Kent Pitman

Kent Pitman
New England, USA
Philosopher, Technologist, Writer
I've been using the net in various roles—technical, social, and political—for the last 30 years. I'm disappointed that most forums don't pay for good writing and I'm ever in search of forums that do. (I've not seen any Tippem money, that's for sure.) And I worry some that our posting here for free could one day put paid writers in Closed Salon out of work. See my personal home page for more about me.


SEPTEMBER 6, 2010 7:26AM

Finding an Antidote to Hopelessness

Rate: 36 Flag

An analysis by Steve Clemons in the Huffington Post suggests Obama should give more play to Chuck Hagel. He quotes remarks by Hagel made in an interview with the Washington Diplomat. For example:

“Look at the facts: No government, less electricity and people want us out. Anyway you measure Iraq today I think you're pretty hard pressed to find how people are better off than they were before we invaded. I think history is going to be very harsh in its judgment—very, very harsh. And I think we're headed for a similar outcome in Afghanistan if we don't do some things differently.”

    —Chuck Hagel in an interview in the Washington Diplomat

Clemons suggests that Obama needs to move Hagel from what he calls “Team B” (the Afghanistan Study Group) to “Team A” (Cabinet meetings and National Security Council advisers). I agree that fresh voices are needed across the board, and wrote comments to that effect on Clemons article:

“Obama has touted a policy of involving all points of view in his decision-making, but this has lately drifted toward more ceremony than substance, I think because the mix is not changing as circumstances change. Or perhaps it's that he's so concerned with the Red/Blue divide that he doesn't see the serious divisions on the Blue side. Either way, he needs some new voices in the mix. Voices like Stiglitz and Krugman and Reich should be in there on economics. Gore and Friedman should be in there on the all-important Climate Change matter.

A trillion dollars is a staggering cost. It would have funded fourteen years of universal health care here at home. We borrowed that money to spend on a war of dubious utility. The cost itself is the national security issue, as it was for the Soviet Union in the Cold War. We cannot be a powerful nation if we are not solvent.

“Also, many US citizens perceive that while we're building these other nations, we're neglecting our own. Ire over that one issue may lose him the election. Neither the reality nor the perception of this issue is being managed effectively right now.

“Voices as honest and unrelenting as Kucinich should be in his inner circle, and if Hagel can take on even some of that, I'm all for it.”

    —Kent Pitman in a comment at the Huffington Post

As I noted in my comment quoted above, Obama seems fixated on the Red/Blue divide and unable to figure out how to move forward on it. He keeps attempting to appease the Right, but like a Chinese finger trap, the harder he tries, the worse his situation. I think he needs to relax and not worry so hard about the apparent problem, focusing instead on other problems and allowing this one to solve itself.

The reason for this is that the rhetoric of the Right is designed to not match the reality of the Right. So the more one attempts to address the rhetoric, the farther one moves from actually addressing the needs of the people enticed by the rhetoric. In the end, those people are not served by compromise because compromise draws them away from their needs, not toward their needs.

This is expressed well in an article Sunday by David Michael Green at Common Dreams. Here is an excerpt:

“It is now transparent, for anyone who cares to look, that the ugly tea party movement in America is an invention of the Koch brothers, Rupert Murdoch, Dick Armey and their sick ilk, once again mobilizing a boatload of fools who are angry, but too stupid to know quite why. This explains their endless rhetoric about the evils of the federal government, and their simultaneous desire to keep their Social Security and Medicare benies. It also explains their unmatched idiocy in serving as tools for their own destruction. If they succeed, they fail. If they get their champions elected, they lose their government-provided (Shhhh!) goodies. Brilliant.”

    —David Michael Green in an essay at Common Dreams

And this dovetails with an excellent recent essay by Steve Klingaman in which he suggested that people should worry less about Islam and more about hopelessness and fundamentalism.

“If we want to make the world a place less prone to the 21st Century equivalent of tribal warfare, we need to confront hopelessness—all people need a purpose.”

    —Steve Klingaman in a post at the Open Salon

I think Steve was talking mostly about hopelessness abroad, but I think his message is equally well-taken right here in our own country. We often enjoy the luxury and/or arrogance to think of ourselves as somehow immune to such problems as those “other” countries have. But we are not immune here at home.

Obama promised us hope, but people are losing hope. And when that happens, people do crazy things. Reestablish hope and the Tea Party will lose its steam. But, at least for now, people are lining up in droves to bring the Republicans back into power. It's not clear that they even like the message the Republicans are offering. But it's almost as if they don't care. They are, as the saying goes, “mad as hell and not going to take it any more.” They are looking for a way of “sending a message,” and the message is: They have lost hope.

Put people to work doing something. Offer tax breaks or even subsidies to companies that hire the unemployed. As Klingaman so eloquently notes, “all people need a purpose.” Not having a purpose, a job, and money breeds hopelessness.

