Silver Lining in Economic Crisis: Obama Can Betray Voters

The media trope that presidents-elect ought to break progressive campaign promises really displays the anti-democratic and pro-corporate biases of the press at their most glaring. Who cares what you told the voters? Here’s what the interests that really matter want you to do.

The latest instance in this sad series is a USA Today editorial (12/2/08), which eagerly spots a silver lining in the economic crisis:

During his campaign…Obama endorsed a number of smaller bore ideas more for the sake of their political appeal than for their economic usefulness. The financial crisis gives the incoming president a compelling rationale to make a few modest course corrections.

The paper then offers three of its own “modest” proposals for how Obama should best rewrite his platform in a more big business-friendly direction. One is to drop the idea of a windfall profits tax on the oil industry, arguing that “windfall profits taxes…aren’t a very reliable or stable source of revenue.” Since windfall profits are by definition sudden and unexpected, that seems like a rather peculiar objection–like saying that receiving emergency aid isn’t something you can count on every year.

Another way that USA Today hopes that Obama will betray the people who voted for him is by dropping the idea of renegotiating NAFTA. “Outside of a handful of heavily unionized states where the trade pact with Canada and Mexico has become a scapegoat for job losses, NAFTA is not seen as such a bad thing,” the editorial claims–which ignores not only national polling but the fact that the entire country expressed its opinion by voting by a substantial margin for a candidate who promised to reopen the deal in no uncertain terms.

USA Today went on to assert that “the addition of 18 million jobs in the decade following [NAFTA’s] enactment suggests that it produced more winners than losers.” Actually, since the total U.S. population grew by an estimated 35 million between 1994 and 2004, adding 18 million new jobs is not particularly impressive. A more relevant statistic is that the U.S. trade deficit grew from $150 billion in 1994 to $650 billion in 2004, suggesting that U.S. trade policies during this period resulted in the transfer of trillions of dollars of wealth overseas.

Finally, echoing other corporate media pleas for Obama to abandon his progressive campaign pledges, USA Today singles out Obama’s long-standing support of card-check union certification as a promise to break, saying, “It is hard to see how ending the secret ballot would do much besides initiating campaigns of subtle, and not so subtle, intimidation as workers contemplate their decisions.”

The argument turns reality on its head: The current system, which treats worker organization as a matter to be contested with the employer rather than decided on by the workers themselves, allows those employers to intimidate workers in ways that are not subtle at all–a study by CEPR (1/07) based on NRLB data concluded that as many as one in five union organizers are illegally fired during the course of a typical union certification campaign.

The paper concludes that “pushing this idea through Congress would position Obama less as an agent of change and more as a pal of Big Labor.” It’s corporate media’s Orwellian notion of change in action: Changing the Bush administration’s hostile attitude toward labor–big or otherwise–would not be change; continuing that attitude would be change.

About Jim Naureckas

Extra! Magazine Editor Since 1990, Jim Naureckas has been the editor of Extra!, FAIR's monthly journal of media criticism. He is the co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website. He has worked as an investigative reporter for the newspaper In These Times, where he covered the Iran-Contra scandal, and was managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere, a newsletter on Latin America. Jim was born in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1964, and graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Since 1997 he has been married to Janine Jackson, FAIR's program director. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNaureckas.