Robert B. Reich, a co-founder of The American Prospect, is a Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. His website can be found here and his blog can be found here.
Not long ago I was debating someone on television. I thought the discussion was going well until the commercial break when a producer said into my earpiece, “Be angrier.”
“Why should I be angrier?” I asked him, irritated that he hadn’t appreciated the thoughtfulness of debate.
“That’s how we get channel surfers to stop and watch the program,” the producer explained. “Eyeballs are attracted to anger.”
At this point I lost my temper.
The incident came back to me when I heard about Evan Bayh’s decision to leave Congress because he felt it was becoming too partisan. The real problem isn’t partisanship. Bold views and strong positions are fine. Democratic debate and deliberation can be enhanced by them.
Washington is paralyzed by snow and partisanship. Nothing is getting done -- even as the Great Recession pulls more Americans into its maw.
In the midst of this paralysis, the president was asked about the giant pay packages of Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase & Co. ($17 mullion for 2009) and Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs ($9 million). “First of all, I know both those guys,” Obama said. “They’re very savvy businessmen. And I, like most of the American people, don’t begrudge people success or wealth. That’s part of the free market system.”
Obamanomics suffers from a misunderstanding of what the president is trying to achieve and what he’s up against. Into the breach come Republicans, tea partiers, nay-sayers, deficit vultures, and Raging-Dog Democrats, all viewing Obamanomics as more taxes and more spending. That’s nonsense. To see the big picture, keep your eye on three big things.
1. Government spending needed to offset the continued reluctance of consumers and businesses to spend. You don’t have to be an orthodox Keynesian to understand that as long as the private sector is deleveraging, the public sector has to borrow and spend in order to keep the economy moving forward.
Sen. Chris Dodd, the Senate Banking Committee chair, scolded Wall Street representatives at a hearing Thursday for sending “an army of lobbyists whose only mission is to kill the commonsense financial reforms” needed by the public.
“The fact is,” Dodd said, “I am frustrated, and so are the American people.” He charged that Wall Street’s intransigence was the reason for Congress’ failure to pass any bill to regulate the Street. “The refusal of large financial firms to work constructively with Congress on this effort borders on insulting to the American people who have lost so much in this crisis.”
Which programs should be cut, which entitlements pared back, and which taxes raised in order to reduce the long-term budget deficit? Hmmm. Let's convene a commission and have it decide. At least this is what several members of Congress and the Obama White House are proposing.
Commissions are a default mechanism when politicians want to hand off difficult issues to "experts." But reducing the long-term budget deficit has almost nothing to do with expertise. It's about our nations' values and priorities. These choices are supposed to be made democratically.