About Last Night: The Shock Doctrine Reversed
By Al Giordano
After offering the soundbite heard ‘round the world - "We will rebuild, we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before" - the President proceeded to make the case for three big domestic spending priorities: energy, health care, and education:
"The fact is, our economy did not fall into decline overnight. Nor did all of our problems begin when the housing market collapsed or the stock market sank. We have known for decades that our survival depends on finding new sources of energy. Yet we import more oil today than ever before. The cost of health care eats up more and more of our savings each year, yet we keep delaying reform. Our children will compete for jobs in a global economy that too many of our schools do not prepare them for. "
Those who liked to complain in recent weeks that the $787 billion dollar Stimulus Package was "not enough" behaved as if it were the only spending that would be proposed ever again from here to eternity. Yet we've already seen, just one day after the signing of the Stimulus, the rollout of $75 billion toward saving family homes during this housing crisis. And we'll look in a moment at what Obama, according to his speech last night, has on the docket for the immediate future.
First, it's important to note what is really going on here: The Obama-Axelrod-Emanuel war room has taken Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine - the observation that those in power use times of crisis to supplant the state with private sector capitalism - and turned it on its head. Instead, they're using the current economic crisis to bring back the New Deal (government stimulation of the economy and firmer regulation of the corporate sector) and the Great Society (domestic and social programs to create a safety net for American workers and the poor).
Obama basically admitted it last night:
"History reminds us that at every moment of economic upheaval and transformation, this nation has responded with bold action and big ideas. In the midst of civil war, we laid railroad tracks from one coast to another that spurred commerce and industry. From the turmoil of the Industrial Revolution came a system of public high schools that prepared our citizens for a new age. In the wake of war and depression, the GI Bill sent a generation to college and created the largest middle-class in history. And a twilight struggle for freedom led to a nation of highways, an American on the moon, and an explosion of technology that still shapes our world."
Regarding energy, the President said:
"But to truly transform our economy, protect our security, and save our planet from the ravages of climate change, we need to ultimately make clean, renewable energy the profitable kind of energy. So I ask this Congress to send me legislation that places a market-based cap on carbon pollution and drives the production of more renewable energy in America. And to support that innovation, we will invest fifteen billion dollars a year to develop technologies like wind power and solar power; advanced biofuels, clean coal, and more fuel-efficient cars and trucks built right here in America."
As part of that he cited a commitment to "a re-tooled, re-imagined auto industry that can compete and win. Millions of jobs depend on it. Scores of communities depend on it. And I believe the nation that invented the automobile cannot walk away from it."
Regarding health care, the President boomed, "we can no longer afford to put health care reform on hold.":
"Already, we have done more to advance the cause of health care reform in the last thirty days than we have in the last decade. When it was days old, this Congress passed a law to provide and protect health insurance for eleven million American children whose parents work full-time. Our recovery plan will invest in electronic health records and new technology that will reduce errors, bring down costs, ensure privacy, and save lives. It will launch a new effort to conquer a disease that has touched the life of nearly every American by seeking a cure for cancer in our time. And it makes the largest investment ever in preventive care, because that is one of the best ways to keep our people healthy and our costs under control.
"This budget builds on these reforms. It includes an historic commitment to comprehensive health care reform - a down-payment on the principle that we must have quality, affordable health care for every American."
I didn't hear a single TV pundit last night or today pick up on what Obama is really up to here. It's in the bold type: "This budget builds on these reforms." He was talking about the budget he is about to propose. The next steps in creating national universal health care will come not in separate legislation which requires 60 out of 99 US Senate votes, but, rather, as part of the budget bill that, according to Congressional rules, needs simply a majority - 50 votes - to be passed and which cannot be subject to opposition filibuster.
That was exactly the point in the speech when Senate Republicans got those long unhappy looks on their faces. He had just ripped from them their only obstructionist power. They shifted nervously in their seats and scrunched their "holy crap" scowls. Skilled politicians all, they knew their goose had just been cooked. It was at that point in the speech that, after a couple of minutes of coming to grips with the new rules, they began to make a show of applause and standing ovations for the cameras. If you can't beat Obama, join him. It was a beautiful play to watch.
Regarding education, the President has just pledged that any American that wants to go to college or get vocational training will be able to do so:
"I know that the price of tuition is higher than ever, which is why if you are willing to volunteer in your neighborhood or give back to your community or serve your country, we will make sure that you can afford a higher education. And to encourage a renewed spirit of national service for this and future generations, I ask this Congress to send me the bipartisan legislation that bears the name of Senator Orrin Hatch as well as an American who has never stopped asking what he can do for his country - Senator Edward Kennedy."
There was much more tucked into this speech: the coming regulation of financial industries and the "I get it" moment regarding the bankers and bosses were especially notable. And the pledge to cut the budget deficit in half - down to $533 billion - in his first term will also bring some interesting new moves in progressive taxation and finally in doing what Bill Clinton failed to do: "reform our defense budget so that we're not paying for Cold War-era weapons systems we don't use."
The only complaint I heard from anywhere on the left about Obama's first nationally televised speech to Congress regarded the President's revelation of the plan to withdraw all combat troops from Iraq in 19 months (that's down three from the 16-month plan announced in Iowa in 2007, but, really, it still ends the war before the 2010 elections, and what must be dismantled has just been through more than 70 months of escalation so it's a bomb not easily disarmed). If anyone wants to complain about that, good luck to ‘em. Nineteen months sounds damn good to most war-fatigued citizens and soldiers compared to what would have been had some others won the White House instead.
Last night, the President again proved the Chicken Littles wrong (I'm lookin' especially at Paul Krugman, and at those who almost religiously took the New York Timesman's words as economic Gospel, or at least as an excuse to cluck about falling skies). The Stimulus Package merely got the hard stuff through. It was the down payment. It's going to be very tough-to-impossible for the Republicans to get Senate unanimity against the energy and education spending bills to come. And by putting the first steps toward national health care into the budget, the President has just erased their ability to obstruct that, too.
All three of those big items will also add to the economic stimulus - creating and preserving jobs and giving those workers money to spend - as they simultaneously tackle the long overdue crises in energy, health care and education.
Update: And right on cue, word is out that the budget the White House proposes tomorrow will include a $634 billion dollar ten-year health care "reserve fund." Here's how that will work: First, pass the expenditure, then make the Republicans and other interests fight over how to spend it, rather than the ideological issue of whether to spend it.
Also: If you're not a regular reader of the comments section here, I highly recommend it. We've got a very interesting discussion about those who are trying to push Obama to reverse his campaign pledge against mandating that all Americans buy insurance company policies. I often add many of my own more detailed thoughts in the comments section, as I do on this thread.