Obama has always prided himself on his nonexistent transparency, but this time around, his usual well-cloaked hypocrisy couldn't be more glaringly transparent. After five long Wall Street-groveling years in office, the luster is definitely off the Obama Brand, probably for good. The bulk of his remarks were, on the surface, a quasi-plagiarized pastiche of Pope Francis, Joe Stiglitz and Paul Krugman.
Tellingly, the talk was delivered at the Center for American Progress, that "liberal" think tank founded by Clintonite lobbyist John Podesta, who recently rolled out a tanklet dealing primarily with income inequality -- primarily, some suspect, to grease the skids for the candidacy of fellow Clintonite and Wall Street "New Democrat" Hillary Clinton.
The speech was, in fact, yet another dog whistle to Obama's Wall Street paymasters. Because after reciting a long litany of how the scourge of wealth disparity is destroying Democracy, he recited a litany of the same neoliberal solutions guaranteed to make things a whole hell of a lot worse for the majority of people both here and around the world. As is his pattern, the Drone President droned on and on about the crappiness of the system of which he pretends not be an integral part. And then, just as the audience had reached its star-struck apogee, he stealth-struck with a vengeance:
And many of the ideas that can make the biggest difference in expanding opportunity, I’ve presented before. But let me offer a few key principles, just a road map that I believe should guide us in both our legislative agenda and our administrative efforts.
To begin with, we have to continue to relentlessly push a growth agenda. And it may be true that in today’s economy, growth alone does not guarantee higher wages and incomes. We’ve seen that. But what’s also true is we can’t tackle inequality if the economic pie is shrinking or stagnant. The fact is if you’re a progressive and you want to help the middle class and the working poor, you’ve still got to be concerned about competitiveness and productivity and business confidence that spurs private sector investment.This is pure obeisance to the debunked Reaganesque mantra of trickle-down economics, as well as a veiled threat to lefty purists to leave his poor billionaires alone. The rich are gonna have to get a whole lot richer before you peasants even have a prayer of catching a few crumbs. And that goes for you, Elizabeth Warren and your letter to the banksters demanding to know what they pay think tanks like Third Way to advance their inhumane agendas. Read Obama's lips: no new taxes on the plutocrats. It will be business as usual.
And despite right wing propaganda proclaiming that Obama is a big government welfare state Marxist, Wall Street openly adores him. Black Rock Chairman Larry Fink recently gushed that Obama had reached out to business "more than any White House in modern times." More corporate-friendly than Reagan and Bush and even Clinton? Oh, the humanity. But wait. It gets worse. Because Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett revealed at the same plutocratic confab that Obama has a lot more work to do to please the MOTU. Three more years of it, to be painfully exact.
But let's get on with the bullshit he's shoveling at the rest of us:
And that’s why from day one, we’ve worked to get the economy growing and help our businesses hire. And thanks to their resilience and innovation, they’ve created nearly 8 million new jobs over the past 44 months. And now we’ve got to grow the economy even faster, and we got to keep working to make America a magnet for good middle- class jobs to replace the ones that we’ve lost in recent decades, jobs in manufacturing and energy and infrastructure and technology.Are we vomiting yet? From Day One, he surrounded himself with the architects of the meltdown, rewarding Wall Street and ignoring Main Street. The jobs created have been low-wage and part-time. And when he says we need to make America a "magnet" for jobs, he means that we need to keep those wages just low enough to make his suggested belated measly uptick in the minimum wage (which hasn't a snowball's chance of getting through the GOP House) sound like a good deal.
And that means simplifying our corporate tax code in a way that closes wasteful loopholes and ends incentives to ship jobs overseas. (Applause.) We can -- by broadening the base, we can actually lower rates to encourage more companies to hire here and use some of the money we save to create good jobs rebuilding our roads and our bridges and our airports and all the infrastructure our businesses need.Corporate welfare and backdoor bailouts will continue unabated. G.E., for example, will continue to receive handouts at the Fed window after having its lawyers write the tax code for its own benefit. The gains that continue to be sucked up by those at the very top will continue to be hoarded. And since the gains will not be taxed, Obama's claim that those "savings" would be used for the public good is laughable on its face. This politician is really slipping in the rhetoric department, big-time.
