this is the test body
I was working for "Jimmy Kimmel Live" in April 2003, our gregarious executive producer, Daniel Kellison, convinced a few notable Red Sox players to be our guest announcers before a three-game series in Anaheim.1 This wasn't a ratings ploy, just a way for the show's New England transplants to hang out with as many Boston players as possible. When we learned Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez were coming, we were infinitely more excited than for Britney Spears' appearance six months later.
"And we're going out afterward!" Daniel predicted gleefully. "We're taking them out!"
Manny Ramirez in 2004 World Series
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
These facts remain indisputable: Manny is a first-ballot Hall of Famer and one of the big reasons The Curse is no more.
To Daniel's disbelief, I made myself a game-time decision. See, I think like a fan, write like a fan and try like hell to keep it that way. If I went drinking with my favorite players, I might see things that couldn't be unseen. That was verified right after the show finished, when everyone poured into our legendary green room and I caught one of my heroes eyeing three scantily clad bimbos like a starving cheetah stalking a herd of grazing deer.2 That was it for me. In retrospect, I should have gone out because my buddies passed along every upsetting nugget anyway. Like the player who yanked his wedding ring off with an exaggerated pull while dancing with one of our attractive co-workers, the implication being, "Tonight, I'm single, baby!" Every time I watched the Sox from then on, when Wedding Ring Guy came to bat, I thought of him hitting on our 22-year-old talent assistant and jamming that ring in his pocket. And you wonder why I never want to drink with my favorite players.
Daniel wasn't nearly as bothered, even gushing the following day, "This was one of the great nights of my life." I made my exit stage right as he was herding a swollen group of players and co-workers to a nearby Hollywood club in two stretch limousines. Sadly, I missed David Ortiz pulling out an AmEx card in Daniel's limo, waving it with his signature gap-toothed smile and announcing happily, "I got Manny's credit card tonight!" Everyone cheered like they'd just won the pennant. With Manny riding in the other limo, they started telling "Manny Being Manny" stories, like how Manny routinely stuffed uncashed paychecks in the top shelf of his locker. Seems he rarely got around to cashing them. The checks were for $978,000 every two weeks during the season. (Big Papi knew the exact number because he made a team employee show him one.) Manny lived in a one-bedroom condo outside of Boston until Ortiz joined the club and made him relocate to the presidential suite at the Four Seasons. Daniel thought Manny's teammates made him sound like Tom Hanks in "Big," a little kid trapped in an adult's body. Everyone got a sincere kick out of him. Or so it seemed.3
They arrived at the club and Daniel started ordering drinks left and right. After all, Manny was paying! Three fun hours that I'm a fool for passing up ensued. The check arrived. Papi pulled out Manny's card, felt an unexpected twinge of guilt and confessed.4 And Manny -- the alleged idiot savant with uncashed checks spilling out of his locker, the so-called dummy who stumbled into a record contract and should have been conned into paying for everything by his much, much, much smarter teammates -- was laughing and saying, "Nononono, I'm not paying" before grabbing the card after a friendly tussle. Manny might have been dumb enough to lose his AmEx card, but he was also smart enough to get it back.
The check sat there. And it sat there.
You know who ended up paying? Daniel. Quite possibly the poorest guy there. Five years later, he remembers the exact figure: "860 dollars." Only in Hollywood.
Former Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota is on Capitol Hill today meeting with his erstwhile colleagues.
"I'm hopeful I'll be back here," said Coleman as he entered the Senate's LBJ room for a lunch meeting with the Republican conference.
His Democratic opponent, Al Franken, has been declared the winner of the Minnesota contest but has yet to be sworn in as court battles continue. Coleman said that the court struggle has been extremely expensive and that he's continuing to raise money for his legal fund -- but wouldn't be doing so during the meeting.
Like any important speech, Barack Obama's inaugural address was actually several speeches rolled into one. Each string of rhetoric the new president wove on this historic occasion holds different meaning for American progressives, a weary group following eight disastrous years of conservative war and plunder and hungry for a brand of change that goes far beyond a slogan. Ultimately, it was a mixed bag -- hopeful signs, but of a distinctly conventional sort of change. A dramatic move from the far reaches of the right, but with threads that conservatives might have found attractive.
Let's start with the inaugural address as a message to the nation's governing elite. The Beltway pundits saw it as "a stark repudiation of the era of George W. Bush," in the words of New York Times columnist David Sanger. When Obama said, "Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some"; when he observed that, "Without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control. … A nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous"; when he promised to "restore science to its rightful place" and warned that the "ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet" ; when he promised to "harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories" -- these were all subtle digs at Bush-era policies and signs that the new administration would turn in directions that progressives could applaud.
On foreign policy, too, there were a few shots at Bush's era -- some promise of a more-progressive approach: "We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals," he said. "Power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. … Our power grows through its prudent use." He promised "to work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat and roll back the specter of a warming planet."
There were other lines that might gladden progressive hearts. He said there was a role of government in creating "jobs at a decent wage" with "health care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified." He was inclusive, reminding the country that "our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus -- and nonbelievers" (that last word a daring one in a nation that will elect a president of any color, but not an atheist).
But that was about it. Enough to strike D.C. insiders as a sharp break with the Bush administration -- surely good reason to celebrate after eight long years in the darkness. But not enough, perhaps, to impress those who want the heralded "change" to bring a deep and far-reaching transformation of our government's key institutions and power structures.
Of course, most of us progressives who put in long hours working for the Obama campaign had no such illusions. We knew from that start that our candidate was never really a progressive by our standards. Whatever his deepest inclinations might be, he is, above all, a pragmatic politician who aims to win. He picks his battles carefully, never takes on a fight unless he thinks he'll be victorious, piles up political capital by helping others with their own winnable battles, and calls in those chips to score victories on issues he really cares about. As a cautious politician, it's up to us to keep up the pressure, creating the political winds that might push him to the left.
The administration Obama put together shows his approach. He will let the foreign policy and Wall Street establishments keep charge of their bailiwicks. He'll fight no major contests on those fronts. Then when the crunch comes on the domestic issues that matter most to him -- health care, energy and the environment, help for the unemployed -- those elites will back him, or at least stand aside, making it far harder for the conservative movement to defeat him.
But even on these favored issues, his positions will never move too far leftward; he won't ask for more than the political traffic can bear. The careful wording of the inaugural address -- though it sounded to insiders like "a break from decades of Washington leadership" -- suggests that the break will be slow, gradual and cautious at best.
The overarching theme of the speech was simple: In a time of crisis, the only way to move toward a better future is to step back into a perfect American past, to live again by the high ideals that once made our nation great, ideals that "still light the world."
Of course, that City on the Hill is mostly an illusion. If you don't believe in an idealized version of the nation's past, key portions of the speech made significantly less sense.
Many of the ideals the president praised could be comfortably embraced by conservatives. In his opening sentence, he recalled "the sacrifices borne by our ancestors." The sentence highlighted by his aides in the advance publicity said bluntly: "What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility -- a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties." What kind of duties? Obama invoked "the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job" -- as if a worker should have to choose between one and the other.
On the foreign front, he sounded as tough as George W. Bush at times. He invoked all-powerful terrorist networks, promising: "You cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you." And he praised "the risk-takers, the doers … who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom. … For us, they fought and died, in places like … Khe Sanh" -- as if the Vietnam War had been some noble crusade for a freedom.
This language wasn't directed at the pundits, or the "centrist" elites. It's directed to a much larger audience: the many millions of average Americans who sense that we're in a deep crisis but are afraid of genuine change.
It's not that they are afraid of progressive policies. Polls suggest that most Americans will approve a host of progressive policy changes, if each new policy is explained to them separately, one by one, out of any political context.
But once progressive policies are bundled together into a single platform, most Americans stop focusing on the individual policies and begin to see an image of radical change that they fear would tear apart the remaining shreds of cultural stability, leaving American society with no foundation at all.
Obama understands this perfectly well. He has talked sympathetically about the voters' longing for "a sense of continuity and stability that is unavailable in [their] economic life. … Because Democrats haven't met them halfway on cultural issues, we've not been able to communicate to them effectively an economic agenda that would help broaden our coalition." He knows that some cope with change by clinging to God, guns, etc. But those folks, and many more who are not so socially conservative, all seek continuity and stability by believing in a tightly knit package of enduring American values that they can count on to hold society together no matter what.
The Republicans would love to tar Obama as a threat to whatever is left of the unraveling social fabric. That's probably the only way they can hope to defeat him on the economic issues central to his agenda. He doesn't plan to let that happen, especially when it is so easy to avoid defeat by mobilizing the language of traditional values -- "hard work and honesty … loyalty and patriotism," and conquering every enemy -- which is music to so many American ears.
It may not be music to genuinely progressive ears. But let's not judge a president by the color of his rhetoric. Let's not assume that he's taking his stand on any firm ideological ground or telling us what he really and truly believes. Regardless of what the new president believes, it's up to us to push him to the left. But will we have any chance of success?
The best reason for thinking so comes from yet another crucial audience Obama was addressing: the mass media journalists, who speak not to the insider elite but to their idea of the average American. What did these journalists hear in the inaugural address? Judging from the headlines in news sources of national scope, they definitely heard the widely heralded "new era of responsibility," the call to "make hard choices" and "shared sacrifices." The media headlines set these words in the larger context, not of conservative values like duty and patriotism, but of the progressive values of large-scale transformation.
According to a scan of the latest news, Obama calls us to "begin again remaking America." We will "pick ourselves up," the headlines trumpeted, and find "a new way forward." No obstacle can stop us: "The challenges we face are real," but "they will be met," because "We have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord."
