Saturday, October 30, 2010

Grassroots Education, Organization, and Mobilization Is What is Needed Now--Not Mindless Messianism


Very well expressed and truthful statement that goes to the very heart and soul of what we as citizens MUST remember to do at all times no matter what the President does or doesn't do--now or in the future...


He's a Man, not a Messiah: Barack Obama and the Dangers of Political & Cultural Messianism

by V.C. Mitchell, Jr.
("The Negro Intellectual")

...We can cry out all we want about what is not happening…we can have marches, we can have satirical and cynical marches (Restore Sanity/Keep Fear Alive), but at some point there must be some collective, organized action. The same type of action that compelled Jo Ann Robinson to run off thousands and thousands of copies on mimeograph machine for the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The same kind of action that it took to get Obama elected must be used to hold him accountable to the things he said on the campaign trail.

Being politically melancholy is what the conservatives, neo cons, ‘birthers’, Tea Party and every other type of sane (and insane) entity that stands against Obama wants from us. I’m not saying to support him blindly, that is foolish in any situation, but to just give up, to just sour yourselves and those around you is lazy and irresponsible, just like the journalistic efforts at Fox News.

We need to think about the bigger picture here. Obama will be in office for one term or two and we need to make the most of it no matter what it is because the alternative that is building among the conservative opposition will be a leviathan like you have never seen. If elected November 2 or in 2012, the GOP will implement policy that would make Ronald Reagan tremble. Even if Hilary Clinton ran in 2012 or 2016, she will not be able to turn the tide of hate, fear mongering, greed, and insanity that has gripped certain aspects of this nation.

I agree with Howard Zinn when he maintained:

“Where progress has been made, wherever any kind of injustice has been overturned, it’s been because people acted as citizens, and not as politicians. They didn’t just moan. They worked, they acted, they organized, they rioted if necessary to bring their situation to the attention of people in power. And that’s what we have to do today.”

America, we must eat manna before we can have steak. We must continue to work, for there is no final victory in democracy, but sustained entrenched struggle. Can you be frustrated with Obama and his administration? Of course you can. However, take that anger to inform your family, speak to folks in your community, take that anger and use it to organize just as you did when you fought to get Obama elected.

The problem with America, and honestly most nations throughout history, is that we, as citizens typically never really want to do the work it takes to really see societal change through, particularly when we are comfortable. Too many of us fear to do what is really necessary for the change we voted for. Using your vote is only the first step, not the last. The same “backbone” that Cornel West urges Obama to have, we must ALL have.

This is NOT the time to sit down and be armchair progressives and back seat drivers for change. We need people who are going to not just speak the rhetoric of change; we need folks who are going to do the WORK need to implement change. That responsibility cannot be just left to the president to do alone. If he has forgotten, as many suggest, then let us support him and hold not only President Obama, but also ourselves accountable.

At the end of his video letter/conversation, Prof. Cornel West cautioned Obama to not be, “A colorful caretaker of an empire in decline and a culture in decay.” That metaphor is misplaced. We are ALL caretakers of this republic. We elected the president. Obama did not, contrary to popular opinion, elect himself, and we have forgotten that. One person alone cannot do the work of democracy.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Looming Political Catastrophe


Paul Krugman is absolutely 100% right--whether we really wanna hear it or not...Now WHAT are we gonna do about it?...


Op-Ed Columnist

Divided We Fail
New York Times

Barring a huge upset, Republicans will take control of at least one house of Congress next week. How worried should we be by that prospect?

Not very, say some pundits. After all, the last time Republicans controlled Congress while a Democrat lived in the White House was the period from the beginning of 1995 to the end of 2000. And people remember that era as a good time, a time of rapid job creation and responsible budgets. Can we hope for a similar experience now?

No, we can’t. This is going to be terrible. In fact, future historians will probably look back at the 2010 election as a catastrophe for America, one that condemned the nation to years of political chaos and economic weakness.

Start with the politics.

In the late-1990s, Republicans and Democrats were able to work together on some issues. President Obama seems to believe that the same thing can happen again today. In a recent interview with National Journal, he sounded a conciliatory note, saying that Democrats need to have an “appropriate sense of humility,” and that he would “spend more time building consensus.” Good luck with that.

After all, that era of partial cooperation in the 1990s came only after Republicans had tried all-out confrontation, actually shutting down the federal government in an effort to force President Bill Clinton to give in to their demands for big cuts in Medicare.

Now, the government shutdown ended up hurting Republicans politically, and some observers seem to assume that memories of that experience will deter the G.O.P. from being too confrontational this time around. But the lesson current Republicans seem to have drawn from 1995 isn’t that they were too confrontational, it’s that they weren’t confrontational enough.

Another recent interview by National Journal, this one with Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, has received a lot of attention thanks to a headline-grabbing quote: “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”

If you read the full interview, what Mr. McConnell was saying was that, in 1995, Republicans erred by focusing too much on their policy agenda and not enough on destroying the president: “We suffered from some degree of hubris and acted as if the president was irrelevant and we would roll over him. By the summer of 1995, he was already on the way to being re-elected, and we were hanging on for our lives.” So this time around, he implied, they’ll stay focused on bringing down Mr. Obama.

True, Mr. McConnell did say that he might be willing to work with Mr. Obama in certain circumstances — namely, if he’s willing to do a “Clintonian back flip,” taking positions that would find more support among Republicans than in his own party. Of course, this would actually hurt Mr. Obama’s chances of re-election — but that’s the point.

We might add that should any Republicans in Congress find themselves considering the possibility of acting in a statesmanlike, bipartisan manner, they’ll surely reconsider after looking over their shoulder at the Tea Party-types, who will jump on them if they show any signs of being reasonable. The role of the Tea Party is one reason smart observers expect another government shutdown, probably as early as next spring.

Beyond the politics, the crucial difference between the 1990s and now is the state of the economy.

When Republicans took control of Congress in 1994, the U.S. economy had strong fundamentals. Household debt was much lower than it is today. Business investment was surging, in large part thanks to the new opportunities created by information technology — opportunities that were much broader than the follies of the dot-com bubble.

In this favorable environment, economic management was mainly a matter of putting the brakes on the boom, so as to keep the economy from overheating and head off potential inflation. And this was a job the Federal Reserve could do on its own by raising interest rates, without any help from Congress.