Obama may not be able to fix everything, but he needs to level with people—and himself—about the problems we face. And to get to that, he needs to start by getting some new advisors and some fresh viewpoints. He's become increasingly insular during his time in office, failing to fulfill his promises of transparency. Right now he can't seem to see out, and neither can we see in.

Once he can see clearly where he is, he'll be in a position to chart a believable path forward. Only when people see a plan they can understand and believe in will there be hope. He must articulate such a vision. And he must spell out clearly how completely essential it is to have a Democratic Congress in order to execute that plan.

Only by giving people a way to contribute positively can Obama overcome people's kneejerk urge to contribute negatively—to destroy what we have now and to want to start over. That's what the Republicans claim to be selling. It won't be what people get, but they'll vote for it anyway if they have no hope. The political enemy of their political enemy is their political friend, or so they think. By the time they find out otherwise, it will be too late.

Obama must restore the nation's sense of hope. Hope is the antidote to people going crazy and being self-destructive. People can endure a lot, but they cannot endure hopelessness.

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Excellent, Kent. Thanks.
That quote by David Michael Greene is a classic. Ignorance of the facts is the only reason anyone with all their faculties would vote against their own best interests, but that is exactly what so many Americans have done over the last thiry years.
Rather than look for facts, they vote on rhetoric that is peppered with lies and diceptions. Never mind that we were in the worst recession in eighty years. Why are they are still willing to vote for those that helped to put us there?
I can see that the far right believes that the GOP is the party of God, so they don't have to investigate or learn anything. After all, a vote against the GOP is a vote against God himself in their minds. The people I don't understand are the independents that can't see that we a slowly coming out of the recession and the Republicans have offered nothing but obstruction as a platform to aid in the recovery.
It's the S.O.S. with the GOP. Cut taxes for the richest Americans. How is that going to stimulate jobs or generate revenue to operate existing programs or lower the deficit? Don't get me wrong, I'm all for trimming fat and ending government programs and that don't work, but simple math says you can't pay the bills with less money coming in. You may possibly create a few jobs in the short term, but we lost over eight million jobs. The best way to stimulate that many jobs is by taxing the crap out the rich and distribute it to small businesses who can actually create millions of jobs for average Americans.
The war on the middle class has to end. America as we know it can't survive as a two class state. Those at the top of the finacial heap should pay far more taxes, because in no other country in the world would they be compensated the way the are here.
I don't care that they call it redistribution of wealth. The wealth has been distributed upwards toward the wealthy since Reagan got the ball rolling in that direction. It's time for the money to start rolling down hill again.
Kent, I think Obama's problem is that people did in fact see his plans. Many, likely a majority, don't like them.

The stimulus plan was viewed as being more about Democrats getting to spend money again on government programs for program's sake. It was not well-designed to incentivize private enterprise to growth and has not really done so.

The healthcare plan was viewed as a flawed process where vocal opposition by broad parts of the public was dismissed. For such a huge change, it was passed using vote trading deals and parliamentary tactics, not an actual compromise where people could feel they were moving forward.

Another thing remember is that most Tea Party people are not coming from the ranks of the unemployed lacking hope. They come from middle class Americans who are using basic logic to conclude that more spending by the federal government is eventually going to be a huge problem. They intuitively know that it will harm them.

I wrote at some length about my perceptions of the Tea Party motives back in April 2009 when the movement started. See Understanding the Tea Party Protesters
Matt, thanks. Glad you liked it.

Michael, I mostly agree with you but I'll stop short of calling them ignorant of the facts in all cases. I think they are more “blinded to” the facts, out of rage. Their needs aren't met and once they aren't, how much or in what way becomes less relevant to them. It's a reflex action. And Obama, while he's done some good—and was a much better choice than the alternative—still is not so clearly on the side of the little guy in what you call a “war” on the middle class. If he'd actually articulate it as such, he'd have a number of people behind him, but he wants to play the compromiser. Imagine if he took that compromising approach in one of the overseas wars...

Steve, thanks for coming by. You won't be surprised that I don't agree with your analysis, in part for reasons expressed in my piece. You write “They come from middle class Americans who are using basic logic to conclude that more spending by the federal government is eventually going to be a huge problem. They intuitively know that it will harm them.” This doesn't wash with me because at the same time as some of these people are saying they don't like federal spending, they're saying they like their social security and medicare. I don't doubt there are some who are thoughtful about the consequences, but I can't believe the mix is all thoughtful because even if the policies you talk about would be good in the long run (and I don't think they would, but I can understand some have ideological differences), it seems even more clear to me that in the short run it would be disastrous because a great many people have no safety net and at minimum a shift in policy would be highly disruptive. I see no discussion of that on the Right, and it leads me again to conclude that they're afraid of the detailed discussion that would really be needed to carry on a workable shift.

