The ‘boardroom liberalism’ of Barack Obama

It can seem as if American politics is significantly far to the right of party politics in the UK. But is this an accurate description? It seems to convey a linear political spectrum in which party politics in the USA is simply shunted to the right of that in the UK. This New Republic article discussing the senior Whitehouse advisor Valeria Jarrett offers an interesting insight into the complexity underlying this apparently simple difference:

They emanate from the worldview that Jarrett and Obama sharecall it “boardroom liberalism.” It’s a worldview that’s steeped in social progressivism, in the values of tolerance and diversity. It takes as a given that government has a role to play in building infrastructure, regulating business, training workers, smoothing out the boom-bust cycles of the economy, providing for the poor and disadvantaged. But it is a view from on highone that presumes a dominant role for large institutions like corporations and a wisdom on the part of elites. It believes that the world works best when these elites use their power magnanimously, not when they’re forced to share it. The picture of the boardroom liberal is a corporate CEO handing a refrigerator-sized check to the head of a charity at a celebrity golf tournament. All the better if they’re surrounded by minority children and struggling moms.

Notwithstanding his early career as a community organizer, Obama, like Jarrett, is fundamentally a man of the inside. It’s why he put a former Citigroup executive and Robert Rubin chief of staff named Michael Froman in charge of assembling his economic team in 2008, why he avoided a deep restructuring of Wall Street, why he abruptly junked the public option during the health care debate, why he so ruthlessly pursues leakers and the journalists who cultivate them. It explains why so many of his policy ideasfrom jobs for the long-term unemployed to mentoring minority youthrely on the largesse of corporations.

It’s the boardroom liberal in Obama who gets bent out of shape over criticism from outsiders, despite having once urged progressives to press him the way civil rights activists like A. Philip Randolph pressured Franklin Roosevelt. He is a president profoundly uncomfortable with populist rhetoric. He prefers to negotiate behind closed doors, as he did on the stimulus, health care, and deficit reduction, rather than wage a state-by-state political campaign to force concessions. Except for a handful of moments over the last six yearslike when the administration tried to pass a second stimulus bill known as the American Jobs ActObama has rarely tried to mobilize public opinion in any sustained fashion. He has been consistently slow and half-hearted about taking unilateral action.

Categories: Rethinking The World

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