The Discontent Baseline

I asked this on Twitter yesterday, but I think it’s an important issue. At lunch with a coworker last week talking over the “pay freeze” nonsense and the bargaining over the Bush tax cuts, I was a bit ready to throw the towel in over Barack Obama. And I retract none of my psychic derision of these latest moves. I’ll just quote my colleague Adam Hersh, “No Time to Dawdle: Latest Jobs Numbers Confirm Immediate Priority for Job Creation, Not Deficit Reduction”. Disaster. Oy.

That said, in analytic terms it’s worth trying to say what your discontent baseline is. Barack Obama has assembled an insufficient track record of progressive achievements compared to Bill Clinton? Doubtful. To Jimmy Carter? No. To John F Kennedy? Also to. To Lyndon Johnson, clearly yes, but the record on wars and civil liberties here is much worse. So is Barack Obama, for all his failings, the greatest progressive president in 70 years? That sounds like very high praise to me.

Now in political advocacy terms it doesn’t make sense to say “well, I’ll forgive a misguided pivot to austerity because the Vietnam War was a bigger mistake.” Nor does it make sense to say “I don’t care about claimed assassination powers because the internment of the Japanese was a bigger curtailment of civil liberties.” Nor does it make sense to say, “I won’t complain about cutting a deal with Pharma to get a major expansion of the welfare state because FDR cut a deal with white supremacists to get his.” You need to stand up for what you believe in in politics and complain when elected officials don’t do the right thing.

But as an analyst you do need to obtain some kind of perspective.