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Robert Kuttner on the Obama Puzzle

RK:

Unequal to the Moment: How do we explain... the inversion of a Franklin D. Roosevelt moment into a new period dominated by the corporate elite and the far right?.... The first batch of books from relatively friendly analysts of Obama's presidency falls into two broad categories.... Jonathan Alter, Richard Wolffe, Bob Woodward, and David Remnick... cut him a huge amount of slack. He was, after all, facing a severe recession, the collapse of the financial sector, and a dysfunctional political system in which 41 determined senators could block any legislative action. Others, such as Ari Berman, emphasized the fragmented Democratic Party but also faulted Obama's failure to convert a campaign movement into a governing strategy. Eric Alterman has single-handedly created a third category in his important new book, Kabuki Democracy. This short volume, an elaboration of an influential essay that he published last year in The Nation, is surprisingly kind to Obama--maybe a little too kind--and instead takes systematic stock of structural barriers to American progressivism.... Alterman goes well beyond the standard checklist (big money, the filibuster, right-wing media).... [T]he system is rigged, and it's rigged against us.

Some of this will be familiar--the time bombs left by the Bush-Cheney presidency; the weakness and ideological division within the Democratic Party compared to the GOP... the multiple tools and uses of legislative obstructionism; the increasing dominance of big money; and, of course, the asymmetric power of right-wing media.... Alterman's contribution is to add new insights and to connect more dots.... I have two quibbles.... Alterman is too gentle on Obama.... The second weakness is... "the Chapter 10 problem"--what do we do about this depressing picture?...

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