Monday, June 22, 2009

Obama and Hoover?

At Harper's, Kevin Baker compares Barack Obama to Herbert Hoover, whom he sees as an intelligent and experienced leader whose timidity led him to a disastrously inadequate response to national crisis.

It seems a bit early to take such a grim view of Obama's presidency, though in my experience Harper's has rarely presented a measured view of things. 

In any case, here's Baker's conclusion:

Obama will have to directly attack the fortified bastions of the newest “new class”—the makers of the paper economy in which he came of age—if he is to accomplish anything. These interests did not spend fifty years shipping the greatest industrial economy in the history of the world overseas only to be challenged by a newly empowered, green-economy working class. They did not spend much of the past two decades gobbling up previously public sectors such as health care, education, and transportation only to have to compete with a reinvigorated public sector. They mean, even now, to use the bailout to make the government their helpless junior partner, and if they can they will devour every federal dollar available to recoup their own losses, and thereby preclude the use of any monies for the rest of Barack Obama’s splendid vision.

Franklin Roosevelt also took office imagining that he could bring all classes of Americans together in some big, mushy, cooperative scheme. Quickly disabused of this notion, he threw himself into the bumptious give-and-take of practical politics; lying, deceiving, manipulating, arraying one group after another on his side—a transit encapsulated by how, at the end of his first term, his outraged opponents were calling him a “traitor to his class” and he was gleefully inveighing against “economic royalists” and announcing, “They are unanimous in their hatred for me—and I welcome their hatred.”

Obama should not deceive himself into thinking that such interest-group politics can be banished any more than can the cycles of Wall Street. It is not too late for him to change direction and seize the radical moment at hand. But for the moment, just like another very good man, Barack Obama is moving prudently, carefully, reasonably toward disaster.



Kate in Chicago said...

I tried reading the rest of Baker's article, but you have to subscribe to see it. Did he provide any more specifics than Obama's bailout? Obama has spent money in some "radical" areas. Paul Krugman wrote an article yesterday about essentially not "seizing the radical movement at hand." He says that Democratic centrists are preventing needed changes in health care. However, Obama, in this case, is not a centrist. He is pushing for a public health care option.

I don't know how Obama could be any more radical without putting himself or his administration in danger. Baker compares a couple other Democratic presidents, but what about Clinton? He pushed for the public health care option. His argument has too many holes and not enough specifics for me.

Here is Krugman's article:

framiko said...

I agree. A couple things occur to me as well: 1) Obama didn't run as a radical, so becoming one now would only affirm all of the Republicans' propaganda, as well as possibly alienating some of those who voted for him. 2) Baker seems to assume that radical solutions are always best, and that we have all the answers to our problems if only we were bold enough to adopt them. That seems foolish and naive to me.