Today’s situation is completely different. The economy, weighed down by the debt that households ran up during the Bush-era bubble, is in dire straits; deflation, not inflation, is the clear and present danger. And it’s not at all clear that the Fed has the tools to head off this danger. Right now we very much need active policies on the part of the federal government to get us out of our economic trap.

But we won’t get those policies if Republicans control the House. In fact, if they get their way, we’ll get the worst of both worlds: They’ll refuse to do anything to boost the economy now, claiming to be worried about the deficit, while simultaneously increasing long-run deficits with irresponsible tax cuts — cuts they have already announced won’t have to be offset with spending cuts.

So if the elections go as expected next week, here’s my advice: Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Social Philosophy, U.S. Intellectual History, Political Ideology, and Barack Obama


I agree 100% with the very last paragraph of the article below--I'm an intellectual skeptic as well. This means that I always make a critical assessment of a politician's "philosophy"--pro or con-- strictly on the basis of what they actually do as opposed to simply what they say. In my view one's social philosophy must be practical to be of real use and value or as the prophetic political philosopher and revolutionary social activist Karl Marx once said in a famous statement from 1845:



In Writings of Obama, a Philosophy Is Unearthed
October 27, 2010
New York Times

When the Harvard historian James T. Kloppenberg decided to write about the influences that shaped President Obama’s view of the world, he interviewed the president’s former professors and classmates, combed through his books, essays, and speeches, and even read every article published during the three years Mr. Obama was involved with the Harvard Law Review (“a superb cure for insomnia,” Mr. Kloppenberg said). What he did not do was speak to President Obama.

“He would have had to deny every word,” Mr. Kloppenberg said with a smile. The reason, he explained, is his conclusion that President Obama is a true intellectual — a word that is frequently considered an epithet among populists with a robust suspicion of Ivy League elites.

In New York City last week to give a standing-room-only lecture about his forthcoming intellectual biography, “Reading Obama: Dreams, Hopes, and the American Political Tradition,” Mr. Kloppenberg explained that he sees Mr. Obama as a kind of philosopher president, a rare breed that can be found only a handful of times in American history.

“There’s John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and John Quincy Adams, then Abraham Lincoln and in the 20th century just Woodrow Wilson,” he said.

To Mr. Kloppenberg the philosophy that has guided President Obama most consistently is pragmatism, a uniquely American system of thought developed at the end of the 19th century by William James, John Dewey and Charles Sanders Peirce. It is a philosophy that grew up after Darwin published his theory of evolution and the Civil War reached its bloody end. More and more people were coming to believe that chance rather than providence guided human affairs, and that dogged certainty led to violence.

Pragmatism maintains that people are constantly devising and updating ideas to navigate the world in which they live; it embraces open-minded experimentation and continuing debate. “It is a philosophy for skeptics, not true believers,” Mr. Kloppenberg said.

Those who heard Mr. Kloppenberg present his argument at a conference on intellectual history at the City University of New York’s Graduate Center responded with prolonged applause. “The way he traced Obama’s intellectual influences was fascinating for us, given that Obama’s academic background seems so similar to ours,” said Andrew Hartman, a historian at Illinois State University who helped organize the conference.

Mr. Kloppenberg’s interest in the education of Barack Obama began from a distance. He spent 2008, the election year, at the University of Cambridge in England and found himself in lecture halls and at dinner tables trying to explain who this man was.

Race, temperament and family history are all crucial to understanding the White House’s current occupant, but Mr. Kloppenberg said he chose to focus on one slice of the president’s makeup: his ideas.

In the professor’s analysis the president’s worldview is the product of the country’s long history of extending democracy to disenfranchised groups, as well as the specific ideological upheavals that struck campuses in the 1980s and 1990s. He mentions, for example, that Mr. Obama was at Harvard during “the greatest intellectual ferment in law schools in the 20th century,” when competing theories about race, feminism, realism and constitutional original intent were all battling for ground.

Mr. Obama was ultimately drawn to a cluster of ideas known as civic republicanism or deliberative democracy, Mr. Kloppenberg argues in the book, which Princeton University Press will publish on Sunday. In this view the founding fathers cared as much about continuing a discussion over how to advance the common good as they did about ensuring freedom.

Taking his cue from Madison, Mr. Obama writes in his 2006 book “The Audacity of Hope” that the constitutional framework is “designed to force us into a conversation,” that it offers “a way by which we argue about our future.” This notion of a living document is directly at odds with the conception of Justice Antonin Scalia of the Supreme Court, who has spoken of “the good, old dead Constitution.”

Mr. Kloppenberg compiled a long list of people who he said helped shape Mr. Obama’s thinking and writing, including Weber and Nietzsche, Thoreau and Emerson, Langston Hughes and Ralph Ellison. Contemporary scholars like the historian Gordon Wood, the philosophers John Rawls and Hilary Putnam, the anthropologist Clifford Geertz and the legal theorists Martha Minow and Cass Sunstein (who is now working at the White House) also have a place.

Despite the detailed examination, Mr. Kloppenberg concedes that President Obama remains something of a mystery.

“To critics on the left he seems a tragic failure, a man with so much potential who has not fulfilled the promise of change that partisans predicted for his presidency,” he said. “To the right he is a frightening success, a man who has transformed the federal government and ruined the economy.”

He finds both assessments flawed. Conservatives who argue that Mr. Obama is a socialist or an anti-colonialist (as Dinesh D’Souza does in his book “The Roots of Obama’s Rage”) are far off the mark, he said.

“Adams and Jefferson were the only anti-colonialists whom Obama has been affected by,” he told the audience in New York. “He has a profound love of America.”

And his opposition to inequality stems from Puritan preachers and the social gospel rather than socialism.

As for liberal critics, Mr. Kloppenberg took pains to differentiate the president’s philosophical pragmatism, which assumes that change emerges over decades, from the kind of “vulgar pragmatism” practiced by politicians looking only for expedient compromise. (He gave former President Bill Clinton’s strategy of “triangulation” as an example.)

Not all of the disappointed liberals who attended the lecture in New York were convinced that that distinction can be made so easily. T. J. Jackson Lears, a historian at Rutgers University, wrote in an e-mail that by “showing that Obama comes out of a tradition of philosophical pragmatism, he actually provided a basis for criticizing Obama’s slide into vulgar pragmatism.”

And despite Mr. Kloppenberg’s focus on the president’s intellectual evolution, most listeners wanted to talk about his political record.

