I was driving around running errands yesterday and listening to Radio Times host Marty Moss-Coanes interview the fiery Progressive Jane Hamsher of Firedoglake and the moderate journalist John H. Richardson who writes regularly for Esquire. The two guests butted heads over whether Obama has delivered on his campaign promises or not, with Hamsher taking the critical-from-the-Left position and Richardson taking a firmly centrist position. It was a lively exchange. But what really caught my ear was a statement Richardson made in which he made a wonderfully revealing Freudian slip. The topic of the moment was Obama’s handling of the economy. After Hamsher pointed out that she had joined Grover Norquist and Ron Paul (among other opinion leaders, Left and Right) in calling for an audit of Ben Bernanke‘s performance as Fed chairman, Richardson responded with a defense of Obama that included this statement:
I wouldn’t say that the Democrats in general, or Obama — as people like Ron Paul are accusing — are selling out to Wall Street and giving Goldman Sachs the keys to the government. […] While you might dispute individual decisions … you know — Wall Street and Capitalism … blood is the money that flows through our system.
It’s clear that Richardson, in attempting a common cliché, let slip the nasty truth about capitalism as practiced by our multi-national predatory elites. While I agree with him that Obama has, in fact, accomplished a lot of good things in the first year of his first term, I think Hamsher’s larger argument — that Obama has by and large supported the interests of these elites — is indisputable. She is wrong that this is some kind of betrayal, of course: Obama has always been a moderate and campaigned as a centrist liberal, the hysterical cries of “Socialist” from the Right notwithstanding.
What the debate between Hamsher and Richardson illustrates so vividly is that we are in the midst of a once-in-a-generation political paradigm shift comparable to the one we experienced under Ronald Reagan. Just as that earlier shift went far beyond even Reagan’s most regressive tendencies, this one is likely to go beyond Obama’s most Progressive intentions. That centrists like Richardson don’t grasp the enormity of the shift is clear from the following exchange:
RICHARDSON: It’s like the public option. There’s one thing that the people want, and then there’s Congress. […] Most of the people want it, but what can [Obama] get through Congress is a different question. […] If [health care reform legislation] comes out less than ideal I won’t really be surprised. It’s not a dictatorship.
HAMSHER: I find it really funny that when when the President campaigns on giving a public option, the Speaker of the House insists that there will be one, there are sixty Democrats and members of the Democratic caucus in the Senate, and three-quarters of country say they want one, that lobbyists can spend 1.4 million dollars a day on the Hill trying to kill one — and somehow it’s a dictatorship if we expect the President and the party to come through on that.
The demand that our elected officials be accountable to the people and not to the lobbyist cadres funded by corporate elites is more than Populism, it seems to me. It indicates a fundamental disaffection with the corporatism that has for so long masqueraded as capitalism. Jane Hamsher and Ron Paul attack politicians from entirely different perspectives based on a single shared understanding: what’s good for the elites is not necessarily good for the rest of us. And the rest of us is what America should be about.