Fight of the Burros: Neoliberals Fighting Progressives for Supremacy | #DirtyTricks on Blog#42

I’ve noted, quite often, in my New York Times commentary over the last eighteen months, that I see a change in Professor Paul Krugman. He stopped writing about the “Lost Generation,” what I call the precariat in my own writing. Krugman has been writing an inordinately high number of op-eds praising the number of jobs created in the aftermath of the Great Recession, and the success of Obamacare. He’s also written, here and there, pieces that move away from the progressive kind of writing he engaged in during the worst of the financial melt-down, aligning himself with former Fed Chair Ben Bernanke, whom he praised a lot during the worst of the recession, but also criticized a fair amount. Of late, however, Krugman is more aligned with Bernanke’s current views on banking and the state of reform, than not. Back in October, as Bernanke’s memoir hit the shelves, he gave ABC’s This Week an extended interview. That interview was striking in the sense that, as proactive as Bernanke was as Fed Chair, it revealed how removed from Main Street he is. Hillary Clinton, in many ways, sounds just like Ben, when she talks about Wall Street and the underlying deficiencies of today’s job market.

Over these past couple of weeks, we have seen a surge in very odd and angry anti-Bernie Sanders diatribes from the nation’s prominent pundits, including The New York Times’ Paul Krugman who has now devoted two full op-eds and a half dozen blog posts in attempts at de-legitimizing Bernie Sanders’ policies, including Sanders’ healthcare for all platform, also known as Single Payer Healthcare. Krugman is hardly alone in this, Ezra Klein and his partner at Vox, Matthew Yglesias, both have joined the chorus. Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum also joined the fray with his own micro-blog posts. Libertarian Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ Washington Post editorial board just published a searing rebuke of Bernie Sanders campaign, calling it “fiction filled.” Sanders wasted no time firing back:

“”Getting back to The Washington Post — check out where all the geniuses on the editorial page were with regard to the invasion of Iraq.” (They supported it.)”

Stepping back and looking at how we got to this day, it finally dawned on me that these last 18 months of repetitious Krugman op-eds were his pivot back to the right, and the Clintons. Over just the last week, Krugman has alternated between using Klein and other pundits’ pieces to support his assertions that Sanders could never get his policies implemented because of the political climate, to looking for any data he can to support his claim that the numbers don’t add up for Sanders’ healthcare proposal. Of course, no mention is made of the fact that all other first world nations have had some version of single-payer for decades. First-world populations are well-cared for, at varying levels of health expenditures that are neither back-breaking to their government or the populations in question.

Since Krugman can’t very well disavow Single-Payer since he has been a proponent of it for years, he’s taken the Clinton tack: it can’t be done in this political climate. As Times reader CraigieBob aptly put it, this is why Krugman opposes Sanders:

“To surrender “Yes, we can!” or “Hope and Change” to hopelessness and changelessness — Honestly, some of us are just too old, too tired, or simply lacking the patience for the questionable promise of incremental ‘progress’ — is, for a Liberal, unconscionable.”

Indeed, this is what the Clinton campaign has been reduced to, in order not to make any further concessions to populist demands. In the face of Sanders continued rise in the polls and fundraising success, he has broken Barack Obama’s single small contributor record, twice, the establishment – media and politicians – are engaged in a concerted attack right before the Iowa caucuses.

Krugman, many times, has sided with former Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke in his opposition to the reinstatement of Glass-Steagall, agreeing, basically, with the former moderate Republican, that the measures the Fed are in place are sufficient, and with the Clinton campaign’s position on regulating “shadow banking” to round out already existing measures. Krugman isn’t bothered by the fact that, post-financial meltdown, we are left with six huge banks and the American public continues to be vulnerable in the event of another crisis in which one or more would undoubtedly need to be bailed out.  In, Hillary Clinton’s Take on Banks Won’t Hold Up. Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi writes:

First, it’s definitive now that Hillary has no intention of reinstating Glass-Steagall. Cooper gave her a prime opportunity Tuesday night to announce otherwise, stories have filtered out of her campaign that she has no plans along those lines, and she’s explicitly stated that she wants to find a “different way” to reduce risk.

The second and probably more important observation is about Hillary’s rhetorical choices.

Hillary, like her close advisor Barney Frank, has been pushing an idea that banks aren’t at the root of any financial instability problem. Last night, she pointed a finger instead at “shadow banking,” non-bank actors like AIG, and a dead investment bank in Lehman Brothers. (Interesting she didn’t mention a still-viable investment bank like Goldman, Sachs, which has hosted her expensive speaking engagements.)

