By 2014, it was already more than clear that the political rhetoric and neoliberal economic policy ideas of the Reagan Era were largely exhausted. But it was also clear that Obama’s presidency, despite his personal virtues and relatively progressive policy successes, was best understood as a continuation of Reagan’s political regime rather than a transformational movement beyond it. As I suggested at the time, many of Obama’s policies resembled those of a moderate Republican from the 1990s.
The tragedy of Obama’s presidency, in retrospect, was that he had prepared himself for a project of racial and cultural reconciliation that turned out to be politically impossible, while he had failed to work out in advance a set of bold, progressive, anti-oligarchic economic ideas that might actually have been, to some degree, politically feasible in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. Whether the Reagan regime might have been brought to the beginning of an end in 2009, or whether right-wing media hostility, partisan tribalism, legislative gridlock, and the inevitable difficulties of economic recovery would have discredited a bolder economic program and simply resulted in Obama not being reelected, will never be known. What is clear is that the financial crisis of 2008, like any serious crisis, created political possibilities for departing from the status quo — and the Obama administration made few serious attempts to exploit those possibilities. Perversely, the political exploitation of the crisis belonged almost entirely to the Right, and especially to the Tea Party.
Obama himself can hardly be blamed for not having arrived in office in 2009 with a well-developed post-neoliberal political-economic ideology. Where could he have found one? What widely read book, essay, or report could he have encountered that might have played for him the role that Capitalism and Freedom played for Reagan, or Hayek’s work played for Thatcher? Even the academic Left during the Reagan Era provided no politically useful blueprint for an economic alternative to the era’s neoliberalism.
My hope, as reflected in these posts, is that progressives are coming closer to arriving at the kinds of ideas and expressions of ideas that might provide a blueprint for the next era’s FDR or Reagan — and do we already know who she might be? — as we simultaneously become more politically organized than we have been in many years.
What the Democratic Party leadership is currently offering — the bland, forgettable, universally inoffensive and therefore politically worthless platitudes of the “Better Deal” — continues to illustrate what has been lacking for decades. But with enough pressure from progressives engaged by groups like Indivisible, change within the party could happen very quickly — including, at long last, the rejection of the Democratic Party’s unholy alliance with Wall Street. In order to be for something in a politically meaningful sense, it is practically necessary to be against something as well. This is one thing that Trump (and Bannon) understand to their agonistic, Schmittian cores, and that the modern Democratic Party (including Obama) has seemed unwilling to accept or act upon. It is long past time for the Democratic Party to declare itself against the finance industry in its current, horrendously wasteful and destructive state.
This blog, on the other hand, has been against so many things — logicians, Gilles Deleuze, analytic philosophy, our deranged child-tyrant — it is a relief to be for something, and for that something — the progressive rethinking of government and markets — to be, finally, on the rise.
Other posts in this series:
- After Neoliberalism (Nov. 17, 2017)
- Markets Are Government Creations: An Introduction (Nov. 19, 2017)
- Markets Are Government Creations: A Resource Guide (Nov. 20, 2017)
- The Intellectual Foundations of a New Progressive Era? (Nov. 22, 2017)
- The Tragedy of the Obama Administration (Nov. 24, 2017)