Obama and the "March of Folly"

July 20, 2012

Jeff Faux Pt3: Obama understands what needs to be done but like the Republicans, he responds to the needs of big money

Jeff Faux Pt3: Obama understands what needs to be done but like the Republicans, he responds to the needs of big money



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Story Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.

We’re continuing our series of discussions about where the American governing elite is leading us all. Now joining us from our D.C. studio is Jeff Faux. He’s the founder and now distinguished fellow of the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., an activist, economist, a writer. His latest book is The Servant Economy: Where America’s Elite Is Sending the Middle Class. Thanks for joining us again, Jeff.

JEFF FAUX, AUTHOR: Great to be here, Paul.

JAY: So if you haven’t watched part one or part two, then you should, because we’re going to just pick up the discussion from where we left off. So first we’re going to talk about the U.S. presidential elections. We’ll start with President Obama. If we need another segment, then we’ll do Romney. Or we’ll fit them both in here. We’ll see how it goes.

But let’s just start from this. When President Obama ran in 2008, he seemed to understand what a rational economic policy would be in order not to kind of continue this spiral of lack of demand, low wages, no infrastructure, and so on. And now, four years later, there’s still some of that rhetoric, but I don’t think we saw a heck of a lot of it. We saw him make a commitment to the Employee Free Choice Act, EFCA, that would allow more unionization, which in theory would have led to higher wages. And they gave up on that, it seems to me, from day of the inauguration. Anyway, so let’s talk about President Obama’s vision and actual practice in terms of where this economy’s going.

FAUX: Yeah, I agree that when he ran and in the initial few months of his term he did seem to understand it, and I have to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he did. And he was often quite eloquent about it. I thought in his inaugural speech, when he used that biblical quotation—he said, now we must put away childish things—I thought that was a brilliant image. And after that he kept talking about we need to—we can’t rebuild the economy on a pile of sand; we need to build it on a foundation of rock, etc. And he, I think, or at least some of the people around him, if you had a few beers and the press wasn’t there, would admit that they know what to do. And knowing what to do is investing in infrastructure and education and research and development; it’s having a trade and investment policy that’s aimed at the interests of the American worker, not the American foreign investor; shrinking Wall Street. All of this stuff, you know, they know has been written a number of times. I’ve written a couple of books on this myself. By now it’s clear what we need to do.

But Obama gets in, and suddenly the world of the elite, financial elite especially, closes in. He picks the advisers who were part of the Clinton team—Summers and Geithner, who’s a Wall Street—they’re all Wall Street people. So if you put these people in charge of the economy, it is no surprise that you’re going to get what we got, which was subsidies and a lifeboat for Wall Street, and drowning for a whole lot of other Americans.

JAY: Right. I mean, you’d have to think this is mostly campaign rhetoric, then. It’s not like he didn’t know what Wall Street wanted. To a large extent his candidacy began on Wall Street. These guys were raising money for him on Wall Street years ahead of time, and he knew how much of his campaign depended on that. And clearly he’s hearing—and you can see from the team he appointed it was the—you know, as you said, it was the Wall Street economic team. So it makes you think this is all just—you know, it’s not like he doesn’t know, but he uses it to campaign, not to govern.

FAUX: Yeah, yeah. I was—if I can say this, I was inspired to write this book by a book that the American historian Barbara Tuchman wrote in 1984. It was called The March of Folly. And it’s a sort of a history of political folly over the last 2000 years. And she defines folly as not stupidity, but looking at the evidence, knowing what is the right thing to do, and going ahead and doing what you wanted to do anyway, and to the result with the destruction of your institution, your country, etc.

JAY: Yeah, look at World War I and World War II.

FAUX: That’s—exactly. So this is something that we see in history. It’s got a historic context.

So Obama, in my view, is Clinton II. I mean, we saw it for eight years in Bill Clinton, the rhetoric, the "I feel your pain," a little populism, a better program than the Republicans (there’s no question about that), but not enough to solve the problem of the average American working family. With Obama it is the same.

And, you know, you can make the case—and I think it’s right—that Romney and the Republican right would be a complete disaster. So it’s a defensive decision here, voting for Obama to avoid something worse.