Frankly, I expect social security retirement age to be upped for fiscal reasons. But I think the idea that people would be better off with a privatized form of social security is a scam. Private plans may allow some to do better, and that's who the Republicans will tout, but secretly there will be sort of bell curve where for discussion let's say 25% of people do better, 50% do about the same, and 25% do worse. I see the Republican pitch as “those 25% on the good end are being held back.” but they are neglecting that it would be at the expense of the 25% at the other end. Allowing (let's say) 25% of Americans succeed well at the expense of 25% is more of same from the Republicans: widening the gap between the rich and the poor. I don't think it's a good recipe and I don't think the discussion on the topic is honest.
Part of being full of hope is being able to see progress and a better future. Obama's single biggest problem and flaw is that his message team is and has been a total and complete failure. He saved the auto companies, he has cut taxes, he may have saved capitalism (for what that is worth) and has accomplished many other things but the right lead by Fox News' constant twisting of facts have dominated him in the PR game. He also has few defenders who defend what he has and is trying to do. The Democrats in general and Obama specifically have no idea how to fight dirty tactics so the bullies and irrational ones get all the air time. People have been convinced that change is really bad and scary and they believe it even when the status quo has been a failure. Yes, he needs new voices and ones who are not always afraid of the attacks from the right. Grayson is the only Dem with a spine.
Dr. Spudman, I agree with you on that. But after a while the message becomes the reality to people who can't see the difference in their own lives. That's what I mean about hope. They don't have to see the effect if they can see the reason they don't see the effect or if they can see the effect coming. But when there are forces out there who are framing the message negatively and they themselves are faced with dire situations, what have they to cling to? That's why I think a change of advisors would help so much.
Oh, and Kucinich and Franken and a few others have spines, too. But you're right, the number who are showing theirs is outweighed by the number who are not. Americans right now have two choices: The Party of No and the Party of Centrism and Compromise. And so they get a result that's halfway in between those two. Democrats need to have the courage of their convictions and push for what they think is right. Republicans will spin “disenchantment with government” as “government went too far to the Left” when in fact a great many people are upset that it didn't go farther to the Left.
Well said Kent. We'll soon see how much hope is in the air if the November vote turns out anything like current polls are indicating.
"We borrowed that money to spend on a war of dubious utility. The cost itself is the national security issue"

I don't think I have agreed more with a sentence in my entire life.
Excellent, Kent.
Researcing for my own article on the Koch brothers founding of the Tea Party has engendered feelings of hopelessness in me. Particulalry when I see reputable scientific organizations (Smithsonian, PBS, and the London Natural History Museum) fold to the money Climate Change deniers. And I am usually a perennial optimist.
It is daunting.

Very much enjoyed reading this common sense post on the current status quo. That there is a growing anti-sentiment towards Obama by the "blue" team is apparent all around and not good for the overall outcome of his administration. He has time to reel it in but he'd better get started. All that hope is rapidly diminishing.
I can't say that I feel better from reading your piece, Kent, but I do feel less alone. Americans are not used to feeling hopeless. Some can not let themselves know that that is what they are feeling. As people begin to recognize their feelings of hopelessness, if they are not already there, where are the Red Cross counselors to help with that disaster? It is here and it is close. Might not be a bad idea to appoint today on a Labor Day that does not offer any reason to celebrate anything in the present tense a Secretary of Hope as permanent member of the Inner Circle and everyday spokesman to the people. Perhaps the man from Hope could reach within for only truth and step up to this position and without hyperbole but with much needed honesty help Americans of all ilks know when and where and why and how we can wean ourselves of helplessness brought on by so many for so many reasons and reclaim the hope that allowed us once to be free. I need someone to speak for hope.
Excellent. I hope that restoring infrastructure will happen and not be blocked by Republicans. Good roads and bridges produce good jobs.
Caracalla, other developed countries manage to get more out of their health care dollars while providing universal health care than we do without having universal health care. Moving to the left doesn't have to mean spending more. The kinds of left-leaning things I'm thinking of mean things like bank regulation, for example; I think of right-leaning as saying “banks, we're holding you back,” and we certainly don't need that. So maybe it's just a question of terminology, and anyway that's what I'm saying that Obama is not managing. So probably we're in more agreement than it seems.

I think Obama barely won the election by pulling a lot of people out of the woodwork on the “hope” message to overcome the Right's “racism&hate” campaign. The McCain/Palin camp was appealing to baser instincts and almost won. But since that time, many of the coalitions that were drawn together are saddened and it will be harder to draw them together again on the same message, which means the baser instincts camp has more of a chance than it should.