The media created this plot line in part because it's dramatic and exciting: Will Americans rise to the challenge? Will they get the job done? It makes us want to tune in again next time, just to see what happens. The hero of the media story is not America the World Power, but America the People -- all of us -- the "men and women obscure in their labor," as Obama put it. The media sense that the people don't really want to go backward; they want to create something new. That all sounds like progressive, even radical, talk to me. If that's what the people want, why not give it to them?
Yet Obama and his speechwriters are more subtle than the headline writers. They know that the vast majority of Americans want both transformation and reassuring stability, that reassuring words are crucial to smoothing the political path of transformation.
Perhaps we can learn from Obama's approach -- learn that there is no reason to let other political forces monopolize the powerful language of traditional American values. Obama's idealized America is not the only one. We can follow his example, promoting progressive policies by clothing them in the language of traditional values, while making both the policies and the values far more progressive.
Obama's inaugural address only hinted at this possibility. It's up to us to take the hint and make real change. It will be a "long, rugged path," as he said, not "the path for the fainthearted."
"But our time of standing pat … has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and begin again the work of remaking America."
Now begins the process of taking the new president at his word and pushing him to do the same.
Huge throngs came to Washington to watch President-elect Barack Obama get sworn into office and attend one, or if they were lucky, several balls, parties and events. Widely billed as the biggest celebration ever to come to town, visitors couldn't help but notice that the grassroots progressive groups that helped get Obama elected are far from fading into the background until the next round of elections. Instead, those visitors -- and perhaps some Washington insiders, too -- were forced to see the advertisements spread across D.C.'s transit system proclaiming that MoveOn.org is preparing to throw its full weight behind immediately launching bold progressive reforms.
All last year, 5 million members of the MoveOn organization put their blood, sweat, tears and money behind Obama. The massive group reportedly spent $84 million and worked 20 million volunteer hours to help elect Obama. Now with his inauguration around the corner, MoveOn members, among other groups, such as the 2 million-strong Service Employees International Union, are not-so-subtly reminding Obama of their work to put him in the Oval Office and dedicating themselves to supporting his progressive agenda.
"At this historic moment, we want to recognize the real folks who helped Obama to win this election and who will go on to help achieve the change this country needs," said Eli Pariser, MoveOn's executive director.
With ads put in place last week and running during inauguration week on buses, bus shelters, subway trains and rail stations, the "Real Voices for Change" campaign promises to give Obama help in moving priority issues through Congress.
"Special interests and their friends in Congress should see these ads and take notice -- the grassroots powerhouse that got this president elected isn't going anywhere until Congress makes the real policy changes that matter to most Americans," Pariser said, announcing the campaign.
But MoveOn's commitment to Obama is no stretch for the progressive organization. The Real Voices for Change campaign concentrates on issues, chosen by members at parties, events and in a survey MoveOn sent to its members immediately following the election, that have long been centerpieces of the progressive movement. But now, because the issues correlate so strongly with Obama's stated goals for this time of financial crisis, the progressive community has an ally in power, and they're ready to work. The tagline at the bottom of all MoveOn's new ads reads: "5 million members. Ready to get started."
At the more than 1,200 post-election parties and in the survey, MoveOn members chose "universal health care," "economic recovery and job creation," "build a green economy, stop climate change" and "end the Iraq war" as their advocacy goals for 2009. Nearly half the members in the survey voted for ending the 6-year-old misadventure in Iraq and working to build a green economy. More than 60 percent of members voted to enact universal health care and working toward economic recovery and creating new jobs for Americans.
The goals are largely the same ones that Obama has said he plans to have his first term judged on, especially because of the turbulence in the markets and recent job losses and other financial hardships being visited on Americans of all stripes. But Obama has also made strong commitments that are directly aimed at easing the burden of the current financial crisis on Americans. He plans on bolstering employment with his ambitious economic recovery plan and the creation of a "green jobs" sector by investing political capital into developing environmentally friendly technologies at home.
The No. 1 priority for the group is universal health care. The health care deficit in America, with nearly one-sixth of the population, some 46 million people, without health insurance, is not only a woeful statistic on its own for the self-proclaimed richest country in the world, but is both a strain on and a symptom of the nation's economic troubles.
But regular people, not the rather abstract notion of the national economy, are the ones hit hardest. MoveOn member Pat L. in Los Angeles put it best when asked why he voted for universal health care as a top aim for his administration: "Reform isn't an option any more -- it's a necessity."
Likewise, with daunting and growing unemployment numbers coming in, the parts of the economic reform package targeting job creation is likely to have the greatest impact on struggling working families increasingly out of work. What one MoveOn member called a "devastating year" is likely to end up that way for many more. But by pumping money into programs like what Obama called "the single largest new investment in our national infrastructure," the recovery plan hopes to save or create 2.5 million new jobs in the next two years.
By investing in green-technologies and policies, such as making all federal government buildings energy efficient, Obama hopes to not only make positive progress toward stemming rapid and already-destructive man-made climate change, but he will also be creating new jobs and entire industries based on green standards. "This not only helps all Americans," said MoveOn member Cher H., of San Antonio, Texas, "but our planet as well." With the commitment to green, America should be able to put its former manufacturing prowess and technical innovation to a whole new range of environmentally friendly endeavors.
As for the war in Iraq, most of the nation has seen the folly behind the George W. Bush administration's bloody attempt at unilateral, pre-emptive war. But bringing the war in Iraq to close will have benefits far beyond merely ending the previous administration's crackpot misadventure. One will certainly be the eased burden on the treasury. "With our economy destroyed, the last thing we need to be throwing money at is a futile war," MoveOn member Francis T. said astutely. By enacting his plan for a responsible withdrawal, Obama will also be able to take the military resources from Iraq and redeploy them to more pressing national-security concerns like Afghanistan.
But without the support of Congress, Obama won't be able to implement the kind of broad-based change he is pushing for. As part of its new campaign, MoveOn held a series of "Congressional Action Trainings" this past weekend to kick-off its citizen-lobbying effort and to teach members to organize in their own states and districts. If Congress didn't get the call for change sent by Obama's overwhelming electoral victory, then it will when it starts hearing from regular constituents.
SEIU has also promised that it plans to maintain an active advocacy role throughout the election cycle lull. Two weeks ago, the union, boasting nearly 2 million members, launched a campaign of its own to help push through reforms very much like those of MoveOn. The powerful, combined voices of some 7 million politically organized Americans from across the country will be tough to miss -- even inside the Washington bubble where SEIU has pledged to appeal directly to Congress and the new administration with phone calls, letters and other actions.
SEIU, like MoveOn, is focused on the ambitious sorts of reforms that will help families across the country. Its stated goals are the passage of Obama's economic recovery plan, a universal health care bill and the Employee Free Choice Act that protects workers' right to unionize. An early institutional supporter of Obama after endorsing him only a month into the long Democratic primary battle, SEIU is looking for a return on its huge effort to elect Obama.
After knocking on 3.5 million doors and making more than 15 million phone calls in the last election cycle -- and showing its mettle and value by winning more than 80 percent of its key races -- SEIU has pledged massive resources to the new push. The group plans outreach efforts in 35 states, 1,000 full-time field staffers and an incredible 30 percent of the group's resources towards the campaign. The group has already put aside $10 million for the effort.
With a recent poll showing that more than half of America wants a strong package for recovery like the ones MoveOn and SEIU are advocating for and, notably, Obama has proposed, an aggressive and progressive agenda looks more promising than ever before. And with the country's woes -- two wars abroad and the economic downturn hitting hard at home -- bold initiatives have never been needed more.
But despite the relatively friendly climate, progressive groups and Obama are likely to encounter some push back. SEIU, for example, has set up a "war room" to battle opposition to its agenda. One thing is certain, the progressives that put Obama in power won't be happy with simply his inauguration; they want his agenda to make it through Congress and start providing the "change" and "hope" so eloquently described during the presidential race last year. And if these latest campaign's by MoveOn and SEIU are any indication, they intend to fight hard for them.
Over the past eight years, the gap between most Americans' perception of their country's role in world affairs and that of the citizens of other nations has grown into a yawning chasm. For several years, global public opinion polls have found that a majority of the planet's residents believe the United States plays a "mainly negative" role in world affairs.
Much of Obama's inaugural speech was directed not only to the citizens of this country, but to the rest of the world as well. In a rebuke to the Cheney Doctrine, and other neoconservative madness that drove so many of Bush's policies, Obama said that earlier generations of American leaders had "understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint."
Time will tell how that translates into policy -- exactly what kind of change™ the Obama administration will bring to Washington. It's not only Americans who wait with eager anticipation to see. We rounded up reactions to this historic changing of the guard from newspaper editorial pages around the world, most via the excellent work of Watching America, a website that compiles -- and translates -- stories about the U.S. from the international media.
In The Guardian, Polly Toynbee writes that "even in lazily cynical Britain" the population "will all remember where we were today."
There has never been a day like it for Britain's postwar generations. As that inauguration speech echoes out, the globe itself seems to inhale a mighty, collective intake of breath, frighteningly audacious in its hope.
How does the man's arrival feel here? A day like no other, in a time of multiple crisis like none other. In the years of plenty, the British since the war have known little political excitement. …
So here comes the man who says he can [fix the many crises we face]. It's an American mystery that this great pool of genius has usually thrown such minnows into the White House. But the monumental present danger has summoned forth a man who promises the intellect, character and power of persuasion to match the hour.
On this day all alive will remember where they were when they saw Obama sworn in, when they heard him speak. I shall be in a Commons meeting room -- where Dawn Butler, the black MP for Brent, will be launching "Bernie's list" to promote black candidates -- with crowds of mainly ethnic-minority young Brent people gathered to watch Obama's speech. Since the rise of Obama, the MP says, throngs have come forward to join her campaign.
