The unacceptable naivete of the liberals: Dean Baker edition
First published in People’s View
If President Obama had been doing his job, he would have immediately begun pushing for more stimulus the day after the first one passed. He should have been straightforward with the American people and said that the stimulus approved by Congress was an important first step, but that the severity of the downturn was so great we would likely need more
Baker is under the mistaken impression that he’s offering technical economic expertise in this passage but he’s actually making a ridiculously naive argument that the way to get economic policy implemented is to be “straightforward” and simply explain the economic reasoning. It’s not just that people make political decisions on more grounds than immediate economic policy or that the President has multiple crisis to juggle, or that Nobel prize winning economists have explained the irrational basis of decision making, or that we have not recently seen people demanding that “Government get its hands off Medicare” because there are deeply embedded myths about economics and government. It’s also that somehow the “progressive” agenda has come to be fraudulently post-racial. Here’s what a politician said about how to win power in America just 50 years ago:
“You know, I tried to talk about good roads and good schools and all these things that have been part of my career, and nobody listened. And then I began talking about niggers, and they stomped the floor.”
Maybe Dr. Baker should have been there to tell George Wallace that he needed to “do his job” and be “straightforward”, but from FDR’s crushing defeat at the hands of racists in 1938 - a defeat that started rolling the New Deal back - to Nixon’s Southern Strategy, to Reagan’s speech in Philadelphia Mississippi, to the current day and back to the days of Tom Watson and before, racism is the wrecking ball of progressive politics in America. President Obama cannot maintain political power without confronting and working around the race fueled narrative of “small government” that has powered the right since the Confederacy. Taking the offensive on the deficit is not only sensible but essential. Yet we have all these clueless people loudly declaiming that President Obama must follow their simplistic prescriptions - and make it snappy - for all the world like boorish callers on a sports radio program explaining how a Major League baseball player “just needs to hit the ball”. The President may be doing it wrong, but the insistence by “progressives” that their wildly impractical suggestions are obviously correct is a fundamental intellectual failure. And the “progressives” derision of more sophisticated explanations, ones that take history, race, class, and power politics into account, as “kabuki” and “11 dimensional chess” just digs the hole deeper.
Since I may have been too subtle: here’s Lee Atwater:
You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger” — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”
And there is Dean Baker, mystified why the President wants to talk about the deficit and turn it into an issue where the ability of the rich to escape paying their share is the core topic. That is, the President is attempting to convert the topic of the budget from one which codes up and inflames racism to one which addresses the basic value of fairness. Why a Democratic President, especially an African-American one, would find it important to take on this issue is apparently impossible for our “progressive” economics pundits to imagine.
The Wallace quote came from Brad Delong who cited Ta-Nehisi Coates who quotes an excellent Wikipedia page that seems to have got the Wallace quote from a film called George Wallace: Settin’ the Woods on Fire. which quotes from Wallace’s biographer Dan Carter. Seems like Carter’s book is probably worth reading.