It means a trade agenda that grows exports and works for the middle class.This claim is so monstrously ugly and mendacious that he had to slip it in in just one sentence. Because of course he is talking about the ultra-secretive corporate coups ensconced in both the Transatlantic and Transpacific "partnerships" whose sole purpose is to divert what little wealth and resources the common people still own to those at the very top of the heap. These trade deals, if passed, would make wealth disparity even worse. Barack Obama truly has no shame. If anything, he is worse than the Republicans, because they, at least, are open in their disdain for common people.
It means streamlining regulations that are outdated or unnecessary or too costly. And it means coming together around a responsible budget, one that grows our economy faster right now and shrinks our long-term deficits, one that unwinds the harmful sequester cuts that haven’t made a lot of sense -- (applause) -- and then frees -- frees up resources to invest in things like the scientific research that’s always unleashed new innovation and new industries.This is pure Third Way centrist drivel, albeit cloaked in the usual Obamian Newspeak. Chained CPI is still on the table. The Grand Bargain of safety net cuts (shrinks our long term deficits) is still simmering on the back burner. Glass-Steagall will not be making a comeback if Obama has anything to say about it, because it involves regulations that would be "too costly" to his Wall Street backers.
Step two is making sure we empower more Americans with the skills and education they need to compete in a highly competitive global economy. We know that education is the most important predictor of income today, so we launched a Race to the Top in our schools, we’re supporting states that have raised standards in teaching and learning, we’re pushing for redesigned high schools that graduate more kids with the technical training and apprenticeships, the in-demand high-tech skills that can lead directly to a good job and a middle-class life.This paragraph reads like it was lifted from a Thomas Friedman column, doesn't it? Let's see... public schools in poor neighborhoods will continue to be closed in order to make room for privatized for-profit charters. Standardized testing will still be the excuse to get rid of unionized teachers whose students don't perform up to snuff because they are hungry and poor. Priority will be given to tech skills in order to provide private businesses with cheap labor trained on the public dime. Courses in the arts and the humanities will not be prioritized, because they tend to develop independent thinking skills. Literature and civics courses might actually empower the masses. And that is a very dangerous thing in an unequal society on the verge of fascism.
We know it’s harder to find a job today without some higher education, so we’ve helped more students go to college with grants and loans that go farther than before, we’ve made it more practical to repay those loans and today, more students are graduating from college than ever before.
We’re also pursuing an aggressive strategy to promote innovation that reins in tuition costs.
We’ve got to lower costs so that young people are not burdened by enormous debt when they make the right decision to get higher education. And next week, Michelle and I will bring together college presidents and nonprofits to lead a campaign to help more low-income students attend and succeed in college.The federal government and the financiers who run it will continue to unconscionably profit from the student loan program. Costs will be reined in for institutions still charging high tuition for internet courses (the neoliberal catch-phrase for this theft is innovation.) Michelle, whose own political capital is still relatively robust compared to hubby's, will be joining the campaign to get more poor kids into college. And by the time the poor kids graduate as debt slaves, the Obamas will be out in the world, cashing in.
And as we empower our young people for future success, the third part of this middle-class economics is empowering our workers. It’s time to ensure our collective bargaining laws function as they’re supposed to -- (applause) -- so unions have a level playing field to organize -- to organize for a better deal for workers and better wages for the middle class.
It’s time to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act so that women will have more tools to fight pay discrimination. (Applause.) It’s time to pass the non -- Employment Non-Discrimination Act so workers can’t be fired for who they are or who they love. (Applause.)This is fine as far as it goes, which is about one inch in the grand scheme of things. Obama could, with an executive order, immediately stop workplace discrimination by federal contractors, and raise the pay of both workers employed directly by the federal government, and for low-wage McWorkers used by federal contractors. (federal workers are the lowest paid in the country, on average.) But he has chosen not to do so. He again suggests minimally raising the minimum wage and praises companies who are voluntarily doing right by their employees. Remember.... as a free market guy, he will never force CEOs to act against their will.
