Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

John Nichols on Obama's Budget

Full transcript, audio, and video at Democracy Now!
[B]udgets are moral documents and… the unsettling thing to me about this budget is that a Democratic president is proposing an expansion of military spending -- a substantial expansion of military spending. He’s also proposing to dramatically increase the amount of U.S. government support for the building of nuclear power plants, for all sorts of initiatives that we thought had been settled, old issues.

At the same time, there are dramatic cuts in humanitarian programs and, well, in programs that we think of as basic social services. The LIHEAP program, which is Low Income Heating [Home Energy] Assistance, [a] really, really vital program for people in the northern tier of the United States, is going to take an absolutely dramatic cut. And that cut’s important, Amy, because that’s going to have to be made up someplace, and if the federal government is not funding it, that money is going to have to come from state, county and municipal governments that are already incredibly hard hit. So it’s a brutal attack….

And frankly, I think it’s hugely cynical, because I think the President and his people believe that this is one issue where the Congress will feel forced to find the money. So, instead of the White House making the tough choices, you see a situation where they’re punting it over. I find it very disappointing, as I do an awful... lot of the social service and education cuts in this budget. They seem to be designed to send symbolic messages about some notion that the President is willing to make cuts rather than doing the right thing, which is to say there are some programs that we simply will not cut, because they’re life-and-death programs, and they’re also essential programs to a civil society….

[Y]ou have President Obama saying that they’ve gotten down to the lowest level of domestic spending, domestic discretionary spending, since the Eisenhower era. That certainly sounds good as a sound bite, but understand what that means. It means that now Pentagon spending, defense spending, is a dramatically higher level of what our budget goes to. And I wish President Obama would remember what Dwight Eisenhower said about defense spending versus domestic spending. Dwight Eisenhower said, every time you buy a bomb, every time you pay for a bullet, that’s money that comes out of building a school or putting a roof on a house. I just think the President is making a lot of wrong choices here.

I agree with all this, and think Nichols' point about the cynicism of the symbolic moves in this budget is especially on target.

Obama could have used the budget to send altogether different signals, of course, making choices that set the stage for a public discussion that reflects fact-based and progressive understanding of the urgent issues at hand, of the proper role of government as such. And that would certainly have made the budget far less disgusting than it is.

But I would add that these choices would still have been merely symbolic: That is to say, fact-based and progressive political outcomes are not exactly reasonable expectations given the defeats to Republicans last November. And pretending this context does not exist undermines the force of too many such fact-based and progressive accounts, deranging them into what usually amount to delusional retro-active justifications for positions assumed in the skirmishes of the last two years, skirmishes that took place when the political terrain was radically different from the present one.

Obama's budget is hardly one I can even remotely endorse given my priorities and ideals and expectations, or even, frankly, on opportunistic pragmatic grounds of realpolitik. But it is clear to me that the budget reflects a political horizon tragically circumscribed to the outcome of regaining the White House for a second term.

I suspect that the ugly, irrational, regressive priorities reflected in it do chart a path that will likely eventuate in a second term for Obama (a better outcome than the alternative, but hardly an outcome equal to the urgencies of our historical moment). As much as anything else, these recognitions reflect just how debased our public discourse has come to be and also just how disastrous November truly was for the country.

1 comment:

jollyspaniard said...

Military spending is my biggest beef with the Obama administration. I can excuse numerous compromises as political pragmatism but this doesn't seem like a compromise and it's not very minor. I'm bewildered at tens of billions of new spending on nuclear weapons. Meanwhile Italy of al places is installing more Solar PV than the USA by a wide margin.