“There seemed to be skepticism regarding whether Obama’s intellectual background actually translated into policies that the mostly left-leaning audience could get behind,” Mr. Hartman said. “Several audience members, myself included, probably view Obama the president as a centrist like Clinton rather than a progressive intellectual as painted by Kloppenberg.”

The Clear and Present Danger to Social Democracy, Economic Justice, and Cultural Literacy


The following essay by renowned educational scholar, cultural critic, author, social activist, and radical philosopher Henry Giroux raises profound and very important questions about our current path as a society and culture in the United States and does a scathing critique of how and why our corrupt politics and rapacious economic system-- as well as a general lack of real moral courage and philosophical vision-- is contributing to a very disturbing societal and cultural decline...


Farewell Mon Amour: Prospects on Democracy's Electoral Defeat
Tuesday 26 October 2010
by: Henry A. Giroux, t r u t h o u t | Op-Ed

Something is profoundly wrong with the way we live today. For thirty years we have made a virtue out of the pursuit of material self-interest: indeed, this very pursuit now constitutes whatever remains of our sense of collective purpose. We know what things cost but have no idea what they are worth. We no longer ask of a judicial ruling or a legislative act: is it good? Is it fair? Is it just? Is it right? Will it help bring about a better society or a better world? Those used to be the political questions, even if they invited no easy answers. We must learn once again to pose them. --Tony Judt

In the midst of one of the greatest economic disasters the United States has ever faced, the Gilded Age and its updated "'dreamworlds' of consumption, property and power" have returned from the dead with zombie-like vengeance.(1) Poised now to take over either one or two houses of Congress, the exorbitantly rich along with their conservative ideologues wax nostalgically for a chance to once again emulate that period in 19th century American history when corporations ruled political, economic and social life, and an allegedly rugged entrepreneurial spirit prevailed unchecked by the power of government regulations. Wild West, casino capitalism, unhampered by either ethical considerations or social costs, has reinvented itself and become the politics of choice in this election year. Enthusiasm runs high as billions of dollars flow from hidden coffers into the hands of anti-public politicians, whose only allegiance is to power and the accumulation of capital.

In spite of almost unprecedented levels of inequality, hardship, human suffering and widespread public despair caused by the financial robber barons of Wall Street, the politics and values of Gilded Age excess are now celebrated by conservatives and Tea Party politicians, who define their retrograde politics as "having a flair for business, successfully [breaking] through the stultifying constraints that flowed from the New Deal" and using "their successes and their philanthropy [to make] government less important than it once was."(2) There is more at work here than a neo-feudal world view in which the future can only be measured in immediate financial gains and the amassing of colossal amounts of economic and political power. Massive disparities in wealth and power along with the weakening of worker protections and the destruction of the social state are now legitimated through a set of market-driven values in which politics is measured by the degree to which it evades any sense of actual truth and turns its back on even a vestige of moral responsibility. Under casino capitalism, politics increasingly becomes a front for the legitimation and exercise of ruthless corporate power. As politics loses its social purpose, not only does the state increasingly resort to modes of punishment, but the rules of politics are eviscerated of any moral and social responsibilities. Robber barons now decide the rules, and one consequence of such actions is that politics loses all sense of moral direction. Indeed, under such circumstances, the pathologies of inequality and injustice that cripple viable democracies are now rendered as inevitable and often celebrated as both a cleansing element and condition of politics itself.

If the first rule of robber baron politics is to make power invisible, the second is to make it unaccountable and the third rule is to give as much power as possible to those who revel in barbaric greed, social irresponsibility, unconscionable economic inequity, corrupt politics, resurgent monopolies and an unapologetic racism (parading as an attack on political correctness no less). The mainstream media and its rarely changing talking heads may wax endlessly about the populist anger fueling the current political climate, but it is a tragic mistake to overlook the fact that populism driven by authoritarian politics, while supplying an unmistakable enthusiasm to the current phase of electoral politics, is distinguished by and should be analyzed critically for the threat it poses to a democratic society.

A marauding market fundamentalism now rules most aspects of American life and the ever present and aggressively marketed forces of insecurity, fear, racism and retrograde common sense have become the organizing elements shaping everyday life. Global flows of capital now work in tandem with the logic of deregulation, privatization and commodification, while democracy at home is invoked under the conceit of the all encompassing "war on government," portrayed by Republicans in some cases as even more dangerous than al-Qaeda. This tawdry mobilization of fear and vitriol in the service of the most naked financial interests and elements of economic power is now staged as a 24-hour media performance that mimics the tawdriness and deceit of a rampant culture of corporate corruption and secrecy, now fully sanctioned by a Supreme Court, which in its 5-4 passage of the Citizens United decision, has willingly handed the government over to the Wall Street bankers, energy companies, insurance giants, hedge fund executives and the likes of the high flying stooges from the likes of Goldman Sachs. As finance capital reigns supreme over American society bolstered by the new and peculiar depoliticizing power of the corporate controlled media, democratization along with the public spheres needed to sustain it becomes an increasingly fragile if not dysfunctional project. Civic courage along with critical dissent are now in short supply, expunged to the margins of the alternative media and disdained by official power, even at the highest levels of government. Left and progressive critics are now described as whiners by both Obama and his politically and ethically deaf advisers. And while President Obama surfaced initially as someone who symbolized the antithesis of the moral vacuity and politics of illegality that characterized the Bush presidency, moral courage and civic leadership have been in short supply during his last two years in office. Rather than giving new life to the values of civic courage, economic justice and political idealism, Obama sacrificed such ideals to the advice of the gang of thieves who became his chief advisers. Consequently, Obama's unwillingness to fight for the democratic ideals he gave lip service to during his election campaign has given way in the last few years to a willingness on the part of his administration to overlook both the crimes committed by the financial elite, who brought us the current economic recession, and the political elite, who savaged civil liberties and made an illegal war and torture itself officially state-sanctioned policies. Forever appealing to the ideal of post-partisan politics, Obama lost sight of his moral compass and his capacity to fight for the democratic ideals he gave lip service to in his presidential campaign. One small indication of his bad judgment and the cleansing nature of his Harvard University acquired cultural capital came early in his presidency when he chose Beyonce over the inimitable Etta James to sing the latter's signature song "At Last" at his inaugural ball - a glimpse of the poor judgment and bad faith to come. James embodied the courage, poverty, bawdiness, passion, desire, history, suffering and perseverance of groups that Obama left behind once elected - a stark reminder of the kind of cultural and intellectual capital he would avoid as he began to surround himself with the alleged best and brightest.