Let whoever will be cynical do so today: they will have their I-told-you-so moments. Political passion is unfashionable, risky, naive and destined for disappointment. Enthusiasm is rare in British politics, but today is a reminder that it is always worth celebrating the better over the worse. The hope is not just for what the man will do, but that his brand of politics rubs off on politicians everywhere. It wasn't until Obama was elected on a tax-the-rich ticket that Brown and Darling dared to follow suit, 11 years late. This is a day for politicians to take heart and dare to challenge recycled focus group prejudice.
In the Norwegian Dagsavisen, they struck quite a different tone …
The only thing certain about Barack Obama's presidency is that many people will be disappointed. The expectations for an almost revolutionary wave of change in both America and in America's relationship with the world are unrealistic and will end in a collective political depression.
America has not chosen a wizard or magician to govern the nation of over 300 million people. The limitations are staring the new president in the face: financial crisis, economic recession, more and more job losses (half a million jobs lost in December alone), an astronomical burden of debt, two wars in which America plays the part of the main belligerent, and a national reputation that, in parts of the world, will need to be salvaged from the remaining wreckage.
Some struck a chord somewhere in the middle -- expressing hope for the new administration, but skepticism about its ability to overcome the challenges before it. Peru's La Republic:
The first president of black origin in the United States takes on an outlook of the same color. With his intelligence and competence, he would seem to have the situation under control.
The editorial lists Bush's legacy, Obama's own lofty rhetoric, the decline of American credibility and …
The recession. As Obama has repeated this week, this is the worst crisis since the great depression of the 30's.
Everyone is permitted to suspect, furthermore, that we have not yet hit the bottom. While unemployment is already almost three million people, Obama offers to create the same number of jobs. It isn't clear how he will be able to achieve that. The fiscal deficit will be at least three times bigger than that of 2008; with its 1,200 trillion dollars, it is the biggest since the Second World War as proportion of GNP (8.3%). These figures do not take into account Obama's package. This could be an uncontrollable contributing factor of future hyperinflation and the depression of the dollar. Will better times come?
Many American pundits have suggested that Obama's election relegates racism to a relic of our bitter past. Not everyone agrees, as this story in Germany's Die Welt illustrates …
Ed Buren is afraid of blacks. He's afraid of the black man that will enter the White House … and he's afraid of blacks in general. "I don't want anybody like that making decisions about me or my life," he says. Almost threateningly he adds, "That's the way it is." He won't speak the president-elect's name aloud, but he takes pleasure in repeating his middle name: Hussein, like Saddam.
Ed Buren lives in Stone Mountain, Georgia, a small town east of Atlanta. He comes off as a cartoon character in a book of clichés, a redneck as the reactionary backwoods folks here are called. They may sound dull, bizarre and outdated, but voices like Ed Buren's are heard with increasing frequency since the November 4th election, the mouth usually hidden behind the hand.
He said he voted for John McCain, reluctantly and with a heavy heart because McCain was too liberal for him, by which he meant McCain was too moderate. He finds it hard to believe that his countrymen actually voted Obama into office – and with a solid majority of nearly 53 percent and 365 electoral college votes.
There must have been something rotten going on, some sort of a conspiracy. "The blacks rigged the outcome, along with the gays and the Spics," Ed says. ("Spics" is the jargon Ed Buren and his friends use to describe Latinos). Then he turns his attention to the steaming sausage dinner he ordered – knackwurst, bratwurst, white wurst, scalded wurst. He bites into everything as savagely as if the sausages were his worst enemy.
Obama's candidacy mobilized many young and black voters, above all in America's southern states. At the same time, however, the unhinged side, the reactionary face of the South also became more visible. In some states and counties Obama's candidacy led to a backlash among white voters, Democrats as well as Republicans. In Arkansas and Louisiana, more people voted Republican in 2008 than in 2004. In Lamar County, Arkansas, John McCain won 76 percent of the vote, five percent more than George Bush got four years earlier.
But most of the focus in the international press was on global issues. In Kenya's Daily Nation, editors expressed hope that America would return to a policy of collaboration with the rest of the world …
It was one pf President Obama's predecessors of yore, Theodore Roosevelt, popularised using the African proverb, "Speak softly and carry a big stick".
It is unfortunate that many American leaders since have forgotten the simple dictum, preferring arrogance and bully-boy tactics in their relations with the rest of the world.
The upshot is that the respect the sole superpower used to command has been replaced by suspicion and loathing. President Obama must move decisively to restore faith, trust and respect as a cornerstone of US foreign policy.
If the US treats the rest of the world as friends and partners, it might find that the hate it attracts will dissipate, and so will some of the attitudes that make the country a prime target for international terrorism.
The Irish Examiner notes that Obama's greatest challenge may be dealing with the end of American hegemony.
America's fate in the coming decades is not to swagger but to be relegated. Successfully managing relegation is as great a test of leadership as is handling expansion, but it is a different test. Though he may not yet be comfortable with the idea, the role for which he has been chosen is the management of national decline.
Though burdened with unrealistic expectation he will be the first US president to accept not the possibilities but the constraints of power. One of his great challenges will be to bring his country to a peaceful recognition of this.
…He will have to find a way of being honest with Americans about their country's fall from hegemony. In a nation that bristles at any suggestion that they can be beaten at anything, the depth of this challenge should not be underestimated.
"Yes we can!" was an easy sentiment to endorse. "No we can't," will be a far, far harder thing to say.
Spain's ABC Journal cautioned against what it sees as "irrational exuberance" surrounding Obama:
Of the Three Kings [in the Bible, who visited Jesus after his birth], the Black King, Balthasar, is the one most favored by children who trust in his infinite prodigality and capacity to meet their requests. As if the Black King had some special powers to always meet the expectations placed on him.
That is what occurs to adults with Barack Obama, the other magical black king. Obama is expected to take us out of crisis in less than six months, while it took Roosevelt more than 10 years. He is trusted to have a great strategy to, once and for all, settle Afghanistan, a country where British, Soviet and NATO allies have failed for 100 years, to draw the troops from Iraq without causing more shame, to close Guantánamo without, in the process, allowing terrorists to escape, to teach the Iranians the errors of their ways …
Although Obama is globalized and well-traveled, everything indicates that, following the misadventures in Iraq and other failed missions, the U.S. administration will live a far less ambitious stage outside that of Bush. Many of those who voted for Obama expect him to focus his energies on improving their homeland and forget old dreams of grandeur. An inevitable disappointment to the world will soon arrive.
Not surprisingly, many editorials were dedicated to how the new administration would respond to issues facing their respective regions. Egypt's Al Ahram decries Obama's "silence on Gaza":
Apparently American President-elect Barack Obama prefers silence to making any sound about the Indian-Pakistani military escalations and the missile shield row between Russia and NATO. But a look at the tragic and heart wrenching bloody scenes of Gaza he came to know from both TV and intelligence reports will not break this silence. Indeed, Obama's behavior implies double-dealing and cautiousness. Perhaps he believes that adopting an attitude other than expressing his worries would be more risky than being accused of passivity. What he intended to say might frustrate the Palestinians and Arabs, even with the optimum aspects of diplomacy.
Pakistan's Dawn discusses the U.S. Presence in Afghanistan:
WHY would the United States commit itself to being in Afghanistan in the long run? The Afghans have shown time and again, most recently when the Soviet Union tried to occupy their country, that they have zero tolerance for the presence of foreign troops on their soil.
This is the case even when the troops have come in with the consent of the government in Kabul. Welcome has also run out for the Americans and Nato. The increased violence directed at the forces from these sources is the result of the increasing unpopularity of the government headed by President Hamid Karzai. Why would Washington take the risk of losing its soldiers and cultivating extreme hostility by staying on in Afghanistan? Are their strategic interests for America to protect that would justify taking these risks? These questions and the answers to them have great significance for Pakistan.
We should not seek answers to these questions from the rhetoric of the campaign when as candidate Barack Obama promised that if elected his administration would give a high priority to winning the war in Afghanistan. He had opposed the attack on Iraq even before he appeared on the national political scene. Once there, he articulated a position that contributed to his success in the elections. He said that President George W. Bush had wasted American blood and treasure on a war that did not have any justification. He promised to pull out American troops from Iraq and send them to Afghanistan where Washington was fighting a just war. That was, however, then. Will he persist in this approach in the presidency?
And the Moscow Times urges Obama not to launch a new Cold War.
Last August, the war in the Caucasus led the U.S.-Russia relationship to the brink of real confrontation, something the world had not seen in a quarter century. Tensions have eased since then -- the world economic crisis being a "saving grace" -- but the fundamental problem remains. Moscow is unhappy with U.S. policies that are implemented so close to Russia's borders, and the Kremlin's sharp responses make its neighbors nervous. Many people talk about a return to the Cold War.
Your predecessor's failure to "get Russia right" was rooted in the basic neglect of an important country. President George W. Bush's jovial camaraderie with then-President Vladimir Putin simulated -- rather than stimulated -- the relationship between the United States and Russia. The promise of a strategic partnership in the wake of Sept. 11 was mindlessly neglected because at the time preparing for the invasion of Iraq became the sole focus of the Bush White House.
Later on, what passed for a U.S. policy on Russia was often reduced to comments on Russia's domestic developments. The result was mounting frustration on the U.S. side over the inability to change things inside Russia, which was matched by the Kremlin's growing irritation over U.S. interference in Russia's internal affairs. More recently, the prospect of awarding NATO's Membership Action Plan to Ukraine and Georgia and plans to construct elements of a missile-defense system in Central Europe damaged U.S.-Russian relations.
Mr. President-elect, you have a chance, as well as a responsibility, to reverse the tide.
You have vowed that your administration will be made up of pragmatists with values, not ideologues with dogmas. This is a solid foundation for a successful and constructive foreign policy toward Russia.
And in Iran, the country celebrated the departure of George W. Bush, but as Middle East Online noted, many Iranians are dubious:
People in Tehran voiced scepticism about a possible thaw in ties between Tehran and Washington.
