Jan 26th 2013

Obama’s Messy Narrative

by Mike Lux

Michael Lux is the co-founder and CEO of Progressive Strategies, L.L.C., a political consulting firm founded in 1999, focused on strategic political consulting for non-profits, labor unions, PACs and progressive donors. He is also a partner at Democracy Partners, a progressive consulting firm. Previously, he was Senior Vice President for Political Action at People For the American Way (PFAW), and the PFAW Foundation, and served at the White House from January 1993 to mid-1995 as a Special Assistant to the President for Public Liaison. While at Progressive Strategies, Lux has founded, and currently chairs a number of new organizations and projects, including American Family Voices, the Progressive Donor Network, and BushRecall.org. Lux serves on the boards of several other organizations including the Arca Foundation, Americans United for Change, Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, Center for Progressive Leadership, Democratic Strategist, Grassroots Democrats, Progressive Majority and Women’s Voices/Women Vote.In November of 2008, Mike was named to the Obama-Biden Transition Team. In that role, he served as an advisor to the Public Liaison on dealings with the progressive community and has helped shape the office of Public Liaison based on his past experience working on the Clinton-Gore Transition, as well as in the White House. On January 14, 2009, Lux released his first book, The Progressive Revolution: How the Best in America Came to Be. Lux's book was published by Wiley Publishing. You can purchase The Progressive Revolution by clicking here.

Wow, what a week. Anyone who wants to try and tell a clear, uncomplicated picture of President Obama and his party this week has to end the week a little befuddled. The picture is murkier than ever in terms of the course Obama is trying to chart, the boldness of he and his party, and their willingness to stand up to the biggest, wealthiest, and most powerful special interests on behalf of the hard-pressed middle class and poor.

The week started with an inaugural address that was a clarion call for progressive policies, a speech that made progressive hearts sing by laying a strong clear vision of our movement’s historic values. As I argued on Monday, whatever else Obama does or doesn’t do policy-wise, a speech like this matters: it has the weight of history behind it, and it makes the case in an important moment why Americans should move in the forward rather than backward direction.

The speech was not complicated, it was as clear as a bell. Other than the speech, though, the rest of the week was pretty damn messy: 

-Harry Reid waved the white flag and surrendered on Senate reformers attempt to make the body less dysfunctional. In what was a massive disappointment, especially after much macho talk about how this time was really going to be different, Reid once again agreed to a package of very modest reforms signed off on by McConnell. This is exactly what he did 2 years ago, and within days things were moving just as slowly as before. In these dysfunctional days of our government’s impairment, I think some Senators have decided they would rather have the power to block things rather than accomplish anything positive. That is a very bad sign for our democracy - and a very bad deal.

-A staffer for another of the Democratic party’s leadership, Chuck Schumer, confidently predicted that Democrats would agree to cuts in Medicare and in the “chained CPI”, DC speak for cutting Social Security benefits. This trial balloon was quickly and vehemently shot down by members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and other progressive forces, and by the end of the day, Schumer’s office had formally recanted, issuing a statement that he didn’t support such cuts. While it was good to see such a quick backtrack on the trial balloon being floated, no one I have talked to is the least bit reassured that Democratic leadership won’t continue to dangle that option to Republicans who want a scalp on Social Security (and who want to unleash their super PACs to attack Democrats for cutting Social Security). 

-On the Wall Street accountability agenda, the signals are all over the map. Yesterday, 2 big things happened, both of them good signs but not conclusive. A woman with a reputation as a tough prosecutor, Mary Jo White, was nominated by Obama to chair the SEC, signaling to both Wall Street and progressives who want them held accountable for their dirty deeds that Obama wants to be tougher on Wall Street fraud. The fact that she also been a lawyer for some very bad bankers mitigates my happiness over this, though- I’m just not certain how good she will end up being. But I’m willing to take it as a good sign that Obama appoints someone with a rep for toughness to the SEC spot.

And in other very good news, 2 days after a devastating piece from Frontline which was scathing in its reporting on how DOJ was choosing not to prosecute bankers, Lanny Breuer announced his resignation. According to all of my sources inside the administration who I have talked to about this, Breuer has been the biggest roadblock at DOJ in terms of holding Wall Street bankers accountable, particularly in the last year in terms of slowing down the Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities Task Force. A former Wall Street lawyer, Breuer’s leaving is an unqualified good thing. What we don’t know, of course, is who will replace him, so we will see who gets put in that key DOJ slot next. The big question now is what happens next on the task force. Although I know NY AG Eric Schneiderman is pushing hard on the cases he has brought and is exploring other avenues, he is getting little help right now from the rest of the task force. Breuer seems to be doing everything in his power to slow things to a crawl; Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan is completely focused on Hurricane Sandy relief; the White House has no one focused on making sure the task force is working, leaving that to DOJ which seems focused instead in making sure it doesn’t work. Now the DOJ point person for the task force, Breuer, is leaving- which is a good thing overall but it doesn’t exactly make things move faster. In the meantime, the task force’s work keeps being undercut by the terrible settlements that have been announced by other agencies, like the OCC and Federal Reserve’s overwhelmingly pro-bank settlement with a bunch of the biggest banks over wrongful foreclosures. 

