MILQUETOAST

The culture industry – Hollywood, New York publishing giants, the internet – long ago figured out that being inoffensive is a very effective way to make money. Yes, some bands make record companies a lot of money by being loud and jarring, but their bread and butter is the muzak / mainstream "adult contemporary" stuff – James Taylor, Celine Dion, Air Supply, Eric Clapton, and so on. Some Hollywood movies are cutting edge, but the most reliable moneymakers are mainstream genre films (romantic comedies, crime dramas, etc.) with dull, bankable stars despite the fact that you will forget about these movies five minutes after they end. The collected work of David Foster Wallace didn't produce the profit of just one of the Danielle Steele novels churned out every few months for the last 20 years.

It is patently clear at this point that President Obama believes in the political equivalent of this kind of product and has oriented his presidency toward the soft, mushy, forgettable middle. It's as if he's trying to be mediocre; if he is, Mission Accomplished. In the rush to declare victory after the budget deal that averted a government shutdown, the President had this to say late Friday evening:

Tomorrow, I’m pleased to announce that the Washington Monument, as well as the entire federal government, will be open for business. And that's because today Americans of different beliefs came together again.

In the final hours before our government would have been forced to shut down, leaders in both parties reached an agreement that will allow our small businesses to get the loans they need, our families to get the mortgages they applied for, and hundreds of thousands of Americans to show up at work and take home their paychecks on time, including our brave men and women in uniform.

This agreement between Democrats and Republicans, on behalf of all Americans, is on a budget that invests in our future while making the largest annual spending cut in our history. Like any worthwhile compromise, both sides had to make tough decisions and give ground on issues that were important to them. And I certainly did that.

Is there a market for this? I mean, is there anyone out there who gets excited about how bipartisany and compromisey Obama can be? Who's happy with this "deal"? Republicans certainly aren't going to pat him on the back, as they see the budget cuts as far too small. Democrats wonder why Obama is validating Tea Party rhetoric and treating their talking points about the wisdom of austerity as a starting point for negotiations. "Independents" are probably just confused about why they should care about deep cuts in things they like in order to chop a tiny amount of cash off the deficit. Who in the hell celebrates this as a victory?

As I like to remind everyone, Obama sees compromise as an end, not a means…as if people are thrilled by compromise itself irrespective of whether problems get solved. We are supposed to overlook the fact that caving to the austerity movement is a terrible idea from the liberal perspective and that spending cuts are far too small from the conservative point of view.

There may be an audience for Air Supply and Sandra Bullock movies, but in politics the middle of the road is usually populated with roadkill. If the President expects people to rise up in celebration of mediocre policy outcomes and problems that never seem to get any better, he is going to be sorely disappointed. At this point it will be more a matter of fortune than strategy if he gets re-elected, which is a polite way of saying that the weakness (and borderline insanity) of the GOP field is more likely to save him than his heroic ability to give John Boehner what he wants in order to bolster his compromise count.

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40 Responses to “MILQUETOAST”

  1. Mike Says:

    Leave Air Supply out of President Obama being rolled by his opposition!

  2. HoosierPoli Says:

    Obama, god bless him, is still treating the Republicans like the Party of Lincoln and not as the toilet scum that they are. But we do have to recognize that in a political environment where nihilistic obstructionism is seen as THE political winner for the opponent party, getting anything at all passed ever is in some sense a win. "A barely-functioning federal government" really shouldn't have to be the Democrats best-case scenario, but this is the state of play at the moment.

    Why won't the Boomers just die and give us the political discourse back?

  3. Eastriver Says:

    Think of it this way: Obama is actually a republican.

    It all makes sense now, doesn't it?

  4. Zeb Says:

    I am just continually amazed by the inability of the Democrats to redefine the terms of the debate. 'Austerity' and spending cuts are now, suddenly, the paragon of government virtue. I suppose it is a natural consequence of allowing Republicans to define government for the last thirty years as something inherently evil and broken and incompetent and fearfully clever, a contradictory set of descriptors now rooted in the American imagination.

    Just as single-payer was immediately thrown out the window when the debate over healthcare began, the alternative to massive cuts–raising revenue–is somehow, magically, beyond the pale. Everyone needs to cut back and sacrifice–except the wealthy. Obama is the guy who goes to a dealership and somehow pays MORE than sticker price for a shitty car.

