Why It’s Not 2009 Any More

Or, at least I hope it’s not 2009 any more. But the difference between 2009 and 2021 seems to be that Democrats really have changed. Not all of them, but enough of them that it’s making a difference. Paul Krugman compares the Obama Administration and the Biden Administration so far.

One striking thing about the Obama years, in retrospect, was the deference of Democrats to people who didn’t share their goals. The Obama administration deferred to bankers who warned that anything populist-sounding would undermine confidence and to deficit scolds demanding fiscal austerity. It wasted months on a doomed effort to get Republican support for health reform.

And along with this deference went diffidence, a reluctance to do simple, popular things like giving people money and taxing corporations. Instead, the Obama team tended to favor subtle policies that most Americans didn’t even notice.

I could be wrong, but I have long suspected that the Obama Administration fell short of the vision he initially ran on because he deferred too much to the Clintons and their many loyalists embedded in the Dem party hierarchy. Deferral to vested interests and “subtle policies that most Americans didn’t even notice” especially was Hillary Clinton’s style. But let’s go on.

Now the deference is gone. Wall Street clearly has a lot less influence this time around; Biden’s economic advisers evidently believe that if you build a better economy, confidence will take care of itself. The obsession with bipartisanship is also gone, replaced with a realistic appreciation of Republican bad faith, which has also made the new administration uninterested in G.O.P. talking points.

And the old diffidence has evaporated. Biden isn’t just going big, he’s going obvious, with highly visible policies rather than behavioral nudges. Furthermore, these forthright policies involve doing popular things. For example, voters have consistently told pollsters that corporations pay too little in taxes; Biden’s team, buoyed by the Trump tax cut’s failure, is willing to give the public what it wants.

Why has that been so hard? Of course, Biden’s policies will rise or fall in popularity depending on how well they work, and that’s how it should be. This is what so many of us have been saying for years. For example, see We Need a Progressive Movement from 2010. See also Matt Taibbi in 2016:

The maddening thing about the Democrats is that they refuse to see how easy they could have it. If the party threw its weight behind a truly populist platform, if it stood behind unions and prosecuted Wall Street criminals and stopped taking giant gobs of cash from every crooked transnational bank and job-exporting manufacturer in the world, they would win every election season in a landslide.

This is especially the case now that the Republican Party has collapsed under the weight of its own nativist lunacy. It’s exactly the moment when the Democrats should feel free to become a real party of ordinary working people.

Just as Barack Obama seems to have lost his nerve in 2009 — perhaps he had less nerve than we assumed — the entire Democratic Party lost its nerve in 2016, which helped elect Donald Trump, the one candidate who was promising big, splashy change as opposed to Hillary’s incremental tweaks to the status quo. That Trump failed to deliver has yet to register with his loyal supporters, of course.

But back to Paul Krugman:

Another factor working in Biden’s favor is the closing of professional Republicans’ minds. Even before conspiracy theories took control, Republican politicians were living in a mental bubble; in many ways the modern G.O.P. is more like a cult than a normal political party.

And at this point Republicans seem so deep in the cult that they’ve forgotten how to talk to outsiders. When they denounce every progressive idea as socialism, declare every center-left politician a Marxist, rant about “job creators” and insist on calling their rival the “Democrat Party,” they’re talking to themselves and persuading nobody.

If you want to see Republican tone-deafness in action, look at Senator Marsha Blackburn’s recent attack on the jobs plan. It’s not really about infrastructure, she proclaimed; why, it would spend hundreds of billions on elder care. And she apparently imagined that voters would see helping the elderly as a bad thing.

For so long, all most working people have got from either party has been nothing but “messaging,” i.e., bullshit. Deep down, many Americans probably don’t believe real change is possible and have settled for symbolic change, e.g., “owning the libs.” Sometimes it seems the only people who think big change is emanant are the QAnon culties. Maybe it’s their deep need to believe change is possible that fuels the cult.

So how revolutionary would it be for someone to deliver significantl change that really benefited most working people? It’s been a very long time since something like that happened. The Affordable Care Act was the closest thing to a New Deal style program than we’d had since the 1960s, and even that was too compromised and easy to demagogue because it didn’t effect enoujgh people directly.

Greg Sargent picks up on this same theme today in Biden’s next big plan could blow up one of the GOP’s worst lies.

If Joe Biden won, then-President Trump told us, the mentally declining Biden would fall captive to his party’s rabid socialist left flank, which would immediately drive the country into a depression.

This lie lives on — Republicans continue to tell repurposed versions of it right now — yet precisely the opposite is happening. It’s not just that the center and left of the Democratic Party are working together more collaboratively than expected. It’s also that Biden’s willing incorporation of leftist ideas is exactly why he’s posting some early successes.

The real Big Lie, of course, is the one Republicans have lived by for forty years and more. That’s the lie that says cutting corporate taxes and giving lots of bennies to the rich would be the rising tide that lifts everyone’s boat. Instead, over these past forty years we’ve seen real wages adjusted for the cost of living stagnate, manufacturing jobs grow scarce, the middle class shrink, even the life expectancy of white working people get lower.

Further, the pandemic has laid bare realities about our economy that people have been ignoring; for example, who the real “essential workers” are. And it ain’t investment bankers or hedge fund managers. It’s the people who move goods and stock shelves. And it’s the people who take care of others.

Our caregiving economy has been woefully underfunded, and the crucial societal contribution of care work — including child care — is badly undercompensated. Far too many are denied basic human goods like college education and the opportunity to take time off work to heal or spend time with a newborn.

