Given the question that was asked, Obama responded first by bringing up that the Republicans wanted to continue the Bush tax cuts for the upper 2%. What he did not say is that he would veto any bill that contained them. He stressed growth but did not say how this would be accomplished.
Then he mentioned the "structural" deficit, code for Medicare and Social Security. He took credit for the highly dubious assertion that he reversed "our descent into depression." Then he comes up with the whopper "the single thing people are most concerned about are jobs. And those jobs are going to come from the private sector." Well, maybe but only with massive multi-trillion dollar government investment, Mr. President, not these pissant programs you are talking about.
The 4th question was simple and direct: "Will you rule out raising the retirement age to 70?"
Obama answered that he was waiting for his stacked cat food commission's recommendations, but then indicated that he favored raising the cap. This sounds a lot like the typical hawker's line that he would love to give this stuff away, but his wife won't let him.
Next up was DADT. Constitutional or not? This was the wrong question. The right question was: If Congress does not act by the end of the year to rescind DADT, will you do so administratively, since you have that power? As it was, despite being a Constitutional scholar and all, he punted saying he wasn't a Supreme Court justice. This allowed him to say that he was against DADT but that it was up to the Congress or the Court to do something about it.
I hope you are all seeing a pattern here because I sure am. Obama keeps saying he can't do squat for liberals although he does sympathize with them, this from the most powerful person on the planet. So would you believe him?
At this point, questioning was opened up. Amato asked about immigration reform and Obama said he was for it, but the Republicans and the filibuster….
Then the lamest question so far. You get pressure from the left and right, so I guess that makes you a pragmatist. Do you consider yourself a progressive?
So I would define myself as a strong progressive in the sense that I believe in that essential American Dream that everybody gets a chance to make it if they’re willing to work hard, that government has a role to play in ensuring opportunity by making sure kids get a decent education and can afford to go to college; that workers are able to train and retrain for the jobs of the future; that we’re building strong infrastructure; that we are using our diplomacy alongside our military to protect our national security; that we believe in the Bill of Rights and we actually act on it, even when it’s inconvenient; that we are promoting the equal treatment of citizens under the law.
Those core beliefs that America prospers not just when a few people do well but when everybody has the chance to do well, when we’ve got a growing middle class, where we -- people are able to live out their dreams without the barriers of race or gender or sexual orientation, those are things I deeply believe in.
This sounds like pap from some stump speech he gave. I mean point for point, Obama has acted against every one of these, a more cynical lying statement could not be imagined.
Question: Happy with HAMP? Should have said, HAMP has been an unmitigated disaster that hasn't come remotely close to helping the millions of homeowners in need of help. Obama replied that it was so hard to tell who the "deserving" homeowners were. This is basically the "It's the homeowners' fault" argument, not that of predatory banks. He also said that HAMP helped stabilize housing prices. Two points. First, it is doubtful that HAMP had much of any effect on housing prices. Second, stabilization of housing prices helped banks far more than it helped homeowners. He finishes by saying if the economy improves, if unemployment goes down, this will help things. Well, duh. That's a little like saying if your problems go away then you won't have any problems.
Another question on compromising and working with Republicans. Obama hides behind the filibuster, at length yet again. He tries to sell his approach as incrementalist and even plugs FinReg.
Question on DOMA. Obama says he favors civil unions.
DADT is brought up again. Obama says he has a strategy for the lame duck session that he can't talk about. I believe it relies heavily on pixie dust. Obama asks for help getting Log Cabin Republicans to lobby Republican Senators, sort of missing the point that the LGBT community is not homogenous. Then he hides behind the filibuster again.
He gets asked about filibuster reform and punts it as a separation of powers issue.
And that is pretty much where it ended.
There were so many questions that could have been asked, so many questions that could have been asked better than they were, and with better follow up. It didn't happen. But the point is they could have been. The participants had the time to think through their questions and even bounce them off colleagues beforehand. This does not seem to have happened.
The two questions I would have asked are: You were elected on a platform of "Change". You came to office with the biggest Congressional majorities in 80 years. You didn't deliver. You never fought for change. You always pre-compromised. You never forced the Republicans to filibuster. You didn't use reconciliation. You didn't use the power of the office and the leadership in Congress to punish obstructionist Democrats, let alone obstructionist Republicans. You never effected change that you could have done using the power of the Presidency: to end wars, to respect Constitutional rights, to stop indefinite detention, to cutback on domestic surveillance, to investigate criminality on Wall Street, and in the Bush Administration. Nobody forced you to make secret sweetheart deals with Big Insurance and Big Pharma on healthcare. And it's not like you fought and lost. You embraced Bush's programs, which voters had elected you precisely to reject. You completely froze out progressives from your Administration. You let Republicans and conservative Democrats dictate your agenda. Don't tell us that it is the Republicans' fault. Don't tell us that it is hard. You weren't elected for it to be easy. So why now should any liberal, progressive, independent, or Democrat, believe you and vote for you or any Democrat?
Americans have seen trillions go to bankers, bankers who drove the country to the brink, bankers whom you left in place, bankers who continue to pull down multi-million dollar bonuses. Yet when they look around for what you are doing about jobs or help for homeowners, they see nothing. They see bunches of lame excuses, but they don't see the urgency or the emphasis you have when it is the banks that come calling. We see your priorities. So again why should any voter support you or any Democrat?
I suppose since I would ask these questions it's a safe bet I won't be invited to a White House confab with Obama.