Barack Hoover Obama, I presume

Didja hear the latest awesome news about the U.S. economy?

Well, Kevin Baker called his shot about Obama more than two years ago:

Hoover’s every decision in fighting the Great Depression mirrored the sentiments of 1920s “business progressivism,” even as he understood intellectually that something more was required. Farsighted as he was compared with almost everyone else in public life, believeing as much as he did in activist government, he still could not convince himself to take the next step and accept that the basic economic tenets he had believed in all his life were discredited; that something wholly new was required.
. . . . .

Much like Herbert Hoover, Barack Obama is a man attempting to realize a stirring new vision of his society without cutting himself free from the dogmas of the past–without accepting the inevitable conflict. Like Hoover, his is bound to fail.

Paul Krugman points out that Obama has adopted three of the dumbest Republican lies:

One striking example of this rightward shift came in last weekend’s presidential address, in which Mr. Obama had this to say about the economics of the budget: “Government has to start living within its means, just like families do. We have to cut the spending we can’t afford so we can put the economy on sounder footing, and give our businesses the confidence they need to grow and create jobs.”

That’s three of the right’s favorite economic fallacies in just two sentences. No, the government shouldn’t budget the way families do; on the contrary, trying to balance the budget in times of economic distress is a recipe for deepening the slump. Spending cuts right now wouldn’t “put the economy on sounder footing.” They would reduce growth and raise unemployment. And last but not least, businesses aren’t holding back because they lack confidence in government policies; they’re holding back because they don’t have enough customers — a problem that would be made worse, not better, by short-term spending cuts.

I know that personal finance and running the U.S. government are not the same thing, but instead of asking the hoi polloi to just believe economists and other ejjimucated folk, can’t we just go with the comparison and point out that the vast, vast, vastly vast majority of Americans are personally in debt, too? What are mortgages, car loans, student loans, and (above all) credit cards but instruments for extending credit and managing debt? Most Americans are soaking in debt, and they know it! It seems patronizing and more than a little dumb for politicians to pretend that Americans are somehow virtuously debt-free, when our economic lives are organized around the acquisition and management of debt.

I’ll just quote Big Tent Democrat from TalkLeft this morning: “We are f*cked.” One of the amazing lessons of the George W. Bush presidency for me was that no matter how terrible it all seemed, it could always get worse. That turns out to be a pretty useful lesson to remember for this presidency as well.

Meanwhile, here’s a happy little number for all of you Democrats who fell for the marketing campaign of 2007-08. (HINT: It’s not “Happy Days Are Here Again.”)

26 thoughts on “Barack Hoover Obama, I presume

  1. This is particularly shocking since, going back to, say, April of 2008–to just pick a month out of the blue–we didn’t imagine any of this happening. I guess Pop-Pop is just going to have to forego that flu shot next winter so we can give my old hedge fund housemate from Wharton a Boehnerian shot of economic “confidence” sufficient for hir to invest and create jobs. Like say for gravediggers. My own thoughts about the “business confidence” paradigm would be that if they don’t have enough of that commodity already, they should just go back to Russia. But I guess that would be too divisive.

    We should get some sabermetricians on the case here and see how the administration is doing on the dreaded “Wins Against Replacement” metric…

    Nice post!


  2. p.s. I thought the NY Times’s editorial page hint today about the possible need to at least think about just cutting the legislative branch out of the constitutional herd on these issues (“rimrock the bastards,” in cowgrrrl terms) was as interesting as it was vaguely shocking.


  3. This is exactly the policy being pursued in the UK at the moment, and so we have rising inflation, rising unemployment and lower wages all at the same time- JOY! It is also the one being pushed by the IMF- see for example the identical policies being forced on Greece before they get more bailout money. The economicky people reckon cost of living is up 20% this year in the UK as a result. And, this is what the govt means by tighten your belts people- because this is about to happen to you to and when it does, the govt will say, yes but *everybody* is tightening their belts (apart from the corps who got a tax cut).