    If it weren't so clearly leading to the decline of this nation, one would almost have to admire the cleverness of the Republicans and their frame shifts of the political spectrum.

  5. eau Says:

    OK, so Obama is keen on compromise.

    But, as has been asked here so many times, what choice does he have?

    Seriously, someone suggest… something…

    ed…?

    anybody…?

  6. SaltyJustice Says:

    @eau
    Do nothing.
    Say you want to do stuff, but your opposition is preventing you.
    If shit falls apart, it's their fault and everyone knows it.
    If shit actually gets better, take credit (since you were in office).

    This is political dirty-pool and has nothing to do with running a functioning government, but I can safely say it works since it's the only reason Conservatives and Liberals keep getting elected in Canada. The two parties get nothing done of any import to anyone and just blame each other when everything goes pear-shaped, causing them to switch places every few elections.

    If Obama wants to look good, this is what he has to do. In both cases (Compromise and Do Nothing) the will of the rich gets executed so at this point only his appearance to the people will affect his legacy.

  7. Zeb Says:

    @eau

    The Democrats need to become more like Republicans in methods and less like them in policy. Learning how to wrest control of the popular discourse and shift the center of the American political spectrum to the left would be best, but that is obviously easier said than done. Somehow, Republicans have figured out how to do this very effectively and Democrats have had little to counter it, save parts of the '08 election. It helps, of course, when you have a dedicated media arm (Fox and AM radio) to do your bidding…

  8. Noskilz Says:

    I think he's mostly just trying to ketchup-up a shit sandwich while being completely unwilling to do much of anything to change the menu. That whacky "nothing succeeds like success" so call the end result a victory and hope no one notices he got rolled like a carpet.

    But I also think you're dead on that he seems to think his job is to cut deals, and as long as those deals coming, he's seems to act as if he's doing his job. Pity he doesn't seem to be able to negotiate his way out of a wet paper bag, or recognize when maybe he's just cut an incredibly stupid deal. If Think Progress is accurrate in their numbers on the new cuts and last year's tax deal, it's an ugly situation, and we still have the debt ceiling business and the 2012 budget to look forward to.

    I'm certainly pleased that the administration and congressional democrats did hold fast on those riders – so apparently they aren't completely suicidal – but why did they add additional cuts and throw in the DC thing when even the loopier GOP players like Bachmann, Huckabee and West seemed to be panicking on Friday afternoon?

    The situation doesn't give me much hope of Obama or the Democrats in congress finding their collective spines, and while I won't be surprised if the GOP manages to basically self destruct as far as the general public is concerned, they're going to make a heck of a mess on the way down. Doesn't really give one much hope of a second Obama term being much different from the first, does it? When both houses were under democratic control and the GOP was in full-obstruction mode, Obama didn't seem to act as if he recognized they had every intention of screwing him over at every opportunity provided, and that's what they did, and continue to do. I'd hope it finally registered, but it doesn't seem that way, and I don't think much of the public is going to consider acting like your pleased to have been put through the wringer as particularly presidential.

  9. Southern Beale Says:

    Budgets have consequences. If you're going to pay for the WellPoint CEO's tax cut on the backs of the poor and sick, people will die. This isn't hyperbole: it's a story from my local paper's Sunday obituaries.

    I can't believe we're even talking about this. That people are saying this is a "resonable" position to take. What the fuck happened to America? Hell yeah I want my country back … from the crazies!

  10. The Man, The Myth Says:

    I get it Dems play the game of Charlie Brown kicking the Lucy football very well. I'm trying to imagine a more positive thing to say about the non-shutdown. Obama and Reid did avert a total collapse of the multiple government services people use, but are not aware of and take for granted, on an ongoing basis. In a way it would have been nice if they could have shut it down for a day or a week or some other short period of time simply to show people what type of government services they enjoy and are not even aware of. It becomes a story of how do you prove a negative…

  11. Hawes Says:

    I don't know. It worked for Clinton. It exasperates me that he seems to think he has to praise the deal, but the deal itself was inevitable once the 2010 results came in.

    As Josh Marshall says, What matters is what comes next.

    I don't care what he said about the deal. I'm glad the recovery won't be threatened by a long shutdown.

    But he needs to "heighten the contradictions" between the Democrats and the GOP/Ryan budget.

    And has there ever been a president less willing to act like Lenin in our lifetimes?

