Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Deval Preview for Barack

Chums Deval Patrick and Barack Obama have so many parallels the similarities are not even worth cataloging. Perhaps the President Elect has had the spare moments to reflect on — and plan on avoiding — Patrick's obstructions.

Locally, the Deval version of a progressive river has trickled instead of swept us along. In addition to their sharing considerable politics and philosophy, Barack can like look to the same sort of roadblocks.

Deval has and Barack will face the same, but differing, what sales types call opportunities.

The Money. The progressive agenda each campaigned on takes cash from all its sources — continuing government income from taxes and elsewhere, enabling legislation, bonds and so forth. Neither chief executive can appropriate funds solo. At best, he'll get what he asks for. At second best, he can use or alter the use of existing appropriations. Otherwise, it's game playing with the legislators to deal.

One key difference here is that Deval entered a game underway in which a primary rule is we won't raise taxes. That has proven wildly imprudent as the General Court, often in concert with the previous Republican governors deferred essential expenses repeatedly. Each time increased the cost and didn't make the need vanish. Now infrastructure improvements and maintenance have become absurdly high as a result.

Barack's version will be turning the great ocean liner of expenses. It has been sailing along since in an unbelievable borrow-and-spend party for eight years. Even when Bill Clinton showed how to balance a budget, the current President has seen no need to and Congress went along. Couple this with the two-front war expenses and cap it with the recent ongoing financial chaos.

Barack has to lead us toward financial stability before anyone will support progressive goals. The exceptions may be the twofers — a New Deal-style investment in jobs that helps the economy at the same time. All but the stupidest of us must have learned that the trickle-down fantasy of giving rich people more money does not create jobs or help the broad economy.

Deval has a bit of an easier set of demands. He can't do anything meaningful for the national or world economies. The closest he can come is fostering high-tech and green companies and industries here that help with energy independence and licensing like the early software and computer industries. On the other hand, he was already in a money pinch before this fall's international and national crises.

The Pols. Deval certainly got the worst gang to rumble with. The General Court is a snake pit with entrenched vipers. Everything he promised and then proposed has been a fight, battles he has lost more often than won.

A complicating factor is that despite a nominal huge Democratic majority, Patrick struggles constantly with the real second party — not Republicans, rather the Democrats in Name Only (DINOs). They are often anti-progressives and socially conservative. They typically represent small cities, suburbs and exurbs. Each of these either opposes progressive goals on principle or wants some bacon to bring home for a vote.

The real roadblock has been with the leadership, particularly the local satrap, a.k.a. Speaker of the House Salvatore DiMasi. He repeatedly held up enabling legislation for progressive programs, programs that could have had financing in place and even been totally in motion before the current money crisis. He has been the worst of those who promise no new taxes, while letting necessary expenses soar.

Barack will need all his Democrats, plus a few Republicans, in each chamber to redirect expenses. Getting us out of Iraq will save many billions, perhaps one or two trillion, mid- to long-term. Yet, he has already made it plain in his debates and speeches that he wants bold strokes as well. He wants Congress to accept deficit spending, but only as investments. Big projects, like FDR-style jobs programs, should put money in workers' pockets and provide paychecks for those presently without. This flows back into the economy. Unlike the fantasy of giving the biggest companies and wealthiest individuals huge tax cuts and subsidies, and then believing they'll create new American jobs and companies, Barack's style of investment has a proven record here and elsewhere.

He and Deval face the same problem and promises they made running for office. Each claims to have a great record of bipartisanship and getting differing sides to work together. So far, Deval really hasn't proven that ability in the harsh Massachusetts political environment. Barack has a similarly demanding set of legislators. However, he also has ground-level pressure from a fearful public and wants and demands action on financials and on his progressive pledges.

Back in Massachusetts, it appears as thought DiMasi may be on his way out soon. A new speaker may play nicer, but again, that will fall to Deval to prove he can work with difficult people here. In Washington, it remains first things first for Barack.

The Vultures. Many want both Deval and Barack to fail. Even before Deval was in office, conservatives and regressives fairly drooled in predicting failure. Some didn't want change. Some wanted to keep or get power. Some wanted to see the Democrats do no better than the Republicans. A few were just ideologues who wanted anything progressive to tank.

Barack can expect the same as Deval here. They'll sit like tukey vultures in the field, eager for any stumble. They'll conveniently forget how long the previous "management" took to screw things up and go ah-ha! when correction and reversal are not immediate.

This schadenfreude vulture group may actively hinder Barack or some of it may be content to gloat and point fingers. I think Barack will likely be as calm about these characters as Deval has been.

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