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Obama at the Hamilton Project, 2006: "This is not a bloodless process."

I published this piece on the night shift over at NC, but this discussion here gave me the idea. Any other early called shots I missed, besides Paul Street?

There's been a sort of contest among the skeptics and hippies for the “Who Called Their Shot on Obama First” title, which I believe Adolph Reed holds (Village Voice, 1996), with Bruce Dixon (2007) also holding an honored place; both writers knew Obama in Chicago, which helped. However, along with Ken Silverstein from Harpers, left blogger A Tiny Revolution called his shot in 2006 (hat tip, Gaius Publius (hat tip jawbone)), based on Obama's appearance at the first meeting of Bob Rubin's The Hamilton Project, where he was the only Senator to appear. Here's the video:

As Gaius Publius remarks:

It’s not long, it touches most of the bases, and tells you all you need to know about how Barack Obama would govern.

I'm going to color code the transcript using the same scheme I used for Obama's inaugural (here; here), with one new category:

Blank screen: Placeholder material onto which the audience may project what they like. The phrase comes from Obama's famous remark in the preface of the second of his two autobiographies: “I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views.”



Secular religion

A mish-mash of phrases from the Framer's, Lincoln and MLK echoes, and so forth


Bathos is an abrupt transition in style from the exalted to the commonplace

Neo-liberal catchphrase

“Free market,” “innovation,” “hard choices” etc.


“Our most vulnerable citizens”

Bipartisan shibboleth

“The troops,” for example

Dead metaphors/cliche

“Ring the changes on,” “take up the cudgel for,” “toe the line,” “ride roughshod over,” etc. (Orwell)

Sheer nonsense

Word salad

Falsehood or truthiness

A terminological inexactitude


Lawyerly parsing and weasel wording

Blank screen

Placeholder material onto which the audience may project what they like. The phrase comes from Obama's famous remark in the preface of the second of his two autobiographies: “I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views.”


Lawyerly parsing and weasel wording


“Ladies and gentleman,” and so forth.

Here's the transcript:


[OBAMA:] Thank you. Thank you very much. I would love just to sit here with these folks and listen because you have on this panel and in this room some of the most innovative,thoughtful policymakers, people who have both ideas1 but also ways of implementing them into action. Our country owes a great debt to a number of people who are in this room because they helped put us on a pathway of prosperity that we are still enjoying, despite the best efforts of some.2


  1. Surely Obama must mean “and”; “ideas” and “ways of implementing them” are not mutually contradictory, even in D.C.
  2. This is 2006, that is, before the Great Financial Crash that Hamilton founder, Goldman Sachs alum, Clinton Treasury Secretary, and eminence grise Robert “Bob” Rubin did so much to bring about, and which Larry Summers, less-than-well-endowed Hamilton Advisory Council member, did so much to prolong. The Hamilton Project “Our People” page makes interesting reading.


[OBAMA:] I want to thank Bob and Roger and Peter for inviting me to be here today. I wish I could be here longer. I am going to have to run after a few minutes because we do have an important issue relating to U.S.-India relations.

But when Roger originally called to invite me, not only to this forum but to invite me to engage in this project, I couldn’t help but think that this was the sort of breath of fresh air that I think this town1 needs.


  1. Beltway insiders refer to Washington, D.C. as “this town.”

[OBAMA:] We have all known for some time that the forces of globalization have changed the rules of the game—how we work, how we prosper, how we compete with the rest of the world. We all know that the coming baby boomers’ retirement will only add to the challenges that we face in this new era.1 Unfortunately, while the world has changed around us, Washington has been remarkably slow to adapt twenty-first century solutions for a twenty-first century economy. As so many of us have seen, both sides of the political spectrum2 have tended to cling to3 outdated policies and tired ideologies instead of coalescing around what actually works4.