Dark clouds are forming on the political and economic landscape of America, and while the precise nature of the current election is still unclear, one thing is resoundingly obvious. We have now entered another and more dangerous period of Gilded Age excess in which the primary political and economic forces dominating American life add up to what is unique about the current political conjuncture: its hatred of reason, freedom and democracy.(3) The possibilities of democracy are now addressed not through reason and critical debate, but with lies, stupidity, ignorance and a seething disdain for critical analysis, thoughtfulness and truth, all bought and sold through the power and money of goose-stepping billionaires such as the Koch brothers and Rupert Murdoch, who view democracy as a disease that must be crushed.(4) In an age of great insecurity marked by a persistent fear of losing one's job, house and control over the routines of daily life, the billionaire demagogues offer a politics without substance, shared fears rather than shared responsibilities and freedom without the benefit of social protections - and they do it by drowning out other voices through the sheer power of their deep pockets of wealth and power. There is no language about injustice and unfairness in these discourses, just the ramped up anger and noise of those who want to hand over all the social obligations of the state to private agencies so that "nothing remains to bind the citizen to the state but the fear of authority." And as Terry Eagleton has pointed out, "The result ... is an 'eviscerated society,' one stripped of the thick mesh of mutual obligations and social responsibilities to be found" in democratic states that celebrate rather than demonize the common good and public values.(5)

As the economy collapses and the call for austerity is used to punish the victims rather than perpetrators of economic corruption, the welfare state and social protections are relegated to a jaded memory. At the same time, a market ideology and morality reminiscent of the Gilded Age has once again become a triumphal success aggressively narrowing the meaning of freedom and the relevance of all public good and public institutions at odds with the logic of privatization and capital accumulation for the rich. With these transitions the more abstract concepts of individual agency and citizenship have been utterly devalued, stripped of any substantive meaning in an aspiring democracy. Right-wing politicians spend millions to win elections, distinguish themselves by calling for the dismantling of the social state and refer to those who need social services as burned out houses or jerks and freeloaders. The ideology of privatization is used to disparage not simply social services, but all public institutions whether they be schools, hospitals or transportation systems. Violence and a culture of cruelty now spread through the society like a wild fire and the costs can be seen in the suicides of gay teenagers, heartless images of firefighters laughing while a house burns down because the owners did not pay the required fee for the service, talking heads equating all Muslims with terrorists and billionaires such as Bill Gates calling for cuts in the pensions of hard working teachers. The survival-of-the-fittest ethic is no longer the narrative driving reality TV; it is now a central conception of politics and everyday life. Economic discourse now trumps social justice, reinforced by the ever popular chant of market evangelicals who unabashedly call for a society, if not a world, in which "all human activities and spaces can and should be absorbed into economic systems."(6) But there is more at stake here than the rise of iniquitous relations of wealth and power and the profound hardships that ensue for most Americans, there is also the rise of a punishing state that increasingly views a number of everyday problems as matters of law and order. With a prison population of 2.3 million, the United States now incarcerates more people than any other nation in the world; it also resorts increasingly to governing through a crime complex to deal with social problems far removed from the discourse and culture of criminality. How else to explain the return of debtor prisons, the modeling of urban public schools after the culture of prisons, or the recent call by a county prosecutor in Michigan for a law that "could punish parents with jail time for repeatedly missing their children's parent teacher conferences"?(7) As the state is removed from supplying public services, the only relationship the public increasingly has with it is one marked by suspicion and fear. The lesson here is that the rich get rewarded for their bad deeds as made clear in the Bush-Obama bailouts of the too-big-to-fail banking and investment houses of Wall Street, while the middle class and the poor are evicted from their homes under threat of criminal action or threatened with jail time if they don't pay their soaring debts. Fraud in high places becomes an investment opportunity as indicated in the case of Angelo Mozilio, the godfather of subprime mortgages and the former chief executive of Countrywide who managed to pocket $521 million as a result of criminal practices, but was "punished" by the Securities and Exchange Commission by having to pay back only $47.5 million out of his own pocket. Crime truly pays, except for the poor and middle class.(8)

We have become a country in which democracy is no longer a viable dream; rather, it is a living nightmare haunting those who now control the reins of financial power, the media and the Supreme Court. What we are witnessing in the 2010 elections is the triumph of an "argument against politics, or at least against a politics that attempts to govern society in social rather than economic terms."(9) If we are to believe Sharron Angle, Sarah Palin, John A. Boehner, and all the other cheerleaders for free-market fundamentalism, freedom only becomes meaningful when decoupled from any vestige of the social, while most welfare provisions are seen as benefiting those deemed immoral and lazy, if not utterly unworthy. Government responsibility only applies to servicing the defense budget, providing tax relief for the rich and providing handouts for corporations. When used to service the public good, government responsibility is disparaged by being called a form of socialism, a term that no longer has any meaning except to discredit an idea unacceptable to market-driven fundamentalists. At the same time, those who opposed the notion of social provisions and the social state now wrap themselves in the mantle of victims who are being unduly taxed and victimized by a government that is out of control. This is more than the hypocritical mourning of the super rich who somehow have become the primary victims of the Obama government, but also the hard-wired common sense ideology that floods the right-wing pedagogical machines such as Fox News. While it is often pointed out that there is a contradiction among railing against deficits while supporting two wars and supporting tax cuts for the ultra-rich, what is missed in this critique is that there is more at stake here than faulty logic, but also an unabashed support for a politics that despises democracy and welcomes an authoritarian economic system that largely benefits mega-financial corporations and the ultra rich.

One of the most distinctive features of politics in the United States in the last 30 years is the inexorable move away from the promise of equality, human dignity, racial justice and freedom - upon which its conception of democracy rests - to the narrow and stripped-down assumption that equates democracy with market identities, values and social relations. Hollowed out under a regime of politics that celebrates the trinity of privatization, deregulation and financialization, democracy has been replaced by a politics of disposability and a culture of cruelty. Driven by the imperative to accumulate capital and consume at all costs, the current form of casino capitalism rewards those who participate in casino capitalism with the protections of a devalued form of citizenship, while those who can't take part as consumers are seen as "failed" and "ever more disposable."(10) In this scenario, freedom is transformed into its opposite for the vast majority of the population as a small, privileged minority can purchase time, goods, services and security, while the vast majority increasingly are relegated to a life without protections, benefits and support. For those populations considered expendable, redundant and invisible by virtue of their race, class and youth, life becomes increasingly precarious. But if consumerism and an indifference to the common good are the defining features of citizenship under casino capitalism, a galloping inequality and the privileges it brings to powerful corporations and the ultra rich is the ultimate badge of acceptance and success.