  4. I say it often, but I remain frustrated that corporate interests have become conflated with the goals of the nation. Obama’s administration has done nothing to curb mergers of banks, airlines, telecommunications companies, and on and on. These never serve the interests of consumers and ultimately become “too big to fail.”


  5. Sorry guys, I never bought Obama; I always that thought that he is empty suit; I never thought much of the fucked up American pretend progressives.

    I just didn’t think that he such a lowlife. If you listen to him today, you heard John Boehner. We are fucked.


  6. – Indyanna, what was the NYT hint?

    – My grandmother used to sing a song about Hoover but on the Internet they have it as about FDR. Does anyone else know:
    Balls and parties and banquets,
    Banquets, parties and balls,
    President Hoover has told us before
    That is the way we will win the next war, we’ll have
    Balls and parties and banquets,
    Banquets, parties and balls,
    Banquets and parties and banquets and parties and
    Balls, balls, balls!

    – Trying to find this I discovered another song, “Backin’ the F-FDR:”
    “We’re back in the F-FDR. You don’t know how lucky we are. Back in the Franklin…back in the Delano…back in the F-FDR. Well that cigarette holder really knocks us out. They leave the fears of a world war behind, and Eleanor makes us sing and shout…”
    …which would be where the Beatles got “Back in the USSR.” *Weird.*


  7. Political rhetoric has convinced those with debts that they are not only financially worthless, they are morally worthless, and arn’t allowed to comment or have worthwhile political opinions. Only those who can live withing their means have valid political/economic voices. So the experience of living and managing debt is not allowed to be part of the current debat.(Mind you, I have no idea about the debt load of our pols, but they act as if they owe no money and never have.)


  8. Katherine’s point is really interesting–this is perhaps one of the major victories of the banksters, no? All they do is speculate and borrow, but it’s the common credit card debtor or mortgage holder whose moral worth is challenged and caricatured in Hogarth-like morality tales.

    I’m reminded of Sherman, the protagonist in Thomas Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities, and his description of his work as a “Master of the Universe.” He admitted that his work has no redeeming social or material value–he just moves money around and collects some of the crumbs that fall through the cracks.

    When people like that are lionized as entreprenurial rather than predatory, and teachers, firefighters, and librarians are portrayed as leeches on the body politic rather than valuable public servants, it’s difficult to formulate a moral vision for civil society.


  9. Z: Some attorney or constitutional scholar here would have to do the interpreting, but the Times yesterday said in an editorial: “Mr. Obama might want to consider the advice of several constitutional scholars who say Congress may not be able to put the government in default by refusing to raise the debt limit because the 14th Amendment says the public debt cannot be questioned.” They continue “we have long thought it was folly to have a debt limit controlled by Congress because it was dangerous, not on constitutional grounds. Such a declaration by the president would probably lead to litigation or even attempts at impeachment… But if Republicans kill a deal because it raises a dime of revenue, or if Democrats will not support it because it leans too heavily on the less fortunate, then the constitutional option may look better than the recession option.”


  10. @Katherine, that is really interesting. Meanwhile, one of my FB friend published a sort of new agey link on abundance – – and amid the new agey stuff I realized two things more clearly than before:

    – living within your means is what the poor are supposed to do, yet always prevented from doing (e.g. the company store)

    – the survive-on-a-paycheck mentality, which I was raised with for instance, has broad implications … I don’t think those in power want you to see beyond them …


  11. There are numerous economists and political economists who are what used to be considered “right wing” who now count themselves as part of the “hippie caucus” and continue to argue for acceptance of what they see as the undeniable reality of a Keynesian understanding of macroeconomics. One excellent example are the d00ds at the blog Capital Gains and Games. Several of these motherfuckers used to work in the motherfucken REAGAN administration, and now they are far-leftists compared to the mainstream of the Republican Party (which has been taken over by sicke-fucke deranged plutocrat vampires seeking to suck the blood out of the entire fucken nation, and riding to success on the electoral backs of sicke-fucke racist, misogynist, jeezus-freak greedy scum).

