Massachusetts: Timidity of Hope Won’t Cut It

So the Senate seat that John Fitzgerald Kennedy won by defeating the incumbent Republican Henry Cabot Lodge in 1952, and then passed on to his brother, Edward Moore Kennedy, in 1962 has fallen to a Republican far more right wing than Cabot Lodge. It’s partly Ted Kennedy’s fault for not cultivating an obvious heir. It’s partly Martha Coakley’s fault for being Martha Coakley. But mostly it’s President Barack Obama’s fault for not listening to his progressive base and forsaking us to follow the Rahm Emanuel path of cutting deals with every corporate special interest in Washington in an attempt to perpetuate Democrats in power the same way Republicans do.

The Obama Administration cut far too many deals with the same corporate special interests that have dominated Washington since the Reagan years. Obama watered down his agenda. The Democratic base stayed home. The Republicans were energized beyond belief. And the Democratic candidate in a Democratic state lost the “Lion of the Senate’s” seat.

Millions of Obama voters — me included — naively believed that he was going to stand up to corporate special interests in behalf of working people. He didn’t. People do not like wimps who compromise their principles to stay in power. That’s why Reagan was able to create a whole category called “Reagan Democrats.” Carter, Mondale, Dukakis, Clinton, Gore, Kerry. Whatever.

The jubilant folks at FOX News et al. are correct that the Massachusetts election today has national significance — but not for the reasons they claim. They think people are upset at “government” but they’re really upset (whether they know it or not) with corporate control of government, which makes corporate interests synonymous with the national interest. The Democratic Party has been hollowed out by the same kinds of corporate interests that own the Republican Party. Progressives believed that after eight miserable years of George W. Bush and the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression we had an opportunity to create a stronger social safety net. But Ben Nelson, Max Baucus, Mary Landrieu, and Joe Lieberman put the kibosh on that.

Ben Nelson and Max Baucus could never win a national election. Obama did win but instead of standing up to Wall Street and to the health insurance lobby he made a strategic decision to play nice with them even though both industries are toxic waste in the eyes of most Americans. A year ago Time magazine ran a caricature of Obama as FDR but Obama has yet to deliver anything concrete to the voters who worked so hard putting him in office.

President John F. Kennedy’s April 1962 confrontation with the big steel companies also took on the boards of directors representing huge financial institutions such as Morgan Guarantee Trust Company, the First National City Bank of New York, the Prudential Insurance Company, as well as the Ford Foundation and AT&T. Fortune magazine accused President Kennedy of perpetrating a “vitriolic and demagogic” assault on big steel. Attorney General Robert Kennedy launched aggressive anti-trust investigations against the steel corporations’ price-fixing activities. U.S. News and World Report ran an article claiming that President Kennedy was enacting a “Planned Economy” and acting like a Soviet commissar.

On May 8, 1962, when President Kennedy spoke before the United Auto Workers he said: “Last week, after speaking to the Chamber of Commerce and the presidents of the American Medical Association, I began to wonder how I got elected. And now I remember. I said last week to the Chamber that I thought I was the second choice for President of a majority of the Chamber; anyone else was first choice.”

JFK told Ted Sorensen, Kenny O’Donnell, and Arthur Schlesinger: “I understand better every day why Roosevelt, who started out such a mild fellow, ended up so ferociously anti-business. It is hard as hell to be friendly with people who keep trying to cut your legs off.”

Joseph Palermo

Originally published by the Huffington Post. Reprinted with permission from the author

About Joseph Palermo

Joseph Palermo is Professor of History, California State University, Sacramento. Professor Palermo's most recent book is The Eighties (Pearson 2012). He has also written two other books: In His Own Right: The Political Odyssey of Senator Robert F. Kennedy (Columbia, 2001); and Robert F. Kennedy and the Death of American Idealism (Pearson, 2008). Before earning a Master's degree and Doctorate in History from Cornell University, Professor Palermo completed Bachelor's degrees in Sociology and Anthropology from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a Master's degree in History from San Jose State University. His expertise includes the 1980s; political history; presidential politics and war powers; social movements of the 20th century; the 1960s; and the history of American foreign policy. Professor Palermo has also written articles for anthologies on the life of Father Daniel Berrigan, S.J. in The Human Tradition in America Since 1945 (Scholarly Resources Press, 2003); and on the Watergate scandal in Watergate and the Resignation of Richard Nixon (CQ Press, 2004).

Comments

  1. I think the author is being generous when he says that instead of standing up to Wall Street and to the health insurance lobby, Obama made a strategic decision to play nice with them.

    From the looks of the Universal Heath INSURANCE Act, I think a better description would be that they OWN our President, as well as most of Congress.

    It’s time to fire Obama and put in someone who can’t be bought off.

  2. Sorry folks but Kennedy’s spine went into that lake where he left the girl in the car & swam to the other side of the lake trying to avoid being caught instead of trying to save her.

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