So we’ve got little progress on the ability of Republicans to block any decent legislation in the Senate; powerful Democrats who keep saying they are open to a deal that cuts Social Security; a complete muddle over being tough on Wall Street, some good news and some bad; and a clear, confident progressive clarion call of an inauguration speech. There is no narrative to all this. Wealthy special interests, especially the big boys on Wall Street, and the opponents of progress continue to win out over middle and low income folks most of the time, even inside the Democratic party. Yet, the President clearly wants to be seen as a progressive champion. It’s a mix and a muddle. I hope we finally get to the point when this President finally and fully decides which side he wants to be on, and doesn’t hesitate to take on the wealthy and powerful on behalf of the middle class and poor. If his administration stops being a mix and a muddle, and starts consistently in word and deed fighting for us regular folk, he will go down in history as a great President.




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Oct 17th 2021
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Oct 16th 2021
EXTRACT: "We designed a programme that incorporated data from over 300 million buildings and analysed 130 million km² of land – almost the entire land surface area of the planet. This estimated how much energy could be produced from the 0.2 million km² of rooftops present on that land, an area roughly the same size as the UK."
Oct 6th 2021
EXTRACT: "Britain in the 1950s was wedded to the US, acting as a partner rather than leading the charge. Now, while the UK continues to support the US, the influence it has seems negligible. While it may bring comfort to the UK to feel it is a partner to a superpower, being its stooge or subordinate is an unpleasant place to be, no matter how much you tell yourself it values your opinion."
Oct 6th 2021
EXTRACT: "That was then. Now, the Chinese government has doubled down, with President Xi Jinping throwing the full force of his power into a “common prosperity” campaign aimed at addressing inequalities of income and wealth. Moreover, the regulatory net has been broadened, not just to ban cryptocurrencies, but also to become an instrument of social engineering, with the government adding e-cigarettes, business drinking, and celebrity fan culture to its ever-lengthening list of bad social habits. All this only compounds the concerns I raised two months ago. The new dual thrust of Chinese policy – redistribution plus re-regulation – strikes at the heart of the market-based “reform and opening up” that have underpinned China’s growth miracle since the days of Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s. It will subdue the entrepreneurial activity that has been so important in powering China’s dynamic private sector, with lasting consequences for the next, innovations-driven, phase of Chinese economic development. Without animal spirits, the case for indigenous innovation is in tatters."
Oct 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Wartime nostalgia plays an important part in Britain’s instinctive fondness for the special relationship. Like former Prime Minister Tony Blair in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, some British politicians might believe that the United Kingdom is the only European country with serious armed forces and the political will to use them. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, like Blair before him, seems to fancy himself a modern-day Churchill. Unfortunately (or not), Britain’s military power is insignificant compared to what Churchill could command in 1944. Wartime nostalgia has drawn Britain into several foolish American wars, which other European countries were wise to avoid."
Sep 24th 2021
EXTRACTS: "We have found that 47 million American adults – nearly 1 in 5 – agree with the statement that “the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump and Joe Biden is an illegitimate president.” Of those, 21 million also agree that “use of force is justified to restore Donald J. Trump to the presidency.” Our survey found that many of these 21 million people with insurrectionist sentiments have the capacity for violent mobilization. At least 7 million of them already own a gun, and at least 3 million have served in the U.S. military and so have lethal skills. Of those 21 million, 6 million said they supported right-wing militias and extremist groups, and 1 million said they are themselves or personally know a member of such a group, including the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys." ----- "..... the Jan. 6 insurrection represents a far more mainstream movement than earlier instances of right-wing extremism across the country. Those events, mostly limited to white supremacist and militia groups, saw more than 100 individuals arrested from 2015 to 2020. But just 14% of those arrested for their actions on Jan. 6 are members of those groups. More than half are business owners or middle-aged white-collar professionals, and only 7% are unemployed."
Sep 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "That long path, though, has from the start had within it one fundamental flaw. If we are to make sense of wider global trends in insecurity, we have to recognise that in all the analysis around the 9/11 anniversary there lies the belief that the main security concern must be with an extreme version of Islam. It may seem a reasonable mistake, given the impact of the wars, but it still misses the point. The war on terror is better seen as one part of a global trend which goes well beyond a single religious tradition – a slow but steady move towards revolts from the margins."
Sep 11th 2021
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Sep 7th 2021
EXTRACT: "But Biden can’t be blamed for the rise of the Taliban, or the fragile state of a country that has seen far too many wars and invasions. The US should not have been there in the first place, but that is a lesson that great powers never seem to learn."
Sep 4th 2021
