Vanity of Vanities; All is Vanity: Obama’s Vain Search for a TPP “Legacy”

By William K. Black
Bloomington, MN: January 8, 2015

The banksters have given Obama an important political opportunity – which he has spurned. The very first thing the new Republican majorities sought to do with their power was to use the Omnibus bill to extort the first of many cuts designed to destroy the Volcker rule. Naturally, Obama agreed and wouldn’t join the Democratic wing of the Party when they could have easily stopped the giveaway if they had received even mild help from the administration. Instead, the administration lobbied hard for the Omnibus bills’ Christmas gift to banksters.

Next, the Republicans sought to slip another big delay in the effective date of provisions of the Volcker bill through Congress. Progressive Democrats killed that attempt. The Obama administration couldn’t even bring itself to feign rage at the effort to gut the Volcker rule.

These Republican efforts were (a) substantively awful, (b) designed to eviscerate the key Dodd-Frank provision purportedly supported by Obama as a vital reform, and (c) would have been incredibly unpopular with the public and the Tea Party – if Obama had stirred himself to mount a public campaign opposing them ala Elizabeth Warren. But Obama never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity to side with the American people against the banksters.

The Travesty Known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership

The third strike is that Obama has decided to ally with the Chamber of Commerce, the perennial ally of the Koch Brothers – the people that have demonized Obama and Democrats for seven years – to get “fast track” authority approved so he can pass one of the plutocrats’ great dreams – the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Obama has also allied himself with the Business Roundtable, the CEOs of the 100 largest U.S. corporations. The Business Roundtable is also a bitter opponent of Democrats and Obama’s health policies. Obama has shaken off his torpor to energetically lobby the business lobbyists to pressure Democratic members of Congress to support TPP.

The obvious conclusion is that Obama’s paramount goal is to remain BFFs with the banksters. As those who listened to Senator Elizabeth Warren’s famous denunciation of the effort to use the Omnibus bill to begin to gut the Volcker rule will recall, Obama has brought the bankers inside the tent to rig the system against the workers. As she explained, Obama is notorious for placing wealthy Citigroup officials inside the government where they set key government economic policies. One of those wealthy and powerful Citigroup officials is Michael B. Froman, who is also a Robert Rubin protégé. It just gets better and better. Froman is Obama’s top trade negotiator, which helps explain why TPP is such a substantive disgrace that Froman is desperate to prevent the American people from knowing what is about to be done to them.

Froman has deliberately made it impossible for members of Congress to understand TPP’s provisions by not allowing them and their staff to have copies of the documents, which are very long, complex, and full of arcane legalese. The drafts also cannot be fully understood without knowing which corporate lawyers secretly drafted them with the intent of aiding their corporate clients by disadvantaging competitors and workers.

At this juncture, if you’re not already familiar with TPP you should be asking yourself, “if the draft agreement is so secret that members of Congress are not permitted to have copies of it, how did the corporations and their attorneys not only get copies of the drafts, but actually craft the drafts for the private benefit of their clients?” You also should be appalled. Obama and Froman’s TPP is being designed and handled in a fashion that reads like the playbook was designed by someone who was trying to take all the worst aspects of crony capitalism and use them to loot the public for the benefit of the world’s most rapacious and politically powerful plutocrats. Obama and Froman aren’t dumb, they know that their natural allies on TPP are the Chamber of Commerce, big pharma, and the Business Roundtable who are salivating at the prospects of what their lawyers secretly drafted becoming law.

To compound the disaster, Obama and Froman are demanding that Congress adopt TPP under “fast track” procedures in which no amendments to delete or rectify even the worst abuses emerging from the plutocrats’ plundering of America via the secret (from the public) drafting process are permitted. The members of Congress would be allowed only a single up or down vote on the entire package with minimal time for consideration and debate. When Warren aptly describes the system as being rigged against ordinary Americans she is talking about scandals like the TPP.

The TPP Can be Stopped

Larry Summers is not the Chairman of the Federal Reserve because progressives stopped Obama’s effort to please the banksters. Progressives blocked TPP last year. The New York Times reported on January 8, 2015 that progressives are gearing up to do the same the same to the TPP, and this is an issue on which most Americans oppose the TPP and Obama’s latest secret giveaway to the plutocrats.

“WASHINGTON — President Obama is facing new opposition from fellow Democrats to one of his top priorities: winning the power to negotiate international trade agreements and speed them through Congress.

As Mr. Obama works to secure the so-called trade promotion authority, a coalition of Democratic lawmakers and activists from organized labor, environmental, religious and civil rights groups is stepping up efforts to stop him.

“This is one of the broadest advocacy coalitions that we’ve had,” said Representative Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat who is leading the opposition. “There is no reason why we should exacerbate the loss of jobs or lower wages in the United States.”

