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The Socialist Who Coddles Business?

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Posted on Jul 18, 2010
White House / Pete Souza

By E.J. Dionne, Jr.

The titans of the private sector say President Barack Obama is anti-business. Many progressives say he coddles business. How does the administration manage to pull that off?

The “center” is said to be the most comfortable place in American politics. But this assumes that the center is stable, that most people on either end of the philosophical continuum give would-be centrist politicians the benefit of the doubt, and that voters actually care whether someone is “centrist” or not.

Not one of these assumptions works. The political center is a strange and wild place because many who fall into it have vastly different combinations of beliefs. No politician gets the benefit of the doubt these days. And the people who care passionately about a politician’s ideology are not in the center, but fall to its left or right.

This explains why Obama’s actual position—he’s pro-business but thinks it should be more tightly regulated than it was in the last decade or so—has little to do with how his views are perceived.

The right pronounces him a “socialist” because of his sympathy for regulation, his belief that the rich should pay higher taxes and his occasional criticisms of Wall Street or the oil industry. The left declares him a sellout because of his efforts early on to get Wall Street on its feet, because it wishes the financial reform bill enacted last week were even stronger, and because the president didn’t fight hard for a “public option” in the health care bill.

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As for those who are in the center, they mainly see high unemployment, sluggish growth and future deficits. If unemployment were at 5 percent, growth were roaring and, as a result, the deficit were shrinking, these voters wouldn’t care whether he was a socialist, a sellout or a sellout socialist. They’d simply be happier.

But this should not be seen as an alibi for Obama as the moderate, misunderstood progressive, though this is more or less what he is. The president’s most important tasks include persuading the public that he’s doing the right thing and improving the standing of the politicians who support him in doing it. Here is where Obama has fallen down on the job.

No wonder Democratic members of Congress were furious when Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, blithely proclaimed that the Democrats might lose the House of Representatives in this fall’s elections.

Of course what Gibbs said was perfectly accurate, and Democrats know it. What enraged them is that a spokesman for Obama could calmly say what he did without warning House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that she was about to be put on the endangered species list, and without talking to them first about the political implications of his statement.

There’s a good case to be made for alerting Americans to the prospect of a Republican House majority and what it could mean. But House members wanted to be in on this strategy—if it was a strategy.

In truth, Gibbs’ comment was just a match tossed into the dry underbrush of a parched forest. The underlying problem is that Obama’s allies who have given him a chance to be a great president by passing health care reform, financial reform and a stimulus bill—all at considerable political risk to themselves—rightly feel they have been left undefended by a White House more interested in the president’s long-term standing than in their own survival.

Obama has allowed himself less than four months to repair this damage. Doing so requires him to redefine the meaning of political moderation and to place himself and his party squarely within its ambit.

As long as the political center is measured as the halfway point between Republicans such as Sen. Jon Kyl who don’t think they have to pay for big tax cuts for the rich and a moderate progressivism of Obama’s sort, the entire national discussion will be tilted toward conservatives: Far right plus center-left equals center-right.

And as long as Obama doesn’t define “Obamaism,” his critics will do the defining for him. Right now, it’s a collection of real achievements without a strong underlying rationale. It’s an expansion of government without an explanation for how this modestly larger government will enhance both private well-being and private-sector growth.

If Obama doesn’t want to be seen as a socialist who coddles business, he needs to be more persuasive in telling Americans who he actually is.

E.J. Dionne’s e-mail address is ejdionne(at)washpost.com.
   
© 2010, Washington Post Writers Group


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By Lariokie, July 22, 2010 at 2:13 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

E.J. Dionne’s editorial is evidence of just how meaningless the common descriptors like right, left, progressive, liberal, conservative, socialist, etc. are.  Since Reagan, the center has shifted to the right noticeably and very significantly.  Now, those right wingnuts(neocons) who used to be laughing stocks and goofballs in tinfoil-hats are respected by the MSM as commentators, theorists, and worse yet elected officials.  They are cast by the mainstream media as “centrists” and critial think-tankers. The left, on the other hand, has been relegated to relative obscurity as wackos and conspiracy theorists to whom no “respectable” media source (including PBS/NPR)will pay the least bit of serious attention. 

