Last Sunday, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told the nation that many Americans will suffer from the hardest economic times of their lives for a long time to come.
Ronald Reagan once asked whether voters were better off than they were four years ago. If President Obama believes what Secretary Geithner said Sunday he will be telling many voters in 2012 they will not be much better off four years from now.
This is not acceptable. This is not the “fierce urgency of now.” This is not what the Democratic Party stands for. Promises of perpetual pain are not what voters want or deserve from leaders today.
Lest Republicans enjoy my criticism of the president, I believe there is now an economically unpatriotic wing of the GOP. They express partisan joy with every new job loss. They oppose new jobs programs with an obstructionism reminiscent of segregationist senators during the dark days of the antebellum South. Their politics is a cult of unpatriotism in which some Americans die for their country while the wealthiest Americans are not asked to pay taxes equal to those of their receptionist, and the wealthiest companies are not asked to pay any taxes at all.
We miss one of the most revered presidents in American history, who lifted our sights and our standards: John F. Kennedy. We miss that passionate protagonist who united the races behind shared economic interests: Robert Kennedy. We miss the Lion of the Senate who would be roaring today for more programs to create jobs, as he roared in 2008 to elect President Obama: Edward Kennedy.
If God would grant me one political wish, it would be that Barack Obama would fully understand the greatness of Robert Kennedy.
RFK did not criticize the base of the great political party he wanted to lead the nation. RFK did not believe in the false notion that the way to appeal to political independents is to demean, distance himself or triangulate against the heart and soul of this party. This is an insult to the Democratic heritage, an insult to political independents, and the way to lose elections as Democrats lost in 2010.
JFK fought for a rising tide that would lift all boats. RFK carried that torch with honor. He spoke passionately for the poor and profoundly about the dignity of work. The result (are you listening, Mr. President?) is that many white working-class voters who ultimately voted for the racist George Wallace in 1968 stood with RFK as their first choice because they knew he was fighting for them.
What voters want today (are you listening, Mr. President?) are leaders who fight for them as Robert Kennedy fought for them against greedy powers that cheat them, and impersonal forces that crush them, and depress them, and keep them down, and tell them they must quietly acquiesce to their fate of long-term suffering and pain.
Voters don’t care, Mr. President, about how much you distance yourself from various Democrats or maneuver yourself between various factions in a system they believe is corrupt, hostile to their interests, and alien to the notion of the American Dream.
Voters want to know how their president will fight to lift them out of their economic pain, battle to create the jobs they hunger for and stand up for their dignity as men and women, moms and dads, workers and human beings who only ask for a fair shake and a square deal in an America where the pain is never permanent and the dream is never dead.
This is why Robert Kennedy was so special. This is why Barack Obama was elected in 2008. This is what voters want today. This is what real Democrats stand for yesterday, today and tomorrow.
Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. He can be read on The Hill’s Pundits Blog and reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.