And the effect of the Citizens United case to tip the balance in campaign spending has yet to be understood, I think, but when the dust settles we may find this has turned the election in an ugly direction. If it does, there may be no going back because once having bought candidate elections sufficient to get legislative control, they may intensify their hold.

But all of this puts Obama at risk. The issues on which he has “failed” may seem minor, but he needs that whole coalition to overcome the very substantial forces working against him.
Excellent piece, we do need hope.
Poor Obama can't win for losing. He's despised by the right and faulted by the left as well. That's what comes from operating in a totally political, principle-free environment.

Obama's group of advisors, however, are anything but principle-free, and their principles should frighten the hell out of any clear thinking person.

KP, I didn't hear you comment on the lunatic notion that the lunatic Grayson would be a useful member of Obama's new team.

In any event, I wouldn't worry about Obama assembling a new team. It may happen this year, it may happen two years from now, but a new dawn is coming, and in that sunlight the dark days of now will be history.
This is one of the better postings you've made recently, Kent.
Kent, thanks for the shout-out. I was talking about hopelessness abroad, but of course there is a sufficient quantity of it here, especially in terms of jobs. We are busy creating new meanings for the term "Underclass."

I agree with Nick Carraway in his citing your quote on a war of dubious utility.

I think one of the problems we face at the moment is that nobody levels with anyone during election season. That was pretty clear in Obama's explication on the August job numbers.
There is so much here that has impressed me, I won't even try to summarize it. This is supberb, Kent. For the life of me I cannot understand how Tea Partiers and other right-leaners don't see the folly of their ways. This country is being brought to its knees by rhetoric and blind endorsement of that rhetoric.

hope for what? the standard of living has been lurching ever lower for 50 years, and no one has any idea of how to stop it.

the transfer of wealth within the usa is approaching 3rd world profiles, but never a word about how to stop it.

america is frozen in the 18th century for its political and economic system, and there is no intellectual forum generating discussion of a system that can deliver a decent life for citizens, and a respect for the rights of foreign nations.

hope? the best hope for america is more food stamps.
Bonnie and Peter, thanks for the support.

Abrawang, it's pretty scary. Then again, in terms of balance of power, a shift inter-term could give the Dems time to wake up before the Presidential election. So it actually could be worse. But I hope it doesn't come to that.

Nick, I always like it when people pick out sentences they like. It helps me figure out what's working presentationally. Thanks for chiming in.

O'Steph, I hear you on the Climate Change thing. That's where my lack of hope wells up from. The only thing that will have me voting for Obama next election will be that the alternatives are likely to be worse.

Caracalla, I find Matthews quite variable. He makes brilliant observations sometimes and is completely oblivious other days. I guess I still find him worth a watch, but I find Rachel and Keith more consistent. (And I have high hopes for Lawrence O'Donnell's new show.) As for Climate Change, though, I'm not a fan of cap and trade, so when I say I'm disappointed in Obama on Climate, don't think I'm just saying I think he needs to rush and pass the first legislation that comes along. I'd much prefer to see a gas tax, even knowing the huge political hurdles that would be thrown at it, but the common thing I think he could easily have done would be to push green R&D more (and to put an agency in place responsible for calling out fake “green” stuff that was siphoning off green dollars with no benefit to Climate). Mostly I think we need a ton of open dialog on the subject and it's not happening.

Hi, Cathy. Yes, the clock is ticking and there's not a moment to waste.

Anna, I'm glad I could make you feel less alone with this. My sense from the response is that you're not the only one. I thought this was a kind of so-so piece because I didn't have specific strong action to recommend, but people seem appreciative of just the analysis, which suggests we're starting pretty far back. Thinking about some of your suggestions, I couldn't help but think how the Republicans would poo-poo some of them, and what I really don't understand is their willingness to tolerate people like Palin outright making fun of the idea of having hope, as if hope were the enemy and, worst of all, they were comfortable saying so out loud.
Dorinda, indeed. I find it so incomprehensible to think that infrastructure building would be objectionable.

Peparchaeo, thanks for the support.

Gordon, I think you'd have trouble pushing the Republican party as the party of principle. Seriously, that's your best response?

Lefty, thanks! The response has been great.

Steve, what's odd is that I think the thing people most crave is a politician who will level with them. But it is something that you have to be really good at in order to do and get away with. I actually thought Obama had that in the last election and am surprised he hasn't used the talent better since being elected. It's part of why I conclude that he isn't aware of the degree of discontent. I don't think he thinks it's necessary... yet. I'm sure he will realize it at some point, but it may be too late.

Lezlie, I'm glad the piece hit home with you. Thanks for the kind words.

al, you can be a funny guy sometimes in spite of your incredibly relentless streak of pessimism. I don't actually disagree too much with most of what you said, even though I might say it a lot differently. Thanks for visiting anyway, and for remembering to offer a constructive suggestion. :)
Kent, your repeat of the common critique of the Tea Party that they want smaller government but want to keep Medicare and Social Security makes broad assumptions that aren't valid across different generations.