The ultra-conservative Kayhan daily dubbed Barack Obama as "a big fan of Zionists," below a cartoon that showed outgoing US President George W. Bush handing the Israeli flag to the new Democratic US leader.
The conservative Hamshahri ran a sarcastic headline: "The change advocate, who changed," noting what it described as Obama's "recent change of tone" to support war policies of the previous Republican administration.
Tomorrow, I will allow my cynicism to return; I’ll face up to the fact that we now have an instinctive centrist tasked with digging us out of the deep hole in which we find ourselves.
I’ll be acutely aware of the promise and peril of an Obama administration; he can give the Right the gift of laying blame for 8 years of disastrous “conservatism” onto Obama — and liberalism by extension — or he can usher in an era of liberal consensus such as existed between FDR’s swearing in and the signing of the Civil Rights Act.
But today, I think it’s appropriate to celebrate the moment. Change has come — its exact nature still to be determined — and that is something joyous unto itself.
A smart black guy with a funny ay-rab name just became president of these United States.
I wanted to watch the speech with others, so I hit the streets.
Following is the prepared text of President-elect Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address, as provided by the Presidential Inaugural Committee:
My fellow citizens:
I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.
Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents.
So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.
That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.
These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land - a nagging fear that America’s decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.
Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America - they will be met.
On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.
On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.
We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.
In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted - for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things - some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.
For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.
For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.
For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sanh.
Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.
This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions - that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.
For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act - not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.
Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions - who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.
What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them - that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works - whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public’s dollars will be held to account - to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day - because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.
Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control - and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our Gross Domestic Product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart - not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.
As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.
Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.
We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort - even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.
For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus - and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.
To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West - know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.
To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world’s resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.
As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us today, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment - a moment that will define a generation - it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.
For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter’s courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent’s willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.
Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends - hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism - these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility - a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.
This is the price and the promise of citizenship.
This is the source of our confidence - the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.
This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed - why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.
So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America’s birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:
"Let it be told to the future world...that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive...that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it]."
America. In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.
Millions of people are expected to descend on the nation's capital for the inauguration of Barack Obama. It is unprecedented: churches, temples, mosques and tribal councils have hired buses to attend. Schools are closing for the day. Universities are setting up JumboTrons to watch the festivities. Global media will join the dancing in the streets.
A friend recently asked me if I thought all these constituencies were celebrating the same things. Did I think this coronation-scaled civic bliss was mostly about Obama's being our first African-American president? Or was it because his win convinces us that some "post-race" American Dream has been ultimately affirmed? That he's going to improve the economy? Repair global relations?
The question made me reflect for a moment. Yes, the symbolism of his race is significant, although it certainly cannot be equated with the end of racism. And surely we're uplifted by Obama's being so genuinely likable and smart. No doubt the euphoria is also unusually great because his campaign drew constituents into political engagement--the phone banks, the door-to-door canvassing, the social networks, mass e-mails and text messages. As a result, people feel personal, even possessive, satisfaction about his victory.
But at least as important as all that, I think, is a kind of Wizard of Oz-ish fizzy relief about George W. Bush's exit--as in Ding Dong, the Wicked Warlock is melting into a nice little past-tense puddle. There's a giddily celebratory sweeping out of the indubitably, absolutely, completely, very worst president in our history. So many bad things have happened in the past eight years that it's hard to keep them all in one's head at one time. Another friend says he hung a list in the hallway of his apartment building, tabulating all the really awful things he blames Bush for. Other neighbors added to it. At first, he said, he was going to use it to host an inauguration party at which people would knock back a shot for each phenomenally inept executive flub. But then, he says, "I realized we'd all be drunk for a year."
In any event, it's a great list; the sheer length of it reminds one how dizzyingly mismanaged the executive office has been. Here are a few of the highlights, to get you in the mood of groveling gratitude for the new course we are about to embark upon:
Pax Americana and the aspiration to consolidate a global American empire. The Bush Doctrine of pre-emptive warfare. Hurricane Katrina and "heckuva job, Brownie." The explicit rejection of the Geneva Conventions. John Yoo's and Alberto Gonzales's redefinition of torture. Paul Wolfowitz as head of the World Bank subsidizing his girlfriend. Ahmad Chalabi. The FCC allowing greater consolidation of media. The outing of Valerie Plame. The manipulations asserting that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The addled handling of Harriet Miers's nomination to the Supreme Court. Opposition to stem cell research. The looting of the National Museum of Iraq, and the burning of Baghdad's National Library. Donald Rumsfeld's remarks that rioting in Iraq was the sign of a liberated people and that Iraq was no more violent than some American cities. Stacking the Civil Rights Commission with conservatives, like Abigail Thernstrom, who want to overturn sections of the Voting Rights Act. The shooting death of Italian intelligence officer Nicola Calipari and injury of journalist Giuliana Sgrena at the hands of American soldiers. The appointment of ultraconservatives John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. Cheney filling his friend with birdshot. The USA Patriot Act. Doing away with habeas corpus. The National Security Agency's warrantless wiretapping of citizens' phone calls and e-mails. The notion of an unchecked, unaccountable "unitary executive." The failure to keep official numbers of dead Iraqi civilians. The forbidding of photographs, or even visibility, of American military dead. The multilayered, high-level lying about how football hero Pat Tillman was killed in Afghanistan. Halliburton taking kickbacks from Kuwaiti oil suppliers. Paul Bremer dispensing billions of dollars for contracts in Iraq, which disappeared, never to be accounted for or recovered. Blackwater mercenaries accused of murdering Iraqi civilians. "Military tribunals" established outside the military justice system, with no due process or right to an attorney or to cross-examination or even to know the charges. The silly disparagement of the national anthem sung in Spanish. Bush talking directly to God. Abu Ghraib. Profiling Arab, Muslim and Latino immigrants. Guantánamo. Extraordinary rendition. Lousy veterans' benefits. Lousy veterans' hospitals. The failure to provide soldiers with reinforced armored vehicles ("You go to war with the army you have," explained Rumsfeld). The refusal to recognize post-traumatic stress disorder as a legitimate condition. Monica Goodling's political litmus tests in hiring for nonpolitical posts in the Justice Department. Expelling Helen Thomas from the White House press room and putting in fake reporter "Jeff Gannon" to throw adoring softball questions. John Ashcroft's draping of bare-breasted sculptures in the Justice Department. His subpoenas of more than 2,500 records of abortions performed at public hospitals. Gonzales firing US Attorneys around the country for political reasons. Oh, and did I forget the economy?
This is only a short list--it doesn't even touch on the things we were spared but that might have happened: Bush's (failed) nomination of Bernard Kerik to head Homeland Security; the privatization of Social Security; the elevation of Alberto Gonzales and Robert Bork to the Supreme Court; a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.
"Honestly," says my friend, "who needs booze? Just reading the list, you could get drunk and have a killer hangover." I do suppose we'll all sober up after inauguration day. But I'm going to sneak a look at the list every now and then, just to make sure I don't take anything for granted. However challenging the future we face, an Obama administration represents real change.
He started two disastrous wars that have left millions dead or displaced, sat by while a major American city was destroyed, oversaw the evaporation of trillions of dollars in wealth and will leave office as one of the most loathed figures in American history.
One would expect a man like George W. Bush -- one who has single-handedly destroyed America's image in the world -- to slink off into well-deserved ignominy. But there's little chance of that. Instead, he's poised to line his pockets on the lecture circuit, a man who's led a famously unexamined life ready to pontificate about world events for fat fees.
He crassly told journalist Robert Draper that his chief post-presidential intention is to "give some speeches, just to replenish the ol' coffers." Other members of his disastrous administration are already "replenishing" their coffers.
Of course, Bush's coffers are not what most would consider depleted; he's leaving office with assets valued somewhere between $8 million and $20 million. But once he embarks on the lecture circuit, he'll be able to augment that fortune considerably. Bush will be able to command between $100,000 and $150,000 per speech, says Lourdes Swarts, president of 21st Century Speakers, a prominent speaking agency. For talks to overseas audiences, the figure rises to something closer to a quarter-million dollars. "The speaking market is wide and expands to overseas audiences," says Swarts.
Mark Updegrove, author of the 2006 book Second Acts: Presidential Lives and Legacies After the White House, says Bush will be a huge draw. "There is no shortage of organizations willing to pay for the prestige of the presidency, regardless of how controversial a president is," he said. Swarts agrees: "President Bush will be very popular," she said.
But President Bush is not very popular with the American people, raising the question of who will be willing to pay him the extravagant sums he'll demand. Fortunately for him, the groups he has enriched during his eight disastrous years in the White House remain committed to him. "Keep in mind that in the corporate world, the president has an 80 percent approval rate, and they are the ones that will hire or fire a speaker," says Swarts. Many of the groups that hire former presidents are business organizations, and they can be counted on to keep Bush in high demand on the lecture circuit.
There are also a few countries in which he remains popular in -- popular destinations like Albania, the Philippines and Tanzania.
Lest anyone doubt Bush's prospective popularity as a speaker, former members of his administration provide correction. Ari Fleischer, the former White House spokesman who infamously warned Americans to "be careful what they said" following the 9/11 attacks, commands $15,000 to $25,000 per event.
Interested parties can choose between two standard speeches. In the first, "America and Israel: The path to Stability in the Middle East," listeners can hear Fleischer "take sides" in the conflict; he "credits Israel as the only democracy in the Middle East and notes the sacrifices they have made for peace. He asks where the moderate Arabs are, and he's sharply critical of the Palestinian leadership's failure to confront terror." There is no mention, apparently, of Bush's promise of a Palestinian state.
Alberto Gonzalez, the former attorney general who was forced to resign in disgrace for his role in the U.S. attorneys scandal, commands over $25,000 a pop to speak to like-minded audiences. His listing on the Greater Talent Network's Web site understatedly describes him as someone who "played a vital role in the administration's fight in the war on terror and addressing the changing role of the Department of Justice post 9/11."