    One of them just published an excellent post unpacking the fucken stupidity of the “just like families…tighten their belts” analogy. The basic gist is that when families lose cash flow, they absolutely borrow money to spend now in the expectation of–and, importantly *to foster*–improved future cash flow.


  12. Absolutely this:”Most Americans are soaking in debt, and they know it!” But the point isn’t that the mythical “American family” being invoked lives within its means; it doesn’t. It’s yet another brilliantly evil page from the playbook that shamelessly panders to the public’s image of itself rather than the reality. Example: “I personally have a chance to be obscenely rich some day–that’s the American Dream!–so therefore the rich cannot be taxed.”

    Those who fall for this nonsense are avoiding looking in the reality mirror; they want Maleficent’s mirror instead, and, ahem, some politicians are willing to give it to them.


  13. They ran Geithner out there today to pretty pretty please the other side of the aisle not to “walk away” from a deficit deal, and to say that the boss is prepared to do “very very politically painful things” if the deal can be salvaged. I would instead have had the Energy Secretary out there to announce that an “orderly shutdown” of all Tennessee Valley Authority facilities would be the down payment on the executive branch’s “sobering responsibilities” in the event of a debt ceiling shutoff. Just to have some fun and to cancel a few staff picnics/softball games on the Hill in the coming weeks.


  14. HA! Indyanna for President in 2012.

    I think you’re right: hardball would help in the right pitcher’s hands, but I’m afraid at this point that Obama and Boehner agree on more than they disagree. Obama has shown in the past that he can play hardball–against women Democrats whom he faces in primary races. This is something that always made me suspicious of him–that he played footsie with conservatives and Republicans while reserving the tough stuff for Alice Palmer and Hillary Clinton.

    From the news I’ve heard this weekend, Boehner has played his hand masterfully.

    And Undine: that’s exactly it! Flattering and pandering to the max. But, the Republicans and conservatives figured out that flattering Americans by calling them moral and prudent works better than calling them stupid racists–you have to give them credit for that stroke of political genius that continues to elude liberals. Also, conservatives have learned their lesson from the GWB years & they have resisted relying on the Republican party alone to serve their agenda. That’s what the Tea Party is all about. Say what you will about the Tea Partiers, but they’re smarter than liberals in creating a group outside a major party to put pressure on the Republicans, and it’s worked masterfully.


  15. And CPP: thanks for the linkies. The political alliances now remind me of the days of the buildup to the Iraq invasion of 2002, when I found myself agreeing more with Pat Buchanan than with the so-called “serious liberals” like Josh Marshall and George Packer (just to name two examples) who talked themselves into supporting the war initially.

    I’m getting tired of being right all of the time, I tell ya. It gets exhausting screaming at everyone about the cliff ahead when they completely refuse to listen to me.


  16. Wow, I was hoping there wouldn’t be a second, so I could just say thanks and return to syllabizing. Now I have to cross the green and try to talk my dean into a one-course release, which is about what he would offer. (Or more probably, try to bargain me down to a part-time grader). I’d also say, invoking A. Bartlett Giamatti of old, that the only thing I ever wanted to be president of was the Pennsylvania Railroad. And now it’s gone.


  17. There’s no way out of the coming lost decade with this President in place. And all anybody can talk about is how to spin the craptastic economy so this chump can get re-elected in 2012. It’s awful. Just awful.

    I’m never going to say Bill Clinton was the most liberal of Democrats. But, good gravy, I’d blow him myself if it would get him back into the Oval office.


  18. On the family budgeting analogy, a commentor on one of the NYT blogs came up with this analogy (that I can’t claim responsibility for unfortunately), remove a few 0’s from the debt and GDP…

    Say your family has a guaranteed, very stable $100,000 a year income. You buy a home and take out a $140,000 mortgage at incredibly low interest.

    Not so unreasonable, right? Or you make a very stable $100,000 a year but end up spending $140,000 to send three kids through college. Also not unreasonable in today’s rising tuition numbers. You might expect that $140,000 investment in their education to pay off in the long run and you will probably be right.


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