Number four, as I alluded to earlier, we still need targeted programs for the communities and workers that have been hit hardest by economic change in the Great Recession. These communities are no longer limited to the inner city. They’re found in neighborhoods hammered by the housing crisis, manufacturing towns hit hard by years of plants packing up, land-locked rural areas where young folks oftentimes feel like they’ve got to leave just to find a job. There are communities that just aren’t generating enough jobs anymore.
So we’ve put new forward new plans to help these communities and their residents because we’ve watched cities like Pittsburgh or my hometown of Chicago revamp themselves, and if we give more cities the tools to do it -- not handouts, but a hand up -- cities like Detroit can do it too.
So in a few weeks we’ll announce the first of these Promise Zones, urban and rural communities where we’re going to support local efforts focused on a national goal, and that is a child’s course in life should not be determined by the ZIP code he’s born in but by the strength of his work ethic and the scope of his (dreams ?). (Applause.)Privatize, privatize, privatize. Public-private partnerships, here we come. More profits for the obscenely rich, here we come. That's a Promise. Using Chicago, whose public labor force has been crushed and infrastructure sold out under the iron heel of former Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel (Mayor One Percent), is hardly a great example of progress. And thanks, too, Mr. Prez, for throwing Detroit under the bus. No federal bailouts like we gave the auto industry. Their public pensions may be kaput, but Obama will offer a "ladder of opportunity" to retired cops and teachers to work till they drop (with Bronze Obamacare to replace the lifetime health benefits they were promised in exchange for working for below-market rates all those years.)
And we’re also going to have to do more for the long-term unemployed. You know, for people who’ve been out of work for more than six months, often through no fault of their own, life is a Catch- 22. Companies won’t give their resume an honest look because they’ve been laid off so long, but they’ve been laid off so long because companies won’t give their resume an honest look. And that’s why earlier this year I challenged CEOs from some of America’s best companies to give these Americans a fair shot. And next month, many of them will join us at the White House for an announcement about this.There will be no legislation protecting the rights of the abused labor force. However, the very same miscreants who destroyed the economy in the first place will again be invited back to the White House for their umpteenth photo op and a tacit guarantee that not only will the Obama administration never prosecute them, they will be allowed to continue their marathon theft of the American people unimpeded.
Fifth, we’ve got to revamp retirement to protect Americans in their golden years, to make sure another housing collapse doesn’t steal the savings in their homes.
We’ve also got to strengthen our safety net for a new age so it doesn’t just protect people who hit a run of bad luck from falling into poverty, but also propels them back out of poverty.
Today nearly half of full-time workers and 80 percent of part- time workers don’t have a pension or a retirement account at their job. About half of all households don’t have any retirement savings. So we’re going to have to do more to encourage private savings and shore up the promise of Social Security for future generations. And remember, these are promises we make to one another. We -- we don’t do it to replace the free market, but we do it reduce risk in our society by giving people the ability to take a chance and catch them if they fall.This is a definite dog whistle to Pete Peterson and the Third Way Wall Street Democrats. By weasel-wording the phrase "strengthen the safety net for a new age," Obama buys into the generational theft canard which states that the old are stealing from the young, rather than the truth that the One Percent is stealing from everybody. He still wants to cut Social Security. He even cracks open the door to privatization. He has not changed his tune one single bit -- Pope or no Pope.
One study shows that more than half of Americans will experience poverty at some point during their adult lives. Think about that. This is not an isolated situation. More than half of Americans at some point in their lives will experience poverty. That’s why we have nutrition assistance, or the program known as SNAP, because it makes a difference for a mother who’s working but is just having a hard time putting food on the table for her kids.He does not mention that even Democrats have agreed to cuts in the SNAP program, and that he "borrowed" stimulus funds to the tune of $5 billion from food stamps to help fund Michelle's healthy school lunches -- resulting in the current loss of a week's worth of meals to the average client. But credit where due -- he does tepidly ask Congress to extend federal unemployment assistance to the more than one million people being kicked off the program come January.