For anyone under 60 years old, they have paid Medicare their entire working life and so would have standing to protest if a new healthcare plan would risk the program. So, protesting spending that might bankrupt the Feds is rational.

For people under 40, they have enough time left to retirement that a new plan with more private components could easily benefit them. So, again, it is rational for them advocate for change.

Any logical plan will have to deal with the fact that there are older people who would stay in and younger people who could transition to a new plan.

The current Obama approach to huge deficit spending has both at risk.
Funny, I don't recall mentioning the Republican Party.
The antidote to hopelessness to many people will involve sincere social justice about many issues. Unfortunately we are no where’s close to accomplishing this; and we certainly can’t rely on the government or the corporations to help with this based on their track record. We need sincere election reform to accomplish this and that needs to involve control of the election process by members of the public that can actually control the interview process and the choice of candidates. Obama is unlikely to choose a new set of advisors that are opposed to the agenda of those that enabled him to be elected which means the corporations.

The Tea Party isn’t really new and they won’t go away. This is the same group of people expressing their opinions in a slightly different format. It is true that many of them are clearly being manipulated and that isn’t new either. Many of these people were raised in an authoritarian manner that teaches them to obey the appropriate authority figure or demagogue. We need a better education system and efforts to stop indoctrination at an early age which generally involves some form of child abuse. In the long run we need to find a way to teach people from the start to sort through details and think for themselves.
Obama's problem is he's been way out of the context of his time.
He resurrected the Clinton team, then did a bungling, no real leadership job on healthcare, crafting a plan as if it were still 1993. Americans had 15 years to wake up to the worst aspect of a flawed system, and then Obama amplifies the flaw by cementing the private insurance companies into a guarantee of endless funding.

Message of HC bill: We know times are hard, so we'll force you to buy...

I think Geithner and Summers convinced Obama that the bubble could be re-inflated, the recession would follow a typical 18 month course, and all would be well for the midterms. His economic and healthcare "leadership" has been pathetic.

Most Americans aren't concerned about spending. That many are is more about not seeing it work than the conservative's wishful thinking that their latest contrived outrage reflects mainstream concerns. Those insisting we need to slash spending are economic morons, guided by the same ideology that caused this mess. They use it as an issue because it's easy to understand even if it's idiot economics.

In 2008, America was sick of both parties. Their almost instant post 04 election buyer's remorse enabled the Dems to take back Congress, but they wimped out, thinking that boat rocking would hurt them in 08. Obama was the second chance, and he has proven to be a milquetoast imitation of change. If he had made "post partisan" about ideas instead of numbers, and if he had studied FDR's playbook instead of Clinton's, he could have crushed the incompetent Republicans for a generation.

I think the root of the problem is the Dems are stuck on the idea that elections MUST be about corporate funding and slick ads aimed at calculated demographics. Because they now drink from the same basic funding trough as do the Repubs, they can't be different enough to be distinct.

The Democratic message: We will sell you for a slightly better price.

If Team Obama had brains instead of calculators, they'd have denounced the past performance of both parties, and delivered a mea culpa for Democrats abandoning consumers/labor, and becoming well funded lackeys.
The strange thing is they wouldn't be telling Americans something they didn't already know...and that seems to be smart politics -- confirming what voters think.

Instead, the Repubs are the ones faking ideological reformation, and have the only 3rd party-ish version of populism to be seen.

Dems used to win with far less funding than the GOP, based on real pocketbook populism. No doubt Team Obama will chant that version of populism now, late in the 4th quarter, and after doing little resembling the real thing.

It will help a bit, but overall he has given no reason to be believed--just Obama talkin' the talk before he is walkin' the walk back to his role as the plutocrat's technocrat.

At this point, the only antidote for hopelessness is apathy.
Great post, as always, Kent. Like a lot of others on the Left, I had hopes Obama might lead us to the Promised Land. However, I had no illusions about him actually doing so, since I carefully read his book The Audacity of Hope. In that book, I believe he revealed himself to be a centrist compromiser.

That claim might be absurd to the Rabid Wrong, but his pursuit of policies makes it blatantly obvious that is exactly what he is , and the vile canards about his being a communist aren't even worthy of refutation. Where's the proof he is a centrist compromiser?

One need look no further than healthcare reform, where he not only refused to propose a single-payer system, but refused to even fight hard for a public option.The same "middling" approach was taken with financial reform, where the real solution to the problem of "too big too fail" banks is forced divestiture. But again, that solution was hardly discussed, let alone proposed.

