The Politics of Gesture

The American Prospect has the article The Politics of Gesture by Robert Kuttner. “None of Obama’s proposals will fundamentally change the distribution of wealth and power in America.”

These initiatives are welcome. It probably sounds churlish to say that measures such as these should have come much earlier in his presidency, and could have been a lot stronger. Late in the game, when there is no risk that his proposals will be enacted, Obama is belatedly pursuing policies that seek to underscore the differences between Democrats and Republicans in terms of the practical situation of regular people.
The White House policy of business-as-usual for Wall Street plus marginally increased help for working families calls to mind a very useful British expression—”horse and rabbit stew,” a supposedly equal ragout made from one horse and one rabbit.

When you add it all up, it still amounts to Rubinism, the ideology associated with America’s most influential Wall Street Democrat, Robert Rubin. The former Goldman Sachs co-chair, later chair of the executive committee of Citigroup—with a stint as Clinton economic policy czar and later treasury secretary in between—had a neat formula for serving the interests of Wall Street while signaling concern for America’s struggling working families.

The policy was one part financial deregulation and trade deals crafted to enable banks and corporations to outrun the constraints of domestic law. The other part was small-bore initiatives to signal help for ordinary working families. Such proposals are unobjectionable, except for the fact that they don’t fundamentally change the political economy of American inequality.

If Hillary Clinton should be the next president, we run the risk of having Rubinism as the dominant Democratic economic ideology for three successive Democratic presidencies—and we will keep wondering why working people increasingly give up on Democrats and on government itself. (While Obama is cautiously proposing some modest spending initiatives, Bill Clinton keeps on showing up at events sponsored by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, sounding the alarms about the federal deficit.)

Kuttner is right.  The concept of horse and rabbit stew is quite useful.  In this country we are getting elephant and donkey stew.

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