Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Obama's Passive Aggression: It's the Economy

Obama’s Passive Aggression: It’s the Economy
P. Schultz
January 29, 2014

            “But average wages have barely budged. Inequality has deepened. Upward mobility has stalled.”

            Here, in three short sentences, Obama reveals a lot about our politics. Note the use of the passive voice: “average wages have barely budged,” and “Inequality has deepened,” and “Upward mobility has stalled.” Obama makes it sound as if these were just “facts of life” in, what the NY Times calls, “the modern economy.” [And note should taken as well of the Times’ language, to wit: “he positioned himself as a champion of those left behind in the modern economy,” by which the Times means “left behind by the modern economy.”]

            But if these phenomena, wages, inequality, and upward mobility are facts of life, they are political facts of life. That is, they are the results of political choices that have been made in the past and that will be made in the future. These “things” are not the inevitable products of our “modern economy,” but are the results of how our government has structured that economy.

            Of course, by talking in this way, Obama does not need to offer a critique of those political choices that have led to these phenomena. And, in another facet of his slight of hand, by not making such a critique, Obama has paved the way for the Republicans and others to prevail, by and large, in their arguments that attempts to remedy these phenomena must not interfere with what are taken to be the economic facts of life. In other words, Obama has set the stage for the continuation of the status quo.

            And while I am pointing out the parameters of Obama’s speech, take note too that his announcement that he is going to employ “the defiant “with or without Congress” approach” takes attention away from what he is proposing and puts it on how he is proposing to do it. Even the Times picked up on this: “But the defiant “with or without Congress” approach was more assertive than any of the individual policies he advanced.” Although I would argue that, taken in its context, this approach is not “assertive” at all. It is just another illustration of the president’s passivity in light of stymied wages, unacceptable inequality, and stalled upward mobility.

            And so we continue on the path we have been on for a long time, perhaps best encapsulated by Bill Clinton’s mantra during the 1992 presidential campaign, “It’s the economy, stupid.” As I characterized this in my book, Governing America, the expression should be, “It’s the economy that makes us stupid.” And I can now add, “It’s the economy that makes us passive aggressive.” And this is not good.

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