I understand Obama's thinking -- alienating the middle will push them rightward. In other times, it might be wise to avoid doing so. But these are extraordinary times, hard times brought on by three decades of deregulation and merger mania that has resulted in the emasculation of the workforce. The good-paying union jobs that once made America the envy of the world are not coming back any time soon because the capital that made those jobs possible is now tied up in Byzantine financial scams like CDOs and CDSs.

Add to that, trillions wasted in far-flung elective wars and so-called nation-building, and you have the national crisis we now face, a crisis that won't be solved with middling solutions. We need to put drastic changes in effect to offset thirty years of deleterious fiscal and foreign policy, we need to rapidly reverse the gutting of govt and unions by the Right.

But Houston (and the rest of America), we have a problem -- by all appearances, Obama is not temperamentally suited to such a risky pursuit. And that means that not only are Rs likely to do well this November, but that Obama will likely be a one-term President, if the economy doesn't improve dramatically in 2011.

I hope I'm wrong about all this, but I have no illusions, given that the electorate has shown time and again it has a low tolerance for pain -- and a very short memory when it comes to Republican promises and policies.

I think one problem is that your objectives, the things you want to see happen, turn out to be antithetical to Obama’s, and many of the Democrats’ in congress. Hope is a double-edged sword; it can be a great benefit, or it can be made to cut those who accept it blindly. When Obama was campaigning, I and many others recognized already that his brand of hope was not what so many thought it was. That hope has been used to shortchange those who supported its seller, along with all the rest of us, of course.

Until people quit supporting this pathetic two-party political circus act, nothing will ever really improve for the majority of Americans. One-man-one-vote; we must eliminate this farcical political system.

Steve, in fairness the Republicans would surely not allow serious discussion on the subject. If he uttered any of those words, which I dno't think are really that unreasonable, they'd tear him to shreds as they have when he's suggested any number of things that on another day they'd like. And while you yourself might say them, it doesn't fit their strategic plan. Basically, they're not going to do any such thing until they're in power so it doesn't affect votes. I personally don't disagree that the retirement age needs to be raised (so hopefully you won't accuse me of just repeating party line on that), but I don't think it's fair to blame present deficit issues on that. And I think the Tea Partiers don't indulge honest conversation on the matter either. It doesn't fit their posters or costumes.

Gordon, I won't play that shell game. No discussion is useful unless we're talking about a specific alternative unless your mere goal is the unpatriotic destruction of what we have with no useful alternative. So tell me who you are proposing and then we can haev some useful discussion. None of the above may be an option on the ballot, but it isn't an option as an electoral outcome, so it seems to me that anyone who is advocating that is being disingenuous or naive. I don't like your politics, but I don't think you naive, so that leaves me few choices about how to interpret your remarks.

Zachery, I don't know what to say. We need election reform, yes. I'd like preference-order voting. But no one who is in power ever wants to get there. We need citizen initiative petition maybe—that's what al loomis says. That might help. I'm still pondering that. But for now we have what we have, and I'm disappointed with some details about Obama, but he's still way better than the alternatives.

Paul, I'm still pondering your comments. They were different than I expected you to say and I'm not sure how to respond. For now I'm thinking about them. I hope to have more to say later, but I appreciate your offering them.

Tom, I think you and I are largely in agreement on a lot of what you say. I'll just let your comments stand for that reason. Thanks for visiting and sharing your thoughts.

Rick, thanks for the thoughts. The reality of voting is that you have to choose among available candidates. I admit to thinking Obama's way of doing things would be different. And I'm profoundly disappointed by inaction on Climate Change in particular. But not so profoundly disappointed as I am sure I would be under McCain/Palin. So the part of your remarks I disagree with are the apparent implication that there was another choice. Obama was the best one up there and continues to be. Maybe you can suggest someone better and get them to run? I have some thoughts on the 2012 election but I'll make another forum for that...
Also, Steve, I think you're not being fair to Obama on the deficit. There is a natural tendancy for everyone to want to lock down on it. But it's 100% critical that we do some targeted investment even as we enter a time of frugality, and the Republicans are working against that because it doesn't fit their rhetoric of anti-hypocrisy. They're as hypocritical as the next person but like to paint themselves saint instead of acknowledging that digging oneself out of the kind of hole Bush left us in is going to be messy. They've cut Obama no slack and have contributed to further problems by not being there to help negotiate unless it is 100% on their terms. I don't think they've met him halfway. And then they blame the lack of motion on him. It's shameful.
I wish I had time to read all these brilliant responses from my old friends here at Open Salon - glad that I saw the flare to come and check this post - because, of course - YES.

"The reason for this is that the rhetoric of the Right is designed to not match the reality of the Right." Yep - it's the trap - we find ourselves trying to fight insanity with logic, even as the insane giggle madly that we're trying so hard. It's not meant to be an honest discussion; it's meant to trap us into expending energy into the wind. We fall for this disingenuous tactic every time.

