Economic Populist: The Radical Populist Case for Voting for Obama{+}

{+} in swing states

Burning the Midnight Oil for Economic Populism

The case against a radical Economic Populist voting for Obama is pretty straightforward:

  • The Obama administration is a neo-liberal administration, and buys into the fantasy that eliminating the deficit somehow fosters growth;
  • The "all of the above" energy strategy is a path to slightly slower climate suicide than the "all in for oil and coal" strategy
  • Support for "smart wars" instead of "dumb wars" means more Americans die as a result of overseas conflicts that we do not have to have than dismantling the American Empire and eliminating the root cause of most attacks on Americans overseas.

I am aware of an argument that a vote for Obama is a vote for a "more effective evil" because the radical reactionary alternative is such an "extreme evil" that it is going to be "less effective". I am not going to address that argument. This is more directed to the "no effective difference" argument.

There are two distinct opposing arguments that I can see.
Climate Chaos

There are lots of things that can be done to lay the groundwork for a genuine push to fight climate chaos under the All of the Above framework that will not be pursued under the "hand Energy Policy to the Oil and Coal companies" framework being offered as an alternative.

One of the key institutions that we require are feed-in tariffs for sustainable, renewable electricity. Under the (government-chosen) marginal pricing of wholesale electricity, when sustainable, renewable electricity pulls down the average cost of electricity, by reducing the average days per year when expensive peak power plants must operate, and by stretching the supply of less expensive hydro-power electricity, it threatens to undermine the repayment of the loan of the capital intensive, fuel-free sustainable renewable harvesting of wind, solar, and etc. That risk increases the cost of finance to utility scale wind and solar. Its a good deal for wind and solar to offer a moderate, fixed rate when power is available, paying more in cheap "off peak demand" periods and substantially less in expensive "peak demand" periods.

Even without a Federal feed-in tariff, a state can pursue substantial development of sustainable renewable power with a feed-in tariff. Under existing law, it cannot establish a feed-in tariff that is greater than avoided costs ~ but under an Obama administration regulatory decision, it can use the penalties in a sustainable power portfolio standard when computing avoided costs, which in fact frees up a state to establish a feed-in tariff at a level sufficient to ensure construction of utility scale wind and/or utility-scale solar and/or residential-scale solar.

A Romney administration can simply reverse that ruling to close down that threat to coal companies.

One of the key infrastructure investments that we require to avoid stranded wind in the substantial Northern Plains wind resource is transmission capacity between the Northern Plains and the Great Lakes / Midwest. We know that the Obama administration energy policy is favorable for that infrastructure, because its being built as we speak. That again is vulnerable to radical reactionary regulatory capture, since this is an intrinsic question of interstate electricity transmission: we do not have any states that are so large they contain entire wind resources.

In transportation policy, a key element of the establishment of a modern intercity transport system that is not oil-dependent is the reformation of our 1950's era rail regulatory regime. We have made substantial progress on that front in the past four years, but it would be easy to double the effective cost per track mile of both Rapid Passenger Rail and High Speed Passenger Rail by appointing an anti-passenger rail head to the Federal Rail authority.

Four more years of half measures on Energy and Transport policy is substantially superior to four more years of radical reactionary policies on Energy and Transport policy, let alone a possible eight more years of radical reactionary policies.
Four more years versus Eight More Years

The second argument is simpler. Four more years of Obama and then the Obama administration is over. Four more years of Obama means the incumbent President and whatever malicious mischief he is getting up to is off the table as far as working toward raising the profile of a Radical Populist challenge in the 2013-2014 second midterm campaign season and the 2015-2016 Presidential campaign season.

Electing Romney means we are back in 2001. We have another 2004 election season to look forward to ~ "shut up about all that, don't you realize how bad this guy is? we got to get rid of him". Winning that fight means we are back in 2009 with a newly elected Democratic neoliberal in office. Except its 2017, and in 2021 we are caught in the same "but if you don't support the current LOTE you will get the GOTE instead!".

Losing that prospective 2016 fight means eight years of radical reactionary government. And while the fight against a radical reactionary government has its thrilling moments, and the feeling of building a movement in reaction to the reactionary, and the hope that it will lead to a bright dawn of a newly forged progressive populist coalition in power ...
... it also likely means waking up in 2021 back where we were in 2009, with a Democratic neoliberal in power on the back of a promise of hope and change that we can believe in.
So, that's the case that I can see.

