Maybe it depends on where home is. It’s not where I am. I’m to the left of Obama. Quite a bit. When Obama refers to “my friends on the left” he’s telling us two things: he has some and that’s not where he’s at. I knew it all along and that still didn’t stop me from welling up when he made that first speech to his party’s convention. I was reminded of the source of that emotion the other night watching the PBS documentary on the Freedom Riders when Robert Kennedy said someday there would be a black president. None of us thought it would happen so soon. When it did most of us were pleased and proud of the brother, in a way that I think a lot of white people have trouble relating to.
Home? The place we should be talking about, I think, is the place he himself described in the campaign, the place he said he wanted to take the country when he asked for our votes and our money. He promised “change” and we crossed our fingers. He said he would end the foreign wars and we pulled the lever by his name. He said he would attack poverty and bring relief from some of the burdens working people increasingly have to bear and we thought: we’ll hold you to it.
Now I’m not saying he hasn’t accomplished anything. Some positive things have happened since he moved into the White House. And I do think he is trying to find a way out of Afghanistan. And, yes he’s been stymied at every turn by members of the opposition party that shape their policies around making him fail, and some members of his own party that lend them a helping hand. And they are egged on by the legions of the reactionary and racist right. And these people are a real danger.
Yet we are very disappointed.
As others have said, most of us aren’t about to add to the undermining of the Obama presidency and most likely we are going to pull that same lever again. But I think there is something at work here that is very fundamental and it relates to the Administration’s response to our everyday lives and the future of the country.
On June 3, 2004, over two years before the economic crisis erupted and two years before Obama was elected, Bill Moyers had this to say:
There's no question about it: The corporate conservatives and their allies in the political and religious right are achieving a vast transformation of American life that only they understand because they are its advocates, its architects, and its beneficiaries. In creating the greatest economic inequality in the advanced world, they have saddled our nation, our states, and our cities and counties with structural deficits that will last until our children's children are ready for retirement, and they are systematically stripping government of all its functions except rewarding the rich and waging war.
And, he went on:
Let's face the reality: If ripping off the public trust; if distributing tax breaks to the wealthy at the expense of the poor; if driving the country into deficits deliberately to starve social benefits; if requiring states to balance their budgets on the backs of the poor; if squeezing the wages of workers until the labor force resembles a nation of serfs - if this isn't class war, what is?
The attack on public worker unions, the drive to eviscerate or destroy Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, the attack on teachers and the defunding of public education, the slashing of social welfare programs, the home foreclosure crisis, are not merely interconnected, they are part of one project.
Right now the lives of millions of people are being rendered increasingly precarious. All working people are feeling it and African Americans are being hit extra hard. On top of historic racism - and largely because of it - we have to put up to with a BC Question: What will it take to bring Obama home?catastrophic rate of joblessness, especially for our young people, and a disproportionate share of home foreclosures. The schools that are crumbling the fastest and facing unacceptable teacher layoffs are in our neighborhoods.
I never expected the President to choose liberal and progressive economists to try and rescue the economy when the crisis hit full force. He chose some of the movers and shakers of the finance industry and their academic fellow travelers (some of the same people that helped get us into this mess). It wasn’t just because the hedge fund people contributed so much to his campaign; they are competent and besides they know where the bodies are buried.
The problem is that the President is now ignoring the wise counsel of those who are saying clearly and forcefully that this “deficit reduction” business is a shuck. This is the “Shock Doctrine” that Naomi Klein spelled out in her book. The aim of the austerity drive in this country and in most of the advanced capitalist world - think of Greece, Ireland, Portugal - is to emerge from the present economic crisis with the system intact and the assets of the rich and powerful secure. Right now these shape the policies of both of the two major political parties, the bulk of the major mass media and business groups.
It’s reported that President Obama got no applause the other night when he told the audience at a Washington’s Capital Hilton Hotel fundraiser: “Let me tell you, we as Democrats, we as progressives, need to be just as concerned about the debt as anybody else. Because that’s how we will be able to move our vision forward - investing in education, investing in infrastructure, investing in clean energy, if we’ve got a government that lives within its means. So we’ve got to be concerned about that.”
Though the reports are still murky, it seems the President said pretty much the same thing when he met with members of the Congressional Black Caucus earlier this month and he scarcely got any amens there either.
These days when I hear anyone in official Washington say something about investing in education, infrastructure or clean energy, I reach for my computer. They aren’t talking about investing in anything. They’re too busy arguing about how much less to spend, how much to sock it to working people and poor while the banks are raking it in and paying out obscene bonuses big time. The tragedy here is that the Obama administration has effectively ruled out any more overt economic stimulus. What talk there is about spending on infrastructure offers no specific targets or budget allocations. The result is that there is no long-term employment program or meaningful steps to deal with the plight of the jobless today.
And whatever happened to green jobs?
“Successful job creation is the key to deficit reduction over the medium term,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said recently. “We must commit to the sizeable and sustained level of public investment needed to rebuild our crumbling roads, bridges and schools and prepare our country for the next generation. From technology to education, investments today will make responsible fiscal balance achievable and - most important - create good jobs for America’s workers and help us win the future.” Obama used to talk that way but no more; now the cart has been moved to front of the horse.
“Today's budget debate is being framed as if the President's proposal is the ‘left’ and the Republican proposal is the ‘right,’ Richard Eskow, a senior fellow with The Campaign for America's Future wrote the other day. “Actually, the President's offering a center-right plan and the GOP's offering a radical-right plan. The budget plan that most closely reflects public opinion is the one offered by the House Progressive Caucus, and that's being dismissed as coming from the 'loony left' - even though polls show it represents the real 'center' of public opinion.”
What should progressives do now? Seems to me we have little choice but to draw a line in the sand of our own. The budget proposals of the Black Congressional Caucus and the Progressive Congressional Caucus’s "People's Budget” should become our rallying point. We should resist with all the creative energy we can muster, and quite independently, any attempts to undermine Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, insist on an end the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, and for a turn away from the “deficit reduction” mania toward real action to create jobs and aid the unemployed.
And I agree with what Congressmember Barbara Lee said last November: “We're going to have to develop our own ways of communicating the truth to the America people that means grassroots organizing, town halls, and using social media networks. We're going to have to be 21st Century communicators to turn it around and to hit each and every front simultaneously. Because the fact is that money now rules in campaigns and those with money can distort the facts, tell lies, and it's hard to get a consistent platform to refute them.”
One of the lessons of the Freedom Rider story is that administrations can change (not in the “make me do it” sense. Obama’s no FDR.). The Kennedys were not happy about the activity of the young riders; they tried to get the project called off. But in the end the dedication and tenacity of the protestors won out. Segregation in interstate travel was banned. If, like them, we refuse to roll over or be quiet, if we insist that the needs and aspirations of Main Street, the ghetto and the barrio get through to the corridors of power, maybe, just maybe, the President will come back home. That is to the place he said he was when change was promised and the saga began.