Chait on Right-wing Obama qua Messiah Meme

Another excellent piece by Chait.

Calls it right-wing Messiah-Complex Complex.

Next, there is Obama’s declaration that “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” The point, which he has made many times, is that voters should take responsibility themselves for enacting change, and thus that his supporters should not treat him as a savior. Obama-as-cult-leader screeds insist upon reading the meaning as the exact reverse. Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote, “in the words of his own slogan, ‘we are the ones we’ve been waiting for,’ which, translating the royal ‘we,’ means: ‘I am the one we’ve been waiting for.'” As a pundit, I’m intrigued by this technique of taking a word out of your subject’s statement and substituting its opposite. Did you know that McCain’s slogan, “Country first,” could be translated via the Krauthammer method into “Country last”? Why does John McCain hate America?

Some excellent snark here (plus he gets a shot in on a trifecta of God awful right-wing commentators):

Finally, there’s Obama’s line, “This was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.” McCain’s campaign, and conservative pundits like Mark Steyn and Krauthammer (again), have mocked this as a claim to divine powers. “Moses made the waters recede, but he had help,” sneered right-wing columnist Irwin Stelzer. Call me a literalist, but I think Obama was referring to his plan to curtail global warming, which is causing sea levels to rise at a rate of approximately three millimeters a year, rather than boasting supernatural dominion over the elements.

One quibble with Chait–at the end he states that liberals don’t do deifying like the right has with Reagan. Except they do–think the FDR and JFK hagiography (the latter far less deserved than the former).

I get criticisms of Obama being inexperienced.

I get how for all his talk about being so post-partisan whatever, he’s a liberal, with some different twists (see here) but fairly standard fare. I don’t get how NRO-types act like they discovered this fact as if it were some deeply hidden secret when anybody who bothered to look at the guy’s history and speeches could have told you that within five minutes. But it’s a legit criticism nonetheless –if you think conservatism is the only form of proper governing philosophy that is. It would be more accurate to paint Obama as a pragmatic-left guy who realizes the country is fairly divided and will inherit a Congressional system that will require him to pick off a Republican minority to join him. Than as say some radical.

I get that if you are a neocon maniac who wants bases in Iraq, full spectrum dominance, believes in a civilizational war between Islam and the West, and/or wants to rattle sabers with Russia and China (and has no conception of globalization or the economy) that you would rightly fear Obama’s foreign policy.

But I don’t get the messiah thing.

My fav selection from a Google Images search under Obama Messiah is the following (though St. Francis of Assisi was not the Messiah but close enough):

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Published in: on August 25, 2008 at 2:52 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Democratic Economic Advisors and Theory

There was some stir within the left in the announcement that Brookings’ Jason Furman is joining the fantastically named Austan Goolsbee as Obama’s chief economic adviser. Furman penned this controversial (mostly on the left) article calling Walmart a Progressive Success story.

Furman begins the article thusly:

Productivity is the principal driver of economic progress. It is the only force that can make everyone better off: workers, consumers, and owners of capital. Walmart has indisputably made a tremendous contribution to productivity.

Hence Walmart has made everyone better off, just as Socrates is mortal. Which is really not the big point (Furman praising elements of Walmart) but rather the on the surface rather conventional sounding (and conventionally correct at that) point that productivity is the principal driver of economic progress.

This article by Jon Chait (“Freakoutonomics”) lays out the argument of left economists that perhaps this is not as obviously the case as we might believe. This article very clearly lays out the struggle from the 90s to today between the centrist/center-left (mostly Clintonite) wing of Democratic Economists, mostly the Rubinites (of which Furman is one) versus the then Robert Reich (also supporting Obama) to today folks like Jared Bernstein. The Rubinite wing was more powerful during Bill’s tenure but now it seems the more left wing side of the debate is gaining ground.

Chait on why the Rubinites have lost some footing:

The cause of their doubt is the disturbing performance of the U.S. economy over the last five years. What’s happening is very simple: The economy is growing smartly, but, essentially, all the gains are going to the rich. It is almost a dystopian Marxist vision come to life. Corporate profits have soared, incomes at the very top have shot through the stratosphere, and, yet, the vast majority of Americans have not seen their living standards rise at all. This development does not offer much of an intellectual challenge to either the right (which is not particularly troubled) or the left (which is not particularly surprised). But the center is both troubled and surprised. And, for the Rubinites, figuring out just why this is happening, and what to do about it, has begun to unravel their confidence in the moderate remedies that not long ago seemed unassailable.