This is a very deliberate strategy by the oligarchs to keep us off balance and focused on meaningless icons while they continue to rob us blind in wars of choice, phony bailouts, massively complex health and financial “reform” packages that ratchet up their hold on the economy and plunge society into ambivalence.  The fact today is that there no longer are two distinguishable political parties.  Since 1995 when Congress changed its own rules to allow themselves to KEEP FOR PERSONAL USE any and all surplus campaign donations, both parties have focused almost exclusively on currying the favor of the richest oligarchs and corporations.  This was compounded recently by the Citizens United decision by the SCOTUS, allowing unlimited largess from foriegn as well as domestic corporations (the new American “citizens”) and has effectively resulted in a single-minded party of the powerful. The more we keep niggling about right this and left that, the more we miss what is really going on.  Obama is no more a liberal than is Newt Gingrich.  He proved early on with his cabinet and administration personnel choices that he is status quo to the tenth power.  EVERYTHING he has done since his inaguration has proven that fact.  He is part of the problem, not part of the solution.  I agree with EJ that he is not a socialist. But I part company with him when he says “Obama has allowed himself less than four months to repair this damage. Doing so requires him to redefine the meaning of political moderation and to place himself and his party squarely within its ambit”.  Moderation is a concept that is completely unknown to the right.  Their president (Bush2) “won” in 2000 only with the help of his daddy’s SCOTUS. Yet he launched into and accomplished the greatest assault on the New Deal and Great society ever, including the Reagan years.  And all that with a smaller majority in both houses of Congress than Obama. The message to me is clear:  There is little if any difference between the parties as they relate to the real needs of middle class working Americans.  So what if the health insurance companies can no longer exclude you for pre-existing conditions, if you still can’t afford the coverage?  So what if there is now greater “regulation” of the financial industry if the regulators all come from that very industry?  Rhetoric continues to dazzle us into believing it is the same as results.  NOT SO!

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By Cathy, July 22, 2010 at 9:02 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

We get it, E.J., you love Obama.  Others have pointed out this paragraph:

“But this should not be seen as an alibi for Obama as the moderate, misunderstood progressive, though this is more or less what he is.”

What a joke!  Obama is not misunderstood by anyone, except perhaps the right.  The left is judging him by exactly what they see and hear and Obama’s painfully concrete action—or inaction—as the case may be. The HCR debaucle was a primer on Obama from A to Z, and what we should expect in the future.  Where is the progressive bone in Obama—indeed, I would argue, where is the human bone in Obama?

I see that it was commented here on the Clintons’ largesse post-Presidency.  There are very few people arguing anymore that this is Obama’s reason for wanting the Presidency.  It is the ultimate ticket to riches and prestige—if you play the game right.  At the moment Obama is going a great job. 

People cheered when Obama finally “fought” for unemployment insurance extensions.  He should have been out there long before they expired—he should have been out in front of it.  But that is also Obama’s MO it seems—come to the game late so you can be seen as the “saving the day.” 

I think I’ll stick with Chris Hedges’ excellent assessments of Obama’s actions.  His latest essay on HCR was a terrific summary of last year’s mess and where we stand.  It’s very grim.

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By James M. Martin, July 21, 2010 at 3:48 pm Link to this comment

Good one, E. J.  Shrewd, informed analysis of Obama’s predicament.  I would like to think he’s reading his Honest Abe Lincoln a bit and thinking, “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.”  To which, Obama might add: “And then again there are times when you can’t please anybody at all.”

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By THE SNED, July 21, 2010 at 6:24 am Link to this comment

The hilarious element of the “socialist” cry…is that the rich are already as socialized as one can be, and the press won’t examine their particular socialist benefits. A reporter need only sit down with an CPA to create the story. Look at their tax breaks. Look at the military budget of 750 billion dollars. Realize that all the companies who provide all the services are all working for the government.Thats’ socialism. And the rich owners of those companies now have parts made overseas because they are still profit driven. And who loses jobs when they do that? Not the rich. Yet it is the Republican Rich…who scream anti socialist slogans to scare the middle class and poor…..it is a joke of the musty disgusting nature.

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By Z1, July 21, 2010 at 5:31 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Gee E.J. can you be any more simplistic with the reasons that the left has had it with the Bummer? It’s not that he took single payer off the table right from the start, then killed the public option from the health insurance corporations profit enhancement bill. Or that the so called “sweeping changes to the reregulation of Wall St. and the Banks” were exactly what Wall St. and the Banks fought for. No, it’s not that every major bill that he has put forward turns out to be another welfare hand out for the wealthiest people and institutions in this country it’s just that our preceptions of the corporate clown are all wrong. Well good luck selling that one!

