What FDR can teach Barack Obama about the politics of economic meltdowns

September 22nd, 2008 by Steve

As the last days of the Hoover Administration mercifully passed into history, the banking crisis of 1933 exploded with the force of the Big Bang: banks were closing by the hundreds, leaving the nation’s financial system in near total collapse. In response, President Herbert Hoover contacted Franklin Roosevelt, who was then the president-elect, asking him to endorse Hoover’s proposed responses to the crisis and to enter into a joint proclamation.

The two men needed to show solidarity, Hoover insisted, in order to calm the panic

But FDR turned him down cold. He didn’t want to waste his political capital by associating himself with Hoover’s policies. And he didn’t want to accept even partial responsibility for programs that would be administered by the outgoing president, and would therefore be totally out of his control.

So he left Hoover on his own, twisting in the wind.

I’m sure that David Broder, had he been writing back then, would have heartily disapproved. It was Roosevelt’s duty, he would have asserted, to work toward nonpartisan consensus.

But Roosevelt knew better. He was facing a broken economy that needed to be fixed — but more than that, he was facing an unfair economy that needed to be made more just. And like it or not, that wasn’t going to be accomplished by holding hands and singing Kumbaya. It was going to take one hell of a fight and he would need all of the political capital he could muster.

As I once dreamed of FDR saying in a café episode titled, “Cocktails with Franklin”:

“So you’re saying we’re at the beginning of a new liberal era?”

Franklin slammed his fist on the bar top.  “No!  I’m not saying that at all.  Nothing’s guaranteed . . . nothing ever is.  Even the New Deal didn’t have to happen.  There was nothing written in the stars saying things had to turn out the way they did.  The nation could just as easily have turned to the right in its panic, finding hope in a tyrant . . . the fabled man on a white horse.  Progressive change doesn’t just happen.  Those who benefit under an existing economic order, no matter how unfair, never give up without a fight.  Never!  Certainly, there are always individuals who, like me, are accused of betraying their class in order to help the downtrodden, but they will always be the exception.  Every major progressive stride that has ever been achieved in this country . . . every single one, has come about as a result of a knock-down-drag-out fight.”

I finally understood.  “That’s what you were saying before about the power of political partisanship to bring about good, right?”

“Absolutely.  All of these pundits . . . that’s what you call them today, right?”


“In my day we just called them bastards.”  Franklin let out another good long laugh.  “Anyway, all of these people insisting that the Democrats should just try to get along and work out compromises with Bush and the Republicans, make no mistake, what they’re really calling for is surrender, pure and simple.  Because the plutocrats . . . the same people who finance the GOP today, have one heck of a sweet deal going and they’re not going to give it up without a fight.  They never do.  Bipartisanship didn’t create the New Deal.  And it won’t bring about the kind of major change that’s needed to return fairness to America today.”

“So you’re saying it’s up to us.”

“You bet it is.  You have a chance to change the world, but only if you’re willing to fight for it.”  Then he grinned before adding: “And remember this: The only thing you have to fear is fear itself.”

Barack Obama today finds himself in a situation not altogether different from the one Roosevelt faced (although hopefully not quite as desperate). And like FDR, he now faces pressure to offer up his support for a massive “rescue” proposal representing — not his own best judgment and political philosophy — but that an unpopular incumbent administration.

And make no mistake: the pressure on him to do so will be overwhelming. With every point lost by the Dow, the screeches will grow louder — the demands for obedience more strident. 

But don’t do it, Barack. Listen, instead, to your own inner FDR. Stand your ground for what you believe in. And push the Democrats in Congress — a group always too ready to collapse in fear of their own shadows — to do the same.

Obviously, something needs to be done and done soon: no one is suggesting that we can afford to wait until the inauguration of the next president to respond forcefully to the current financial crisis. To borrow from Donald Rumsfeld, we have to fight this crisis with the president we have, not the president we wish we had. But to say that doesn’t mean that Democrats have to accept the Bush Administration’s proposal for a 700 billion dollar gift to the financial sector — a proposal many economists doubt would work anyway.

