The Harper Agenda

Murray Dobbin points out that the Harper Agenda on the economic front is likely even more important than the prorogation:

It is gratifying to see such widespread opposition to Harper’s assault on Parliament and democracy — from almost every major political columnist, newspaper editorials, over a hundred political scientists, and constitutional experts — including a significant number of unusual suspects. It is a clear sign that Harper has overreached yet again — a character flaw that has saved the country from disaster more than once. Harper now sits at 33 percent in the latest Ekos poll, and if the movement continues to grow, Harper’s plan to force an election over his March budget will have to be put on hold. That might have the effect of postponing the worst cuts.

But the sudden support for democracy by parts of the Canadian elite will not extend to defending the legacy of public services, wealth redistribution and government intervention in the economy. Those are the things that are in Stephen Harper’s crosshairs, and progressives will have to fight the campaign to stop him on their own.  [more of this must read]

Amidst the excitement of the movement against Harper’s prorogation of Parliament, it’s not only important to keep this in mind, it’s important to strategize about effective responses.  Progressives will likely be back on their own at that point.

Beat the Clock Economics

From Susan Fein at TPM Café Book Club:

Participants in this discussion share the view that the toughest choices facing policy makers are imposed by the clock: how quickly can government spending flow into the economy thereby propping up demand, and slowing the rate of business collapse, while making the economy cleaner, greener, and fairer too.

And from Paul Krugman:

Right now the world economy is in a nosedive, and understanding what I call “depression economics” — the weird world you get into when even a zero interest rate isn’t low enough, and a messed-up financial system is dragging down the real economy — is essential if we’re going to avoid the worst.

The key thing, when you’re in a situation like this, is realizing that normal rules don’t apply. Ordinarily we’d welcome an increase in private saving; right now we’re living in a world subject to the “paradox of thrift,” in which private virtue is public vice. Normally we want to be careful that public funds are spent wisely; right now the crucial thing is that they be spent fast. (John Maynard Keynes once suggested burying bottles of cash in coal mines and letting the private sector dig them up — not as a real proposal, but as a way of emphasizing the priority of supporting demand.)

The big test for the next few months will be whether policymakers here and abroad can wrap their minds around this Alice-in-Wonderland world. If they can’t, nobody knows how deep the rabbit hole goes.

If the clock is what’s important, Stephen Harper’s and Jim Flaherty’s actions of the last month have certainly beat Canadians.

Obama & Politics As Usual

Barack Obama’s rhetoric in his battle with Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination stressed that she was part of the old Washington Beltway political cabal while he represents a new way of doing things, the politics of hope and a complete change from past administrations.  I would argue that Clinton’s connection to Bill Clinton and the “old politics” had a good deal to do with her losing the nomination.  And so it is without any surprise at all, but a good deal of chagrin, that I read things like this:

Acting quickly after securing his party’s presidential nomination, Barack Obama picked a well-known representative of Bill Clinton‘s economic policies as his economic policy director and signaled this week that the major players from the Clinton economics team were now in his camp – starting with Robert E. Rubin.

Senator Obama, Democrat of Illinois, hired Jason Furman, a Harvard-trained economist closely associated with Mr. Rubin, a Wall Street insider who served as President Clinton’s Treasury secretary.

Barack Obama didn’t enter the race for the Presidency because he is a hopeful idealist.  He didn’t enter the race to transform politics in America or in Washington.  He didn’t enter the race because he is significantly to the right or left of Hillary Clinton or because he has something new to offer to Americans.  Barack Obama entered the race because he is ambitious.  He wants to be President of the United States.  He wants it badly.  When Hillary Clinton wanted it badly, she was accused of displaying a sense of entitlement.  I think that’s a useless criticism.  I can’t imagine that anyone who has played the political game for as long as Sen Clinton has would ever fall prey to a sense of entitlement at this point in the game.  Sen Clinton was ambitious.  She wanted to be the President of the United States.  She wanted it badly.  Like Barack Obama.  In that way, and in terms of their policy platforms, they are so similar that one must work very hard to find ways to distinguish them from each other.

The bitterness of the campaign boiled down to the politics of a black American running against a female American.  Because it just couldn’t have been about anything else.  I believe that this was an instance in which the politics of identity overwhelmed the importance of the issues that ought to have been before the American people: America’s militarism and role in world diplomacy with respect to Israel and Palestine, Darfur, China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cuba, other Latin American countries such as Colombia and Venezuela, and climate change, to name just a few; the stupefying impact of global capitalism on economic inequality in developing countries and in America itself; the American economy and its impact on the economies of every other country in the world; the erosion of democracy in America and in the places where America has control or significant influence (where isn’t that?); and so forth, ad infinitum

At this perilous moment in the history of America and the world, there was a tragic distraction.

Now that the issue has been resolved in Obama’s favour, will Americans press him in a more progressive direction or will they be too frightened to critisize him, lest McCain make hay?  Is America a fearless democracy?

Last week, Ian Welsh had this to say about the historic battle of Clinton v. Obama:

Despite the fact that neither of them, on their actual records, is a progressive and the fact that their actual policy proposals are pretty similar to each other, the “progressive” blogosphere has been acting as if this is a battle which matters a great deal. It has acted as if the difference between Obama and Clinton is night and day, and that one of them (usually Obama, but sometimes Clinton) is so much better than the other one that it isn’t even close.

Not only is it close, but the differences are minor. Folks like Dodd and Kucinich, and to a lesser extent Edwards, who actually made a somewhat radical critique of what is wrong with America, aren’t in this fight anymore.

As the line runs about academia, the fight has been so vicious because so little is at stake.

I agreed with Welsh last week, last month and last year.  Not much at stake as between Clinton and Obama.  Somewhat more at stake as between McCain and Obama.  But not nearly enough.