  1. Social Security is fully solvent until 2037 even now. What challenges?
  2. A spectrum is not a binary opposition.
  3. “Cling to” here, remarkably, prefigures Obama's 2008 gaffe regarding “bitter” Pennsylvania blue-collar voters “ who cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them.”
  4. A courageous stance, advocating what “actually works,” and Obama punches hard by placing “works” at the end (Strunk, Elementary Principles of Composition, Rule 18) as we will see, not once, or twice, but three times; an example of epistrophe, the inverse of Obama's current favorite rhetorical device, anaphora. I've marked this “Blank Screen,” because nowhere does Obama actually say what he believes “actually works.” One must assume that he can leave that unsaid, since “most of us are strong free traders and most of us believe in markets.” One is reminded, again, that the collapse of Lehman Brothers -- the shock that won election 2008 for Obama -- was only 894 days away from the day of this conference.

[OBAMA:] For those on the left, and I include myself in that category1, too many of us have been interested in defending programs the way they were written in 19382, believing that if we admit the need to modernize these programs to fit changing times, then the other side will use those acknowledgements to destroy them altogether. On the right, there is a tendency to push for massive tax cuts, as Peter indicated from my speech at Knox College, no matter what the cost or who the target is, a view that stems from the belief that there is no role for government whatsoever in the challenges we face. Of course, neither of these approaches really works3.


  1. Oh, please.
  2. It's hard to be sure what Obama means here. Social Security was passed in 1935. The Minimum Wages Bil was passed in 1938. Could that be what he means? [snort!]
  3. Epistrophe.

[OBAMA:] Before we came here, somebody was asking me, how do I maintain my idealism? I do because1 I think the American people know that neither of these approaches works.2 I think there is a broad consensus out there in the Country that we should be looking for common sense, practical solutions to the problems that we face. I think that there is a market. I think that there is a demand for solutions that are practical, that are based on facts, that are tested, and that require us to think in new ways.


  1. Obama doesn't really answer “how,” unless “How do I” means “How can I,” and idealism means pragmatism.
  2. Epistrophe.
  3. If the solutions are “tested,” “practical,” and “based on facts,” then how do they require us to “think in new ways”?

[OBAMA:] A lot of the people who are here today have done that in the administration. Not only have they succeeded on many of their policies, but almost just as importantly, they have failed occasionally and have acknowledged those failures and adjusted their views. I think that is the kind of experimentation1 and attitude that all our policymaking has to pursue.


  1. FDR echo: “The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.”

[OBAMA:] One thing that we all know is that when you invest in people, people will prosper.1 When you invest in education and health care and benefits for working Americans, it pays dividends throughout every level of our economy.2 When you keep the deficit low and our debt out of the hands of foreign nations, then we can all win. Now, the economic statistics of the nineties that we are all so familiar with speak for themselves—income growth across the board,3 22 million new jobs, the lowest poverty rate in three decades, the lowest unemployment in years, and record surpluses.4 None of this, I would argue, happened by itself. It happened because the leadership we had, including many in this room, was willing to take on entrenched interests5 and experiment with policies that weren’t necessarily partisan or ideological.


  1. Not always the same people, of course.
  2. As below, working Americans are the passive recipients of “investments.”
  3. Though averages “across the board” conceal the increasing Gini coefficient.
  4. The triumphalism of “The Great Moderation” still had 894 days to run.
  5. Which "entrenched interests" were those? The unions, to pass NAFTA?

[OBAMA:] That is what I hope we will see from The Hamilton Project in the months and years to come. You have already drawn some of the brightest minds from academia and policy circles, many of them I have stolen ideas from liberally, people ranging from Robert Gordon to Austan Goolsbee; Jon Gruber1; my dear friend, Jim Wallis here, who can inform what are sometimes dry policy debates with a prophetic voice. So I know that there are going to be wonderful ideas that are generated as a consequence of this project.


  1. Here is Jon Gruber on “affordable,” as in the Affordable Care Act: "An item is clearly not affordable if no one in a group can afford it. But, by the same token, it is wrong to say an item is unaffordable if anyone in a group cannot afford it. In considering affordability for a group, we need to establish a sensible benchmark whereby insurance is considered affordable if “most of” a group can afford it. We can disagree about what “most of” means, but it would be wrong to define “most of” only as “very close to 100%.” Alrighty, then.