No, we need to do better. And in a hopeful sign, a number of at least somewhat better proposals are already being put forward. The question is whether we’ll stick to our guns. 

We keep telling the American people that we Democrats have better ideas. This would seem like a damn fine time to prove it.      

Socialism even a robber baron could love

September 20th, 2008 by Steve

As near as I can tell, the proposed financial industry bailout package constitutes little more than a 700 billion dollar gift of taxpayer’s money to huge banking corporations, with virtually no strings attached. No regulatory reform; no help for strapped homeowners; no public stake in the corporations being saved.

Just a gift, pure and simple — sent along with a kiss and a hug.

Oh, and if Democrats in Congress don’t rubberstamp the giveaway they’ll be accused of endangering the US economy: so they’ll probably cave.  

The word pathetic doesn’t even begin to cover this.

Wow. Big wow.

September 19th, 2008 by Steve

Definitely check out Paul Krugman’s blog at The Times. It would seem that John McCain has just recently published (pdf) an article dealing with health care reform that said this:

Opening up the health insurance market to more vigorous nationwide competition, as we have done over the last decade in banking, would provide more choices of innovative products less burdened by the worst excesses of state-based regulation.

Yeah, that’s the ticket. Let’s put Lehman Brothers in charge of our health care.

Surely this can’t be the same John McCain who’s now decrying greed and excesses of the investment banking world.

When Cain gives “helpful” advice to Abel

September 19th, 2008 by Steve

It certainly is nice of Karl Rove to give helpful political advice to Barack Obama. I’m sure it will be received with all of the same heartfelt sincerity with which it was given.

Question of the day: Republican incompetence or pure evil genius?

September 19th, 2008 by Steve

Ah, how the wages of the last seven years of GOP sin and malfeasance haunt us.

It would seem, for example, that in addition to the hundreds of billions of dollars we’ve pissed away (and continue to piss away) in a stupidly conceived of war in Iraq, we may now end up pissing away hundreds of billions of dollars to shore up our failing financial system (resulting from lax regulatory practices).

When you consider the backbreaking amount of debt that’s being created by these expenditures (all made necessary by conservative Republican blunders), clearly, even if Obama and the Democrats win, there won’t be enough money left to carry out the type of massive progressive reforms needed.

You’ve got to give the right wing some credit here: they not only win when they win; they also somehow find a way to win when they lose.

So what do you think? Which best explains the last seven years of Republican misrule — incompetence or pure evil genius?


What, Bush v. Gore doesn’t impress them?

September 18th, 2008 by Steve

According to The New York Times, foreign courts are citing US Supreme Court decisions much less often today than in days gone by.

Gee, I wonder why?

Surely it can’t be because they think Papa Smurf Scalia is a boob?

Well, now that’s annoying

September 18th, 2008 by Steve

Here I’ve been predicting for all these months that if John McCain is elected president some night he’ll wake up and decide to nuke Iceland because he’s pissed off at glaciers. And now it turns out that it’s actually Spain he’s going to nuke, because he’s pissed off at . . . well, something.

So near and yet so far.

The great lesson of the Bush era: cover-ups work

September 18th, 2008 by Steve

It’s a truism repeated in the media at least a hundred times a day: the cover-up is always worse than the crime.


If the last seven years prove anything, it’s that covering up wrongdoing actually often works like a charm. But the trick is that it has to be carried out audaciously and without mercy. Bush-style cover-ups are definitely not for the faint-hearted. There’s no room for ethics, or even shame. You have to be willing to make any argument, no matter how silly: cast any accusation, no matter how groundless.

Never look back; never give in. Attack the victim. Attack the witnesses. Attack the process. Claim that you’re the victim of a politically motivated witch-hunt no matter how fair the investigation may be. Charge the investigators with bias.  

Stall, stall and then stall some more. Run out the clock.  