Other administration officials also grab sizable speaking fees. John Ashcroft gets $25,000. Donald Rumsfeld gets $65,000 and is very popular. Karl Rove gets $50,000 and pimps himself out more aggressively than most. His Web site features dozens of testimonials from satisfied customers, mostly business groups.
"I think I can honestly say I have never met a more dynamic and gracious person," says Ballard W. Cassady, Jr., of the Kentucky Bankers Association.
"I don't think we could have had a better closing speaker than Karl. The attendees were almost unanimously enthralled throughout his entire presentation and pleasantly surprised at how funny and personable he was," reports the National Association of Convenience Stores.
"Karl Rove has a one-of-a-kind political mind and a biting wit. Both were on full display when he spoke for our recent luncheon. An enthusiastic Dallas crowd laughed along as they learned from his insight, then they gave him a standing ovation," gushes the president of the National Center for Policy Analysis, the conservative think tank.
All of this is in keeping with a gradual shift in how presidents comport themselves following their departure from the highest office. When Harry Truman left the White House in 1953, he was still surviving off his Army pension of $112.26 per month, and he had to take out a loan at Washington's national bank in his last weeks as president to get him through. He turned down numerous offers from organizations for easy jobs paying over $100,000 per year, and he never accepted consulting fees. He even turned down a free Toyota offered by the company as a demonstration of good relations between Japan and America. According to David McCullough's book Truman, "His only intention, as he said, was to do nothing -- accept no position, lend his name to no organization or transaction -- that would exploit or 'commercialize' the prestige and dignity of the office of the president."
Well, goodbye to all that. Presidents following Truman have had much less compunction about profiting from their time leading the most powerful nation on earth. Eisenhower was a paid TV news commentator during political party conventions, says Updegrove. "But it was still not very common for presidents to make money off the office until Gerald Ford joined the boards of several corporations," he says.
Ford was roundly criticized for his actions at the time, although they seem positively dignified by today's standards. He signed on with American Express, Texas Commerce Bank, 20th Century Fox Film Corp. and others. All told, he netted more than a million dollars in supplemental income from these corporations, but Ford dismissed his critics, saying, "it's nobody's business, because I'm a private citizen now." Subsequent presidents have agreed.
Ronald Reagan was heavily criticized for making commercials for Japanese companies, although Jimmy Carter had done much the same thing, according to Updegrove. George H.W. Bush was really the innovator in realizing the great wealth that could be amassed simply by talking. He left office in 1992 as a mildly popular one-term president after losing an election with the lowest percentage of the vote for any major candidate since William Howard Taft in 1912. But as recently as 2004, Bush the elder was reportedly paid more than $100,000 for giving speeches in China. "I don't know what my dad gets -- it's more than 50-, 75- thousand dollars a speech," the current president told Draper.
Bush also noted to Draper that "[Bill] Clinton's making a lot of money." Indeed, he is. After leaving office at age 54 in 2001 with approximately $12 million in legal debts, the former president made at least $40 million in speaking fees. The minimum fee was $100,000, but he got up to $400,000 for some speeches.
Clinton left office as a highly popular president, however. His 65 percent approval rating at the time of departure was the best for any president since Franklin D. Roosevelt, and he was even more popular abroad than at home. Bush, on the other hand, will be leaving office more unpopular -- and for a longer period of time -- than any president in the history of American polling.
Even without his family's massive wealth, Bush would never be destitute. Since the Truman era, Congress has given former presidents a pension adequate for a comfortable retirement. Bush will receive $186,000 a year, in addition to travel funds, mailing privileges, Secret Service protection, office space, staff and transition expenses.
Editor's note: A Salvadoran immigrant who works as a cleaner at Union Station in the nation's capital watched the festivities as she did her job. She shared her hopes for a new Obama presidency with New York-based NAM editor Anthony D. Advincula.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Maria Perez speaks little English. For more than 20 years now, she has worked as a cleaner at Union Station here, six days a week, earning slightly more than the minimum wage. She is proud to be among the millions of Latinos who voted for Barack Obama and helped to make him the 44th U.S. president.
On the night of Jan. 18, at a celebrity-studded Latino Inaugural Ball held at the station, Perez was dressed in a gray sweater over her cleaning uniform – red shirt and black pants – as she swept litter with her broom and dustpan and snaked through the upscale crowd of more than 3,000 women in gowns and men in tuxedos.
Despite the disparities between her and the party-goers around her, Perez, 35, said that she felt united with them, at least that night, by Obama’s presidency.
“I am a Latino. My soul is a Latino, and I am happy I am support Barack,” Perez said in broken English. “Tonight I like it. All people here is happy and beautiful.”
On one side of the hall, the crowd roared each time a celebrity, like Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony, Rosario Dawson, Geraldo Rivera, Paulina Rubio and David Archuleta, came in and walked on the red carpet. Cameras flashed and wine glasses clinked.
“I am hope that Barack Obama fix the economia, give more jobs, give better health programs for all the people in America,” she lamented. “Of course, I am hope to hear about imigracion.”
An immigrant from El Salvador, Perez is concerned about the future of her three kids, ages nine, seven and five. The two older ones go to a public elementary school on Georgia Avenue, one of the economically depressed neighborhoods in the Washington, D.C. area.
“My heart want Obama to give my children a very good education. They good kids,” she said. “I want to keep my job because I can save some money. Just little, not mucho dinero.”
There are 15 cleaners at Union Station, Perez said. Most are Latinos. Some are assigned to clean the floor and hallways and others to clean the bathrooms. When they learned that the Latino Inaugural Ball was going to be at the station, she added, they all got thrilled. “We will see the Latino American actors and actresses," she said. "For me, no chance to see the actors and actresses with my eyes, only in television.”
With the economic recession, Perez believes that there are no work guarantees for every American – and for most immigrants. Her husband, who is a dishwasher in a Chinatown restaurant, feels the pinch as more and more workers there get laid off.
As the hall filled with community leaders, sponsors, funders and supporters, Perez looked around, expressing her hopes that influential Latinos, mostly those who have political connections, would support immigrant workers.
“We Latinos, we must support Obama. He’s black, but I am dark, too,” Perez said smiling. At one point, she held the broom and dustpan in one hand and, with her cell phone, took a quick photograph of the band playing on the stage. “Tonight, I’m excited I will see Hor-heh,” she added, referring to actor George Lopez.
It was a moment of victory in the political cultural war that has gripped the United States since the tumultuous days of the 1960s. It came in the middle of the inauguration celebration held at the Lincoln Memorial on Sunday. And its bearer was Garth Brooks. The man who has epitomized country music, the official music of Red-State America, was hailing the election of a man who represents what many people with a Red-State mentality oppose: an America that embraces liberal attitudes of diversity and tolerance, that does not equate Ivy League-style education with effete elitism, and that does not hold on to traditions to block social change and progress. True, Brooks is no rock-ribbed redneck. His 1992 song, “We Shall Be Free.” essentially endorsed gay marriage. But when he performed the old Isley Brothers soul classic, “Shout,” before a massive crowd of Obama supporters, you could almost hear some Red-Staters wail, “They’ve turned our Garth into a black guy!” When he finished, Brooks doffed his cowboy hat toward President-elect Barack Obama, who sat with his family to the side of the stage.
The show at the Lincoln Memorial contained other moments signaling that the cultural civil war that began with the civil rights crusade, the movement against the Vietnam War, and the rise of hippie-dom was done—at least for now—and that the libs had won. Toward the end of the HBO-aired event, Bruce Springsteen, once a greaser-rocker, brought out folk music hero and activist Pete Seeger, once derided by conservatives as a commie, and Seeger led the crowd in “This Land Is Your Land.” This song is the liberal national anthem, written by Woody Guthrie in 1940 as a populist-minded response to Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America,” which was too rah-rah for Guthrie’s liking. (Beyoncé then hit the stage and belted out “God Bless America.”)
Earlier in the day, minutes before HBO threw the on-switch for its taping, gay Episcopal bishop Gene Robinson delivered an invocation that probably would be considered heretical by many fundamentalists. He began:
Bless us with tears--for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women from many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS.
Bless us with anger--at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people….Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance--replacing it with a genuine respect and warm embrace of our differences, and an understanding that in our diversity, we are stronger.
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Take that, Rick Warren.
During the show that followed, the Washington Gay Men’s Chorus performed “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee”--appearing on the same stage as military honor guards. Gays and the military--it was all part of this “We Are One” extravaganza. Had John McCain and Sarah Palin (and their America) won in November, there would have been no such coming together. And no U2 singing "Pride (In the Name of Love”), its anthem-tribute to Martin Luther King Jr., for the new president the day before Martin Luther King Jr. Day (a federal holiday that had been opposed by some Red-Staters, including McCain).
In the United States, culture is politics—and vice versa. Obama’s election helped define—or redefine—which currents and sensibilities are ascendant. And Obama made this victory possible with his skills as a political communicator. He has deftly blocked the right’s traditional assaults on his—and, by extension, his supporter’s—patriotism. In fact, he has masterfully embraced America’s mythology—such as when he praises the drafters of the Declaration of Independence—while recognizing the past and present flaws of the nation.
On Saturday, in Philadelphia, as Obama began a train ride to Washington, DC, he delivered remarks that were better than many inaugural addresses of the past. Celebrating the revolution that gave birth to the United States, he said, “The American Revolution was--and remains--an ongoing struggle in the minds and hearts of the people to live up to our founding creed. Starting now, let's take up in our own lives the work of perfecting our union.”
Politicians and others often smugly cite the nation’s founding fathers and their accomplishments in a self-satisfied manner and as an act of (national) self-validation. Obama references the country’s civic icons as an argument for national betterment. Before hopping on that train, Obama proclaimed, “People who love this country can change it.”
