Hope and Change – The Free Trade Way

Bittersweet. That has been the word of the day here in California since November 5th. The term has been used by many who felt a new dawn in a president Obama but crushed after the safe passage of Proposition 8 (the proposition to ban gay marriage in California). It certainly has been a confusing few days for civil rights advocates. On the day that a mixed-race man won the race to the White House three states in the union outlawed same-sex marriage. Arkansas went even further by outlawing gay couples to adopt.

Making sense of this step-back and step-forward for civil rights for many was made cloudier still as the exit-polls showed that blacks and latinos voted overwhelmingly in favor of Prop.8, causing many an advocate of gay and civil rights to feel betrayed and bewildered. But identity politics is not the way to go on this one. The identity of those who voted in favor of Prop. 8 is neither here nor there. It just obscures the more pertinent quandary, namely the crazy idea that the will of the majority can overturn the right of a minority and also legal interpretation of the Constitution. It’s not like some people have access to the fourteenth amendment and some people don’t. Minority rights are protected. Or should be anyway. That’s why we have a Supreme Court. Anyway I lose my thread.

Bittersweet is also an appropriate word for me to describe my own feelings on Obama’s election, though not exclusively because of Prop. 8’s passing. My reaction so far has been characterized not by Obama’s race (this election was much more than a referendum on race)  but his apparent instant failure to stick to the two cornerstones of his campaign: ‘hope’ and ‘change’. Admittedly vague and prone to interpretation I believe that the two notions still can be identified by the distillation of the expectations carried by Obama supporters. For example I would imagine no-one would argue the contrary if I were to suggest that Obama supporters expected him to make government listen, or, in light of the current financial crisis, delineate the paths of Washington and Wall Street instead of allowing the revolving door situation that breeds conflicts of interest. There was also a definite sense that he would consider in his decision-making process those people who struggle to make ends meet. But above all, people expected competency and a sure-hand, especially in the last stages of the campaign when the opposition appeared more and more erratic and unstable. That’s what I had hoped for anyway. But judging by the appointment of Rahm Emanuel as his Chief of Staff and the front-runners for Treasury Secretary it would appear that Obama has thrown expectations of hope and change to the wind, and has indicated that how he would govern the economy: Clinton-style neo-liberalism

The current front-runners for the one of the four most important seats in the cabinet are Robert Rubin and Larry Summers, both former Treasury Secretaries and Clinton administration veterans. It would be no exaggeration to say that under Clinton these two men, along with others, sowed the seeds for the economic catastrophe that we now find ourselves mired in. Less so than Bush, it was on Clinton’s watch with the fervent advocacy of Rubin and Summers that the credit markets were deregulated and the all important Glass-Steagall Act repealed. Glass-Steagall, by the way, was enacted in 1933 to prevent the causes of the Great Depression from ever happening again, namely wild speculation and the the mixing of commercial and investment banks, and its repeal in 1999 is now one of the direct causes of the greatest economic catastrophe this country has seen since the Great Depression.

Lets be clear, it wasn’t only Rubin who advocated the repeal of Glass-Steagall. Or Summers who proposed deregulating credit markets but having enjoyed important and influential positions throughout the Clinton administration and adhering to the ideology of self regulated markets the blood on their hands is more than the Wall Street CEOs combined.

There was an outcry from the general publuc as Wall Street asked for 500 trillion dollars. Many wanted Wall Street heads to roll but surely it is the dog-handlers and not the dogs who should be held accountable for the dogs’ actions. Those on Wall Street played the game according to the rules given to them and played it well. Lets remember Wall Street owes nothing to “the people” and its interest is self interest. However, the government  most certainly does owe the people and to potentially reinstate those who carry much of the blame for the current crisis is surely poor decision making, even incompetency and, at worst favoring the wisdom of the moneyed classes over those who swept Obama to power.

I anticipate that many will say that change cannot be had so soon or that Obama seeks to understand all sides of the equation and that is why he needs people with experience around him. Yet, if Rubin or Summers or one of their proteges like Timothy Geithner is named as Treasury Secretary it would be like having Goebbels convene the Nuremberg Trials.

My main fear for an Obama administration will be that there are so many of us who have felt powerless to prevent the disaster that was the last eight years, that we will be all too content to return to a normalcy that resembles the Clinton years, a normalcy we are now only beginning to pay for. But shouldn’t we demand more from our government? Shouldn’t we demand protection from not only the physical dangers of society but also the financial dangers inherent in the vagaries of those who wield enormous economic power over the rest of us? It is important to note that we sometimes forget that we are entitled to wield the power over it.

I want to make it clear that I believe that the market should not be controlled by government but rather, herded by the government so that it cannot run rampant over the property of others when spooked by panic. This is neither a left or right issue for me and nor should it be. Asking for protection, accountability and representation are just some of the prerequisites for democracy. I’m not asking for Jeffersonian idealism. In the words of Lincoln and now Obama, I would just like “a government of the people, by the people for the people.”

Isn’t that what he said?


~ by oddlyamerican on November 8, 2008.

2 Responses to “Hope and Change – The Free Trade Way”

  1. Excellent points all around, Mr. Frost. I would, however, restrain yourself from using Nazi references as analogies to our current situation. Otherwise, your points are well taken and take a broad view of our straits–a much broader view than most folks on the Left usually admit (and most often seen in WSJ or other similar papers.)

  2. Point taken.

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