They argue that the president is asking for carte blanche to hammer out trade deals that would cost American jobs, weaken food safety and financial regulations, and undermine environmental and labor standards.”

The same article demonstrated that the Obama administration is so blind to the interests of the American people that it doesn’t yet understand how to try to defend TPP without exposing its folly. This is the administration’s incredible response to criticisms of the TPP.

“Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, said the concerns were misplaced, given Mr. Obama’s determination to agree only to deals that were beneficial to American companies.”

Thanks Josh, it reaffirms my faith in America’s corporate lawyers to hear you confirm that letting them have access to secret trade documents so that they could secretly draft those trade documents to benefit their corporate clients results in documents that will be “beneficial to [the] American companies” (or more precisely their CEOs) that those lawyers represent. Thank heavens the corporations won’t have to bring malpractice suits against their lawyers. After all, if you can’t benefit the CEO when you get to secretly draft the deal to favor the CEO then you must be an immensely incompetent lawyer. As a law professor, married to law professor, I am pleased to hear that our graduates can succeed in making their plutocrat clients even wealthier when they are engaged in the legal drafting equivalent of shooting fish in a very small barrel with a double-barreled shotgun.

I hope you are sitting down when you read this Josh, because it will obviously come as a shock to you, but the problem is that what is “beneficial to” the corporate CEOs will often be harmful to American consumers, workers, and investors. When you are trying to defend the TPP you need to resist these tendencies towards honesty. You’re not supposed to admit that you know that the TPP is designed to enrich the Nation’s largest corporations and wealthiest CEOs. Josh, though I have never had a job as a shill, I consider it likely that your boss thinks that your job is to make it appear that the administration drafted the TPP to help the American people. Indeed, while I recognize that Obama has said that he is “at heart” a “blue-dog Democrat,” I am fairly sure that a president of the Democratic Party is supposed to make it appear that the TPP was drafted to help American workers. I know, that’s a lot of hypocrisy to spout, but I’m inclined to believe that your job is claim that a trade deal that will be (net) terrible for American workers is a fabulous deal for American workers.

Alternatively, given that the big automobile companies (two-thirds of which were bailed out by the Treasury) were the second biggest spenders on lobbying to pervert the TPP into a means to further enrich their CEOs, you could simply channel your inner Charlie Wilson and declare that you have always thought that what was “good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa.”

Here are the two basic problems with channeling Charlie Wilson. First, when you are negotiating a deal to help the American people and workers, rather than the corporation and CEO, you have no reason to conceal the terms from Congress and the public. You do the opposite, you solicit the views of Congress and the public and ensure that they have complete access to the drafts. We have known for thousands of years that “All those that doeth evil hateth the light.” Justice Brandeis was correct that “sunlight is … the best of disinfectants.” TPP cannot survive sunlight, which is why Froman and Obama settled on a strategy of hiding the TPP’s terms in the deepest of shadows.

Second, you would never allow corporate lobbyists and lawyers to secretly craft a trade deal. If you do let them craft the deal they will, 100 percent of the time, favor the interests of the CEOs at the expense of the public, consumers, and investors.

Obama is Manipulated Again by Big Business’ Siren Song of a “Legacy”

Obama sought, for years, to negotiate a “Grand Bargain” with the Republicans to attack the safety net and inflict austerity on the United States. This was economically illiterate, a betrayal of his campaign promises, vicious to those in need, and politically suicidal. (In short, it was just like the TPP.) As I explained in several prior articles, Obama’s efforts to commit what was really the “Grand Betrayal” would have made him a one-term President. The siren song that Timothy Geithner and Bill Daley used to convince Obama to commit this betrayal was the promise that by betraying his supporters he would establish a “legacy” as a “statesman.” Even though it should be obvious to Obama by now that Geither and Daley were conning him by appealing to his vanity, the sad truth is that the same tactics have proven successful with Obama on the TPP. Consider this gem from the Washington Post.

“[The TPP] will test [Obama’s] willingness to buck his own party in pursuit of a legacy-burnishing achievement.”

The search for a “legacy” near the end of a term of office is a well-known Washington disease that Ecclesiastes 2 warned against – vanity. Lobbyists sing the siren song of “legacy” to induce behavior in lame duck leaders that is otherwise inexplicable. Note that the Washington Post, in a purported news story, treats it as if it were fact that betraying his promises and giving business lobbyists and lawyers the ability to secretly draft deals that will make corporate CEOs wealthy at the expense of the American people would be “a legacy-burnishing achievement” for Obama. I still hope we live in a Nation in which Presidents who betray their word and the people of our Nation in the vain pursuit of creating a “legacy” actually produce a legacy of shame. It will help the reader to know that the paper’s leadership pushes relentlessly in favor of the TPP.

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