With ideological battles shaping up, a response to Nate
by LeftistAddiction, Wed Feb 11, 2009 at 03:35:59 PM EST
I already posted this on my blog, at Campaign Diaries. I am cross-posting it here because it arose as a response to a diary by "the mollusk."
With Democrats in a position to shape legislation for the first time this decade, ideological disputes were bound to arise quickly - and centrists led by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner are already winning the Administration's first internal battles:
In the end, Mr. Geithner largely prevailed in opposing tougher conditions on financial institutions that were sought by presidential aides, including David Axelrod... Mr. Geithner, who will announce the broad outlines of the plan on Tuesday, successfully fought against more severe limits on executive pay for companies receiving government aid. He resisted those who wanted to dictate how banks would spend their rescue money. And he prevailed over top administration aides who wanted to replace bank executives and wipe out shareholders at institutions receiving aid.
Congressional Democrats and liberal activists can play a big role in tipping the balance one way or the other. In this particular case, they can boost the case of those wanting to increase oversight and implement more regulatory measures. If anything, these early ideological battles could shape the White House's power dynamics for years to come, and this is why I am concerned to read columns like Nate Silver's latest post, which has been commented on in a recommended diary:
<span id="fullpost">This is neither the time nor the place for mass movements -- this is the time for expert opinion. Once the experts (and I'm not one of them) have reached some kind of a consensus about what the best course of action is (and they haven't yet), then figure out who is impeding that action for political or other disingenuous reasons and tackle them.</span>
As we have all noticed, very qualified people people have conflicting ideas on how to fix the economy. Whether or not you agree with them, there is little doubt that Larry Summers and Timothy Geithner hold a center-right economic ideology; they believe in the virtues of free trade and are generally skeptical that heavy regulation or nationalization will improve the situation.
Other economic experts (whether leftist economists, Nobel Prize-winner Paul Krugman, or a proponents of Chicago school of economics-style free market) disagree with that vision; for instance, Krugman just wrote a piece criticizing Geithner's reluctance to nationalize. It's certainly hard to imagine John Keynes and Milton Friedman developing a consensus on how to respond to an economic crisis. Perhaps they could agree on a detail or two, but not on an overall coherent (and sufficiently ambitious) policy. In other words: There is no such thing as the"expert opinion," there no ideal point at which all "experts" come to agreement.
The government's solutions will necessarily have an ideological leaning: The economic policies that will be implemented in the months ahead will conform to the ideology of those who wield power. It will have little to do with expert consensus or intellectual deliberation (thankfully, for someone to become a White House adviser or Treasury Secretary means they have already thought about what policies can stimulate a staggering economy), and everything to do with political power.
Right now, that power belongs to center to center-right economists who will resist the type of regulation and ambitious spending demanded by liberals unless congressional Democrats and activists present enough pressure to force them to listen. (For that matter, they will also resist the type of tax cuts conservative economists would advocate for - and conservatives have even less of a route through which to influence Obama and Geithner.)
Saying citizens should refer to expert opinion amounts to saying that they should uncritically defer to power - and it is tragically anti-democratic. For those who oppose the experts-in-power's ideological leanings, this is more than ever the time for mass movements. This is something European and Canadian citizens have understood. The Canadian opposition managed to block the government's proposal of conservative policies to deal with the economy; and as Naomi Klein reports, workers in France, Greece and Italy are rising in protests that the vast majority of the population is supporting.
Nate Silver adds:
Nobody, absolutely nobody, has more incentive to get this right than the Obama Administration. If the economy collapses -- well, more than it already has collapsed -- then the Democrats get slaughtered in 2010.<span id="fullpost">
Yet, the fact that Obama has more incentive to get this right has little to do with whether he chooses the right set of policies to address the crisis. (That is, unless you believe that Democrats might be looking to get this wrong and make the economy collapse further - but I have yet to hear anyone make that argument.) What people are arguing over is not Obama's motivation but the appropriateness of his economic policies: He could desperately want to make the economy stronger but still implement an ineffective set of policies that backfire.
After all, did Hoover want to make the Depression worse? To take a more recent example: nobody, absolutely nobody, had more incentive to get the Iraq War right than the Bush Administration and congressional Republicans. Does that mean that we should have trusted Bush's decisions on the Middle East and followed his recommendations because no one's legacy was more at stake than his and no one's electoral prospects were more at risk than those of Republicans?
A political leader could convince citizens to trust him in any endeavor if they were to believe that he would do no wrong since he would stand the most to lose if things backfired. It is a great feeling to be able to trust one's government, but a dose of skepticism and oversight is never a bad thing.