[OBAMA:] Not every idea will I embrace1, and I hope that one of the roles that I can play, as a participant in this process, is to not only encourage the work but occasionally challenge it. I will give one simple example.2 I think that if you polled many of the people in this room, most of us are strong free traders and most of us believe in markets. Bob3 and I have had a running debate now for about a year about how do we, in fact, deal with the losers4 in a globalized economy. There has been a tendency in the past for us to say, well, look, we have got to grow the pie, and we will retrain those who need retraining.5 But, in fact, we have never taken that side of the equation as seriously as we need to take it. So, hopefully, this is not just going to be all of us preaching to the choir. Hopefully, part of what we are going to be doing is challenging our own conventional wisdom and pushing out the boundaries and testing these ideas6 in a vigorous and aggressive way.


  1. Anastrophe, departure from normal word order for emphasis. Here Obama underlines that he's not really committed to any particular idea (except for what “actually works,” of course).
  2. But watch and see if he does.
  3. That is, “Bob” Rubin, the man who called for indivdidual Social Security accounts (privatization) three days before Obama won his mandate for hope and change in 2008.
  4. Losers.” Alrighty then.
  5. These ideas resurfaced with the “skills mismatch” bullshit.
  6. Which ideas?


But I can’t think of a better start, given the people who are participating today. I am glad that Brookings has been willing to provide a home for this wonderful effort.

Just remember, as we move forward, that there are real consequences to the work that is being done here.1 There are people in places like Decatur, Illinois, or Galesburg, Illinois, who have seen their jobs eliminated. They2 have lost their health care. They have lost their retirement security. They don’t have a clear sense of how their children will succeed in the same way that they succeeded. They believe that this may be the first generation in which their children do worse than they do. Some of that, then, will end up manifesting itself in the sort of nativist sentiment,3 protectionism, and anti-immigration sentiment that we are debating here in Washington. So there are real consequences to the work that is being done here. This is not a bloodless process.4


  1. A second case of both epistrophe and “Blank Screen,” since Obama does not actually say what “the work that is being done here” might be.
  2. Anaphora, repetition of the same word or group of words at the beginning of successive clauses or sentences; “They have...,” “They have...,” “They don't...,” “They believe.” The disjunction between “we,” who “move forward,” and “they,” who (apparently) do not -- Obama does not explicitly say who suffers the twice repeated “real consequences” -- would trip Obama up in campaign 2008, with the “bitter” / “cling to” controversy. Note that Obama presents “them” (and not “we”) as passive (“have seen”) with respect to “the work that is being done here.”
  3. “Your people, sir,—your people is a great beast!” (Alexander Hamilton). If “they” should become active, nothing good will come of it: “Nativism” and “anti-immigrant sentiment” are not especially subtle ways of saying racism, a brutal and shameful truth, but also a prefiguration of 2008, where many of Obama's opponents were branded as racists simply for not supporting him; “protectionist” is anathema to the “free traders” in the room.
  4. Indeed it is not "bloodless." There are “real consequences” in terms of morbidity and mortality, including suicide, for the policies that Obama and his colleagues in “this room” actually implemented and successfully normalized. Their policy outcomes -- before we get to that 1938 Cat Food -- look like this (chart from Brad DeLong):

[OBAMA:] I think that as long as all of us retain that sense of passion1 about the ultimate outcome that we2 want, which is a stronger, more prosperous America than we are passing on to our children, then I think we will do well in this process. I am glad to be a part of it. Thank you very much.


  1. In the paragraph above, Obama may have meant “bloodless” in the sense of unimpassioned.
  2. Who?



  1. No doubt!
* * *

Well, we can't say we weren't warned!

UPDATE Notice the complete absence of Secular religion; that's for rubes.

No votes yet


Submitted by chadwick newsome on

I've been referring to this guy as 'O' because it seemed to fit him so perfectly. He's a zero. Also, it's stand for, 'O, I had no idea what an asshole you were.' But maybe I'll start calling him BS. For 'Blank Screen'. Or its more traditional and widely used meaning. Either works.

I now understand that O (or BS) wants old Americans to live at the poverty line. Not below the poverty line, because the guy is all heart. But just above it. Unless of course they are rich, like good cop Warren fucking Buffet an his fellows.

jo6pac's picture
Submitted by jo6pac on

I agree with what your say and I've been calling 0 since 08 and I do like your new BS but here is were you are wrong about 0.

old Americans to live at the poverty line.

