About three months ago, I decided to start a website about classical music. Politics was not part of the plan. But the debt crisis intervened.
On July 24, 2011, I wrote a good friend who lives in a city north of here about my disappointment in the President’s handling of the debt-crisis negotiations. He wrote back, sticking up for the President, leading me to reply with this:
I agree, of course, that we should have a Government no larger than we can afford. Adjustments in taxation and spending are needed over the long run, to be sure. But two things, one a policy point, the other a political one:
(a) In prolonged economic contractions, timing of fiscal policy is EVERYTHING. The stimulus was about one-third as large as it should have been. (The President’s advisers at the time told him this, as did numerous highly regarded economists.) Obama’s timidity in pushing for the correct stimulus is to blame, at least in part, for the current scarcity of revenues and the extent of long-term unemployment. If you doubt that for one minute, set aside several hours — it will take that long — to read the blogs of Paul Krugman and Brad DeLong all the way back to the beginning of this administration. In the beginning, Krugman seemed unfairly critical and quite strident. But it’s now clear he’s been right about every single important thing. Really. Go back and look. The predictions are there. The explanations are there. The economic research is explained. The rebuttals against the administration’s position and the Republicans’ position. At virtually every turn, Krugman has correctly predicted where we would be and why the “rosy scenario” hoped for by others would not occur in our unique current economic situation (“the zero lower bound”). I really cannot recall any public intellectual who has been as spot on about everything, and as accountable in terms of predicting in advance, publishing his views, citing his sources, admitting errors, etc., as Krugman. His policy presciptions are roughly the opposite of what this White House is now doing. As someone who cares a lot about policy before politics, this is of grave concern to me.
(b) Our highly politically charged system cannot at this time produce the correct policy outcome unless the progressive arguments are well made at the table. This is my big problem with the President. The arguments — truly excellent and correct arguments — for additional stimulus NOW, keeping Social Security as it is, keeping Medicare eligibility as it is — are not being made. No one is better equipped to make those arguments than Barack Obama. But he’s not making them. That’s either because he believes them to be incorrect — in which case I want him out for sure — or he feels the correct arguments will cost him too many votes — in which case it matters to me not whether he continues to hold office.
I would find your views [about the need for austerity] more persuasive had we not seen this movie before. We are, more or less, very much like the America of the 1930s. And we’re approaching 1936-37. We’re in a nascent and tentative economic recovery on the brink of tipping over backwards. We can borrow money cheaply (long term interest rates below 3%, astoundingly low.) We need FDR. But the guy we’ve got is playing out of the policy playbook of Herbert Hoover, not because he believes it (the President clearly knows better) but because he finds it politically expedient to do so. This is too disheartening for words.
For what it’s worth, I’m late coming to these conclusions. I do so reluctantly. I do so after giving the man the benefit of the doubt and embarrassing myself repeatedly (I now realize) in conversations with friends over the past 12 months. But I’ve come around. And I think I’m done.
I expect that in the next few days the evidence will be clear that the above assessment is substantially correct. I do, of course, hope I’m wrong about it. . . .
A couple of days later I wrote the following short communication to the White House via its public website:
I am . . . not part of the “left wing base” of the party. I am a former Republican from Texas who donated [$$$ – deleted] to your 2008 campaign, more than I’ve ever given to any political candidate in my life. However. . . [sic]
The deal you and Speaker Boehner are discussing, as described in TPM this morning, is deeply offensive to me. You have been negotiating behind closed doors to give away the farm, at little real cost to the Republicans. As nice as it would be to live in a post-partisan world populated only by grown-ups, I have seen no sign of its sudden appearance. What I see is an energized right wing who is “rolling” the Middle Class because its chief defender — i.e., you — would rather referee the match than play in it.Ten days remain before Aug 2. Since Republicans are already engaging in “class warfare,” will you not stand and up for those who most need, and most deserve, your support? In this debate about the role of Government, will you not defend Government?
Because, the thing is, Mr. President, sometimes the grown-up thing is to accept that the other side’s “best offer” is not nearly good enough, given the merits. That’s something Churchill understood, but Chamberlain did not. I am telling you from far beyond the beltway, Mr. President, that, you need to reach your inner-Churchill. You need to do it NOW.