That is the opposite of the old slogan used by the right when the political culture war began: “America, love it or leave it.” No, the protesters of that time countered, America, make it better. The expansive view of America—that it is ever-changing, that it always can be improved, that it embodies a wide assortment of people and views—was on display beneath Lincoln’s marble gaze on Sunday. More important, it had helped propel the electoral wave that landed Obama in office.
No victories are permanent. Shifts, backlashes, reversals are always possible. But for the moment, via Obama’s election, a great debate has been decided. The times have a-changed.
- How GOP culture-war politics and ‘owning the libs’ didn’t save Texans from freezing without water or electricity - Alternet.org ›
- Texas House votes to remove state funding from sports teams that don't play national anthem at games - Alternet.org ›
- The right wing's 'culture war' is built on a mountain of lies - Alternet.org ›
- Tough truths are desperately needed about America's lost wars - Alternet.org ›
- Why the sociopaths are winning and the obvious thing we’re not doing about it - Alternet.org ›
The following is an excerpt from chapter 8 of Mike Lux's new book, "The Progressive Revolution: How the Best in America Came to Be" (Wiley, 2009). In this text, Lux argues that a "culture of caution" dominates Democratic politics in the modern era: "When you try something big and fail, even if the failure is due in great part to your own timidity, you only become more cautious. The failure of health-care reform made President Clinton more cautious, and he started playing small ball." As Obama's inauguration approaches, progressives and Democrats in Washington need to overcome their fears of proposing bold policies and stand up for the kind of America they believe in.
When Barack Obama based much of his 2008 Presidential campaign on the theme of hope, he certainly wasn't the first candidate to make that pitch. And when John McCain, George W. Bush, and Dick Cheney, during the years since 9/11, preached fear and more fear and nothing but fear, they weren't the first to do that, either. The entire history of American political debate can, in some sense, be described as the argument between the hope of progressives for a better future vs. the fear of conservatives who want to protect the way things are now.
In recent decades, neither party has been able to get a toehold as an enduring political majority. The Republicans' problem has been that they aggressively overreach, and then their rather extreme policy prescriptions just don't work. We get wars with no exit plans, side tax cuts that result in gigantic deficits, and voluntary goals for industry that never result in anything tangible happening.
For Democrats, the problem has been the opposite. They have been so beaten down by the conservative attack machine that they have allowed themselves to get into the habit of being cautious. When in power, they have had decent policy ideas that have produced pretty good results, but the results aren't substantial enough to make permanent changes or get voters excited about what Democrats are trying to accomplish. Since the tumultuous change decade of the 1960s and the ugly backlash that followed it, Democrats have often been too scared to think big about progressive change, and it has hurt them. ...
Fear and Conservatism
Fear has been a staple of every generation of conservatives .... Fear of the democratic mob. Fear of the freed slave. Fear of the liberated woman destroying the traditional family. Fear of freethinkers destroying religion. Fear of communism. Fear of gays and lesbians. Fear of hippies, "free love," and the drug culture. Fear of the immigrant. In a bizarre twist, Social Darwinism gave us fear of the weak, and in the modern version of Social Darwinism, Reagan gave us fear of the poor on welfare. Post-9/11, you can now add in the ever-potent fear of terrorism. Sadly, while some of those fears have faded with the passage of history, many remain with us, still powerful.
Many conservatives still fear feminism, sometimes to a hilarious degree. Here is one of my all-time favorite quotes, from the inimitable Pat Robertson: "[Feminism] is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians."
I had no idea feminism was so comprehensive, but there you have it. Of course, many men who are threatened by strong women aren't quite so hysterical, but like threatened people everywhere, they love to mock. Rush Limbaugh, who coined the feminazi, has this definition of feminism: "Feminism was established so as to allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream of society."
The prospect of empowered women isn't the only fear that conservatives have carried throughout the years of our nation's existence. They have always feared free thinking, which opens the door to a range of ideas and beliefs. The notion that their children might be exposed to any ideas or scientific theories that are different from what is being taught at home, as exemplified by the battles that are fought daily about public education, still scares conservatives a great deal. Read articles from any local newspaper about the nature of their resistance-to the teaching of evolution, the discussion of global warming, the assignment of certain books by English teachers, and so on-and you will see parents who are terrified that their own children might learn a way of thinking contrary to their own.
Fears of communism and welfare have faded somewhat in the last twenty years because of the fall of the Soviet Union and the passage of welfare reform, but they have been quickly replaced by conservatives' finding new things to scare voters with. Terrorism and immigrants have become the new hot-button excuses for pushing the political fear button. Or maybe I should amend that: terrorism, at least, is relatively new as a major fear for voters because until 9/11, people knew it could be a problem but didn't worry about it much. After 9/11, it became the biggest thing Americans were scared of. Immigration, on the other hand, is a very old fear that conservatives have been exploiting with renewed vigor in recent years.
In the early days of the United States, immigrants were generally quite welcome because the country had an ever expanding need for new workers, farmers, and pioneers to go out west. But by the 1850s, as more poor and working-class Irish journeyed across the Atlantic to settle here, the combination of anti-poor and anti-Catholic bigotry stirred up the vicious anti-immigrant movement called, appropriately enough, the Know-Nothings (the name came from the fact that their leaders swore an oath of secrecy about being involved in the movement, so that if asked about it, they said they knew nothing).
To join the organization of the original Know-Nothing movement, the Order of the Star-Spangled Banner, you had to be white and male, be born in the United States, and not only be Protestant but have no family connection whatsoever to Catholicism. The Know-Nothing political party, called the American Party, won nine gubernatorial seats and controlled at least one branch of the legislature in six states during the mid-1850s. It ran former president Millard Fillmore as its presidential candidate in the 1856 election, and he received about a quarter of the votes. But the movement quickly faded because the slavery issue soon overwhelmed everything else.
Throughout the late 1800s, another conservative period in U.S. history, immigration was regularly featured in the American political debate. Concerns about Chinese immigrants in California and Irish immigrants in the east were a constant refrain in the arguments against voting rights and civil rights. Sadly, even the populist movement was tainted by anti-immigrant rhetoric, as well as by its alliance with southern segregationists.
The Chinese Exclusion Act was the first major restriction on immigration. Passed in 1882, it prohibited most immigration from Asia and took away the right of Chinese immigrants to become citizens. However, it was after World War I that anti-immigrant zeal truly reached its peak. Fearing a wave of postwar refugees and gripped by the conservative frenzy of the times, Congress passed legislation, in 1921 and 1924, that restricted immigration. The Emergency Quota Act of 1921 limited European immigration to 3 percent of the total population of each European nationality living in the United States as of 1910. The Immigration Act of 1924 went much further, limiting European immigration to 2 percent of each nationality living in the United States as of 1890.
Just as conservatives do today, back then they also used people's fear of immigrants to attack other progressive ideas and legislation. Congressional opponents of the 14th and 15th amendments, for example, worried that immigrants would take advantage of these new voting rights. In the 1920s and earlier, immigrant bashers were anxious about what kinds of communists, socialists, and anarchists might be coming over to contaminate our population.
For example, a San Francisco newspaper, the Daily American printed the following editorial in April 1881:
Steamships are vomiting forth rotten cargoes of a thousand Chinese fortnightly, smitten and cursed with the plague of small-pox, and with other deadly plagues. The one-hundred thousand Chinese on this coast today, without family ties, with no elements of a prosperous immigration, the bronze locusts from Asia, plague-bearing[,] are eating out the substance which rightly belongs to the patrimony of the people.The single Chinese immigrant does, in this sense, usurp the place of a family. Trades and industries languish. The evils of Chinese immigration are upon us full force, aggregated by obstructions which originated with politicians who care more for some petty interest of party (the democratic party) than for the great and vital interests of the country.
If you think that was then and things have progressed, here are a couple of quotes from the current leadership of the anti immigration movement. The first comes from Congressman Virgil Goode of Virginia, who gained notoriety when he criticized Keith Ellison's choice to be sworn in using a copy of the Koran, rather than the Bible. Good warned his constituents, "If American citizens don't wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration, there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office." He also had this to say about Hispanic immigration: "My message to them is, not in two weeks, not in two months, not in two years, never! We must be clear that we will not surrender America and we will not turn the United States over to the invaders from south of the border."
Another anti-immigration leader, Joseph Turner -- a staff member of the most powerful anti-immigration lobbying group, Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) -- recently said this in a letter to anti-immigration contributors: "Our enemies are bloodied and beaten. We cannot relent. Our boot is on their throat and we must have the willingness to crush their "throat" so that we can put our enemy down for good. The sovereignty of our nation and the future of our culture and civilization are at stake. The United States culture is man's salvation. If we perish, man perishes."
These statements were made in 2006 and 2007, not in some long-ago debate when social conventions and attitudes were different. And they were not the ravings of marginal crazies or rabid talk-show hosts; they were made by a senior member of the Republican caucus in Congress and by a leader of one of the biggest organizations working on the anti-immigration side of the aisle.
These are legitimate issues to debate in terms of immigration policy. Having better border security is a good thing, and we should be worried about corporations that try to exploit immigrant labor. But we can work those issues through and create a legitimate path to citizenship for immigrants without resorting to the fearmongering of the right wing.
Just as stopping the spread of totalitarian communism and keeping us safe from Soviet aggression during the Cold War were important objectives, today we need to deal with the real threat of terrorism. Many thoughtful suggestions, such as those generated by the Hart-Rudman commission and the 9/11 Commission, have been put forward. Important issues like securing the uranium from old Soviet weapons sites and keeping it away from the hands of terrorists, as well as safeguarding our own country's nuclear and chemical facilities to a greater degree, ought to be priorities for the U.S. government. What is fundamentally wrong, though, is turning the fear of terrorism into a political football, as Bush, Cheney, and other right-wingers have done.
