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Jim Sleeper Headshot

Great Orations Vs. Great Obfuscations

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I often enjoy and benefit from Maureen Dowd's columns, but today she's fallen off her wagon of arch and noble punditry into the smallish world-view, or Beltanschauung, of the Washington Beltway's sophisticated chattering classes. These worthy purveyors of Capitol-corridor realism believe -- or find it quite necessary to pretend -- that President Obama's critics on the left expect him to vanquish his political enemies and the country's economic crisis with a Great Oration.

Thus Dowd, in "One [Speech] and Done?," lampoons Obama and his strategists -- who've been spurred, perhaps, by critics to their left into trying to reenact his 2008 campaign -- for "suffering from the Speech Illusion, the idea that he can come down from the mountain, read from a Teleprompter, cast a magic spell with his words and climb back up the mountain, while we scurry around and do what he proclaimed."

Here Dowd echoes Fareed Zakaria's claim that critics such as Drew Westen expect the president to "wave a magic wand" and bring change. She also echoes (as Zakaria himself did) another Beltway realist's jibe that leftish critics think "every known impediment to the legislative process -- special interest lobbying, the filibuster, macroeconomic conditions, not to mention certain settled beliefs of public opinion -- are but tiny stick huts trembling in the face of the atomic bomb of the presidential speech."

But that's not what Obama's enlightened critics, from Westen to Paul Krugman, Robert Reich, Joseph Stiglitz, Jared Bernstein, Robert Shiller, and many others, are saying. Rather, it's Washington's self-protective mis-characterization of what they're actually saying. Obama's critics are saying that he should give a big speech, followed by others, that

a) actually begins a hard fight for substantive programs (like those mentioned in today's Times editorial on the jobs crisis), knowing full well that his opponents will vote them down and that he'll then have them clearly on record doing so; and that

b) then lambastes the do-nothing Congress and tells Americans the truth about what the global casino-finance, corporate-welfare, consumer-defrauding juggernaut that controls this Congress has been doing to their jobs.

This isn't Adam Smith's "free market" capitalism anymore. And the critics of the present economic anarchy such as those I've named a few paragraphs above aren't utopians, Communists, or magic-wand wavers.

And this isn't "The Best of All Possible Worlds," as the favorite medley of the orchestra of high-minded Beltway opinion assures us. It is, rather, a wrecking ball that will have to be grasped and guided somehow by republics and trans-national bodies with some democratic base, and not always guided as financiers and CEOs and even bond-holders want it to be.

"A President can't say that!", the Beltanschauung realists cry. But his chances of being able to say just that -- in other words, to tell the truth -- would be greater if Beltway writers would tell it themselves, instead of sounding increasingly like what C. Wright Mills called “crackpot realists,” obsessed with putting down those who are telling it already.

This post first appeared on TPMCafe.

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One and Done?