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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Barack Obama's childhood baggage is worse than I thought
Posted by Jill | 5:29 AM
In Newsweek this week, Jacob Weisberg has a column on the problem Barack Obama's seeming aloofness is causing with his ability to appear to connect with Americans worried about jobs and the future. It's tempting to dismiss Weisberg out of hand, until you remember that not so long ago, thinking you might have a beer with the president was a qualification for office, and even now, thinking you might be able to FUCK the president seems to make Sarah Palin qualified for the office in the eyes of an alarming number of people.

Weisberg says that Obama's childhood made him self-sufficient to the point of seemingly not needing anyone:
Obama's self-interpretation is so persuasive that it has largely preempted other interpretations. Telling his story in relation to his missing father, the son explains how in finding his identity he grew from anger and cynicism to deep social commitment. The lack of deep attachments in his life, however, is a different issue. To speculate, it may have more to do with his relationship with his mother. When Barry Obama was 10, his mother sent him from Indonesia back to live with her parents in Hawaii. She returned there after her second marriage ended, but when she went back to Indonesia a few years later, her teenage son chose to stay in Hawaii. This loving but physically distant relationship seems to have left Obama self-reliant to an unusual degree.

For a politician, emotional self-sufficiency is both asset and liability. On the positive side, it supports Obama's rationalism, his level-headedness in crisis, and his dispassionate decision making. On the negative, it can read as cold, aloof, or arrogant. It's healthy that Obama doesn't need the roar of the crowd for validation. It's a problem that the crowd seems to need more from him than he is able to provide.

There is one group that Obama seems to have a pathological need to please, and my ten-cent completely speculative and therefore worth what you paid for it psychoanalysis has to do with something he may have had to deal with during that time living with his grandparents -- winning over people who may have had to get over some of their own issues to raise their biracial grandson. The reason I keep having the sense of Obama having to ingratiate himself with people who may have had pre-existing issues is twofold: One reason is the infamous "typical white people" remark, in which he clumsily admitted that even his own grandmother had a visceral reaction to black people she didn't know -- a remark that had the chattering classes screeching for days. The other reason is the manifestation we see today of someone with a deep-seated need to ingratiate himself with people not inclined to do so, in this case, Republicans.

Because while Obama has shown himself to be willing to throw everyone otherwise inclined to have his back -- gays, working class people, the netroots, the black community -- under the bus without a second thought, the ONE group whose support he desperately wants and doesn't realize he can never have, is Republicans and those Republicans With D's After Their Names known as Blue Dogs.

And that is why, in the middle of a recession, when it's the ABSOLUTE WORST thing you can do for the economy, he's capitulating to Republicans and proposing a spending freeze on the very programs that serve the middle and working class:
President Obama will call for a three-year freeze in spending on many domestic programs, and for increases no greater than inflation after that, an initiative intended to signal his seriousness about cutting the budget deficit, administration officials said Monday.

The officials said the proposal would be a major component both of Mr. Obama’s State of the Union address on Wednesday and of the budget he will send to Congress on Monday for the fiscal year that begins in October.

The freeze would cover the agencies and programs for which Congress allocates specific budgets each year, including air traffic control, farm subsidies, education, nutrition and national parks.

But it would exempt security-related budgets for the Pentagon, foreign aid, the Veterans Administration and homeland security, as well as the entitlement programs that make up the biggest and fastest-growing part of the federal budget: Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

The payoff in budget savings would be small relative to the deficit: The estimated $250 billion in savings over 10 years would be less than 3 percent of the roughly $9 trillion in additional deficits the government is expected to accumulate over that time.

The initiative holds political risks as well as potential benefits. Because Mr. Obama plans to exempt military spending while leaving many popular domestic programs vulnerable, his move is certain to further anger liberals in his party and senior Democrats in Congress, who are already upset by the possible collapse of health care legislation and the troop buildup in Afghanistan, among other things.

Fiscally conservative Democrats in the House and Senate have urged Mr. Obama to support a freeze, and it would suggest to voters, Wall Street and other nations that the president is willing to make tough decisions at a time when the deficit and the national debt, in the view of many economists, have reached levels that undermine the nation’s long-term prosperity. Perceptions that government spending is out of control have contributed to Mr. Obama’s loss of support among independent voters, and concern about the government’s fiscal health could put upward pressure on the interest rates the United States has to pay to borrow money from investors and nations, especially China, that have been financing Washington’s budget deficit.

Republicans were quick to mock the freeze proposal. “Given Washington Democrats’ unprecedented spending binge, this is like announcing you’re going on a diet after winning a pie-eating contest,” said Michael Steel, a spokesman for the House Republican leader, Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio.

Robert Reich explains why this is such a terrible idea:

A spending freeze will make it even harder to get jobs back because government is the last spender around. Consumers have pulled back, investors won’t do much until they know consumers are out there, and exports are minuscule.

Jobs may be coming back a bit in the next months but the country has lost so many (not to mention all those who have entered the workforce over the last two years and still can’t land a job) that it will be many years before the middle class can relax. Furthermore, this recession isn’t like other recessions in recent memory. It has more to do with problems deep in the structure of the American economy than with the ups and downs of the business cycle.

Like Clinton’s, Obama’s package of middle-class benefits is small potatoes. They’re worthwhile but they pale relative to the size and scale of the challenge America’s middle class is now facing. Obama can no longer afford to come up with lists of nice things to do. At the least, he’s got to do two very big and important things: 1) Enact a second stimulus. It should mainly focus on bailing out state and local governments that are now cutting services and raising taxes, and squeezing the middle class. This would be the best way to reinvigorate the economy quickly. 2) Help distressed homeowners by allowing them to include their mortgage debt in personal bankruptcy -- which will give them far more bargaining leverage with mortgage lenders. (Wall Street hates this.)

Yet instead of moving in this direction, Obama is moving in the opposite one. His three-year freeze on a large portion of discretionary spending will make it impossible for him to do much of anything for the middle class that’s important.

Perhaps Rahm Emanuel told him this is the way for the justifiably endangered Evan Bayh to keep his Senate seat. Perhaps this is what Tim Geithner wants. But I suspect that it's deeper than that. I suspect that it's a more selective -- and more futile version of the same disease that plagues Bill Clinton -- a desperate need for approval. The difference is that at least Bill Clinton's need to be loved by everyone means that at least some of his supporters were appeased some of the time. Barack Obama only cares about the approval of those who will never, ever, as long as he lives, approve of him.

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Blogger Bob said...
When Obama took office, I figured one big positive was that he had supporters who would "watch his back." This kind of support propped up Cheney/Bush & the Repugs from 9/11 to Katrina. I wasn't expecting miracles, but I wanted Barack to call home on occasion & ask, "Enough change for ya yet?" Better yet, before he pushed health care reform, he needed some of those Town Hall meetings in the economically depressed states on the topic of the economy.

Blogger molly said...
Some of us who grew up in abusive families do not have close ties to our families and do just fine. We depend on ourselves and friends that we make and eventually some of us marry and have children and trust and love them. We can't all have a perfect childhood. I do believe that he loved his grandmother and knew she loved him and approved of him.