Here's George W. Bush in 2004: "The Democrat approach in Iraq comes down to this: The terrorists win and America loses. That's what's at stake in this election."
And Dick Cheney: "If we make the wrong choice, then the danger is that we'll get hit again-that we'll be hit in a way that will be devastating from the standpoint of the United States."
Comparing a politician to Joe McCarthy is pretty strong stuff, but I find it hard to avoid the comparison when we live in a time when government officials spout the rhetoric I've just quoted. Using fear to justify virtually everything you want to do-from torture to absurd levels of government secrecy, to a war with no exit plan, to no-bid contracts for your biggest contributors, to violating the law and the constitution with warrantless wiretapping-is fundamentally wrong. Just as John Dean said that the Bush administration scandals have been the worst since Watergate, I'd be inclined to argue that Bush's and the Republicans' fearmongering over terrorism has been worse than McCarthy's fearmongering over Communism. ...
On my blog, OpenLeft.com, I have written about the timidity of Democrats in terms of both policy and politics. I call it the "culture of caution," a name I thought of in 2005 when my Democratic friends on Capitol Hill began to talk about the Republicans' culture of corruption. I liked that phrase and used it a lot myself in attacking the Republicans in 2005 and 2006, but I also thought, well, that is their problem, while ours is a culture of caution. ...
The Culture of Caution
In the culture of caution that dominates Democratic politics in the modern era, when you try something big and fail, even if the failure is due in great part to your own timidity, you only become more cautious. The failure of health-care reform made President Clinton more cautious, and he started playing small ball. President Clinton famously advocated support for things like school uniforms and agreed to support bad Republican bills on welfare reform and telecommunications reform. Clinton deserves credit for standing up to Republicans in the 1995 budget showdown, a decision that was the most important factor in his winning re-election, and for the other achievements I mentioned previously. For the most part, however, his last six years in office were a time of very modest policy ideas.
The culture of caution hurt the Democrats' political strategy as well. When the Lewinsky scandal and the impeachment fight with the Republicans reared their ugly heads in 1998, I was working for the progressive group People for the American Way. We got heavily involved in opposing the impeachment and worked alongside the activists who eventually started MoveOn.org. We ran ads saying that it was time for the country to stop worrying about a sex scandal and "move on." Many Democratic politicians were horrified at those ads, convinced that by mentioning the issue we would just remind voters of what they didn't like about Clinton. We were asked by the party committees and the top members of Congress to pull them, but our focus groups had convinced us that we were right and should stand out ground. The message worked so well that candidates running in competitive races started to use the message in the ads, and, eventually, even the party committees did as well. Democrats picked up five seats in the 1998 elections and thereby stunned the pundits of conventional wisdom, who had widely predicted Democratic losses of thirty seats or more in Congress. It was the best showing for the party of a president in his sixth year in office in history since 1822, when James Monroe essentially had no opposition party. But Democrats would likely have won control of Congress if the Democratic establishment had not been so cautious for so long about facing the impeachment issue.
When Bush took over and exhibited an aggressive form of ideological partisanship never before seen in modern history, Democrats sometimes stood up to him, but all too frequently, they rolled over. This was especially true on national security and civil liberties issues after 9/11.
In 2002, when the authorization vote on the Iraq War came up, I was told in confidence by a top aide to Dick Gephardt that if Democrats would cut a deal with Bush on the war, the issue would go away and Democrats would win the 2002 election on domestic issues. That same cycle, I was told by a top pollster for the party committees that Democrats should just avoid talking about national security altogether because it wasn't our strongest issue.
Of course, this strategy didn't work out so well, as Democrats went down to an ugly defeat in the 2002 election, where security issues dominated. In fact, Gephardt's strategy of cutting a deal with Bush was a political disaster. Progressive antiwar Democrats were divided and discouraged, and the Republicans attacked the Democrats just as hard as they would have otherwise on national security. The deal also played out poorly in the 2004 elections because John Kerry could never quite explain why he had voted for the war, even though he later said that he opposed it.
The most aggravating thing about the Democratic culture of caution is how strong it is, even when the aggressive approaches are working. Too many Democrats remained cautious despite their win in 2006 using heavily populist and antiwar campaigns, and even when Bush's approval ratings and credibility had gone down the tubes. In 2007 and 2008, Democrats caved multiple times on war-related votes and on civil liberties; they lived in fear that a president with a 30 percent approval rating would call them soft on terrorism.
Although I regret that the Democrats haven't stood up to Bush more on security and civil liberties issues, and I think they could have easily survived politically if they had, there is at least a stronger argument for being politically careful on those issues -- voters are really scared of terrorism, and the message for Democrats on security issues is complicated. On domestic policy, though, Democrats have also failed to be strong advocates of dramatic new initiatives. The minimum wage and ethics initiatives they passed were solid achievements; forcing Bush to veto S-CHIP has been a worthy political fight to engage in, as was compelling him to veto legislation to withdraw troops from Iraq. The compromise energy bill that the Democrats passed and got Bush to sign had some respectable policy initiatives in it although it also had some poor ideas. But Democrats have failed to provoke major battles with Bush and the Republicans to illustrate how important their policy differences are.
Somehow, a man with three names has been reduced to four words. Say Martin Luther King Jr., and the phrase "I Have a Dream" comes to mind -- as if that sums up his life or his relevance to the events swirling around Washington this week with the inauguration of Barack Obama, a man who many mistake as King's spiritual son.
As the nation marks King's birthday, and he is elevated to the pantheon of officially sanctioned heroes, many forget that he was a man who led a movement, who never sought office, and whose contribution was as a teacher of moral laws and an activist in righteous struggles. We mark his birthday only because so many fought for its recognition.
The movement that King led is, in fact, still alive and met -- as a shell of its former self -- in New York last week at a summit organized by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, one of King's disciples. There, the economy -- and how its collapse is impacting the people King gave his life for, like the striking sanitation workers of Memphis, Tenn. -- was center stage.
That movement is battling to redefine its program at a time when activists have moved from the streets to digital platforms, from face to face to Facebook, from tumult to Twitter, from agitation in the streets to deal making in the suites.
Jackson, of course knows about this divide and tried to cross it boldly in 1984 and 1988 in two historic residential campaigns that shook up the Democratic Party. He won primaries and the party rule changes that permitted the proportional allocation of primary votes that gave Obama a string of victories.
Just as Obama reached into organizer Cesar Chavez's tool kit for the phrase "Si Se Puede! (Yes We Can!)," Jackson's living legacy is a largely unacknowledged building block in the chain of history that has taken us to this point. His tears at the victory rally in Chicago were connected to a history that our media often buries.
I spoke to Jackson for a film I am making with Videovision's Anant Singh about the Obama campaign. I asked him about what was going through his mind on that joyous night in Grant Park, where, back in 1968, many heads were broken by the police.
"Really, it was two things," he told me. "It was the draw of the moment. In my mind's eye, I saw martyrs whose caskets I walked behind and friends with whom I worked, who are somewhere in poverty or dead. Children in villages of Kenya, Haiti, who could not afford a television, or somewhere around some radio, hoping that there'd be this great redemptive, transformative breakthrough.
"So it was the draw of that moment, and most of the people I knew who live down in Alabama or Mississippi who made this moment happen couldn't afford to be there. And I felt them. And it was also a journey, the journey to get us there."
Memories flooded in and he spoke with almost a stream of consciousness:
"I was jailed trying to use a public library, along with seven of my classmates. … We couldn't take a picture in the state capitol, but dogs could. … Many of us killed for the right to vote. … James Meredith shot. … Two Jews were killed because they were seen as meddling in Mississippi politics. … Rev. James Reeve, Jimmy Lee Jackson, these people, these mostly nameless, faceless martyrs, they made the big part of it possible. And often, those who make the big part possible are not invited to the party. They can't afford to come to the party.
"And I wept again for them, because I wanted them to be there, and I thought that if Doctor came, Chavez maybe just be there for a moment in time, and I just kept thinking about Martin Luther King, just like … if they were just there for a moment in time, my whole life would have been fulfilled. So I was thinking about the joy and the journey. That kind of took me to a level of ecstasy and joy."
This was not a history referenced by most commentators covering the Obama campaign.
There is a complicated tension between civil rights leaders and President-elect Obama. Their difference is more about how change can made -- will it all come from the inside through an inherently conservative, compromised and bureaucratic political process, or does there need to be pressure from the outside at the grassroots, or "street heat" as one of the reverend's supporters put it?
Is the movement model fashioned by King and civil rights organization calling for activism still needed, or is it passé? Is there still a need and role for the Rev. Jacksons?
With Obama mounting a charm offensive to neutralize enemies and seduce opponents on the right, it seems that he is running away from progressive supporters. After he met with hard-right commentators last week, Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation, the first publication to endorse Jackson years back, asked why progressive supporters were being ignored.
Obama came out of the Saul Alinsky tradition of community organizing. While Alinsky's most famous book was called Reveille For Radicals, by the time I met and worked with him in a real organizing school in 1965, he had become a reformer and pragmatist, quiet on the Vietnam War, solicitous of liberal Democrats and hostile to student movements.
Jesse Jackson remains an organizer in the big-tent movement tradition. He was preaching Rainbow Coalition for decades before Obama made the idea jell politically.
PUSH, an acronym for People United to Save Humanity, is firmly pro-peace and economic justice and was founded by Jackson. Obama has so far been eloquent at tapping movement rhetoric, but he seems distant, even dismissive, of movement culture. Many of his most devoted backers want to know if he is married to promoting change or just shucking and jiving. Will he remain an advocate for transforming the system or become a prisoner of power? Will he turn his back on King's commitment to nonviolence, or has he already?