The key point then is that what has occurred in the last decade particularly is that productivity gains have not brought increased standards of living.  Chait cites this article by Ian Drew Becker and Robert J. Gordon in 2005 opening up this (seemingly) counterintuitive argument.  A more summary version of much the same argument here by the aforementioned Bernstein.

John McCain for example took some heat from Obama for arguing that the fundamentals of the US economy were strong and praising President Bush’s economic record.  Now coming (to the degree McCain thinks about economic matters at all) from the Phil Gramm and Larry Kudlow school of conservative economics, this is a correct statement.  Because he is only focused on the productivity gains, dividends in the stock market for the rich, inflation, etc.  McCain misses entirely the question of rising cost of living compared with non-similarly increased wages and purchasing power.  Not to mention the abominable state of US health care and increased pressure via the Supreme Court eroding worker rights siding with corporate interests.

Chait states that one of the culprits blamed for the disconnect between rising productivity and living standards (stagnation in the latter) is George Bush’s tax cuts during a time of war.  Certainly that exacerbated the issue, but according to some of these more progressive economists, a deeper trend may be at work.

And so, in setting about to unravel the mystery, economists (especially those on the center left) have looked closely at a deeper trend, one that has been going on much longer than the current administration: rising inequality. Although the post-1973 decline in productivity growth was long considered the primary economic problem facing the nation, lurking in the background was a more or less concurrent trend of widening inequality. Put simply, the fortunes of the very rich and the fortunes of everybody else have been diverging sharply. Over the last quarter century, the portion of the national income accruing to the richest 1 percent of Americans has doubled. The share going to the richest one-tenth of 1 percent has tripled, and the share going to the richest one-hundredth of 1 percent has quadrupled.

But what is coming to pass is that the center-left more and more is open to arguments that the prime cause of the rising inequality (and inequality as a prime cause of the current economic recession, yes Virginia it is a recession or rather the concept of recession or not doesn’t matter in the current environment) is plutocracy, or the growing influence and power of the rich.

In this sense, the center-left has been shifted left and Furman may not be as centrist as Rubin was during the 90s (a different time with a different set of issues).  Steve Clemons with some thoughts on Furman.

Chait on Conservative PC

Blue-collar whites now occupy the same position in American politics that people of color hold in the smaller political subculture of academia: a victim-hero class whose positions (usually as interpreted by outsiders) enjoy the presumption of moral superiority.  he victim-hero class is the object of competitive flattery and the subject of mutual accusations of disrespect. You can’t read a Peggy Noonan paean to real America–“a healthy and vibrant place full of religious feeling and cultural energy and Bible study and garage bands and sports-love and mom-love and sophistication and normality”–without thinking of a junior faculty member extolling the dignity of Guatemalan peasant women.

Read the whole thing.

Published in: on April 19, 2008 at 4:31 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Jon Chait on McCain/Clinton

Here’s the whole post:

A couple campaign statements caught my eye, and I wanted to point them out before the weekend. First, John McCain says of his supporter, John Hagee, “I repudiate any comments that are made, including Pastor Hagee’s, if they are anti-Catholic or offensive to Catholics.” If they were anti-Catholic? Hagee called the Catholic Church “the great whore” and a “false cult system.” So, yeah, that would seem to be pretty anti-Catholic. McCain construction is the classic non-apology apology — I apologize if anybody was offended. Hey, some people might like being called “the great whore.” Prostitutes, for example. But if others disagree, McCain feels their pain, too.

Second, Hillary Clinton’s campaign says Barack Obama is “unable to make an affirmative case for his candidacy beyond ad hominem attacks.” Meanwhile, her campaign is sending out a fundraising email saying “Stand Up to Attack Politics.” Riiight… because if anybody is going to end attack politics, it’s Hillary Clinton. If Clinton wins the nomination, the one lesson politicians everywhere will take from it is that attack politics don’t work.

How do they say these things? All politicians, including Obama, spin. But the way the Clinton campaign says night is day is just especially audacious. It’s as if they have internalized the attacks they suffered in the 1990s to such a degree that they believe to their core that the only way to win is to imitate their worst tormentors. I think Obama and his staff say things they at least believe to be essentially true. Working for Clinton has to be a soul-deadening experience.

Published in: on March 8, 2008 at 4:24 pm  Leave a Comment  
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