Mounting signs of increasing redundancy, dispensability and social death are evident in the depression-level jobless rates in which one in six Americans are either unemployed or underemployed,(11) 44 million live in poverty, one in seven adults receive food stamps and 51 million people are without health insurance.(12) It gets worse. As David DeGraw points out:

we have over 50 million people who need to use food stamps to eat and a stunning 50 percent of U.S. children will use food stamps to eat at some point in their childhoods. Approximately 20,000 people are added to this total every day. In 2009, one out of five U.S. households didn't have enough money to buy food. In households with children, this number rose to 24 percent, as the hunger rate among U.S. citizens has now reached an all-time high.... Over five million U.S. families have already lost their homes, in total 13 million U.S. families are expected to lose their home by 2014, with 25 percent of current mortgages underwater.... Every day 10,000 U.S. homes enter foreclosure. Statistics show that an increasing number of these people are not finding shelter elsewhere, there are now over 3 million homeless Americans and the fastest-growing segment of the homeless population is single parents with children.(13)

Such statistics give new meaning to the slogan "live free or die." The cost of this politics of disposability becomes clear in heartbreaking stories about 15.5 million young people who are living in poverty, dropping out of school in record numbers, suffer serious health problems that go untreated, or literally end up in prison. What advocates of casino capitalism ignore in their homage to market relations and individual responsibility as the essence of our national spirit are the growing numbers of bodies, the mounting despair, the ever-growing forms of social death and disposability under a regime of market-driven discourses and policies that support the irrational belief that the market can solve all problems. The collateral damage that reveals the lie of this allegedly unassailable form of common sense can be glimpsed in the fate of millions who are now homeless, out of work, out of luck and living in despair, as well as in the moral vacuum that has overtaken a country awash in the idiocy of celebrity culture, game shows and a dominant media that shamelessly refused to exercise any sense of political and moral accountability. Instead of focusing on the uncomfortable truths that emerge daily in the expanding narratives of despair and neglect facing millions of families caught in the grip of economic devastation, the country is treated daily to an infomercial provided by the ultra rich and aired through all the channels of the official cultural apparatus, urging us to mimic the very values that brought us the current recession and the ongoing human hardships it has produced.

Social and political death becomes the fate of more and more people just as the current crop of right-wing politicians and anti-public intellectuals argue that social problems can only be solved through the depoliticizing vocabularies of the therapeutic and emotional, often enmeshed in the rigid political and moral certainties of bigotry, intolerance, racism, ideological purity and religious fundamentalism. The language, values and policies of casino capitalism have become the template for solving all of society's problems. As such, it employs the first rule of politics in which power becomes invisible and the root causes of our social, economic and political problems are simply canceled out through a shameless appeal to the discourse of self-help, personal responsibility and self-reliance, operating under the conceit of neutrality and efficiency, while effectively erasing everything required both to understand the demands of responsible citizenship and to address the major social issues of our time. As Frank Rich points out, casino capitalism has done more than create an economic crisis, it also offers a future for the United States in which an obscene inequality and economic unfairness drive young people into careers in which getting rich is their only motivation, public services collapse and a economically stressed middle class loses faith in government and turns its back on any sacrifice in favor of expanding the public good.(14) Young people are increasingly presented with a future in which there is no language of democracy, justice, solidarity and the public good. Instead, they offered a language that maximizes self interest, undermines any shared sense of purpose and devalues public service. Under such conditions the formative culture necessary for critical citizens and a vibrant democracy collapses into a Hobbesian world in which the competitive, self-absorbed, unattached, materialistic individual consumer is the only meaningful category of citizenship.

There are many commentators who believe this upcoming election is a referendum on the policies of Barack Obama and they are partly right. But more importantly, this election is a referendum on the call to do away with democracy once and for all, to make the politics of disposability a central feature of everyday life and to usher in a form of casino capitalism in which the democratic state is replaced by the corporate state. Obama's failure of nerve now seems beside the point. His deplorable record has less to do with bailing out the rich, undermining crucial civil liberties and reinforcing the permanent war policies of the United States than with losing touch with any vestige of moral and civic courage in confronting myriad attacks on democratic life. His is the pathetic legacy of squandered public faith and support that ushered him into office; he could have drawn upon it to make power accountable while mobilizing those populations for whom democracy has always been more of an ideal than a reality. The collateral damage we now suffer is not only the frightening image of a soon to be governing party that embraces enthusiastically all of the sordid elements of casino capitalism, but one that will do its best to put democracy to rest once and for all.


1. Mike Davis and Daniel Bertrand Monk, "Introduction," Evil Paradises (New York: The New Press, 2007), p. ix. On the return of the Gilded Age, see Michael McHugh, "The Second Gilded Age: The Great Reaction in the United States," 1973-2001 (Lanham: University Press of America, 2006).
2. Louis Uchitelle, "The Richest of the Rich, Proud of new Gilded Age," The New York Times (July 15, 2007). Online here.
3. Jacques Rancière, "Hatred of Democracy" (London: Verso, 2006); Henry A. Giroux, "The University in Chains: Confronting the Military-Industrial-Academic Complex" (Boulder: Paradigm, 2007); Henry A. Giroux, "Against the Terror of Neoliberalism" (Boulder, Paradigm, 2008); Henry A. Giroux, "Politics After Hope: Obama and the Crisis of Youth, Race and Democracy" (Boulder, Paragidgm, 2010).
4. See Lee Fang, "Memo: Health Insurance, Banking, Oil Industries Met with Koch, Chamber, Glenn Beck to Plot 2010 Elections," Think Progress (October 20, 2010). Online here.
5. Terry Eagleton, "Reappraisals: What is the worth of social democracy?" Harper's Magazine, (October 2010), p. 78.
6. Lawrence Grossberg, "Caught in the Crossfire: Kids, Politics and America's Future" (Boulder: Paradigm, 2005), p. 117.
7. Duborah Brunswick, "Prosecutor Proposes Jail Time for Parents Who Miss Teacher Conferrences," (October 21, 2010). Online here.
8. See Frank Rich, "What Happened to Change We Can Believe in?" The New York Times (October 23, 2010), P. WK10.
9. Ibid., p. 117
10. Jean Comaroff and John L. Comaroff, "Millennial Capitalism: First Thoughts on a Second Coming," Public Culture 12: 2 (Duke University Press, 2000), p. 301.
11. Paul Krugman, "Defining Prosperity Down," The New York Times, (August 1, 2010), p. A17.
12. Erik Eckholm, "Poverty Rate Rose Sharply in 2009, Says Census Bureau," The New York Times, (September 16, 2010).
Online here.
13. David DeGraw, "The Economic Elite Have Engendered an Extraordinary Coup, Threatening the Very Existence of the Middle Class," Alter Net, (February 15, 2010). Online here.
14. Frank Rich, "What Happened to Change We Can Believe in?" The New York Times (October 23, 2010), P. WK10.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Paul Krugman On the Failure of the President To Act More Decisively on Domestic Economic Policy--and the Severe Political Fallout