  12. acer Says:

    Hoosier might have it. I hope not. But owing to their once-a-millenium good luck, the Boomer Atlases happily ceded the economic debate to the Party of Bonzo 30 years ago and won't let us have it back. And their nativist teabagger stooges will never get past the Cadillac Welfare Queen narrative. Fortunately, they'll all be worm chow in, like, 30 more fucking years.

    Sorry to all the good, butthurt boomer readers. Beat the shit out of David Brooks and we're square.

  13. Kulkuri Says:

    Here's some thoughts by Horsey at SeattlePI about our first Hawaiian President.
    This is as good an explaination of how Obama operates as anything I've seen anywhere>

  14. Da Moose Says:

    Could not agree more. I've been saying since day one that, a hundred years from now, Obama's most notable achievement will be that he simply got elected. The dude has a messiah complex, thinks that if he's negotiated some kind of compromise that it's all good. The man's an ego maniac. Six month hiatus on a troop decision on Afghanistanachusetts only to give the military exactly what it wants. Come on! This guy couldn't take a stand even if splints were tied to his legs. Who's next? Bring on the most fascist GOPer we can find and let's get this over with. Petraeus for Pres.

  15. Monkey Business Says:

    Here's the problem: the GOP, over the last 30 years, has found itself squeezed into a smaller and smaller demographic group, due to immigration, birth rates, etc. Simply put, there just aren't as many white people anymore. The benefit of being squeezed like that is that even though your views play with a smaller part of the electorate, you can more effectively pander to the part you play at because they want to hear similar things.

    In contrast, over the last 30 years Democrats have come to represent a much larger chunk of the overall population. This leads to competing viewpoints, and a lack of party discipline.

    So, you have the GOP, who represent a much smaller part of the population, but can maintain message discipline because the message is pretty universal, and the Democrats, who represent most of us, but can be split up because the interests of individual members across the party may not perfectly align with what's going on within the party.

    Long story short, Obama has to compromise with the Republicans to accomplish anything, because his party isn't capable of enforcing the kind of discipline to get everyone on board with his plans. Consequently, the debate gets dragged to the right.

  16. zalf Says:

    The knee-jerk "anti-boomer" rhetoric on this site and in the commentary is so old, trite, and false. Blaming an entire generation for the problems we currently face is built on the same bullshit logic that leads certain conservatives to blame hispanic migrants for the loss of the "real" America. In each case it is as if this group in question (migrants/boomer generation) is somehow alien and motivated by values (in the boomers case, apparently selfish-greedy values) that are unique to them. What do you all think will happen once all the boomers die? Will those who have economic/political power in the future not own to maximize their own self-interes with little regard for future generations? You anti-boomers have the story backwards: it is not about the "values" of the boomers, it is about the opportunity to exploit the system.

  17. Edward Says:

    I think the kind of politics we end up with is shaped by Wall Street and the corporate mass media. Barak Obama wasn't born, he was created.

  18. zalf Says:

    ^ *attempt, not "own"

  19. Entomologista Says:

    I read a lot of bullshit from acquaintances on Facebook about how all politicians are exactly the same and all political positions are exactly the same, so we should make policy decisions by picking randomly from a hat. There may actually be a fair number of people out there who just have a knee-jerk hatred of any heated discussion, and to whom this compromise stuff would appeal. Or maybe I just know a lot of idiots.

  20. Drinking Jim Crow Says:

    What Monkey Business said.

    It's a whole lot easier to lead an ideologically, psychologically, and demographically homogeneous crew, equipped with monomaniacal focus on one goal: expanding the power and control of the wealthy, than it is to lead a rag-tag group of long-time political misfits just starting to come into their own.

  21. Bob Says:

    HossierPoli: “Why won't the Boomers just die and give us the political discourse back?”
    You know it’s probably not a good idea to utilize the favorite tactic of the conservative movement – divide and conquer – in a comment criticizing the Republicans. Just sayin’….
    Zeb: Single payer has as much chance of passing as Sharia Law. Not wasting your time with pie-in-the-sky nonsense hardly strikes me as a failing – entering negotiations asking for the moon might make sense in kindergarten but among tough politicians it marks you as a fool not to be taken seriously. Negotiate what’s possible – not the most extreme never-gonna-happen position.
    That said, Obama needs more spine and the Democratic Party needs some basic lessons in framing the debate.

  22. mother earth Says:

    Part of the problem with Obama, the media and public projected this hero, savior image onto him. He just didn't have that much of a public record to reveal his true political personality. Middle of the road compromiser seems to sum him up. Who knew?