So, that's the Radical Economic Populist case that I can see for voting for Obama in a swing state.

Obviously if you live in a "safe" red or blue state, there's nothing that you vote can do in the short term, and the only vote you can cast that has the slenderest change of doing some good over the longer term is a vote for a third party.

However, I believe that there are premises under which it makes sense for a Radical Economic Populist who lives in a swing state to cast a vote for Obama.

With a different set of premises, of course, whether regarding the importance of climate suicide or regarding the utility of laying a physical foundation now to support for a more serious policy in the future, or regarding the likelihood of recycling 2000-20012 but worse if we elect another George W Bush (but worse), YMMV.
Message from Marley:




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besides the fact that it's hopeless...

Shahryar's picture

I see 4 more years of Obama as merely delaying the next Republican administration. Eventually they'll win one and it'll be horrible but keeping the Democrats in power, as they are now, isn't a good thing, of itself.

I would like to think that a Democratic loss would be better in the long run than a series of D wins. We had 8 years of Bush and during that time we all wanted the anti-Bush, something better, something dedicated to helping people instead of Halliburton and the war machine.

We, as a nation, did something about it, electing Democrats in 2006 and then again in 2008, as well as voting specifically for the one candidate who did not go along with the AUMF. And we got double-crossed.

Should Mittens win we'd have 4 years of nastiness but, once again, we'd be looking for what we wanted in 2008. Throwing out the bum next week would be a warning to the Democrats that if they want to keep power in the future they need to be...well, Democrats! Populist, anti-crooks, and they have to deliver.

However, I'm pretty sure they don't want to do that and will interpret a loss as an excuse to turn further right. You know, where the money is.

And if they win they'll continue on the current course.

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This is where I don't see anything different on offer ...

BruceMcF's picture

... if we repeat the 2001-2008 cycle:

We, as a nation, did something about it, electing Democrats in 2006 and then again in 2008, as well as voting specifically for the one candidate who did not go along with the AUMF. And we got double-crossed.

We got quite a bit of what we were promised in 2008: the expansion of NAFTA style international corporate wealth agreements was promised and delivered, a drill baby drill oil policy was promised and delivered, a record investment in sustainable energy green jobs was promised and delivered, continuation of the war in Afghanistan was promised and delivered, flouting of international law in pursuit of Osama bin Laden was promised and delivered ...

... now, sure, some promises made were not delivered on, but by and large we got the neoliberal, corporatist, warmongering administration that we opponents of the Obama primary campaign were pointing out as the policies he was promising underneath his loft rhetoric.

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I can find no case.

downsouth's picture

I'm sorry, but if you came to me today and convinced me that the very survival of the nation depended on an Obama victory, the election was tied, and mine was the only vote yet to be cast...I still couldn't give that vote to Barack Obama.  I simply will not vote for a war criminal, no matter the stakes to me personally or to my nation.  Any economic argument falls far short of convincing, in light of the policies pursued by this Administration.

Over at dKos, they call me a "purist".  Thats not true, though.  I would be perfectly willing to vote for a candidate who made mistakes, or even one with whom I disagreed on some issues.  However, I spent 5 years, from 2003 to 2008, fighting against a criminal Administration.  I won't now turn around and vote for the same criminality I once opposed.

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Me, too, but I'd add one more thing, which is on the top of list

Glinda's picture

I would be perfectly willing to vote for a candidate who made mistakes, or even one with whom I disagreed on some issues.

I'd vote for a candidate who fought hard for issues and policies that they campaigned on, even if they lost every fight.  At least they would have tried, but only if they convinced me they were sincere. 

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A question there is ...

BruceMcF's picture

... what does "Campaigned on" mean? Does it mean the sweeping rhetoric? Or does it mean the actual issue positions actually advanced?

As far as actual issue positions actually advanced in 2008, in both the primary and general election, Obama has performed quite well in terms of meeting his promises.

As far as the hopes of optimsitic progressive bloggers in 2008 as far as what his rhetoric really meant, independent of his policy positions and what they implied, I'm sure he could be seen as a big disappointment, but I mostly read those as works of speculative fiction.