This squeamishness about criticizing banks is laughable to people in the industry. But of course, that’s probably the point – that the average voter won’t know how absurd and desperate it is to point to faceless “shadow” financiers as villains when the real bad guys are famed mega-firms that are right out in the open, with their names plastered all over every second city block.

So, why this interest in going after shadow banking instead of reinstating Glass-Steagall? Well, as it happens, last week saw a flurry of Clinton speaking engagement news items. For example, we learned that the Clintons earned millions in speaking fees from… bankers! The New York Times reported:

“For a fee of $275,000, she had agreed to appear before the clients of GoldenTree Asset Management, the capstone of a lucrative speechmaking sprint through Wall Street that earned her more than $2 million in less than seven months.

Mrs. Clinton said the Dodd-Frank rules, while unpopular among some on Wall Street, were a necessary response to the financial crisis, according to one person who attended, while making clear she viewed Wall Street as a partner in securing the country’s economic future, not an enemy. We have to win together, she said, not divide ourselves.”

Then, we also learned from CNN that the Clinton Foundation failed to report about $26 million in donations.

“The Clinton Foundation confirmed Thursday that it received as much as $26.4 million in previously unreported payments from foreign governments and corporations for speeches given by the Clintons.

It’s the latest in a string of admissions from the foundation that it didn’t always abide by a 2008 ethics agreement to disclose its funding sources publicly. That agreement, penned as Hillary Clinton became secretary of state, is certain to continue the headache that the foundation’s work and donors have become for Clinton as she makes another run at the White House.

The Washington Post first reported the news that, since 2002, Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton gave 97 speeches benefiting the foundation, earning anywhere from $10,000 to $1 million dollars in fees.”

That the Clintons should be free to raise funds as they wish is a right I won’t deny them, as long as they don’t run for office or hold high office. But Hillary Clinton signed an agreement with the White House when she accepted her job as Secretary of State and she agreed to a certain level of transparency with respect to financial disclosures. 26 million dollars is an awful lot of money to overlook reporting on, especially when the policies she is running on essentially consist of deflecting the attention from the big banks, onto unnamed, nebulous “shadow banks.” How safe is the bet that no Clinton administration would go after Goldman Sachs or that, again, we will be back in the hands of a retinue of former Goldman Sachs alumni running Treasury and the president’s Council of Economic Advisers? This absolutely reeks of the rot of cronyism.

If that’s not enough, all on its own, Nancy Pelosi was in the news today. She gave Politico Magazine an interview in which she came out swinging against Elizabeth Warren. Of course, Warren is the Senate’s lead proponent for reinstating Glass-Steagall and, like Bernie Sanders, is a proponent of breaking up the banks.

“Nancy Pelosi is firing back at criticism from Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and other liberals in the Democratic Party that President Barack Obama’s administration has been too soft on Wall Street.

“There may have been a couple of people who say that, but that is not the consensus in our party,” the House minority leader said in an interview with CNBC’s John Harwood published Wednesday. “The financial industry doesn’t agree with that,” she noted.

The comments defending the administration come in the aftermath of last month’s lengthy intraparty squabble in which Pelosi and other House Democrats fought the White House over the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and related legislation.”

Now, this is the same Nancy Pelosi who, along with John Boehner, was featured in the a 60 Minutes segment in 2011, to answer allegations of improper conduct in profiting from advance information on the impending financial meltdown. While she denied any impropriety, as did John Boehner, the outcome of that information becoming public was a swift tightening of House rules by Congress.

Why all this panic on the part of prominent politicians and media figures? Well, if we go back to the days following Election 2014, what transpired was not the usual changing of the guard following abject defeat, but a further consolidation of power at the top of party ranks by the neoliberal wing. Nancy Pelosi got herself reelected, Harry Reid picked the most neoliberal Senator in Jon Tester to lead the DSCC and, of course, we still have Debbie Wasserman Schultz running the DNC, and the party’s Democratic primary, complete with weekend and holiday debates and other shenanigans. Days after horrendous losses in the election, Democratic leadership had locked the party down for the general election two years later, in anticipation of an uncontested primary Hillary Clinton would easily win.