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By Geoph, July 21, 2010 at 3:17 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Obama’s problem is communication?

Isn’t that the thing he’s supposed to be great at?

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By ardee, July 20, 2010 at 12:50 pm Link to this comment

This focus upon an individual masks the real problem; that our system is in dire need of reform. Far too many look to heroes when anyone needing three quarters of a billion dollars to successfully win the White House has already sold his soul, and his administration, to Wall Street.

That the CEO’s have turned on Obama may be true, but they give to both parties as insurance that their wishes will continue to guide legislation. Until the power of money is excised from our election process, and at every level, the electorate will get only lip service while the corporate donors will get what they paid for.

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By tropicgirl, July 20, 2010 at 6:38 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“”“This explains why Obama’s actual position—he’s pro-business but thinks it
should be more tightly regulated than it was in the last decade or so—has little
to do with how his views are perceived.”“”

DIONNE—LISTEN CAREFULLY… YOU ARE NOT FOOLING ANYONE.

The only reason Obama wants regulation is TO CONSOLIDATE BUSINESS. WE
USED TO CALL THESE CARTELS AND MONOPOLIES. And to further protect them,
HE IS MAKING THEM PART OF THE GOVERNMENT, or FUNDED by the
GOVERNMENT, as MUCH AS POSSIBLE, so that THE AMERICAN TAXPAYER PAYS
FOR ALL, MILITARY, GOVERNMENT EXCESS, and FAILED CARTELS and
MONOPOLIES, while RATIONING the SERVICES WE GET IN RETURN. That’s the
“socialist” part of it. Its for our own good, don’t ya know.

Its simply a re-incarnation of the MONOPOLIES, now with a centralized,
PROPOSED WORLD GOVERNMENT able to TAX WHATEVER THEY WANT. I don’t
remember the turn-of-the-century progressives being socio-fascist, but I
could be wrong. Some people would say I am.

So, Dionne, its much, much, bigger than your petty description and I think
most of us have a pretty good picture of Obama-Scam or should I say…
The Obama Deception.

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By wildflower, July 19, 2010 at 8:04 pm Link to this comment

RE @ CT - RE Titans: “No. They DON’T.”

But they are saying it, @CT.  Their greed has no limits, and any effort made in the direction of consumer protection sets these jerks off into a fitful frenzy. Bob Scheer discussed a couple of them on truthdig just a few days ago:

“One of those who has been complaining is billionaire publisher Mort Zuckerman, who now finds in a White House he once supported “hostility” to the business culture he credits with the country’s greatness. I assume he is not talking about the belated efforts to hold BP accountable for the cost of the oil spill that our pro-drilling president once thought not possible.

And then there was Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of General Electric and once friendly to Obama but now alarmed by new regulations. He was one of the many CEOs cited by Fareed Zakaria in The Washington Post as evidence of “Obama’s CEO problem.” General Electric is a company that got into deep trouble when it stopped worrying about making better light bulbs and came to devote much of its business through GE capital to fancy financial products. With GE having been saved by the taxpayers, one wonders what the conglomerate has to complain about. Or Wall Street donors now stiffing the Democrats and claiming Obama is hostile to them.”

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/theres_just_no_pleasing_some_robber_barons_20100714/

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By Peetawonkus, July 19, 2010 at 4:48 pm Link to this comment

“But this should not be seen as an alibi for Obama as the moderate, misunderstood progressive, though this is more or less what he is.”
What a genius Obama is, hiding his progressivism behind a Cabinet of ex-Clintonites who have bargained away every single progressive idea before it even hit the negotiating table. Likewise his campaigning for Beltway Democrats against actual progressives. His progressive Master Plan of appearing like a Republican Lite neo-liberal is working admirably.

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By Jack, July 19, 2010 at 2:04 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Obama saw how well cozying up to Wall Street and big business did for Bill Clinton who left office in debt $500,000 and now, at last report, was worth well over $100,000,000(per Hillary’s financial statement for the last race). If he ever had any principles, Obama abandoned them long ago. When he surrounded himself with the likes of Summers, Geithner, Emmanuel, and company there was no doubt that he had sold out.