That is, someone who has a pro- "free trade treaty" position in the primaries, when the opposite is more politically appealing in the primary, really does intend to govern as if the neoliberal bullshit about the economy was true. Which pretty much implies the underdone stimulus and deficit cutting which sees us with unemployment around 8% when it could easily have been unemployment of 7% or lower. And it definitely implies pandering to the banksters: neoliberals always pander to the banksters. In the neoliberal fantasy of the world, the banksters are an essential part of the process of creating "capital", despite the fact that is paper capital and the real, physical plant and equipment of an economy is run down under their search for windfall gains.

And I don't see how anyone who read through his 2004 Convention Speech would be surprised that he let the Bush administration off the hook for its scofflaw behavior.

The only position he took that was to the left of either Clinton or Edwards was in his health care reform proposal, which despite being generally the most conservative of the three, relied on an employer mandate rather than an individual mandate. And yes, he made much of it, and yes, he flipped on that ... but given that the balance of his health care system was the least progressive of the lot, flipping the sole piece that was not at the least progressive edge of what a health care reform could be was surely no surprise.

It was surely consistent with the rest of his economic policy, as can be seen in how such staunch neoliberal pundits as Ezra Klein was furiously misinforming people about the "necessity" of an individual mandate.

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That's a reasonable point.

BruceMcF's picture

Ever since Jimmy Carter lost to Reagan, I haven't expected to see a President elected who was unwilling to be a war criminal. It goes with maintaining an Empire past its use-by date, and I don't see any reason to believe that any of Reagan, HW Bush, Dole, W Bush, McCain, Romney, Mondale, Dukakis, Clinton, Gore, or Kerry would completely balk at being a war criminal "in the interests of national security".

Climate suicide is a higher priority for me, though. Our climate policy has already created more death and suffering than our imperialistic foreign policy, though the lags involved in climate change means that the majority of the butchers bill hasn't fallen due yet.

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Nice effort

nemesis's picture

But the bright red line for me is personal.  He chose to make the banks whole at my personal expense.  Plus he let Bush off the hook, guaranteeing that the 1st, 4th and 5th amendments are inoperable until such time as the so called GWOT is over, which will be sometime after the war on drugs is over.  


For me, the only choice is between Jill Stein, Rocky Anderson and Jimmy Carlson (grassroots party).  Jimmy Carlson can get Major party status with enough votes, so that is not a wasted vote.  I see the greens as going nowhere, though I greatly admire Stein.   Rocky is running a vanity campaign to kick start another party more in one with a new progressive party to compete with dems.  

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Cassiodorus's picture

“All voting is a sort of gaming, like checkers or back gammon, with a slight moral tinge to it, a playing with right and wrong, with moral questions; and betting naturally accompanies it. The character of the voters is not staked. I cast my vote, perchance, as I think right; but I am not vitally concerned that that right should prevail. I am willing to leave it to the majority. Its obli­gation, therefore, never exceeds that of expediency. Even voting for the right is doing nothing for it. It is only expressing to men feebly your desire that it should prevail. A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority.”


O'Donnell and Greider:

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All of the weighing

shaharazade's picture

of odds for the degrees and time lines of teh evil inside the context of the run amok neoliberal/neocon capitalistic globalizers  just seems a big waste of time. Politics are not static nor are political parties. Regardless of who wins this election any 'change' or populist movement that will be effective at even incremental levels of progress is going to have to come from outside the current established political reality. Neither side is going to even compromise for our country's common good or the 'national interest' or even for the planets survival. Their agenda is global and it's at heart  the same anti-democratic anti-humanist  nightmare that throughout history humans have had to beat back..


This time around the technology and weaponry has allowed them to speed up their destruction of both universal human and civil rights and  destruction the very planet that sustains life. They are fucking madmen and function with lizard brains. So trading off some gains in sustainable energy while they proceed to ship coal to China, frack the hell out of the stressed earth, crank our GM earth destroyers and rain 'hell fire'  on the ME all for empty useless profit  and their global ownership society  just doesn't seem pragmatic. It seems suicidal.

This reality is not 'inevitable' it's a total fail on every level. I'm voting for Jill Stein, not as a protest vote but as a way to at least let these fuckers know that I do not accept their inevitable, 'world as we find it.'.  We didn't just find this world they are creating it. It's a start in the sense that until we stop getting our vote extorted out of fear we are stuck in theirs. People globally and historically have always found ways to stop them as they always go too far and this time around their too big not to fail. The inalienable rights of humans were hard won over centuries and they are not ours to give away out of fear the could be  worse. Meanwhile I work locally and think globally inside and out of the system. But I'll never vote out of fear as it will get worse regardless of which puppet PR person they stick in the WH.