But it’s very hard to convince yourself that over the next four years, should he be reelected, we’re going to see anything dramatically different from the last four years. I can tell you, the day after election day they’re going to be sitting around in the White House and saying not, oh my gosh, we’re going to have to—you know, it was the labor unions that elected us, it was the middle class people angry about the economy who elected us; we’re going to have to do something about that. They’re going to be sitting around and saying, boss, we obviously did the right thing for the first four years, because we got reelected. And that—.

JAY: Which is what the fundamental, primary mission was, to get reelected.

FAUX: That’s right. That’s right. And, you know, you can sort of step back and say the Republican Party wants to drag us back to the 19th century, the Democratic Party at its best wants to keep the gains that were made in the 20th century. But neither of them are seriously looking at what this country needs to do in order to be prosperous and survive and have the middle class survive in the 21st century.

As I said before, we abandoned future in our politics back in the Reagan years, and we haven’t put it back together. Now, where is the vision? Now, people—you know, that’s a misused word. But, again, back in the 1970s, people were thinking about what America should look like 20 years from now. You know, there’s an old saying that if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there. Well, any road is getting us where we’re going, because there’s no sense of what this country should be like 20 years from now.

JAY: Except there is a vision, in a sense, I think you could say, both developed in European elite and the American elite and Canadian elite, which is what’s happening. The vision is: we don’t need to give—we don’t need a compromise—the New Deal compromise anymore because we have so much pressure and leverage against European and North American workers now that the vision is what we’re seeing. We can have a low-wage economy. We’re going to still make a killing because there’s so much money to be made in the rest of the world. And that’s the vision.

FAUX: Yeah. There is no—there’s nothing after the day after tomorrow, because, as I said before, they really do not see that as their job or their interest. What they see is the opportunity to get quick—and quick is very, very important—to get quick returns now. What happens five years from now, ten years from now, they’re gone. You know, they’re in the south of France. They’re going to be doing what the rich and powerful always do [crosstalk]

JAY: Okay. Let me just go back to one point, ’cause we spend a lot of time on The Real News Network being very, very critical of the Obama administration. And, of course, we’re very critical of Romney and the Republicans. But you made a point, and I don’t think we explore that point enough on The Real News, which is that you said the Democrats are a little better, that the Republicans will be a complete disaster. So in terms of the Democrats being a little better, what are some examples of that?

And let me just add one thing, which is partly a comment and a question. I guess it’s in the interests of that section of the American elite whose electoral alliance is based on unions and urban workers—they got to do something or they lose their base, where the Republican allies in the population or the right wing of the working class, rural people and such, they don’t have to do the same things to get elected. So it’s within that section of the American elites’ interest to do something. And so what’s the something that makes them a little better?

FAUX: Yeah. Not very much. I think the something is a little better on social services. The something is much better—the Democrats are much better on social issues that the big money doesn’t care about. They don’t care about gay marriage, they don’t care about things like that. So on those issues the Democrats have more room.

But on the economic question, you ask yourself—when Obama got elected, you could’ve asked him just that same question: well, what are you going to do for the people who elected you, so that four years later they will be enthusiastic about you? And the answer was to ignore that. In a way, the Republicans are more attentive to their working-class supporters, that is, the people who care about gay rights and guns and things of that sort, than the Democrats are. There is no excuse for—and there’s no political logic for a Democratic Party that depends so much on trade unions to have stiffed them the way Clinton did and stiffed them, as you just mentioned, the way Obama did.

So you’re asking yourself: so who is it that they’re responsive to? And they’re clearly responsive to the money. And money in—the big money in politics is now—I don’t have to tell your listeners—is now rampant. We were at the edge of a plutocracy perhaps a few years ago. Now we are in it. And, you know, money doesn’t—is not the total answer here, but it is most of the answer. So the Democratic Party comes out at election time and rolls out the populism, but the people who are bankrolling them—and labor can’t match business anymore—the people who are bankrolling them and the people who will get the jobs as assistant secretaries and undersecretaries and secretaries all are coming from the big-money sector.

JAY: Okay. Next segment of the interview, we’re going to talk about Mitt Romney and the Republican bid for the presidency. Please join us for the next segment of this series of interviews on The Real News Network.

End

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