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By jkehoe, July 19, 2010 at 12:44 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Here in Canada Barack easily could jump between the federal Liberal Party or the Conservative Party. Specifically, he could be defined as a “Blue” Liberal or a “Red” Tory,ie. a strong supporter of civil and human rights, pro-immigration, and the welfare state, pro-business (with the auto loans and financial bailouts as examples) an internationalist in foreign policy, and basically moderate and incremental on socio-economic-political reforms…

As a social democrat let me say he is no socialist.  And given the US political system of checks and limited balances coupled with corporate lobby might, I see very few true liberals within Washington. That said I wish him well. He has greatly improved the US image abroad.

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By balkas, July 19, 2010 at 10:46 am Link to this comment

Correction!
One cannot separate military [cia-army-fbi-city police] from politics-politicians [pols-‘educators’-priests-collumnists-media,et al] and the economy.
It is all one skein of wool! tnx

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By @CT, July 19, 2010 at 9:37 am Link to this comment

“The titans of the private sector say President Barack Obama is anti-business.”

No. They DON’T.

“[Obama]needs to be more persuasive in telling Americans who he actually is.”

No. “Americans”—and, increasingly, everybody else—KNOW “who he actually is.”

He’s a corporatist, and not a very appealing one. Giving the government back to the Republicans is fine—then, when the government falls, nobody will bitch about “racism”.//

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By wildflower, July 19, 2010 at 9:14 am Link to this comment

Re Dionne: “There’s a good case to be made for alerting Americans to the prospect of a Republican House majority and what it could mean.”

No mystery. . . Steve Benen has already heard and shared what it means:

“In recent weeks, we’ve seen high-profile Republicans urge the party to return to Bush’s economic agenda, Bush’s Social Security agenda, Bush’s tax policies, and Bush’s regulatory agenda.”

http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/

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By balkas, July 19, 2010 at 9:00 am Link to this comment

Substituting: “If BHO doesn’ want to be seen as a socialist…” with if he doesn’t want to be seen to be for greater or much greater equality in an econo-military-political structure, he better say: No, not ever wld i do that and ruin the greatness of our system of rule.

Natch, dionne wld never hyphenate the three aspects of one entity.
The fact is, that on living level, one cannot separate military {city police, fbi,cia, army [from politics [pols, ‘educators’, clergy, media]or economy.

Hyphenations of the three aspects indicates that we have here just one reality and three separate ones. tnx

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By rolmike, July 19, 2010 at 8:58 am Link to this comment

i suspect that the terminology in which columns of this
kind are conducted don’t really work - at least not
anymore. ‘the center’ would be what? the frightened
masses who are not pissed like the know-too-little tea
partiers and the hard left that has discovered that Obama
has welched on 9 of ten promies. Yes, a kind of
healthcare bill passed - and 37 million Americans will
now be at th mercy of the health industry. I suppose that
can be described as one of those half-assed compromises.
perhaps obama was in awe of all these wizzards of high
finance as was/ is evidently of general: in what does
this entire huge national security apparatus with a
trillion dollar budget - and nothing but a rag tag bunch
of, say, Comanches off in the near far east, does it
differ one iota from Bush and Co.s collection?? obama had
the opportunity to do a “Stieglitz” - and let all those
huge banks, including Goldman, collapse into the arms of
the government: and keep the people as a whole from being
at the mercy of a bunch of greedy gamblers. perhaps the
fellow was just out of his depth, perhaps he never really
expected to win with just rhetoric, meaningless verbiage
as soon as you took a hard look at it. so that makes for
two huge missed opportunities, and now another half-assed
bill will be regarded as an accomplishment. muddling
through? barely, and with the Republicans’ only interest
to be back on the trough and have control of it.

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By psickmind fraud, July 19, 2010 at 8:57 am Link to this comment

Just more crap commentary about the political parties that only exist to make money and keep the populace distracted while they rob us. 
Meanwhile, we’re giving Pakistan $7.5 billion for their infrastructure, while ours crumbles.  We’re wasting money on wars to keep the well-connected well-heeled.  Talking heads make a big deal out of the Black Panthers intimidating voters, when nobody voted in could possibly be worse than those we already have.

