Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Wars, Budget Cuts, and Austerity We Can Believe In

by Pham Binh
November 01, 2008

Judging by the turnout in early voting, Obama will be the next president of the United States. He'll probably win the electoral and popular votes by big margins.

Before we giddy about this historic event, consider what an Obama administration will look like over the next four or eight years.

Biden is already bragging that Obama will govern like a Republican:

"The truth of the matter was that if you noticed, even in those days, it was not a direct confrontation of the agenda. What we had to do was a little jujitsu. That was what drove the Republicans crazy - [Clinton] took their playbook and he turned it on them."

Obama himself has promised he's not afraid to "mix it up" with the Democratic party's base:

"[D]igging ourselves out of the fiscal mess we're in is going to be a big, big challenge, and it's going to require some tough decisions that will not always be popular — particularly when there's going to be a lot of pent-up energy among Democrats."

One thing that Obama and Biden are right about is that their administration will face hard choices from the outset. On the one side, there's the government's huge trillion dollar debt, the economic catastrophe, and the strategic clusterfucks in Afghanistan and Iraq they pledge not to get out of anytime soon. On the other side, there's the tremendous thirst for a break from the last three decades of bipartisan Reaganism which transferred huge amounts of wealth from the bottom to the top.

The contrast between Obama's priorities and those of the people who elected him is going to be sharp. It's going to get ugly when he disappoints the people who believed in him.

There is no way Obama can balance the budget, escalate the war(s) in Afghanistan and Pakistan, enact the disgrace he calls a health care plan, revive the economy, increase spending on education, rebuild domestic infrastructure, and jump-start the task of reducing U.S. dependence on oil. Unless of course he brings back the tax rate on the super-rich back to what they were (between 70-90%) during the Cold War before Reagan.

Obama will have to choose which of these are his priorities. He can either prioritize trying to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, a balanced budget, and expanding the military, or he can expand social programs, increase spending on education, get the country a universal health care, and tax the rich until they scream to pay for it. Trying to combine the two will anger the rich (his real base, judging by who is funding his campaign) and the tens of millions of working-class people who voted for him for betraying them.

Let's be clear: Obama is not the second coming of FDR or LBJ. FDR buried the Great Depression by jumping headlong into the world's bloodiest war, World War Two, which revived the economy unlike his half-hearted state-capitalist measures. LBJ expanded social programs as part of his "Great Society" but committed the U.S. to an unwinnable war in Vietnam that undermined the country's economic dominance and eventually, the very programs he created had their budgets slashed as a result.

Unlike FDR, there won't be a World War to revive the economy. Unlike LBJ, he does not have the luxury of high tax-rates and an expanding economy to sustain, much less expand, domestic spending. The closest historical parallel to an Obama administration will probably be the Clinton administration.

Clinton finished Reagan's war on welfare by abolishing the program "as we know it," as Slick Willy put it. He likes to tout the fact that under his administration 22 million jobs were created. What he leaves out of his bragging is that half of those jobs paid less than $7 an hour, which undoubtedly has something to do with the fact that credit card debt and personal bankrupcties are so high. He also talks about how great economic growth was in the 90s, but it was the weakest growth since World War Two.

Clinton's omission of inconvenient truths should come as no surprise. Remember, this is the guy who bombed civilian targets in Serbia to "save lives" and who famously said "it depends on what your definition of 'is' is." His endorsement of Obama is almost as bad as Powell's.

Come 2009, the Clinton years will seem idyllic compared to what Obama will do, given the foreign, domestic, and foreign policy crises the U.S. faces. So far, the president-elect has gone out of his way to be vague and non-committal in terms of what exactly he would do to bring the "real change" he keeps talking about,. However, he and Biden have been very clear that they are not afraid to make the tough, painful, "necessary" choices, even at the risk of losing his popularity. Obama has also promised to overcome the partisan divide in Washington to get things done.

If that kind of rhetoric sounds familiar, it should. George W. Bush claimed he was a "uniter, not a divider" before he took office and made the toughest, costliest decision of his career: to invade Iraq under false pretenses.

No wonder the Wall Street Journal is delighted that a Democrat "would rehabilitate the much-maligned Bush agenda" in an article ominously titled, "Bush's Third Term."

Pham Binh is a SleptOn columnist, an activist/writer who can be reached at anita_job@yahoo.com. Visit Pham's website at http://prisonerofstarvation.blogspot.com/.
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