As he consistently does the progressive economist Paul Krugman absolutely nails what is really at stake both politically and economically and what the President--and most importantly the rest of us--have so far failed to do to meet the severe challenges of the present social, economic, and ideological fiasco...


October 24, 2010

Falling Into the Chasm
New York Times

This is what happens when you need to leap over an economic chasm — but either can’t or won’t jump far enough, so that you only get part of the way across.

If Democrats do as badly as expected in next week’s elections, pundits will rush to interpret the results as a referendum on ideology. President Obama moved too far to the left, most will say, even though his actual program — a health care plan very similar to past Republican proposals, a fiscal stimulus that consisted mainly of tax cuts, help for the unemployed and aid to hard-pressed states — was more conservative than his election platform.

A few commentators will point out, with much more justice, that Mr. Obama never made a full-throated case for progressive policies, that he consistently stepped on his own message, that he was so worried about making bankers nervous that he ended up ceding populist anger to the right.

But the truth is that if the economic situation were better — if unemployment had fallen substantially over the past year — we wouldn’t be having this discussion. We would, instead, be talking about modest Democratic losses, no more than is usual in midterm elections.

The real story of this election, then, is that of an economic policy that failed to deliver. Why? Because it was greatly inadequate to the task.

When Mr. Obama took office, he inherited an economy in dire straits — more dire, it seems, than he or his top economic advisers realized. They knew that America was in the midst of a severe financial crisis. But they don’t seem to have taken on board the lesson of history, which is that major financial crises are normally followed by a protracted period of very high unemployment.

If you look back now at the economic forecast originally used to justify the Obama economic plan, what’s striking is that forecast’s optimism about the economy’s ability to heal itself. Even without their plan, Obama economists predicted, the unemployment rate would peak at 9 percent, then fall rapidly. Fiscal stimulus was needed only to mitigate the worst — as an “insurance package against catastrophic failure,” as Lawrence Summers, later the administration’s top economist, reportedly said in a memo to the president-elect.

But economies that have experienced a severe financial crisis generally don’t heal quickly. From the Panic of 1893, to the Swedish crisis of 1992, to Japan’s lost decade, financial crises have consistently been followed by long periods of economic distress. And that has been true even when, as in the case of Sweden, the government moved quickly and decisively to fix the banking system.

To avoid this fate, America needed a much stronger program than what it actually got — a modest rise in federal spending that was barely enough to offset cutbacks at the state and local level. This isn’t 20-20 hindsight: the inadequacy of the stimulus was obvious from the beginning.

Could the administration have gotten a bigger stimulus through Congress? Even if it couldn’t, would it have been better off making the case for a bigger plan, rather than pretending that what it got was just right? We’ll never know.

What we do know is that the inadequacy of the stimulus has been a political catastrophe. Yes, things are better than they would have been without the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act: the unemployment rate would probably be close to 12 percent right now if the administration hadn’t passed its plan. But voters respond to facts, not counterfactuals, and the perception is that the administration’s policies have failed.

The tragedy here is that if voters do turn on Democrats, they will in effect be voting to make things even worse.

The resurgent Republicans have learned nothing from the economic crisis, except that doing everything they can to undermine Mr. Obama is a winning political strategy. Tax cuts and deregulation are still the alpha and omega of their economic vision.

And if they take one or both houses of Congress, complete policy paralysis — which will mean, among other things, a cutoff of desperately needed aid to the unemployed and a freeze on further help for state and local governments — is a given. The only question is whether we’ll have political chaos as well, with Republicans’ shutting down the government at some point over the next two years. And the odds are that we will.

Is there any hope for a better outcome? Maybe, just maybe, voters will have second thoughts about handing power back to the people who got us into this mess, and a weaker-than-expected Republican showing at the polls will give Mr. Obama a second chance to turn the economy around.

But right now it looks as if the too-cautious attempt to jump across that economic chasm has fallen short — and we’re about to hit rock bottom.

The Failure of the Obama Administration To Hold Wall Street and the Banks Fully Accountable and Its Dire Consequences


Frank Rich typically gets it 100% right in his analysis below--as truly depressing as it is...BTW: Chuleenan and I saw the incredible documentary "Inside Job" last sunday. If you get a chance please go see this movie immediately! The whole fascinating and equally horrific story about Wall Street, the banks, the corporations, and the Obama administration is brilliantly detailed in a very dynamic and extremely informative film by the genius director/writer Charles Ferguson...


October 23, 2010

What Happened to Change We Can Believe In?
New York Times

PRESIDENT Obama, the Rodney Dangerfield of 2010, gets no respect for averting another Great Depression, for saving 3.3 million jobs with stimulus spending, or for salvaging GM and Chrysler from the junkyard. And none of these good deeds, no matter how substantial, will go unpunished if the projected Democratic bloodbath materializes on Election Day. Some are even going unremembered. For Obama, the ultimate indignity is the Times/CBS News poll in September showing that only 8 percent of Americans know that he gave 95 percent of American taxpayers a tax cut.

The reasons for his failure to reap credit for any economic accomplishments are a catechism by now: the dark cloud cast by undiminished unemployment, the relentless disinformation campaign of his political opponents, and the White House’s surprising ineptitude at selling its own achievements. But the most relentless drag on a chief executive who promised change we can believe in is even more ominous. It’s the country’s fatalistic sense that the stacked economic order that gave us the Great Recession remains not just in place but more entrenched and powerful than ever.

No matter how much Obama talks about his “tough” new financial regulatory reforms or offers rote condemnations of Wall Street greed, few believe there’s been real change. That’s not just because so many have lost their jobs, their savings and their homes. It’s also because so many know that the loftiest perpetrators of this national devastation got get-out-of-jail-free cards, that too-big-to-fail banks have grown bigger and that the rich are still the only Americans getting richer.

