I said this last night on Twitter, after seeing a TPM post that talked about Obama “pushing back hard” on liberals, including Elizabeth Warren, who were excoriating the secrecy and push for fast-track authority on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), but it bears repeating again here: what a President is willing to push for defines who they are politically, and how they should be viewed.
When the financial crisis of 2008/9 hit just as Bush was leaving office and Obama was in the wings, not just the banks, but millions of homeowners were in an extremely shaky financial situation as a result of the MBS mess. The big banks were insolvent, and needed taxpayer bailouts to survive. That meant, to anyone paying attention, that leverage was at its peak to force the banks to adhere to some rules and restrictions going forward. If banks wanted taxpayers to help them, they needed to help the “little guys” who were hurting too. And government was in a position to demand it. Did Obama push for this? No.
When the scope of the damage and the fraud was revealed, did the Obama DoJ push hard for criminal prosecutions of individual bankers (not just slap-on-the-wrist, cost-of-doing-business fines), to put the fear of real consequences into them in order to perhaps stave off future recurrence of such bad behavior? No. (or watch the Frontline special on the subject)
When the rubber met the road on Obama’s first-term signature piece of legislation – health care reform – did President Obama roll up his sleeves and really push to include the public option that would have kept costs truly down by offering consumers a low-to-no-overhead (and thus lower-cost) option for health care insurance? No.
But let a trade deal, drawn up by transnational corporations’ representatives away from public (and even congressional) scrutiny, get criticized by liberals, and Obama’s got all the energy of a fresh NBA recruit rarin’ to make a name for himself in the big leagues, calling liberals who oppose the bill “dishonest,” and hitting the bricks to grab the bully pulpit and tell reporters, the public and anyone else listening that he’s “…going to be pushing back very hard” against opposition to TPP.
“I’m pretty fired up about this,” he told reporters on the Friday call.
Since I’ve been paying attention over time, this doesn’t come as that much of a shock to someone like me. Still, I’m glad you’re willing to be so up-front about what fires you up, sir, and what doesn’t.
So, what’s the difference between the above three issues which received, shall we say, somewhat less of a push from the White House, and the current full-court press on TPP? Well, let’s start with what the similarity is, namely: they are all principally economic issues. They’re not social-liberal issues like gun control or access to abortion or marriage equality. Those are low-hanging fruit for Democrats to champion.
Instead, all of these issues concern money – who controls it, who has it, who has a say over what gets done with it. So what’s the difference? Pushing hard for the first three issues would’ve involved taking admittedly difficult – but just as easily admittedly economically and morally proper stands against powerful, monied corporate interests (in the first two cases, banks, in the third, insurance companies), on behalf of the people.
Advocating for TPP involves the exact opposite. You do the math.