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By rudyspeaks1, July 19, 2010 at 8:11 am Link to this comment

“he needs to be more persuasive in telling Americans who he actually is”  Well,
by god, there it is! Just a big problem with communication! E. J. Dionne is just
doing his job, which is to maintain “Beltway Reality”. The pivotal paragraph,
edited to its essence is “The right pronounces him a “socialist” because of his…
sympathy… belief ... and occasional criticism”... [all perceptions.] “The left
declares him a sellout because of his… efforts… [the RESULTS of financial
reform]... didn’t fight for Public Option”... [all of which are REAL]. But after
selling out his base both with actions taken (banker coddling, increasing
Pentagon spending while cutting all forms of social spending, putting
Goldman-Sachs criminals in charge of Treasury and the Fed, continuing to
shred the Constitution) and with actions NOT taken (no solid goals at
Copenhagen, no Public Option in HCR, a fluff-packed Financial “reform"bill),
E.J. sees Obama’s only sin is that “he needs to be more persuasive in telling
Americans who he actually is.” My contrary view is that Americans DO see, quite
well, who he actually is, because of what he HAS actually DONE. Leave EJD to
mourn that we don’t share his fantasy world view, so prevalent in the MSM.

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By wildflower, July 19, 2010 at 7:40 am Link to this comment

RE DIONNE: “There’s a good case to be made for alerting Americans to the prospect of a Republican House majority and what it could mean.”

Believe Mark Kleiman knows what the future would hold:

“Paved roads? Who needs paved roads? Paved roads, my friends, are a fad, a frill, a big-government nanny-state boondoggle. The Pilgrims didn’t have paved roads. The pioneers didn’t have paved roads. Third-world standards were good enough for them; why shouldn’t they be good enough for us and our children?”

http://www.samefacts.com/

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By MeHere, July 19, 2010 at 7:33 am Link to this comment

Right, left, center -delusional discussion. It’s the right where they all are. But
the right is a very crowded place so some necessarily spill out into the center in
order to remain in power.

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BarbieQue's avatar

By BarbieQue, July 19, 2010 at 5:36 am Link to this comment

EJ: “As long as the political center is measured as the halfway point between Republicans such as Sen. Jon Kyl who don’t think they have to pay for big tax cuts for the rich and a moderate progressivism of Obama’s sort, the entire national discussion will be tilted toward conservatives: Far right plus center-left equals center-right.”

Well EJ is finally right about something but I’m guessing he wouldn’t agree with the reasoning.

He’s right about “As long as the political center is measured as the halfway point…” but if Jon Kyl thinks that deficit spending on wars and big tax cuts that leave our nation dependent on loans from China are a good thing, Jon Kyl is no “Republican”. I’m not so sure why this is so hard for professionals to get. Maybe one day EJ could write about the fact that both parties developed amnesia at the same time.

And “...a moderate progressivism of Obama’s sort”????

WTF? Nixon was more progressive than Bail Out Barry. Perhaps even Eisenhower was more progressive than DroneBama. At least one could argue… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eisenhower

And so even though Dionne doesn’t know it, he’s put his finger on one of the core problems.

Neither the Democrats or the Republicans of today seem to even know what they used to stand for. Corporatism from the “Left” and “Right” is todays message. And the shrinking middle class is our reward for continuing to vote for these vultures.

“Forget the Letter: Vote Out The Incumbent- Make em All Grovel”

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By anonymous, July 19, 2010 at 4:21 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

not that hard

Obama coddles BIG business as though he were
paid by the chamber of commerce, (which he is)
and business titans are filthy liars

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By wildflower, July 19, 2010 at 4:14 am Link to this comment

Re Dionne: “The titans of the private sector say President Barack Obama is anti-business. Many progressives say he coddles business. How does the administration manage to pull that off?”

I don’t think the administration has anything to do with it, E.J. The situation simply reflects how things are. Lets face it, the greed factor of these profiteering titans is completely out of control and has been for some time now. These jerks keep wanting more and more.  As such, progressives have no choice, but to demand more reform. Meanwhile, as usual, the right wing doesn’t really have a clue as to what is happening in the big picture, and only repeats what the titans pay them to say, which is “socialism, socialism, socialism.”

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By Hammond Eggs, July 19, 2010 at 12:42 am Link to this comment

Obama is NOT a progressive, not even a dirty dishwater   progressive. 

There is NO political center in the United States, only the culture of the swindle and the rip-off.  And Obama is the current titular head of that gang of thieves.  E. J. Dionne is one of their prime stenographers.

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