Meanwhile, Obama attempts to compromise with a party that does not bring its wits to the table. It brings, "lalalalala - I can't hear you," and, "your mama," and he ends up factoring gibberish into his compromises. If the result were a car, it would have no engine or brakes, so SEE, I told you it wouldn't work! If the result were a pie, it would be full of six of the first things you'd find in your refrigerator, so SEE, gross!

We voted for change we could believe in. We hoped. We forget that this was not spilled milk to be cleaned up overnight. We forget that Obama is human, and won't have all the answers in his magic quiver. We forget that democracy and compromise is messy, and it's usually prudent to try obvious solutions first (like checking to see if things are plugged in.) He's checked. They aren't plugged in. This all takes longer than we'd like, and in the meantime, we grow colder and more hopeless.

I look forward to the next few months of our old Obama - TELL us how it's been, TELL us what the next steps are, SPEAK to us about what we can do to help you - don't squander the people who believe in you - that's what I say.
"and then we can haev (sic) some useful discussion"

Funny, I don't recall mentioning a desire to have a discussion, useful or otherwise.

I was identifying a political reality, viz., that according to leading spokespersons on both ends of the spectrum, Obama's performance as president has been either alarming or disappointing. If I choose to discuss or analyze alternatives, I probably would not choose this post as an ideal venue. Sorry.
And now...if we can only find an antidote to Gordon Osmond!
You make a valid point when you write about Obama overcoming negativity with a positive vision. Absent that, the conservatives define the issues and the Dems. The reality is that Dems have allowed conservatives to define them for years, beginning with Clinton's post-Hillarycare shift rightward.

You write: "Obama may not be able to fix everything, but he needs to level with people—and himself—about the problems we face."

That describes the root of the current problem. Obama should have described the true depth of the economic problem from day one. Instead, he treats it like an almost average recession, and, as I stated, because he was told that was true. Further, he spends a year on h-care instead of jobs, jobs, jobs -- only to come up with a plan everyone can hate, for various reasons.

I'm saying the Dems are either convinced they have to run corporate funded campaigns as a matter of survival, or simply enjoy the fact that win or lose, each individual Congressional rep is still assured of making a great living servicing the status quo.

How hard can Obama push back when his own policies are blatantly corporatist?

The cynicism isn't coming exclusively from the "left," it's broad based and can be described as Obama being "just another politician."

Imagine the Democrats had stood with consumer/labor as a matter of principle over these last 15 years. They might have lost more elections, but after the conservative agenda reached this rotten fruition, the Dems would be riding high.

Instead, all the Dems can do is offer transparent palliatives and weak rhetoric that their base and potential supporters can see through. They don't have the comfort of having a simplistic, easy manipulated GOP-type base.

So, while there is a dime's worth of difference between the parties, not many people will cross the street for a dime. Absent real change, the Dem base and muddled middle is demoralized and the GOP wins by default.

You're right that Obama could marginalize the TeaOP by being honest and offering an agenda of hope and change. But because that is obvious, and he's not doing it, one should assume there's a reason he doesn't. That reason is he's just another New Democrat...a term describing the old GOP, before the nutbuckets took over.

I am interested in knowing what you thought I'd say, basically.
Paul, I'm not sure what I thought you'd say. It was just more brutal than I expected, I guess. :) Not that I think it's untrue. It's just that when people say brutal things, I have to ponder how to respond. The problem is that Obama's team seems not to be reading, but the Republicans seem to be taking notes about the way the Dems backbite each other, and they're good at twisting things to make it sound like everyone's criticism of Obama is an endorsement of them.

I do think there's more than a dime's worth of difference between them by the way. In my judgment, Climate Change is going to kill us inside of a few decades. I mean that literally, by the way, not metaphorically. I won't hear try to convince you or anyone, but I think it's just that serious. Obama represents only moving too slowly, while the Republicans represent dismantling the status quo and rushing headline into earlier and more certain doom, not just for the nation but for the globe and the species. That's material and it's reason to hold one's nose and support Obama, because he might listen, and because I think the Republicans would just as soon sell Bibles and chant I told you so as they perceive the Rapture to approach. I do think Obama's policies are more corporatist than he lets on, but I also consider him capable of change on that point, while I don't consider that most of his opponents are. I think he's willing to stand on principle if shown a reason, I just think he hasn't gone searching for a reason and he has surrounded himself by people not offering him one.
This is one of the best things I've read here in quite some while. If our morale is slipping (it certainly had, even before 9/11), those with a tendency to give up too soon will most assuredly turn their backs on what's real. we need a longterm plan that makes sense with our present economy.
Great job, Kent. This needs to be said more often.
You say:
"Republicans seem to be taking notes about the way the Dems backbite each other, and they're good at twisting things to make it sound like everyone's criticism of Obama is an endorsement of them."