No he doesn't want this what he really wants is for us to HUAD in hurry up and die.
I think I'm going to need a bigger garden.

Thanks for your time in putting this up.

Submitted by chadwick newsome on

You know, now that I think of it, you are right. Why else would he cut Medicare at the same time he is cutting Social Security? But Atrios is right. People get old.;. It's just what we do. And no matter how harshly the political economy treats people, they will continue to get old. I don't doubt that O and his fellows will be able to reduce life expectancies. But the fact of old age will continue for as long as the species does. Now, we used to have a policy for that. Or policies. They were SS, Medicare and Medicaid. Now we won't have jack shit. How will we change? How will we ( all of us) live our lives? I think this whole thing is gonna get ugly. And not just for old folks.

a little night musing's picture
Submitted by a little night ... on

His budget proposal will apparently not only chain SocSec increases, but also require Medicare recipients who make $47,000 or more to pay more into the system.

People who live outside big cities may not appreciate this, but $47,000 makes you just about middle class in NYC. And you're frigging paid into the system, already. (I make nowhere near this amount FTR. I'm fighting for people who make MORE than I do.)

affinis's picture
Submitted by affinis on

Joshua Frank - e.g. 2005, 2007.
Matt Stoller 2007 comments - e.g. 3:25 mark here, also here, etc.
I think various Chicagoans had a fairly clear picture early on.
I'd personally recognized what he was about by early 2007, thanks to a friend of mine pointing out the key features (but in our liberal-left social circle, no-one would listen to us - people reacted as though I was demented).

Submitted by lambert on

Obama seems not to remember the rule to be nice to people on your way up....

Rangoon78's picture
Submitted by Rangoon78 on

Is it capitalism or our own unconsciousness that have allowed Monsanto's GMO's poisons (insecticide genes in the seeds), the mistreatment of animals and abuse human labor?

I was thinking along the same lines as to the question "is it capitalism or human nature to ruthlessly exploit what we can? I thing capitalism institutionalized the horrors of these worst aspects. Slavery, industrial revolution, you name it.

To continue. The corporate form removed any individual accountability and thus any humanity that might have served to curb the brutality now endemic(?) [not occurring naturally anywhere else] to the capitalists. - e.g. The enclosure acts in England:

The King had lost power to the landed gentry
…the English Civil War provided the basis for a major acceleration of enclosures. The parliamentary leaders supported the rights of landlords vis-a-vis the King, whose Star Chamber court, abolished in 1641, had provided the primary legal brake on the enclosure process. By dealing an ultimately crippling blow to the monarchy (which, even after the Restoration, no longer posed a significant challenge to enclosures) the Civil War paved the way for the eventual rise to power in the 18th century of what has been called a "committee of Landlords",[20] a prelude to the UK's parliamentary system.