This intractable status quo is being rubbed in our faces daily during the pre-election sprint by revelations of the latest banking industry outrage, its disregard for the rule of law as it cut every corner to process an avalanche of foreclosures. Clearly, these financial institutions have learned nothing in the few years since their contempt for fiscal and legal niceties led them to peddle these predatory mortgages (and the reckless financial “products” concocted from them) in the first place. And why should they have learned anything? They’ve often been rewarded, not punished, for bad behavior.

The latest example is Angelo Mozilo, the former chief executive of Countrywide and the godfather of subprime mortgages. On the eve of his trial 10 days ago, he settled Securities and Exchange Commission charges for $67.5 million, $20 million of which will be footed by what remains of Countrywide in its present iteration at Bank of America. Even if he paid the whole sum himself, it would still be a small fraction of the $521 million he collected in compensation as he pursued his gambling spree from 2000 until 2008.

A particularly egregious chunk of that take was the $140 million he pocketed by dumping Countrywide shares in 2006-7. It was a chapter right out of Kenneth Lay’s Enron playbook: Mozilo reassured shareholders that all was peachy even as his private e-mail was awash in panic over the “toxic” mortgages bringing Countrywide (and the country) to ruin. Lay, at least, was convicted by a jury and destined to decades in the slammer before his death.

The much acclaimed new documentary about the global economic meltdown, “Inside Job,” has it right. As its narrator, Matt Damon, intones, our country has been robbed by insiders who “destroyed their own companies and plunged the world into crisis” — and then “walked away from the wreckage with their fortunes intact.” These insiders include Dick Fuld and four other executives at Lehman Brothers who “got to keep all the money” (more than $1 billion) after Lehman went bankrupt. And of course Robert Rubin, who encouraged Citigroup to step up its investment in high-risk bets like Countrywide’s mortgage-backed securities. Rubin, now back as a rainmaker on Wall Street, collected more than $115million in compensation during roughly the same period Mozilo “earned” his half a billion. Citi, which required a $45 billion taxpayers’ bailout, recently secured its own slap-on-the-wrist S.E.C. settlement — at $75 million, less than Rubin’s earnings and less than its 2003 penalty ($101 million) for its role in hiding Enron profits.

It should pain the White House that its departing economic guru, the Rubin protégé Lawrence Summers, is an even bigger heavy in “Inside Job” than in the hit movie of election season, “The Social Network.” Summers — like the former Goldman Sachs chief executive and Bush Treasury secretary Hank Paulson — is portrayed as just the latest in a procession of policy makers who keep rotating in and out of government and the financial industry, almost always to that industry’s advantage. As the star economist Nouriel Roubini tells the filmmaker, Charles Ferguson, the financial sector on Wall Street has “step by step captured the political system” on “the Democratic and the Republican side” alike. But it would be wrong to single out Summers or any individual official for the Obama administration’s image of being lax in pursuing finance’s bad actors. This tone is set at the top.

Asked in “Inside Job” why there’s been no systematic investigation of the 2008 crash, Roubini answers: “Because then you’d find the culprits.” With the aid of the “Manhattan Madam” (and current stunt New York gubernatorial candidate) Kristin Davis, the film also asks why federal prosecutors who were “perfectly happy to use Eliot Spitzer’s personal vices to force him to resign in 2008” have not used rampant sex-and-drug trade on Wall Street as a tool for flipping witnesses to pursue the culprits behind the financial crimes that devastated the nation.

The Obama administration seems not to have a prosecutorial gene. It’s shy about calling a fraud a fraud when it occurs in high finance. This caution was exemplified most recently by the secretary of housing and urban development, Shaun Donovan, whose response to the public outcry over the banks’ foreclosure shenanigans was to take to The Huffington Post last weekend. “The notion that many of the very same institutions that helped cause this housing crisis may well be making it worse is not only frustrating — it’s shameful,” he wrote.

Well, yes! Obama couldn’t have said it more eloquently himself. But with all due respect to Secretary Donovan’s blogging finesse, he wasn’t promising action. He was just stroking the liberal base while the administration once again punted. In our new banking scandal, as in those before it, attorneys general in the states, where many pension funds were decimated by Wall Street Ponzi schemes, are pursuing the crimes Washington has not. The largest bill of reparations paid out by Bank of America for Countrywide’s deceptive mortgage practices — $8.4 billion — was to settle a suit by 11 state attorneys general on the warpath.

Since Obama has neither aggressively pursued the crash’s con men nor compellingly explained how they gamed the system, he sometimes looks as if he’s fronting for the industry even if he’s not. Voters are not only failing to give the White House credit for its economic successes but finding it guilty of transgressions it didn’t commit. The opposition is more than happy to pump up that confusion. When Mitch McConnell appeared on ABC’s “This Week” last month, he typically railed against the “extreme” government of “the last year and a half,” citing its takeover of banks as his first example. That this was utter fiction — the takeover took place two years ago, before Obama was president, with McConnell voting for it — went unchallenged by his questioner, Christiane Amanpour, and probably by many viewers inured to this big lie.

The real tragedy here, though, is not whatever happens in midterm elections. It’s the long-term prognosis for America. The obscene income inequality bequeathed by the three-decade rise of the financial industry has societal consequences graver than even the fundamental economic unfairness. When we reward financial engineers infinitely more than actual engineers, we “lure our most talented graduates to the largely unproductive chase” for Wall Street riches, as the economist Robert H. Frank wrote in The Times last weekend. Worse, Frank added, the continued squeeze on the middle class leads to a wholesale decline in the quality of American life — from more bankruptcy filings and divorces to a collapse in public services, whether road repair or education, that taxpayers will no longer support.

Even as the G.O.P. benefits from unlimited corporate campaign money, it’s pulling off the remarkable feat of persuading a large swath of anxious voters that it will lead a populist charge against the rulers of our economic pyramid — the banks, energy companies, insurance giants and other special interests underwriting its own candidates. Should those forces prevail, an America that still hasn’t remotely recovered from the worst hard times in 70 years will end up handing over even more power to those who greased the skids.

We can blame much of this turn of events on the deep pockets of oil billionaires like the Koch brothers and on the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which freed corporations to try to buy any election they choose. But the Obama White House is hardly innocent. Its failure to hold the bust’s malefactors accountable has helped turn what should have been a clear-cut choice on Nov. 2 into a blurry contest between the party of big corporations and the party of business as usual.