Election 2014: Lessons for progressives

Then came the Spring 2015 surprise. Bernie Sanders began his run as a Democrat in the primary for the presidential race. During the first few months, Sanders was treated to silence by the corporate media. But now, with Sanders leading in New Hampshire by a wide margin, and by just a few points in Iowa, the establishment has its flamethrowers set on max in their attempts to disable Sanders.

No statement is too ridiculous. No lie too far-fetched. Other countries have functioning social medicine? No problem. We still can’t do it here. After years of talking about the need to continue to tighten up banking regulations, suddenly, not only does all talk about it stop, but what we have in place is sufficient and all that’s left to add are safeguards against “shadow banks?” Come on!

Then, on healthcare, the argument against is the same. We just can’t do it. We need to do things in increments. Meanwhile, 29 million Americans, mostly in the Deep South, get to go without healthcare because their gerrymandered red state is forcing them to go without, and that is perfectly OK for Paul Krugman now, because to want to change the way things are is just too hard. Idealism is unrealistic. Pragmatism, which is now a synonym for “do nothing,” is what Krugman wants us to buy into.

What we need, now, is to focus on the kind of future we want for ourselves as a nation. A great primer for that kind of thinking comes to us by way of legal and moral philosopher, Ronald Dworkin:

Ronald Dworkin: Theory of Equality | Philosophy on Blog#42

What we should be looking at are proposals, such as Professor Joseph Stiglitz’ Rewrite The Rules, in decided which course to take our economy in and how to best shape American capitalism for the decades to come.

No thank you. America can change. Voters can be convinced to come out to the polls, even when Very Important (Neoliberal) Persons try to tell us otherwise. The symbol by which we identify Democrats is the donkey. It’s a fitting symbol. Bernie Sanders is the tenacious burro we need to lead what may well be the biggest cleanup job this nation has ever done.

As economist Jared Bernstein wrote this week:

“But what I don’t understand is the urgency to shut down one side or the other. You’d need an electron microscope to find the differences between Hillary and Bernie compared to the differences between them and the R’s. From where I sit that’s what’s most important. As this blog ceaselessly argues, what’s needed is a Reconnection Agenda, and they both get that.

The rest is politics. It’s democracy. It’s messy. If you think you know how this is going to turn out, and who’s electable and who isn’t, you don’t. If Bernie’s overtures to the Overton window make you nervous, feel free to say so, but I’d stop way short of making the case that he’s leading his followers and thus the nation down the road to perdition. That’s way too presumptuous.”

Progress means moving forward – not standing in place. Incrementalism, especially when we’ve fallen so far back, is not progress. Triangulation is a euphemism for compromises. We are here because we were triangulated out of our futures. Let’s end that cycle here and now. As for the treatment we are getting from the Very Special People opining for us? It reminds me of this old song from my childhood…

This phrase comes from a kid’s rhyme (the original can be read in the Spanish explanation) that can be translated like this

(“borriquito” can either mean “lil’ donkey” or “dunce”)

A little dunce like you, tututu
you don’t even know the [letter] U
A little dunce like you, tututu
I know more than U


Please read my news round up for this week. It contains items related to this essay.


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10 thoughts on “Fight of the Burros: Neoliberals Fighting Progressives for Supremacy | #DirtyTricks on Blog#42”

  1. On health care, what puzzles me is the implication that if Sanders were elected and failed to get single-payer through Congress, then we would be back where we started: no ACA, the pre-existing condition atrocities, no Medicaid expansion, etc. etc. But why are we supposed to believe that?

    1. Same scare tactics that have been used on the right, only in reverse. It’s both shameful and shameless of those engaging in this behavior. People see through this stuff and it further erodes what little trust is left.

    2. Well, that’s just fear trying to win the argument over reason. I can’t imagine why Bernie would ever consider dismantling the ACA just to put Single-Payer in place. If I were him, I’d get that in place first, then phase things over a 3-5 year period. Then there’s getting all of the controls over the healthcare industry moved to an independent law (i.e., pre-existing conditions, etc). Hell, I’d also try to put caps on how much insurance can charge for plans and deductibles, just to keep them from fleecing more Americans before the switchover happens.

  2. Rima, if Sanders is the big threat to Wall Street and Clinton is cozy, please explain to me why all the big money is attacking Clinton, not Sanders. How does that make sense?

    And I read Clinton’s plan, which sounds reasonable to me. What has she ever done as an elected official that makes you think she is being paid off?

    And again, why would everyone with money attack her if she’s playing ball with them? Why not attack Bernie?

    It just doesn’t make sense to me.

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