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As Election Nears, Obama Tries to Have it Both Ways

Roger Bybee

Some populist rhetoric (and action), while reassuring Wall Street

Over the last couple weeks, President Obama seemed to find the pro-worker, populist footing that marked his presidential campaign. It took an agonizingly long time, after stumbling through an extended period of alienating his base. But we saw a string of encouraging developments that might get potential Democratic voters fired up for the Nov. 2 mid-terms:

  • Obama finally gave his base something to cheer about with his fiery Labor Day address in Milwaukee after a long, demoralizing period of capitulation to Establishment forces, as outlined in painful detail by Frank Rich, Bob Herbert, and Cenk Uygar.
  • Obama followed that up with some tough talk in Ohio about the John Boehner and the Republicans’ politics of utter obstructionism and their desire to return to the days of George W. Bush economics. 
  • Then Obama got Elizabeth Warren, the tenacious and articulate advocate for working people and consumers, on board as a White House advisor working with the new Consumer Protection Agency. 
  • To top things off, we were treated to the announced exit of Wall Street loyalist Lawrence Summers, an architect of Wall Street’s disastrous de-regulation, a champion of corporate globalization, and opponent of stronger stimulus plans for the economy, who is properly skewered by Laura Flanders.

But don’t get too enthused just yet — it isn’t yet time to uncork the champagne:

  • Summers’ replacement may not be much better, Flanders notes. The Washington Post reports that the White House is considering trying to blunt criticism” that they have been anti-business.”
  • Then, for the key economic post director of the Office of Management and Budget, Obama named another Wall Streeter, Jacob Lew. Lew is known for receiving a $950,000 bonus from Citigroup and assisting in the Clinton administration’s de-regulation of Wall Street banking. 

But it gets worse. During his confirmation hearing before the Senate Budget Committee, Sen. Bernie Sanders asked him whether he believed that the deregulation of Wall Street, pushed by people like Alan Greenspan [and] Robert Rubin, contributed significantly to the disaster we saw on Wall Street”:

Lew replied:

[T]he problems in the financial industry preceded deregulation, [and he didn’t] personally know the extent to which deregulation drove it, but I don’t believe that deregulation was the proximate cause.

Sanders quickly announced his opposition to Lew’s appointment and the failed policies” he represents.

Given the barely-breathing condition of the economy and all of Obama’s fierce campaign trail rhetoric about the devastation to workers and communities caused by free trade” deals, working people have the right to expect that Obama would be denouncing the continuing flight of U.S. jobs overseas.

But Obama is unfortunately staying low-key on this issue even though it’s a real opportunity to draw a line showing fundamental distinctions between Democrats and Republicans. In fact, it looks like he’s not pushing a keep jobs in America” message precisely because it would clarify the distinction in the eyes of Corporate America.

While purportedly outlining their program for jobs and the economy, the Republicans’ much-vaunted Pledge to America” released Thursday managed to avoid a single mention of trade,free trade,” or globalization. “

That should tell you that the GOP, dim as it often seems, recognizes that with so many Americans opposed to the off-shoring of U.S. jobs, it would be a bad idea to loudly advocate free trade” right now. Nearly-three fourths – 74%– of self-described Tea Party supporters would support a national manufacturing strategy to make sure that economic, tax, labor, and trade policies in this country work together to help support manufacturing in the United States,” according to a 2010 poll conducted by the Mellman Group and the Alliance for American Manufacturing.

Obama is apparently not much more eager than Republicans to discuss his position on the off-shoring of jobs. During his term, he has given plenty of signs that he has backed away from his fierce campaign-season opposition to NAFTA-style free trade” deals and is quietly moving toward three new free trade” agreements,” as I pointed out here and here and here.

Earlier this month, Public Citizen unveiled a study refuting the conventional wisdom among corporate, political and media elites that free trade” deals increase exports. The organization provided a calculation of the devastation that the free trade agreements caused in the U.S.: 4.9 million jobs lost, and 43,000 factories closed.

Yet President Obama is still tinkering with the idea of promoting three trade agreements left-over from the George W. Bush administration — with Colombia, Peru and South Korea.

It’s already September 24. Nov. 2 is quickly approaching. When will the president finally get the picture that it’s horrendous policy and even worse politics to stick with an economic strategy that hurts his (former?) supporters most?

Roger Bybee is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer and University of Illinois visiting professor in Labor Education. Roger’s work has appeared in numerous national publications, including Z magazine, Dollars & Sense, The Progressive, Progressive Populist, Huffington Post, The American Prospect, Yes! and Foreign Policy in Focus. More of his work can be found at zcom​mu​ni​ca​tions​.org/​z​s​p​a​c​e​/​r​o​g​e​r​d​bybee.
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