Obama’s incrementalism: a trend?


In a recent column, Glenn Greenwald provides one of the first year in review critiques of the first year of the Obama Administration that I find engaging and worthwhile. Greenwald’s analysis makes good use of of Ed Kilgore’s piece in TNR, “Taking Ideological Differences Seriously,” and Matt Taibbi’s rave piece in RS, “Obama’s Big Sellout,” to reframe Obama as a corporatist* president, and his presidency as one that continues the past 32 years, albeit while offering incremental change. (another important voice is Robert Kuttner’s)

I wholeheartedly agree with the analysis, (with minor caveats) tho I think it warrants a good deal more fleshing out. (as for the caveat, I disagree with the appropriateness of the term corporatist here. I think the better term is plutocracy)

The part of the argument that are most salient for me in this blog has to do with how these critiques discuss divisions within the democratic party. Greenwald makes the case regarding the senate deal on health care reform. In my conclusion I analogize it to immigration reform, which is next on the president’s agenda.

According to Greenwald

If one judges the bill purely from the narrow perspective of coverage, a rational and reasonable (though by no means conclusive) case can be made in its favor.  But if one finds this creeping corporatism to be a truly disturbing and nefarious trend, then the bill will seem far less benign.

Yep, framing, a term I’m not particularly fond of, has much to do with understanding the split within the democratic party between progressives and corporate democrats.  As I see it through the progressive lens, health care reform package is a net plus from the perspective of concern that the millions of poor people receive coverage. Both corporate democrats and progressive would like to see this achievement.

But while corporate democrats would stop there, progressives integrate a social justice piece. This is the piece that condemns the corrupt and unaccountable profits to be reaped by the insurance industry by the individual mandate provision in the bill that will coerce individuals into getting coverage without sufficiently controlling costs w/ a public option. Cost controls will be passed on to families. Subsidies for the poor will not cover all the costs. Premiums and co-pays will remain high and likely get higher, and the resulting quality of coverage remains an open question.

Here’s the larger prevailing frame that I find most important here:

  1. expand coverage — the safety net– while doing nothing to plug the many holes that people witll likely fall thru.
  2. expand coverage, while throwing gazillions of dollars to the insurance industry. Consider how stocks have gone up in the few days since the demise of the public option.
  3. Give corporations greater control over the system as long as they abide an expanded safety net.
  4. Let corporations profit from expanding safety net.
  5. Let poor people become increasingly beholden to corporations. And give corporations control over costs.

Looking ahead, judging from the HRC package, here’s what to expect next:

1) expand coverage and 2) expand/deepen government/corporate partnership and corporate control over immigrants.

Imagine immigrants/ poor people will be fodder for corporate profits. It is clear that Obama will pursue a policy of regularization/ amnesty. This  is likely to placate many people in the democratic party. Hopefully progressive holdouts will and should be bothered by the control that private industry holds over detention/ and the surveillance parts of the enforcement provisions that will be part of even the most progressive– even the Gutierrez– proposals.

more on this later.

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