Now, progressives should be open to reforms that’s actually strengthen these programs and make them more responsive to a 21st- century economy. For example, we should be willing to look at fresh ideas to revamp unemployment disability programs, to encourage faster and higher rates of reemployment without cutting benefits. We shouldn’t weaken fundamental protections built over generations because given the constant churn in today’s economy, and the disabilities that many of our friends and neighbors live with, they’re needed more than ever. We should strengthen and adapt them to new circumstances so they work even better. But understand that these programs of social insurance benefit all of us, because we don’t know when we might have a run of bad luck. (Applause.) We don’t know when we might lose a job.Beware the words "reform," "strengthen," "fresh ideas," "revamp," and "adapt." It's neoliberal doublespeak for cuts, for the sole benefit of the billionaire rent-seekers. He even wants to cut disabled people off at the knees. SSDI cuts are Obama's hoped-for next stage in Clinton's welfare reform package. The odious 60 Minutes set the propaganda stage recently with a piece insinuating that most disabled people are malingering cheats. So they'd better adapt.
(Obama then goes on to defend the Affordable Care Act. Enough has been written about that kludge sludge already, so I'll desist for now.)
So let me end by addressing the elephant in the room here, which is the seeming inability to get anything done in Washington these days. I realize we are not going to resolve all of our political debates over the best ways to reduce inequality and increase upward mobility this year or next year or in the next five years.
Obama assures Wall Street that he will not even bother. In lieu of leading, he again suggests a debate. Which, judging from the "debate" he suggested over the illegal American spy campaign against the people of the world, will consist of appointing billionaires to think up even more ways to rob, cheat, lie and steal their way to ever greater prosperity. Until, of course, the fetid bubble bursts and the Obamas are safely out of town.But it is important that we have a serious debate about these issues, for the longer that current trends are allowed to continue, the more it will feed the cynicism and fear that many Americans are feeling right now that they’ll never be able to repay the debt they took on to go to college, they’ll never be able to save enough to retire, they’ll never see their own children land a good job that supports a family.
And that’s why, even as I will keep on offering my own ideas for expanding opportunity, I’ll also keep challenging and welcoming those who oppose my ideas to offer their own. If Republicans have concrete plans that will actually reduce inequality, build the middle class, provide moral ladders of opportunity to the poor, let’s hear them. I want to know what they are. If you don’t think we should raise the minimum wage, let’s hear your idea to increase people’s earnings. If you don’t think every child should have access to preschool, tell us what you’d do differently to give them a better shot.As a hardcore conservative himself, he will continue offering us up on the free market altar, continue trying to lick Republican boots even as they pretend to kick him in the teeth, all part of the never-ending saga that is "Leave Poor Obama Alone" status quo tribalistic kabuki.
Look, I’ve never believed that government can solve every problem, or should, and neither have you. We know that ultimately, our strength is grounded in our people, individuals out there striving, working, making things happen.
It depends on community, a rich and generous sense of community. That’s at the core of what happens at the THEARC here every day. You understand that turning back rising inequality and expanding opportunity requires parents taking responsibility for their kids, kids taking responsibility to work hard. It requires religious leaders who mobilize their congregations to rebuild neighborhoods block by block, requires civic organizations that can help train the unemployed, link them with businesses for the jobs of the future. It requires companies and CEOs to set an example by providing decent wages and salaries and benefits for their workers and a shot for somebody who’s down on his or her luck. We know that’s our strength: our people, our communities, our businesses.As a hardcore conservative in liberal identity politics clothing, he echoes the conservative communitarian mantra of inviting faith-based entities and charities to solve an overwhelming humanitarian crisis. Those many millions down on their luck in the here and now will only be "linked to the jobs of the future." He echoes the hardcore conservative dogma of personal responsibility, agrees that government is not the solution. He relies on the sociopathic, criminal financial class to magically and suddenly grow a conscience and lead by example. There will be no massive federal jobs program, and no New New Deal. There will, however, be a lot of pie in the sky. Remember the Obama administration's "Win the Future" PR campaign? It's simply been rebranded.
He is Ronald Reagan with a D after his name. As they say over at Black Agenda Report, he is the more effective evil.
Oh, and I almost forgot:
Thank you, everybody. God bless you. God bless America. (Applause.) Thank you. (Cheers, applause.)********************************************************************
P.S. New York Times pieces, here and here; you can scroll down a-ways under "reader picks" to read my comments, which pretty much echo what I wrote here. I was happy to note that Obama's speech went over like a lead balloon with most of the hoi polloi.