This is more a fatal conceit than being good at twisting things. The public is not behind the GOP lack-of-reform. They misread this at their peril.

Dem infighting doesn't help Dems, but most voters aren't paying enough attention to notice. The rejection of Obamacare by the right was a given. The majority lack of enthusiastic support is actually a reflection of the moderate middle's rejection, as a majority has long expressed desire for "public option," and the Dems didn't deliver.

What they did deliver is even worse than no public rewards the worst actors in the H-Care scheme, amplifying the reasons for rejection.

I'm just talking pocketbook populism, not climate change. However, if the Dems would do the former, the latter would find more support. Americans can support many things when a good economy (or apparent good economy) distracts them from politics, which is precisely how the destructive economic policies that caused this mess were passed into law.

"It's the economy, stupid," applies now even more than in '92.
Kent, you may be right that the R's would attack Obama if he tried Social Security reform. It's what the D's did to Bush when he tried. However, in the first few months after Obama became President, he had an opportunity to try to bring the R's along on things because they had been so soundly defeated and Obama had claimed that he would bring people together. He chose instead to let Pelosi and Reid play the partisan cards and then jumped on the backwagon with his own sarcastic and insulting attitudes. The guy is a real piece of work... and not in a good way.

As to the deficit, if Obama's deficits were basically the same size as Bush's then the R's would be blantant hypocrites. Unfortunately, Obama has taken all the dumb things Bush did from a spending standpoint and made them significantly worse. Bush does prescription drugs, Obama does healthcare. Bush does bailouts (which Senator Obama voted for), Obama makes them bigger. Bush does stimulus through spending, Obama does a ridiculous waste of stimulus of 3/4 of a trillion dollars.

At this point, the deficits are Obama's. His policies are driving out private investment so we are having a 1930's style economy where capital is on strike. Corporations are sitting on cash out of fear. Hell, I can't figure out where to invest my money either. The only place I feel comfortable is short term bonds.

Obama's not yet as bad as Jimmy Carter. You and I are both old enough to remember high inflation, high unemployment, and high interest rates. But, Obama may yet beat out Carter. Bankrupting the federal government would be a real feather in his cap.
Yes, the Capital Strike is causing businesses to not invest in a stagnant market with no hope of increased consumer spending.

I don't know where you read that, McG, but I'm betting if you turn the box around you'll see a cartoon Toucan and the words: Fruit Loops.

Thanks for the laugh.

Your response to my comments exemplifies, I believe, the very problem to which I refer. Why are we/you stuck in the mindset that our government must be comprised of people branded --- endorsed --- by one or the other group, Democrats or Republicans? There were other candidates running who would have been far more beneficial to a progressive, nay to an American, cause. But our citizenry is so stuck in the two-party mindset that nobody who is not “branded” by one or the other party has a chance. The media is a principle in this fiasco, of course, and the reason for that seems pretty clear; they are corporate propagandists, for the Parties.

Too many ignorant backward people go to the polls and vote based on bullshit issues that have very little, if any, real impact on the major problems facing us; not only our nation, but humanity at large --- the planet as a whole. Ignorance is threatening us and all we do is bicker about Democrats and Republicans. The absurdity of it is astounding. This dilemma goes way beyond just Obama’s presidency --- just look at the group of Democrats in congress called the Blue Dogs --- fiscal conservatives who consider themselves social progressives but who vote against bills that promote social progressivism, basing those votes on their so-called fiscal conservatism. At a certain point, fiscal conservatism and social progressivism rub up against each other and it becomes a choice of one or the other. Yet those same fiscal conservatives will promote the pointless wars mentioned in your essay here.

One of the major foundations of Obama’s campaign was healthcare reform that took control of healthcare away from corporate greed. Why would anyone who was clearly dedicated to corporate America promote emasculating corporate power?

Obama’s dedication to corporations was clear long before he was elected, but people chose to ignore that fact that was overwhelmingly obvious and voted for him anyway. Why? Because of the very reason to which I point and which you reiterate – because the only other choice in people’s minds was a Republican that was even worse. I’m sorry, but I see no “hope” in this scenario at all. As long as we continue trying to salvage this horribly failed system, we will continue to devolve. It is clear that too many Americans just do not connect the dots --- they just don’t get it.

I just checked back, and reading through the other comments, I found this point that I forgot to mention in my post above, but which goes to the heart of my comments; P.J. O’Rourke quoted you:

You write: "Obama may not be able to fix everything, but he needs to level with people—and himself—about the problems we face."

In my view, it is equally valid to say, The American public needs to level with itself about the problems we face.”

Unfortuantely, that is not happening.
Rick, there are “two chances to win” and we're losing on both of them... A bit of self-honesty would help all around and there's so much redundancy of opportunity to do it, it's especially disappointing that the heavily redundant system is failing. It says something deep, which I guess was your point.