Following the MidTerm Elections in November We Must Continue to Fight and Defeat the Right No Matter What Inroads the Republicans Make in Congress


If, as this article clearly suggests he "should", all this President winds up doing in wake of the upcoming midterm elections is politically kissing the asses of such criminally rightwing reprobates, reactionaries, and demagogues as the Republican leadership in the House and the Senate over the next two years then everything Obama currently allegedly stands for will be completely destroyed (and surely not worth fighting for). In that case the very idea of national liberal/progressive "reform" will not only be nothing but a big sick, ugly joke but only we, the People will be the victims of such a massive capitulation. Either the President, the Democratic Party, and the general left in this country will now stand up to and thoroughly fight the congressional and independent right with all it has to offer or everything we "said" we stood for and would continue to fight for in electing this President in the first place will be completely lost and rendered worthless...for real...


October 24, 2010

Obama’s Playbook After Nov. 2
New York Times

WASHINGTON — It took President Obama 18 months to invite the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, to the White House for a one-on-one chat. Their Aug. 4 session in the Oval Office — 30 minutes of private time, interrupted only when the president’s daughter Malia called from summer camp to wish her father a happy 49th birthday — was remarkable, not for what was said, but for what it took to make it happen.

Not long before the meeting, Trent Lott, the former Republican Senate leader, lamented to his onetime Democratic counterpart, Tom Daschle, that Mr. Obama would never get an important nuclear arms treaty with Russia ratified until he consulted top Republicans. Mr. Lott, who recounted the exchange in an interview, was counting on Mr. Daschle, a close Obama ally, to convey the message; lo and behold, Mr. McConnell soon had an audience with the president.

The White House says the meeting was about stalled judicial nominations, not arms control. But the fact that a former Senate leader found it necessary to work back channels to put Mr. Obama and Mr. McConnell in touch suggests the difficult road the president will face if Republicans win control of one or both houses of Congress on Election Day.

Before Mr. Obama and Republicans can secure each other’s cooperation, people in both parties say, they must first figure out a way to secure mutual trust.

After two years of operating at loggerheads with Republicans, Mr. Obama and his aides are planning a post-election agenda for a very different political climate. They see potential for bipartisan cooperation on reducing the deficit, passing stalled free-trade pacts and revamping the education bill known as No Child Left Behind — work that Arne Duncan, Mr. Obama’s education secretary, says could go a long way toward repairing “the current state of anger and animosity.”

“I’m a big believer in less of singing ‘Kumbaya’ together and going on retreats than in rolling up our sleeves and doing work together,” Mr. Duncan said in an interview. “That’s how you build respect, that’s how you build trust, that’s how you build relationships. I think it’s a way to move beyond some hurt feelings on both sides. Do it through the work.”

Mr. Obama came to office vowing to reach across the aisle and change the tone in Washington, a goal he quickly abandoned when Republicans stood in lockstep against his stimulus bill. Today, with each side blaming the other for their sorry state of relations, neither has “clean hands,” said Senator Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia.

Yet even Democrats say that, as president, Mr. Obama has a special obligation to try to put an end to the vitriol — and that the future of his presidency may depend on it.

“Probably the biggest single promissory note he handed out during his campaign was the promise of trying to overcome Red America and Blue America into one America,” said Bill Galston, who worked as a domestic policy adviser to former President Bill Clinton. “I think the perception is that he didn’t work as hard as he could have to redeem that note, and I can’t believe that he wants to go down in history as the president who promised to overcome polarization and ended up intensifying it.”

Mr. Obama said during his State of the Union address that he wanted to hold “monthly meetings with both Republican and Democratic leadership.” He has not entirely lived up to that promise; there have been five such sessions, including his televised health care summit, in the nine months since. Dan Pfeiffer, Mr. Obama’s communications director, said the president had “repeatedly extended his hand” to Republicans, who “made a political decision” to oppose him at every turn.

“That was their choice,” Mr. Pfeiffer said. “Hopefully, they will make a different one after the election.”

Publicly, senior advisers to Mr. Obama insist they are focused on keeping Democrats in the majority, and they will not detail their post-election strategy — either for legislation or mending fences. But privately, allies of the White House say Mr. Obama’s new chief of staff, Pete Rouse, who had good relations with Republicans when he worked on Capitol Hill, is thinking about how Mr. Obama might reach out.

Much will depend on what happens Nov. 2, and some things will be beyond Mr. Obama’s control. If Tea Party candidates — who have spent the entire election season demonizing Mr. Obama — win big, Republican leaders who might be inclined to work with the president might have a difficult time persuading their members to do so. If Republicans take the House and Democrats keep the Senate, it could be difficult for Mr. Obama to bring the chambers together.

One question is what public posture Mr. Obama will take. If Democrats get trounced, will he emerge, sounding contrite, and take responsibility for their losses? Or will he insist the results were not a reflection on him? Will he follow the path of Mr. Clinton, who pursued a so-called triangulation strategy of moving to the center after Republicans gained control of Congress in 1994?

“If he did turn to the center, as Bill Clinton did, I think there would be a lot of hope, but right now nobody knows what he is going to do,” said Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah. Mr. Hatch says the strategy was likely to have saved the Clinton presidency. “Bill Clinton wouldn’t have been elected the second time had he not awakened and started to work with both sides.”

Unlike Mr. Clinton, Mr. Obama is not much of a schmoozer, and some Republicans say he might benefit from becoming more of one. Senator Mike Johanns, Republican of Nebraska, said Mr. Obama has telephoned him just once, after he had lung surgery. “He needs to build friendships and he needs to build trust,” Mr. Johanns said.

Although Mr. Obama has hosted cocktail hours and parties at the White House for members of Congress, he is not the type to spend his free time socializing with lawmakers. While personal relationships cannot erase philosophical differences, they can help, which is one reason Mr. Lott, the former Republican leader, pushed privately for Mr. McConnell and Mr. Obama to meet.

“You know, Clinton, we used to talk to each other all the time, through back channels, middle of the day, middle of the night,” Mr. Lott said. “He’d call at 11 o’clock, 2 o’clock at night; I’d go up to the family quarters and have coffee with him at 9:15 in the morning. They’ve got to open up communications — and not for press purposes. They’ve got to talk quietly, privately. That’s Step 1 in Washington.”