In Bush-style cover-ups, there’s no such thing as a discoverable document: everything — every last piece of paper and the paper clips that bind them — must be withheld under claim of executive privilege. No governmental employee must ever be allowed to give testimony in court or before the legislative branch. The only place they can be allowed to speak — even if what they’re speaking is a fairy tale (especially if it’s a fairy tale) — is on Fox News.

Just say no. Scoff at subpoenas. Grind the rule of law into the ground like a steamroller crushing a dirt clod. Dismiss the legitimacy of oversight. Play the press for suckers.

Cover-ups don’t work, you say? Come on — wake up and smell the corruption. Successful use of cover-ups is the only thing that’s kept Bush and Cheney in office.

And it would seem that what’s good for Bush is also good for Sarah Palin. You remember Troopergate — the investigation Palin promised to give her full cooperation. But that was then. Today, under the tutelage of Bush and McCain Republicans, she now refuses to testify — refusing even to meet informally with the investigators. Not satisfied with that, she’s also seen to it — through the intervention of the attorney general she appointed — that no other state employee will cooperate.  

Meanwhile, GOP lawyers have descended upon Alaska by the scores to help with the cover-up. That’s the thing about Republicans and lawyers: they hate them except when they need them, which lately has been most of the time.

McCain said during his acceptance speech that he couldn’t wait to introduce Sarah Palin to Washington. I don’t know about that, but clearly he wasted no time in introducing the ways of Washington to Sarah Palin.

And it appears that the Palin cover-up may be working out just fine and dandy: word is that the Alaska legislature, bending to GOP pressure, may put off its official investigation into Troopergate until after the election (if ever).

McCain/Palin may well end up paying a high price politically for the bad publicity their stonewalling on Troopergate has produced. But please, spare me the lectures about how cover-ups always end up worse for the perpetrators than the original crime: because it just isn’t true.

We’re all venture capitalists now

September 17th, 2008 by Steve

Atrios makes an excellent (if snarky) observation:

Now that the government is running the biggest insurance company in the world, shouldn’t we elect a president who is qualified to run a large company?

He’s referring, of course, to yesterday’s statement by (now former) McCain/Palin spokeswoman, Carly Fiorina, that neither Palin nor McCain are qualified to run a large Fortune 500 company.

Hell of a defense, Sarah, really, first rate

September 17th, 2008 by Steve

The rocket scientists handling damage control for Sarah Palin have come up with yet another excuse . . . I mean defense . . . in the Troopergate scandal. Palin didn’t fire the state’s public safety commissioner, Walt Monegan, because he refused to fire her former brother-in-law, they explain. Heaven forbid — nothing could be further from the truth.

No, the reason she fired Monegan was because he was overly zealous — to the point of insubordination — in insisting on pursuing federal funding to help with Alaska’s epidemic of sex offenses, including, in particular, sex crimes against children. Palin, it seems, had other priorities.

Wow, hell of a defense, Sarah, really — sort of like confessing to a murder in order to establish an alibi in a burglary trial.

Firing a law enforcement official because he was overly aggressive in seeking resources to fight sex crimes against children would be politically dicey under the best of circumstances: but for Palin this is anything but the best of circumstances. Remember, this is the same Sarah Palin who, as mayor of Wasilla, either acquiesced in or actively supported a requirement that rape victims pay for their own rape kits (used to collect evidence at the hospital).

Apparently this is that new face of right wing “feminism” we’ve been hearing so much about — contempt for the rights of rape victims combined with disinterest in fighting sex crimes.   

Sounds like a winner to me.

Now, given that this is about the fourth excuse Palin has offered for firing Monegan, there’s good reason to suspect it isn’t true anyway. Taking into account everything we’ve learned about her, including her long history of using the public trust to settle personal scores, it’s probably more likely that it was, in fact, Monegan’s refusal to play along with her vendetta against her sister’s ex that sealed the deal.

Still, the very fact that Palin and her minions thought that using Monegan’s alleged “insubordination” in seeking federal funding to fight sex crimes would be a politically winning response to the charges leveled against her says something — something quite troubling — not only about her judgment, but also about her humanity.