Wednesday, August 27, 2008

dnc Tuesday report - Part 1

AFL-CIO and the American Prospect, All Boats Rising: Transforming the American Economy
  • feat. Richard Trumka, Sen. Sherrod Brown, Jullianne Malveaux, Paul Krugman, Robert Kuttner, Ezra Klein, John Sweeney, Harold Myerson, Rep. Donna Edwards and Sen. Amy Klobuchar
  • What the hell is Paul Krugman doing at this here? Apparently he and Kuttner have had long-running feuds around free trade and Krugman's allegiance to what we could call "Rubinomics." (My question, naturally, was where the hell is Dean Baker?) Anywho, Ezra Klein discussed what seemed like an "ideological convergence" among left and center-left wonks, pointing to how 60% of congressional dems opposed NAFTA, and a decade later 93% opposed CAFTA.
  • Krugman agreed that, alas, he looks forward to the time where the situation is less dire and they can resume their feuding. Krugman continued on to note that Rubinomics had resulted in a Clinton-era budget surplus that was rendered moot by the Bush tax cuts; that tax reform and social services were necessary and important, but ultimately what the macro-economy needs is a fix to the wage inequality John Sweeney calls "obscene." Krugman continued to assert that unions are the best means of rolling back this inequality, and that Friedmanites who would assert that unions were a necessary casualty of free trade should, shucks, looks to an obscure nation like Canada for an alternative example. (This underlines the argument so many of us have arrived at separately: American unions' decline is better understood as a political consequence of the Reagan era than as an economic inevitablility.)
  • Ohio's Sharrod Brown is definitely the "economic populist" face of the 2006-era blue wave, and he made the great point that Democrats can overcome the "god, guns and gays" tactics of Republican campaigning if they actually, actively enunciate not just the tepid Democratic economic platform, but a working families-centered, union-centered one. '(Beats starting a Third Party or passing arcane "fusion" legislation, no? )
  • Ezra Klein then turned to Bob Kuttner, asking how or why we can believe that Obama - whose economic plans have been okay but hardly even post-Keynesian, and who has moved towards the center in so many other ways - could lead us to something like a "new" New Deal (Kuttner's new book tackles exactly this topic.) Kuttner evoked LBJ, Lincoln and FDR, and reminded us that in the case of each administration, "more needed to be done than seemed possible." While Obama's polices did strike academics like Krugman (and I) as the least progressive when compared with Edwards and Clinton, as a genuine nice guy and charismatic leader, BHO always seemed most capable of the hegemonic work of shifting "the horizons of the possible." Kuttner continued, noting how Obama's Cooper Union speech on financial regulation was brilliant, suggested that global financial deregulation may ultimately harm workers more than free trade, but also noted the serious difficulties Obama faced in courting unionists, latinos and retirees. Obama needs these constituencies for more than electoral reasons - as Sweeney suggests, labor and other key groups will have to "have his back" if we can expect him to take a chance on serious reform.
  • Like Krugman before her, Julianne Malveaux cited the "small-ism" of progressive legislation today, and lamented how the Reagan-Bush-Clinton era has all but taken job creating - what we need most, in her mind - completely off the table. A woman of color, Malveaux had a powerful admonishment for white unionists in regards to the "elephant in the room" that is Obama's skin tone - "we cannot afford to lose this election because you are afraid to talk to have the race conversation."
  • Ezra Klein evoked FDR's famous "make me do it" challenge, and asked no less a brainiac than Richard Trumka how it was that labor planned to push Obama towards worker-friendly macroeconomic reforms. Trumka agreed that the Reagan-era political project has shrunk popular expectations for what government can do, and limited progressives in congress to putting out daily fires rather than intervening upon their root causes. He moved on to assert that since Reagan, economic problems in the USA have related neither to growth nor to income, but to distribution (I peed myself, at this point). Trumka continued to cite Working America's massive GOTV mobilization and their plan for after the election, and elaborated upon labor's vision for "wage-led growth" under the Employee Free Choice Act and the Obama administration.
  • Harold Myserson - who called Working America progressives' "best shot" for getting through to working-class whites - took us back to the election at hand, and asked how Obama could take on some economic populist characteristics without, shucks, falling into the "Angry Black Man" posture his campaign has taken pains to eschew. He lauded the AFL-CIO's "meet Barack Obama" initiatives in form and content, praised Joe Biden as a veep choice, but then returned to the question of a growing sense of outrage about our economy and society.
  • Donna Edwards (swoon!) contrasted our ticket, which is fundamentally about "working people," to the current administration comprised of two oil men. 'There's not a dime's bit of difference between Bush and McCain," she said, "and if there were a dime, it wouldn't go to working people." She suggested that with Biden, Obama's campaign can (and should) harness the omnipresent frustration to win a new mandate.
  • When asked for specific transformative programs that could make an Obama administration truly great, Kuttner concluded that, as was the case for medicare and social security, it will be necessary for Obama to "think big," and to shitcan the "fiscal responsibility" rhetoric and be prepared for deficit spending. Whether or not BHO and his coterie of neoliberal advisors agree, who knows? But the issue is, what are labor, minorities and other historically left-leaning consituencies ready to do to pull him leftward? Maybe Richard Trumka could be the new John L. Lewis? I dunno
(After the forum I was lucky enough to meet Thomas Frank, buy his new book, and tell him how the Baffler changed my life when I was sixteen more than any hardcore record. Combined with the aforementioned forum, I knew then that nothing I'd see that night at the DNC would make me feel anywhere near as starstruck and fired up. I was right, of course.)

1 comment:

wobblie said...

Outstanding wrap-ups my friend. You're doing the OG proud.