Republicans are big believers in sticks over carrots. For example, in WaPo today conservative columnist Henry Olsen opined that generous unemployment benefits were keeping restaurants from reopening for lack of workers.

People on unemployment currently receive a supplemental federal payment of $300 a week on top of their normal state benefits regardless of their prior earnings. Given the relatively low earnings many restaurants and other service industry workers typically receive, they are likely to make as much or more by not working than they would if they returned to their jobs. That means they have little incentive to get back to work, which may even make them less likely to get vaccinated to begin with.

Yeah, they should be eager to go back to a tiring and underpaid job that includes lots of public exposure during a pandemic. Let’s cut off their benefits so that Henry can get his squid ink risotto. But it’s also that the day care system has collapsed, never mind in-person schooling. It’s too many workers who don’t get paid sick leave.Vaccines have only recently, like this week, become available to most people of an age to be restaurant workers. This brings us to the deeper meaning of infrastructure — it’s not just bricks and mortar, but whatever a society needs to function. No day care, no workers.

I’m thinking also of the drama we went through at the end of last year over the passge of the bill that would release some more relief funds. Republicans signed on to a reduced amount only to help their candidates in the Georgia Senate race. Then Trump held it up for no good reason other than to draw attention to himself, making people wait until after Christmas to know if their benefits would continue, or not. That was cruel. The relatively quick passage of the bigger covid bill by the Biden Administration guaranteed that Republicans could get no traction by whining it wasn’t “bipartisan.” People whose lives were hanging by a thread didn’t give a hoo haw how it got done, just that it got done.

So let the Republicans complain that raising corporate taxes will hurt the “job creators.” Popular opinion is on the other side, and on the side of a higher minimum wage, and on continuing unemployment benefits until it’s safe for everything to open, and of people not being evicted, and of people getting the medical care they need, and of getting more assistance with day care and elder care and a lot of the expense and worry that chips away at a lot of us. No more 2009. No more incremental tweaks.

4 thoughts on “Why It’s Not 2009 Any More

  1. Democrats in Congress have for a looooong time been the Grima Wormtongues of the republic. Citizens are king in this Democracy – liberals in Congress have whispered in the ears of voters for decades that they only care about the people when they always serve Sauruman – I mean Wall Street. 

    HR1 includes a lot of content that will actually change aspects of campaign finance and ethics. When it was introduced in 2020 (or 2019) I was skeptical. Were the Democrats posturing? There was no way real reform from the House would be discussed in the Senate. (The reverse of the GOP voting repeatedly to repeal Obamacare – all for show.)

    What changed? I'm not sure. Was Jan 6 a 'Come-to-Jesus' moment when Nancy Pelosi only narrowly escaped being torn limb-from-limb by a mob Trump assembled and sent?  K Street has fueled the lavish retirement of Democrats and Republicans from Congress for years but K Street can't send the National Guard to protect the Capitol from fascists. As racism – against blacks, Hispanics, and Asian-Americans turns from rhetoric to open slaughter, as Kyle and his AR-15 become emblematic of white power, as blind allegiance to the police (who are training racist militias) becomes dogma, is light dawning in the dim halls of Congress that the ideas that were only campaign rhetoric before are real – and we are in a fight for survival?

  2. No it is nowhere near 2009 in politics.  It is not a political continuum, spectrum, or much of anything with shades of gray.  The more I think of the G for nothing 10 the more ridiculous they seem.  The G certainly does not stand for gray with Trump still the gold plated dominant gilder of the party.  What we have now is bifurcation. It is a queasy bifurcation as the fickle "mind" of the Donald is not really any coherent side at all,  more a theme of incessant random opportunism with a bad case of penis envy for all things Fuhrer-like.  I guess the days of political trench warfare are over, and no one cares about small gains in no man's land.  The Republicans have moved all forces into Lalaland and are fully encamped.  This leaves all things real either on their own or under Democrat's control.  The fake move of the G-10 into fiscal conservatism went unnoticed.  It looks like full-speed ahead on the national credit card.  Let the good times roll!  Raise hell, raise the credit limit, and raise a glass to the anti-vaxxers dancing at the Ted Nugent concert in honor of notable super-spreaders.   The warm up band The Mutant Strain just flew in from Brazil for this very special killer event. 

  3. WTF?!?

    Ok, good.


    I can write my comment now!

    I thought maybe you'd permanently twit-filtered little ol' me.

    Yesterday and this morning my other tablet locked-out the comment  section.   And as a result I couldn't say what I wanted to say on this subject.

    Now, I can't remember what I wanted to say.

    And yes, I have 2 tablets (but no disease. 😉  At least I hope not…).  An older one: My Barnes & Noble Nook; and a newer one: to buy books from Amazon.  It's my trusty Nook that's letting me comment here.

    Why 2 tablets, you may ask?  Well, Barnes & Noble is B & N.  But Amazon is Amazon.  Some authors have exclusive contracts with Amazon, so you can't get that book on B & N.  Jeff Bezos is SUCH a greedy asshole!  How much is enough?  I don't get it.  After I pay my rent here (that includes meals and other things, so it's more like rent+), and my cable bill, I'm pretty much done.  And I'M LUCKY!  I have food and shelter all year 'round.  How many billions of people would think they'd won a massive lottery if they had what I have.

    I guess there's never enough money.  If that's all your craven, greedy "soul" values.  I prefer people.  Family.  Friends. Folks, in general.  


  4. I think the fact Biden is perceived as a moderate old white guy helps tremendously.  He can move to the left in a way that would be difficult for other politicians, including Sanders, who couldn’t win a Democratic primary as an extremely well-funded candidate.  Redefining the center of American politics is not a bad thing.

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