It’s the day before a hotly-contested national election, where it appeared the rabble was well positioned to deliver a colossal spanking to the elites who have for too long ignored their plight, so what does Team Obama do?
They have a press conference to talk about their eagerness to complete the Korea Free Trade Agreement negotiated by President Bush. "The president has long said we want to try and address the outstanding issues regarding the Free Trade Agreement in order to bring it forward for approval," said Mike Froman, Obama’s deputy national security advisor for international economic affairs. “[W]e're going to put every effort into achieving ... an acceptable agreement, a satisfactory agreement, by the time the president comes to Seoul," he told a news conference on Monday.
Are these people nuts?
In case they had not noticed, Democrats across the country were getting hammered on the charge of exporting jobs to China via the stimulus package. It does not matter that the charge is false and that Democrats jumped into action to block U.S. companies who were considering ordering wind turbines from their subsidiaries in China. The Republican ads, which ran in key races nationwide, cleverly turned a Democratic advantage on fair trade for some candidates into a Republican advantage nationwide.
This latest free trade idiocy caps a long list of failures from the White House economic team:
-Failure to treat sustained high-levels of unemployment as the national emergency it is.
-Failure to pass a bank bailout package that placed any tough conditions on the banks.
-Failure to pass a Wall Street reform bill that was big enough or bad enough to make the big banks rein in those infuriating bank bonuses.
-Failure to put even a single CEO responsible for the financial crisis behind bars.
-Shameful failure to address the housing and foreclosure mess that will soon put one in four families in American underwater with their mortgages.
No wonder the people are voting to throw the bums out.
Much of the blame for the staggering electoral losses has to be laid at the feet of the President's economic team, who seems to think that 14 months of near double-digit unemployment is acceptable.
“Their primary misjudgment is they did not understand how serious the downturn would be,” says economist Dean Baker, who sounded the warning about the accumulating housing bubble as early as 2002. “Summers, Geithner, Greenspan, Bernanke, none of these guys thought bubbles were a big deal. They expect the economy to bounce back on its own, and if it didn’t, unemployment was not such a big deal either.”
As a consequence, Team Obama's main chance to get the economy going again -- the stimulus/jobs package -- was not big enough. Christina Romer, former head of the Council of Economic Advisers, recommended over a trillion dollars in direct job-creation funding, but the final package contained about half of that.
"Summers managed to marginalize alternative views on nearly everything … the size and composition of the stimulus, whether and how to discipline the banksters or do a housing refinance,” says Joel Rogers, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Center on Wisconsin Strategy (COWS), the national “high road” strategy center. “He very ably represented Wall Street and the rich against everyone else." But you can’t exactly blame him for success in that. The President declares what economic discussion should be about, and who's in it.
While some will celebrate this turn of events, the tragedy of course is that the bums-in-waiting advocate policies like tightening spending that is the opposite of what is needed in this type of downturn. Plus, the best of the best -- those who have always stood with the people against the big banks, the bailouts and even the Obama economics team -- are being swept up in the mob mentality. Wisconsin’s Senator Russ Feingold voted "no" to every free trade deal, no to the bailouts, no to weak Wall Street reform and no Tim Geithner’s appointment as U.S. Treasury Secretary, but he was beaten by a self-financed Tea Party millionaire who will advance exactly the pro-free trade, pro-corporate agenda that Wisconsinites abhor.
Pass Out the Pink Slips or Receive One Yourself
If this president does not learn the lesson of this election, he will of course be forced to repeat it.
“In 2008, Obama only won the election because he won the critical states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin by differentiating himself from McCain on trade. It's pretty obvious with Dems and GOP nationwide running against the trade status quo and its job offshoring damage, that if Obama flip flops now in favor of more job-killing NAFTA agreements, he will lose those states and end up a one term president,” says trade expert Lori Wallach of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch group.
So the pink slips need to go to Summers, Geithner, Froman and the other henchmen of the failed status quo. Even Obama’s new chief of staff, Peter Rouse, who touted an incredibly uninspiring forward agenda of education and free trade in a New York Times magazine profile of Obama, needs to go.
Obama needs a new economics team, one that does not disregard the suffering of families facing unemployment and foreclosure, and one that puts job creation -- not free trade -- at the top of their economic agenda.