Friday, September 30, 2011

End-of-Week Political Commentary: Frank Rich, Robert Scheer, Robert Reich

Frank Rich is doubtful that the vacuous "vanilla centrism" invented by beltway elites of both parties to comfort (and con) the American people (Michael Gerson likes to shop around the phrase "reassuring center") will prove to be anything like salvation, in the age of values-lite pragmatic Obamian sell-out bipartisanship: 

This delusional faith in comity reached its apotheosis in the debt-ceiling showdown. With the reliable exception of Paul Krugman, who shuns Washington and calls centrism “the cult that is destroying America,” almost every Establishment observer in our own time bought into the magical thinking that the radical Republicans would never go so far as to risk a default of the American government. Only when the tea-party cabal in the House took Washington hostage did it fully dawn on the Beltway gentry that the country was in danger. But even now, Obama keeps being urged to make nice with the rebels so that he can woo independents, who, we’re constantly told, value bipartisanship every bit as much as the pundits do. The “all-important independent voters,” as the “Lexington” columnist at The Economist recycled the conventional wisdom earlier this month, “are said to be looking for a president who defuses partisan tensions, rather than inflaming them.” Said by whom? Mainly other Washington bloviators.

Did Rich really intend to write "nadir" where he writes "apotheosis," I wonder? 

And Robert Scheer reminds us of the exact price the Obama administration has paid, from the outset, for its sell-out bipartisanship centrism: 

With the Geithner appointment, and the even more disturbing selection of Lawrence Summers to be his top economic adviser, Obama sealed his own fate as president. By turning to those disciples of Clinton-era Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, a prime enabler of Wall Street greed, the new president fatally betrayed his promise of hope.

If you still need confirmation of just how decisive a betrayal those appointments were, check out Ron Suskind’s new book, “Confidence Men,” a devastating insider account of the Obama White House that clearly identifies as the source of this president’s failure “Rubin’s B-Team,” Summers and Geithner, “two men whose actions had contributed to the very financial disaster they were hired to solve.” Suskind quotes then-Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., one of the few who dared stand up to the Wall Street lobbyists, as telling Obama, “I don’t understand how you could do this; you’ve picked the wrong people!” 

I'm still amazed at the number of presumably well-educated Americans for whom the term "centrism" continues to act as a magical talisman, one that shuts down the kind of critical thinking necessary to make headway in almost any situation requiring choice and decisive action.  Forward movement within institutions and social structures requires making decisions on the basis of foundational principles that don't waver according to prevailing political winds.  It means putting one's cards on the table and avowing the interests and commitments one brings to the table.

It means taking sides and choosing to view social structures through the eyes of either the powerful and privileged or those without power and privilege.  And for people of faith, that criterion--the question of how social structures and political decisions affect the least among us--always has to be determinative, as we fashion our political commitments and make our political choices.

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