I remembered th fact above from a previous discussion. I connected these "landlords" to the sociopathic mentality of today's finance capitalists. I found this excerpt from the essay Political Economy and the Rise of Capitalism - which buttresses my linking these people in the chain that leads to today's "savvy businessman"
Having achieved a state responsive to their interests, after 1688 the large landowners moved with a passion to enclose and concentrate holdings. Between 1690 and 1750 there was a major shift of property away from the peasantry and lesser gentry and towards the large landowners. The century after 1690 experienced a dramatic decline in the percentage of land held in farms of less than one hundred acres and a sharp rise in the share held by farms of one hundred acres or more. This shift in land ownership involved a doubling of rents, in part a result of the increased productivity of the land brought about by enclosure and improvement.[25] For financial considerations such as these, landlords turned to enclosure on a vast scale. Having taken the reins of government into their hands, they used acts of Parliament to legalize expropriation that has been accurately described as a
― 11 ―
"massive violence exercised by the upper classes against the lower."[26] In 1710 the first private enclosure act was presented to Parliament. Between 1720 and 1750, 100 such acts were passed. Some 139 acts followed in the subsequent decade. Another 900 acts were passed between 1760 and 1779. The movement reached its peak between 1793 and 1815, when 2,000 acts of enclosure were approved by Parliament. As a result, over the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries more than 6.5 million acres of common fields and commons were enclosed by acts of Parliament—an area equal to nearly 20 percent of the total land of England. In some areas, the amount of land enclosed went as high as 50 percent of the total. The change was thus massive—and, for the small tenant, catastrophic.[27]
Modern historical research has demonstrated the shortcomings of the view that enclosure directly provided the labour force for urban industrialization. In reality, the majority of those who suffered at the hands of enclosure appear to have stayed on the land. This fact has led some writers to claim that the dislocation caused by enclosure has been exaggerated; they have asserted that enclosure and innovation provided work for those members of rural society who no longer held sufficient land or access to land (for example, commons) to support themselves. In this interpretation, enclosure was a largely technical process which benefited most members of the village community through higher levels of output and new prospects for employment.[28] Such an approach so minimizes the social consequences of enclosure as to distort the whole process. Whatever the shortcomings of some Marxist interpretations of the relationship between enclosure and industrialization, the great strength of the Marxist approach has been to see in enclosure a crucial element in a process of social transformation in which the fabric of traditional rural society was rent asunder and a new social structure, based on a propertyless proletariat, created. Enclosure was, after all, as W. G. Hoskins described its effects on the Leicestershire village of Wigston, "the destruction of an entire society with its own economy and traditions, its own way of living and its own culture."[29]
What took place in England during the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries is what Marx described as the "primitive accumulation of capital." In a nutshell, primitive accumulation refers to those historical processes by which direct producers were separated from the land and transformed into "free" wage labourers.

RT: Here’s Goldman boss Blankfein taking a break from "doing God’s work" to cut the safety net.

Is it capitalism or our own unconsciousness that have allowed Monsanto's GMO's poisons (insecticide genes in the seeds), the mistreatment of animals and abuse human labor?

I'm sick of it all. I'm working to be more conscious, but it's not easy.
Anyway, I found a company for you. I'm sure it's gonna be more expensive, but that's not a bad thing.
It means you'll eat less :)

Mindful Meats seeks to bring you the purest, healthiest, and highest quality beef we can find. We are a Certified Organic and Non-GMO Verified beef wholesaler. Our cows graze on open pastures and live long, healthy lives in Marin and Sonoma counties of California.

Our beef can be found through select San Francisco Bay Area restaurants, butchers, and specialty grocers.

Currently, we are carried in the following Grocery Stores:
Good Earth Natural Foods, in Fairfax, California
Mill Valley Market, in Mill Valley, California
Palace Market, in Point Reyes Station, California
And Restaurants:
Bar Tartine Restaurant, in San Francisco, California
Osteria Stellina, in Point Reyes Station, California
Piazza de Campovida, Hopland, California
Gather Restaurant, in Berkeley California

Submitted by jawbone on

to tell them to say NOOOOOO to Obama's Chained CPI and other SocSec/Medicare cuts.

Just to tie the earlier post and comments to this excellent post by lambert. We will need these citations I'm sure. If Obama doesn't get his cuts this go round he will be trying over and over and over again to get the R's and ConervaDems to make them.

We will have no rest until he out of office.

Might want to bookmark.

Submitted by jawbone on

But Obama does not care because he is not looking for a more accurate measure of inflation, he just wants to cut benefits and cause tax bracket creep so the lower economic quintiles pay more in taxes.

Via commenter at Naked Capitalism thread, Obama Social Security

Submitted by jawbone on

This actually makes more sense and is a good description to use with your elected reps. And it's what most people have been trying to describe. And, once your LSLI'd down to dumpster diving --and you're no longer agile and strong and mobile-- you're well and truly fucked. Starvation is one way of dying. Here is these United States as Obama wants them to become.

Our dear Neolib Corporatist running dog lackey is working to make sure the 99 Percent WILL have to recourse but to fall out of the middle class and live in penury.

Oh, Barry, Barry, Barry -- you have been either been brainwashed by your wealthy donors and sponsors or you're one hell of a 21st Century Scrooge...on steroids.

Not that aren't other possible reasons for how he's acting, but, as always, we cannot know what is in his mind and heart. We can only judge his actions and words used to rationalize those actions.

Another great post put up by Yves at Naked Capitalism.