    Don't sweat the Boomers, we've started dying off, but it's only just begun. In a mere 15 years, the males of this generation will be an endangered species.

  23. Monkey Business Says:

    @Bob: The GOP came into the budget negotiations demanding that the EPA be defunded, the ACA be defunded, and Planned Parenthood be defunded. I'd say all of those things had about as much chance of getting through the Senate and the President as single payer does. When you enter negotiations with a crazy opponent, and you start from a reasonable position, all they will do is pull you further onto their side of the fence. You have to start from equal positions; i.e. just as crazy.

  24. Monkey Business Says:

    @mother earth: My great concern is that the Boomers won't die off fast enough. 15 years is a very long time. I'll be 42 by then. Why can't they die off now?

  25. anotherbozo Says:

    Even Ed's typically insightful analysis doesn't completely satisfy where Obama is concerned. The guy's personal self-assurance fascinates me: if it's all an act, he's performing it 24/7. If he meant his campaign promises at the time he made them, maybe we chalk that up to naiveté. Whatever his stated politics (which I sometime ago, ahem, identified as Rockefeller Republican), by temperament I think he's a referee: he's really not a policy maker or visionary but a conciliator. Also, he wants to get re-elected and thinks peacemaker will fill that bill. Someone said that a man who stands in the middle of the road gets hit from both directions, but I like Ed's "roadkill" analogy better.

    And what's all this crap about boomers? Technically I'm older than a boomer (Jim Hightower's age, a year younger than Mario Savio, two years younger than Barbara Ehrenreich), but if boomers were those born between '46 and '54, then there are a whole slew of personal heroes in there: Bob Herbert, Frank Rich, Robert Frank, Michael Moore, Arianna Huffington… I can add to this list later, as time permits, but God! like Zalf says. In spades.

  26. Da Moose Says:

    I agree that boomers are not the problem though the ruling class of boomers highly frustrates me. I personally know some early 20s millenials who are so friggin self-absorbed, self-indulgent and spoiled I fear for the state of the country when they gain power. The Xers, of which I am a part, are sandwiched between these two generations. We're lazy pot smokers. Apathy is just as bad as active immorality. The problem is larger. It's a cultural one. Our culture is extremely ill. Carter had it right 30 years ago. How many of us have actually moved to a consciousness beyond the demands of the id and the ego? Not many. We are a nation of monkeys that happen to know how to clothe themselves in the morning and, at times, properly operate heavy machinery. A nation of "NIMBY, but give me, give me, give me" assholes is a nation stamped with an expiration date.

  27. butler Says:

    Citizens United changed everything. The Obama Administration and the Democratic Party leadership have understood that to survive, they must address the needs of their corporate constituency first and foremost. There was a damn good article recently in Vanity Fair by Joseph Stiglitz entitled *Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%*:

    http://www.vanityfair.com/society/features/2011/05/top-one-percent-201105

    … from which perspective even the most liberal policy making can be seen as mere noblesse oblige.

    If we want anything different from the democratic party, IMHO we need to find a way to hold it accountable for throwing progressives under a bus and licking corporate rectum, but without handing elections to the right. The only glimmer of hope I see for this is via advancing the members and agenda of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, wherever possible at the expense of rethugs in dem clothing.

    BTW, re: "Why won't the Boomers just die and give us the political discourse back?"

    … this kind of spineless tripe is, of course, a big part of the problem. We are a nation of whiners w/ a feeling of entitlement that defies all reason and like the writer of this divisive and bigoted horseshit, this includes many supposedly on the left. We expect not to have to think or act, and that our desires should be granted via some form of manifest destiny. All the while we search for some kind of "other" to blame for problems which are at least partially attributable to our own lazy refusal to analyze, think critically, and act.

    Sorry, not quite ready for the ice floe yet, kiss my ass.

  28. butler Says:

    Oh, excuse me, I meant "writers" plural, not just "writer".

  29. johnsmith1882 Says:

    What Monkey Business said. Or, I'll put it a little more bluntly; why the hell didn't the Democrats pass a budget last year when they had majorities in both houses. A bunch of pansy limp dicks who can't accomplish anything in two years besides a healthcare plan that pleases no one. What did they do last year between passing healthcare in January and the last-minute stuff in December, anything? I'm not exonerating Obama completely here, but he defined his role from the beginning: he was going to play grown up serious adult in the room while the two sides flung poo at each other. Well, one side is doing the expected flinging, the other side is covered in poo. And again, what Monkey Business said, the Democrats need to come at this from much much further from the left. Starting at the point that should be the end result, and then bargaining, gets you exactly what we saw last week; giving away more than what the Republicans originally asked for.

