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Time to Choose: Us or Them?

Dear President Obama,

Let me try to be clear about this. We hired you to make sweeping changes, not to be a servant of the status quo. Yet on the economic crisis in particular, you seem to be a prisoner of a complacent, self-serving orthodoxy that is preventing you from doing what needs to be done. Increasingly, you are seen as serving the interests of privileged elites, rather than the interests of those who elected you. You listen to the representatives of those elites, like Larry Summers, not to those who understood the problem early on, like Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz, Nouriel Roubini or Nassim Taleb. It escapes our understanding why this should be so. In the face of the most grave crisis of our lifetimes, why are you paralyzed? Given that you promised an administration whose decisions would be based on facts and sound analysis, why are you ignoring what is obvious to the rest of us, that our nation’s economic policy is held hostage to the whims of the very people who brought this disaster upon us?

Two opinion pieces today make this point more eloquently than I could, one by Frank Rich in the New York Times, the other by William Greider in the Washington Post. Their appearance on the same day is coincidental, but they are really companion pieces. I assume that you’ve read them both, and considered their arguments. I’m writing to you now to second their urgent appeal. Both pieces make the point that you have a choice before you, between the will of the people and the will of the elites. Until now, inexplicably to many of us, you’ve tried to avoid a rupture with the elites, even though their failed, self-serving policies got us to where we are today. But time is running out, and having it both ways will no longer be possible. If you wish to salvage your presidency and its promise of transformative change, you need to convince the people that you are on our side, working for those who elected you.

In his article, “Has a ‘Katrina Moment’ Arrived?” Frank Rich writes:

    Unless and until Barack Obama addresses the full depth of Americans’ anger with his full arsenal of policy smarts and political gifts, his presidency and, worse, our economy will be paralyzed….
    Of course most Americans don’t know how A.I.G. brought the world’s financial system to near-ruin or what credit-default swaps are. They may not even know what A.I.G. stands for. But Americans do make the connection between their fears about their own jobs and their broad understanding of the A.I.G. debacle.
    They know that the corporate bosses who may yet lay them off have sometimes been as obscenely overcompensated for failure as Wall Street’s bonus babies…. Since Americans get the big picture of this inequitable system, that grotesque reality dwarfs any fine print. That’s why it doesn’t matter that the disputed bonuses at A.I.G. amount to less than one-tenth of one percent of its bailout…. These prominent players are just the handiest camera-ready triggers for the larger rage.
    In his town-hall meeting in Costa Mesa, Calif., on Wednesday, [Obama] described the A.I.G. bonuses as merely a symptom of “a culture where people made enormous sums of money taking irresponsible risks that have now put the entire economy at risk.” But rhetoric won’t tamp down the anger out there…. We must have governance to match the message.
    To get ahead of the anger, Obama must do what he has repeatedly promised but not always done: make everything about his economic policies transparent and hold every player accountable. His administration must start actually answering the questions that officials like Geithner and Summers routinely duck….
    Why has there been so little transparency and so much evasiveness so far? The answer, I fear, is that too many of the administration’s officials are too marinated in the insiders’ culture to police it, reform it or own up to their own past complicity with it.

In his own article, “Obama Told Us to Speak Out, but Is He Listening?” William Greider takes the argument a step further.

    During the campaign, Barack Obama beckoned Americans to put aside their cynicism about politics and re-engage as active citizens. They are now doing so with red-hot anger…. The president is now trapped between these two realms—the governing elites who decide things and the people who are governed. Which side is he on…?
    Something fundamental has been altered in American politics. Encouraged by Obama’s message of hope, agitated by darkening economic prospects, many people have thrown off sullen passivity and are trying to reclaim their role as citizens. This disturbs the routines of Washington but has great potential for restoring a functioning democracy. Timely intervention by the people could save the country from some truly bad ideas now circulating in Washington and on Wall Street….
    During the past nine months, gigantic financial bailouts amid collapsing economic life made visible the crippling divide between governing elites and citizens at large. People everywhere learned a blunt lesson about power, who has it and who doesn’t. They watched Washington rush to rescue the very financial interests that caused the catastrophe. They learned that government has plenty of money to spend when the right people want it. “Where’s my bailout,” became the rueful punch line at lunch counters and construction sites nationwide….
    Elite opinion wants to empower the Federal Reserve to act as the “super-cop” protecting the financial system against systemic risk in the future…. A new regulatory regime that puts the secretive central bank in charge of everything…would effectively legitimize the existence of a corporate state. This concentrated power would be neither socialism nor capitalism, but a grotesque hybrid that combines the worst qualities of both systems….
    Barack Obama can resist all this, if he chooses, but he seems conflicted. Obama’s approach so far is devoted to restoring Wall Street’s famous names, and his economic advisers tell him this is the “responsible” imperative…. Obama evidently agrees. He does not seem to grasp that the tone-deaf technocrats are leading him into a dead-end.
    The president needs to hear a second opinion—millions of them.

So far, Mr. President, there is no sign that you are hearing the essence of what we are saying. Those who stole our retirement savings and brought the world to the brink of collapse must to be held to account. The corrpution and self-dealing must stop. But more than that, the whole inequitable system must be remade, on entirely different principles—transparency and prosperity for all, rather than speculation and insider advantage. Is capitalism the engine of progress for everyone, or just a few? We await the proof.

Meanwhile I sit here despairing, as the man we elected to bring change to Washington morphs into a servant of the status quo—a status quo which you admit has failed thoroughly. So why do you still listen to its architects, and ignore those who warned against its abuses? I believe your heart is in the right place, and your mind grasps the problem, but something is holding you back. I’m aware that you are cautious by nature, even conservative in the sense of “conserving,” but there are times when the only way to conserve is to cut away what is rotten. This is one of those times. Your ability to do so rests on the confidence of the people, and that confidence, while vast, is not infinite. Allow me to join my voice to those urging a change of heart before it’s too late.

Comments

Comment from le mythe
Time: April 2, 2009, 08:38

Salut l’artiste
le tribunal des blogs a repris service
et déja deux accusés sont passé à la barre
ton tour est donc arrivé
peux tu nous confirmer ta participation
si tu ne te rappelles pas du fonctionnement:
un billet pendant 1 a 2 semaines selon disponiblité pour recevoir les questions
puis un autre billet ensuite pour les réponses
Cordialement

Comment from eatbees
Time: April 2, 2009, 09:03

Salut le mythe,

Ça fait deux ans depuis que je m’y suis inscrit, et le monde a beaucoup changé dans l’intervalle!

Je me prépare à voyager en ce moment, et je crains de ne pas avoir le temps pour participer avec vous, alors je préfère abstenir.

Avec regret….

Je vous souhaite bon jeu!

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