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Yes, my point exactly ...

BruceMcF's picture

"Regardless of who wins this election any 'change' or populist movement that will be effective at even incremental levels of progress is going to have to come from outside the current established political reality."

When the minimum that must be done is greater than the maximum that is politically feasible, the political landscape must be reinvented. We can't move the minimum that must be done, because geophysical reality doesn't pay attention to the human symbolic realm.

When I see the Leninist strategy pushed of pushing for things to get worse so that people will finally rebel against the entire status quo system, I don't buy it. More often, the radical reactionaries take advantage of the situation to take back gains we won long ago and thought to be secure.

And in terms of climate change, quite clearly the corporate coalition that Obama figureheads is less bad than the corporate coalition that Romey figureheads. We cannot make sufficient progress with either, but we can make actual measurable, observable progress with one.

Laying some of the required physical foundation, though, necessary as it may be, is simple unsufficient, and doing what is sufficient seems like it will require a Great Restructure of American politics.

The current structure is inherited from a Double Movement from the reaction to the New Deal, first the Republicans, after many decades, finding the line of political attack in the growing political weight of the outer suburbs and the collapse of the incentive for Big Oil to support full employment, and then the Democrats finding a counterweight in Wall Street, at the cost of triage of a number of their New Deal victories. The threat of climate suicide of our industrial economy is a distinctly new existential challenge, and requires a new progressive change coalition to address it.

The nascent Occupy movement seems like it will be a critical piece of any new Great Restructure in American politics. And I am far more worried about a Romney Presidency giving the Democratic party establishment a far better platform for co-opting that nascent movement than an Obama Presidency, where the painted on progressive rhetoric stands in stark contrast to the actual ecnomic policy.


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I understand your position

shaharazade's picture

and although I disagree your reasons are understandable and resonable. It's good to be able to actually have a dicussion about  issues and politics with people I respect  . Matt Stoller case articulated my already made decision to vote for Jill Stein....

At some point soon, we will face yet another moment where the elites
say, “Do what we want or there will be a meltdown.” Do we have enough
people on our side willing to collectively say “do what we want
or there will be a global meldown”? This election is a good mechanism
to train people in the willingness to say that and mean it. That is, the
reason to advocate for a third-party candidate is to build the civic
muscles willing to say no to the establishment in a crisis moment we all
know is coming. Right now, the liberal establishment is teaching its
people that letting malevolent political elites do what they want is not
only the right path, it is the only path. Anything other than that is
dubbed an affront to common decency. Just telling the truth is
considered beyond rude.

We need to build a different  model of politics, one in which people who want a different society are willing to actually bargain and back up their threats, rather than just
aesthetically argue for shifts around the margin.

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I've never been all that convinced that ...

BruceMcF's picture

... Presidential elections are good for that. I think that, in the example of using the power of building outside movements for ill rather than good, the radical reactionaries have shown that bottom up is more effective ~ they were years into scaring targeted Republican moderates shitless before they got to the point that they were able to scare a quarter-billionaire that they would knock him out of competing in a Presidential race unless he adopted their batshit crazy positions ...

... even though Mitt Romney knew full well that a moderate Republican might be in a position to win in a casual trot.

They were pulling this shit on Congressional candidates in the 90's, but not until the 2008 campaign did we see the natural "moderate Republican" standard bearer kow-towing to them in the same way.

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I'm in florida and on the fence

quince's picture

I appreciate this piece and the comments in both directions. I've never been this on the fence this close to the election.

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Thanks for that ...

BruceMcF's picture

... as a defensive reaction against living in Ohio, I've long ago got off the fence early and cast my vote early in the Olympic voting years.

Mind, I've had to the last few years that I've been election observing. I'm going to be cycling around Kent on Tuesday, making sure nobody is trying to cage the vote of the Kent Green party voters, by making sure nobody is trying to cage the vote of any voters at all.


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I was on this fence during the primaries after John Edwards

Glinda's picture

dropped out.  I didn't know who I was going to vote for until one second before I made my choice in the voting booth.

I truly believe that when you get to the polls and at the last minute when you make your decision, you'll believe later that it was the right choice for you.

At least that's what happened to me.

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