    I will say this about Obama. His plan to be unveiled on Wednesday had better include expiring the tax cuts for the rich. He better start getting the base excited, start giving us some shit we have been waiting two years for (and which, you know, will actually cut the deficit and benefit the country). Otherwise, get ready for the fascist demagoguery of President Nutjob, whichever one it ends up being, because kicking your base in the teeth ain't gonna produce a victory next year.

  30. Middle Seaman Says:

    Obama never get a compromise; he simply gives in. The shutdown is a great example. The Repus wanted $61 billions, Obama gave them $80. That's closer to French surrender than to anything else.

    The reason that he accomplishes nothing is because he wants nothing. Remember early 2008; Hillary and Edwards offered health care reform; Obama didn't. He joined when he realized that not joining means bye bye to his primary hope. (We wish he didn't join; we would have a president with brain and balls, Hillary. Now we have a dysfunctional idiot.)

    The simplest solution: Obama is a nobody with no backbone; Bush was also a nobody but he had a backbone.

  31. leftwingforester Says:

    "Why won't the boomers just die and give us the political discourse back?"

    What the hell is that supposed to mean?? Boomers are all radical right wingers and if they would go away everything would be OK??

    I hate to rain on your little parade, but all those old codgers you saw at tea party rallies a couple of summers ago weren't Boomers.
    Just to clarify– Boomers are defined as being born between 1946 and 1964, i.e., they are between the ages of 47 and 65. The verrrrry oldest are just now applying for medicare and the vast majority of them are busting their humps at their jobs (or looking for work), not wearing tri-corner hats and sporting ignorant signs at bogus astro-turf rallies.

  32. wetcasements Says:

    David Broder is smiling in his grave.

  33. RMGHicks Says:

    @Monkey Business – Sadly – one the stupidest comments I've ever seen on a blog – and I've seen a few. Interestingly – this is EXACTLY what the top 1% want. They redirect the message forcing the other 99% to squabble amongst themselves for the scraps. Creating a food fight for the leftovers is not a valid option. We have to take back our rightful seat at the table. The middle class protests going on in several states are a start.

    As for the other – I'm in my late 40s – sort of at the border of Gen X/Y. Sorry sweetheart – not ready to kick the bucket. You should be ashamed of that comment. Even more so because you are simply playing into the hands of those who want to make sure you end up with nothing.

  34. Arslan Amirkhanov Says:

    "Single payer has as much chance of passing as Sharia Law. Not wasting your time with pie-in-the-sky nonsense hardly strikes me as a failing – entering negotiations asking for the moon might make sense in kindergarten but among tough politicians it marks you as a fool not to be taken seriously. "

    Ah yes, single payer, that crazy pie-in-the-sky pipe dream that happens to exist in every industrialized country(and some developing countries) save for the US of A.

    But seriously, you are totally right, Obama HAS taken a stand and accomplished a lot. For example, he asked the Republicans if he could have permission to run for reelection, and they TOTALLY caved!!! Way to go Obama!!! CHANGE!!! HOPE!! MORE FUNDING FOR SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH THAT DOESN'T SOLVE ANY OF OUR CURRENT PROBLEMS AND MAY YIELD NOTHING FOR AT LEAST 20-30 YEARS!!!

  35. Me Says:

    He's doing it for David Broder. RI..oh never mind.

  36. Zeb Says:

    @Arlan

    I was with you until the anti-science funding stuff. Science funding is as important as anything government does, and the cutting of the NIH's budget is one of the most egregious aspects of this deal.

  37. Bob Says:

    "Ah yes, single payer, that crazy pie-in-the-sky pipe dream that happens to exist in every industrialized country(and some developing countries) save for the US of A."
    Sadly, no. Take the OECD – 34 nations, all of which now (since the passage of Obamacare) have some form of national health care. How it's provided ranges from England, where the entire medical industry is government controlled, to Switzerland, which has a plan suspiciously like the one just passed here: you are required to carry insurance which you buy from regulated private insurance companies.
    National health care is not a synonym for single payer.