EXTRACT: "The world is only starting to grapple with how profound the artificial-intelligence revolution will be. AI technologies will create waves of progress in critical infrastructure, commerce, transportation, health, education, financial markets, food production, and environmental sustainability. Successful adoption of AI will drive economies, reshape societies, and determine which countries set the rules for the coming century." ----- "AI will reorganize the world and change the course of human history. The democratic world must lead that process."
Sep 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Although the Fed is considering tapering its quantitative easing (QE), it will likely remain dovish and behind the curve overall. Like most central banks, it has been lured into a “debt trap” by the surge in private and public liabilities (as a share of GDP) in recent years. Even if inflation stays higher than targeted, exiting QE too soon could cause bond, credit, and stock markets to crash. That would subject the economy to a hard landing, potentially forcing the Fed to reverse itself and resume QE." ---- "After all, that is what happened between the fourth quarter of 2018 and the first quarter of 2019, following the Fed’s previous attempt to raise rates and roll back QE."
Sep 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Today’s economic challenges are certainly solvable, and there is no reason why inflation should have to spike."
Aug 27th 2021
EXTRACT: "To be sure, they have focused on their agenda, which is totally misguided—not by our own account but by the account of the majority of the American population, who view the Republican party as one that has lost its moral footing to the detriment of America’s future generations, who must now inherit the ugly consequences of a party that ran asunder."
Aug 21st 2021
EXTRACTS: "Now that so many sad truths about Afghanistan are being spoken aloud, even in the major media – let me add one more: The war, from start to finish, was about politics, not in Afghanistan but in the United States. Afghanistan was always a sideshow."--- "....the 2001 invasion was fast and apparently decisive. And so it rescued George W. Bush’s tainted presidency,..." --- "Bush’s approval shot up to 90% and then steadily declined,..."
Aug 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "The Taliban’s virtually uncontested takeover over Afghanistan raises obvious questions about the wisdom of US President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw US and coalition forces from the country. Paradoxically, however, the rapidity and ease of the Taliban’s advance only reaffirms that Biden made the right decision – and that he should not reverse course. ...... The ineffectiveness and collapse of Afghanistan’s military and governing institutions largely substantiates Biden’s skepticism that US-led efforts to prop up the government in Kabul would ever enable it to stand on its own feet. The international community has spent nearly 20 years, many thousands of lives, and trillions of dollars to do good by Afghanistan – taking down al-Qaeda; beating back the Taliban; supporting, advising, training, and equipping the Afghan military; bolstering governing institutions; and investing in the country’s civil society. .... Significant progress was made, but not enough." ....... "That is because the mission was fatally flawed from the outset. It was a fool’s errand to try to turn Afghanistan into a centralized, unitary state. "
Aug 6th 2021
EXTRACT: "But even in the US, which is more lenient than most countries, the principle cannot be absolute. Inciting imminent violence is not permitted. Donald Trump’s speech on January 6, urging the mob to storm the US Capitol, certainly came close to overstepping this boundary. It was a clear demonstration that language can be dangerous. What the internet media has done is raise the stakes; “fighting words” are spread around much faster and more widely than ever before. This will require a great deal of vigilance, to protect our freedom to express ourselves, while observing the social and legal bounds that stop words from turning into actual fighting. "
Jul 27th 2021
EXTRACT: "When it comes to the Chinese economy, I have been a congenital optimist for over 25 years. But now I have serious doubts. The Chinese government has taken dead aim at its dynamic technology sector, the engine of China’s New Economy. Its recent actions are symptomatic of a deeper problem: the state’s efforts to control the energy of animal spirits." ---- "... the Chinese economy, no less than others, still requires a foundation of trust – trust in the consistency of leadership priorities, in transparent governance, and in wise regulatory oversight – to flourish. --- Modern China lacks this foundation of trust ."
Jul 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "It seems that they are, as the last 18 months have seen a remarkable expansion of the central banks’ fields of activity, largely driven by their own ambitions. So they have moved into the climate change arena, arguing that financial stability may be put at risk by rising temperatures, and that central banks, as bond purchasers and as banking supervisors, can and should be proactive in raising the cost of credit for corporations without a credible transition plan. That is a promising new line of business, which is likely to grow. ---- Central banks are also trying to move into social engineering, specifically the policy response to rising income and wealth inequality, another hot button topic with high political salience."
Jul 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "The EU’s ambitious unilateral climate strategy will transform Europe into a trade fortress, encourage green protectionism worldwide, and give other regions the opportunity to develop using cheaper energy. And without China, India, and the United States on board, other countries will be careful not to follow the EU in its self-appointed role as the world’s green guinea pig. If Europe is not careful, it will risk finding itself in a climate club of one. "
Jul 9th 2021
EXTRACT: ".... ruminants belch and fart methane, an extremely potent greenhouse gas. As a result, rearing beef cattle brings about, on average, six times the contribution to global warming as non-ruminant animals (for example, pigs) producing the same quantity of protein. ..... if projected to 2050 [beef production], would use 87% of the total quantity of emissions that is compatible with the Paris climate agreement’s objective of staying below a 2° Celsius increase in temperature."