The Audacity of Cynicism



The New Republic's Noam Scheiber has a pre-State of the Union Address piece out praising "the genius of the White House" in "outmaneuver[ing]" Corporate America. Here's how it begins:

I'll admit it: I was worried when the president named Bill Daley as his second chief of staff. True, Daley was a loyal Democrat long before he was a bank executive. But I couldn't shake the feeling that the White House was giving in to months of mau-mauing from the business community. That was distressing not just because the idea of Obama as anti-business is wrong, but also because Obama had a lot more leverage over the business community than he seemed to realize.   

Not quite three weeks later and I feel confident this is not the case. Despite all the talk about Obama's political reinvention as we head into the State of the Union, it's become increasingly clear that Obama isn't caving to business. He's shrewdly co-opting it.

Scheiber's data points: Daley is a powerless sop, Obama's ballyhooed regulatory re-think is "likely to be quite trivial," and the president's appointment of GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt to some council on competitiveness was another cheap way to draw businessy applause for empty symbolism. So what's the upshot for, you know, the American people? Scheiber is positively dripping with cynicism:

Repeat after me: Co-opting Corporate America does not equal good public policy, co-opting Corporate America does not equal good public policy

If nothing else, that will deprive the eventual GOP nominee of much needed campaign cash, and will defuse the energy behind the shadowy corporate front groups the GOP deployed so effectively during the midterms.

Long before then, though, the political support of the business community could pay dividends. One of the arguments the president will make in the State of the Union is about the need for investments in infrastructure and education—which provide stimulus now and boost productivity in the future—even as we rein in the long-term deficit. The early Republican response has been reflexive opposition: Budget cuts now, budget cuts later, budget cuts forever. But business leaders could help Obama advance this agenda on Capitol Hill given their pull with the GOP and their natural affinity for such investments.

Obama's other big goal for the State of the Union (and beyond) is to convince the public he's obsessively focused on job-creation—hence the "competitiveness" theme the president will use to frame his speech. The dirty little secret of macroeconomic policy is that most of the decisions that will influence job growth over the next two years have already been made. The beauty of the rapprochement with business is that it creates the appearance of a president rolling up his sleeves to solve the problem.

Remember, this is from an Obama supporter.

And not just any Obama supporter, either. Back in March 2008, this very same Noam Scheiber was trying to reassure the world not that Obama was pulling a fast one on Corporate America while staying true to left-of-center economic and regulatory policy, but something closer to the opposite:

Drink up! Happy Hour's now enforced by law.

Despite Obama's reputation for grandiose rhetoric and utopian hope-mongering, the Obamanauts aren't radicals--far from it. They're pragmatists--people who, when an existing paradigm clashes with reality, opt to tweak that paradigm rather than replace it wholesale. […]

The Obamanauts are decidedly non-ideological. They occasionally reach out to progressive think tanks like the Economic Policy Institute, but they also come from a world--academic economics--whose inhabitants generally lean right. (And economists at the University of Chicago lean righter than most.) As a result, they tend to be just as comfortable with ideological diversity as the candidate they advise.

That piece was called "The Audacity of Data: Barack Obama's surprisingly non-ideological policy shop," and it's best re-read with a laugh track.

I debated Scheiber just before the 2008 election, which you can watch at this link (where it's broken down into segments) or below: