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4 Steps For Creating the Obama Revolution: Will the President Take Them?

The president is uniquely placed in the timeline of history to replace the Reagan Revolution with one of his own. Here's how to do it.

Photo Credit: Official White House photo by Pete Souza


Since the election, it’s been made abundantly clear that the Republicans have been their own worst enemy, clinging ever more tightly their base voters -- the xenophobic, guns-and-religion, “Leave It to Beaver” nostalgists -- to the increasing exclusion of everyone else. It’s been 30 years since the Reagan Revolution heralded the GOP’s rightward shift; like every revolution that has run its course, Reagan’s shows a tendency toward fratricide.

As the base grows more extreme, reasonable, moderate Republicans are finding the party no longer represents them. As Princess Leia said of the Empire: “The more you tighten your grip, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.”

Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich shows how Obama’s election and reelection have exposed and expanded the Republican Party’s fissures, signaling, perhaps, the demise of the Reagan Revolution. Even as progressives oppose the Reagan Revolution’s policies, one should admire, as a matter of political science, that it was able to replace the accepted wisdom of political compromise nearly wholesale with its own unyielding doctrine.

Obama now finds himself positioned to replace today’s Reagan-inspired conventional wisdom -- three decades of nearly unquestioned belief that deregulating industry would lead to innovation and prosperity for all; that lowering taxes on the wealthy would spur investment and create a thriving economy where jobs would sprout like mushrooms; and that diversity is a threat to social harmony -- with a revolutionary, progressive legacy.

Here are four steps President Obama can take to plant the seeds for the Obama Revolution -- one that sets a new, progressive course for political dynamics in the country.

1. Hold wrongdoers accountable. We are a nation of laws, we’re told. Equal justice before law is a central tenet of our society. No one is above the law.

If you believe in these tenets, the events of the last four years raise a stinging catch in your throat. Because what we’ve seen is that there are different rules for the powerful than for the rest of us. If you rob a bank, you go to prison. If a bank robs you, it pays a fine (maybe). Torture and kill your neighbor, you die on a gurney with a state-sponsored doctor sticking a needle in your arm. Authorize the torture and/or deaths of dozens of defenseless captives, and you get a state-sponsored pension. And as Matt Taibbi points out in Rolling Stone, if you get caught with a bag of weed, you’re going to jail. But launder hundreds of millions of dollars in drug-cartel blood money, and you’ll have to wait to get part of your bonus check.

This is, quite simply, unacceptable.

How can citizens have faith in a country with such widely disparate treatment of street crime and white-collar crime, where the rich and powerful get a pass because their crimes are simply too big? It breeds cynicism and distrust, making the very notion that “we’re all in this together” insulting.

There’s an opportunity to change that. Lanny Breuer, the Justice Department’s top prosecutor, announced he’s leaving the department after prosecuting precisely zero bank executives for their role in driving the world’s economy to the brink of collapse. It may be just a coincidence, but the announcement came shortly after PBS’s “Frontline” aired a documentary showing just how much evidence was available to bring criminal charges, and highlighting Breuer’s spoken fears of the consequences prosecution might have for the banks. (Can you imagine a D.A. questioning how other people might be impacted by putting a low-level drug peddler in jail?) It rightly sparked outrage.

The president now has the opportunity to harness that outrage and get somebody into the position who is actually prepared and willing to hold Wall Street criminals accountable for their misdeeds, for which millions of Americans are still paying a heavy penalty. Despite Breuer’s protestations, proving fraud is not especially difficult when banks create and sell investments to customers, touting them as solid and reliable, while setting themselves up to profit from the failure of those same investments.

In 2008, candidate Obama pledged to help working families who had just lost their savings and home equity to the pirates of Wall Street, promising, “We can bring a new era of responsibility and accountability to Wall Street and to Washington. … [W]e can restore confidence - confidence in America, confidence in our economy, and confidence in ourselves.”

For four years, the American people have been waiting for someone -- anyone -- at the top levels of the banking world, who made unfathomable personal fortunes at their expense, to bear responsibility for the crimes they committed, and to be held to account. If President Obama wants to restore public confidence, making that happen would be a very good way to do it.

2. Build a popular movement. Polling repeatedly shows that voters support progressive programs and ideals when pejorative labels are removed. So it’s no surprise that the president’s inaugural address, which alarmed so many professional pearl-clutchers of the punditocracy with its unabashedly liberal rhetoric, resounded with much of the public.

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