Can the Obama generation and the King-Jackson culture -- one with an outside-in strategy, the other inside-out -- merge, or are they inherently in conflict? Will Obama give his predecessors the props they deserve? Can the fight for change that Jackson and Obama embrace work on many levels? If Obama can reconcile with Republicans, why not with the long marchers of the Rainbow?
These are questions that will soon be tested in a new administration that starts this week.
As Inauguration Day approaches, the citizens of this country are on the edge of their collective seats waiting to see who the real Barack Obama is, and how he will step up to address the worst economic crisis since the Depression. Adding to his burden, Obama is following George W. Bush, who may go down as the most failed and destructive president in history.
As a result, in addition to the financial disaster, Obama inherits two wars and a huge array of counterproductive policies perpetuated by conservatives over the past eight years, many of which are making the resolution of our current problems far more daunting. Obama may very well be facing the most difficult challenges any new president in history has ever faced upon taking office. By any measure, he has an incredibly difficult task.
Obama moves into the White House as a brilliant, attractive and popular figure, with enormous good will across the globe. But he immediately steps into a maelstrom of crises that have no clear solution, nor an obvious blueprint.
As the economy spirals downward, more people have become jobless in the past three months than have in 38 years, and many millions more Americans are losing their health care -- more than 50 million now. Simultaneously, many states are on the verge of bankruptcy as services in every sector rapidly deteriorate, and businesses across the board suffer setbacks and make layoffs. And every day of decline has the effect of less tax revenue and resources for services and governing, adding to the vicious cycle.
What should, and what will, Obama do? And how could he screw it up, given the fact that pretty much everything is riding on him getting things right the first time in the early stages of his administration? As we all wait to see what happens, there is no question that Obama, at least in terms of getting elected, has been a brilliant politician.
His election to the White House as a young upstart, half-white, half African, one-term senator from Illinois is probably the single most impressive electoral accomplishment in the past 100 years. But the big question on the table is how Obama translates his prodigious skills as a communicator, and his powerful mandate, into a governing strategy that can tackle the gargantuan problems on his plate?
The Potential Perils of Post-Partisanship
Obama's well-known and articulated penchant for post-partisanship and compromise, and the signals emerging from his team, suggest he is trying to thread the needle and find just the right combination to balance the political situation and keep everyone on his side. He and is team are also famous for saying, in their self-appointed "pragmatic," post-ideological way, that they only want to do what works.
But therein lies a massive contradiction in the Obama approach. Politico has reported that Obama wants 80 votes in the Senate in favor of his stimulus package, which means a good number of Republicans and the "Blue Dog" business-supporting Democrats voting aye. How many compromises for political expediency will need to be made to produce those votes, and will the expediency come at a cost of what works?
In terms of some of the specifics of the plan that have surfaced, it will contain somewhere in the vicinity of 40 percent in tax cuts. Are large tax cuts doing what works, or are they what will be attractive to the conservatives? As Bob Borosage of the Campaign for America's Future underscores, "tax cuts come in a distant second to public investment in actually creating jobs."
And even though some of the tax cuts will go to a tax credit for low- and middle-income people, it seems pretty clear that with losses in housing values, debt hanging over their heads and retirement accounts ransacked, people will not be spending any small amount of money they might pocket.
And as much as $150 billion will go to business, including the Republicans' desire to allow businesses to write off current losses retroactively against taxes paid on profits over the past five years. Not a recipe for success.
Centrism Is for Phonies
Politics is almost always about ideology and partisanship as most understand despite Obama's insistence that he prefers to do it otherwise. But for most, post-partisanship is really another word for "centrism," a theme that has been a centerpiece of inaugural addresses for more than 150 years, Mark Leibovich explained in last Sunday's New York Times. It is standard, rather predictable fare for emerging political figures to bemoan the extremes of both parties and the divisive politics of previous regimes.
Tom Frank rails in the Wall Street Journal, "There is no branch of American political expression more trite, more smug, more hollow than centrism," which seems to find its most enthusiastic audience inside the Beltway and in the American media. "[W]hat the Beltway centrist characteristically longs for is not so much to transcend politics but to close off debate on the grounds that he -- and the vast silent middle for which he stands -- knows beyond question what is to be done," Frank says.
And in reality, "The real-world function of Beltway centrism has not been to wage high-minded war against 'both extremes' but to fight specifically against the economic and foreign policies of liberalism. Centrism's institutional triumphs have been won mainly, if not entirely, within the Democratic Party. Its greatest exponent, President Bill Clinton, persistently used his own movement as a foil in his great game of triangulation."
Frank bitingly adds: "And centrism's achievements? Well, there's NAFTA, which proved Democrats could stand up to labor. There's the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act. There's the Iraq war resolution, approved by numerous Democrats in brave defiance of their party's left. Triumphs all."
The Politics of Delay
Perhaps given some time, Obama may have been able to fashion a new style of politics that would transcend the same old, same old. But conservative Republicans dance to a very different drummer than the Democrats, and they have given little indication they are about to change their stripes.
For virtually their entire eight years, the Bush administration paid no attention to the Democrats. They rammed home a rash of highly ideological and destructive deregulations, tax cuts and executive policies that in the end were shocking in their disregard for the future, leaving us in the worst social and economic situation in 75 years. Yet it is these same discredited and marginalized politicians -- particularly Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio -- who are already calling for frankly absurd elements in a stimulus package, including their tired old quest for a permanent reduction in capital gains and income taxes for business and the wealthy.
In case no one has noticed, the Democrats have the biggest majorities in both houses since 1981. With Roland Burris now seated from Illinois, and Al Franken likely to seated from Minnesota, Democrats will have 58 votes in the Senate, two shy of the 60-vote support majority needed to cut off debate, according to Senate rules. It would be shocking if Obama, with all his political skills and the pressure of this gigantic crisis, can't get 60 votes for the strongest stimulus possible.
A further problem is post-partisanship translates to delay; it is a style of inclusion, compromise and deliberation, which runs contrary to the state of emergency we find ourselves in. Obama insists that we need swift and bold action, and many Democrats were talking about having legislation on his desk when he takes over. But that was ludicrously optimistic.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California is now saying she wants a completed bill on the president's desk by mid-February or else no spring break for the members. Time will tell if no vacation is enough of an incentive for the Republicans, but the prospect is a bit dubious. The Republican leaders are calling for hearings and scorn speed.
Borosage points out: "Delay will simply embolden lobbyists swarming to get their special interests built into the plan." That is the situation we find ourselves in.
The 10 Potential Mistakes
Mistake I: Screwing Up the Stimulus Plan
We do not know what will work in terms of jump-starting the economy, but there is growing consensus that if there will be an error, it will be because an economic stimulus is too small, not too big.
Screwing up the stimulus could be a combination of factors including: watering it down and making it too small because of Republican resistance, or larding it up with tax breaks that will not provide the necessary kick to the economy; not spending the money in the most efficient ways, the methods that will bring the most bang for the buck; focusing too much on building highways and perpetrating a culture that will undermine efforts to address climate change; and finally, and perhaps most importantly, to try to escape the perpetual quick-fix mentality that has dominated economic, social and corporate policy for so long.
James Galbraith emphasizes in his article, "Stimulus Is for Suckers: We Need a Recovery Plan that Will Last for Years":
"The historical role of a stimulus is to kick things off, to grease the wheels of credit, to get things 'moving again.' But the effect ends when the stimulus does, when the sugar shock wears off. Compulsive budget balancers who prescribe a 'targeted and temporary' policy, followed by long-term cuts to entitlements, don't understand the patient. This is a chronic illness. Swift action is definitely needed. But we also need recovery policies that will continue for years.
"First, we must fix housing. We need, as in the 1930s, a Home Owners' Loan Corporation to restructure failed mortgages on sustainable terms.
“Second, we must backstop state and local governments with federal funds. Otherwise, falling property (and other) tax revenues will implode their budgets, forcing destructive cuts in public services and layoffs.
“Third, we should support the incomes of the elderly, whose nest eggs have been hit hard by the stock market collapse.
“Fourth, we should cut taxes on working Americans. Obama has proposed to effectively offset the first $500 of Social Security taxes with a refundable credit. It's a good idea, but can be expanded.
“Finally, we must change how we produce energy, how we consume it, and above all, how much greenhouse gas we emit. That's a long-term proposition that will require research and reconstruction on a grand scale."
In terms of the efficiency of the spending, according to an analysis by economist Mark Zandi of Moody's (who happens to be a conservative Republican), a dollar spent on infrastructure gives the economy a boost of $1.59; a dollar in aid to cash-strapped states gets $1.36 back in economic activity, and each buck spent on food stamps provides $1.73 worth of stimulus. Meanwhile, each dollar spent on corporate tax breaks results in an economic boost of 30 cents; a dollar for reducing capital gains taxes results in 37 cents worth of stimulus, and each dollar in lost revenues from making Bush's tax cuts permanent gives the economy a miniscule 29-cent lift.
Where Obama puts his money really matters. Sara Robinson writes, "It's got to be big. And it's got to be now. Anything too small -- or too late -- and the American economy will be at serious risk of stagnating the same way Japan's did in the 1990s."
Mistake II: Escalate the War in Afghanistan & Continue the Occupation in Iraq
Does Obama feel like he has to appear tough with his own war, oddly known as the good war, but one that huge numbers of experienced hands make clear is a recipe for huge disaster? Looking at history, it seems like the word quagmire was created for Afghanistan. You would think that Obama would grasp that with our unbelievable economic challenges, we can't even afford to escalate in Afghanistan, regardless of moral issues or questions of national interest.
But if we do, we are asking for big trouble. Robert Dreyfuss writes that surging troops into Afghanistan, as in Vietnam, "will only provide the Taliban with many more targets, sparking Pashtun nationalist resistance and inspiring more recruits for the insurgency. Tariq Ali says that pacifying the country would require at least 200,000 more troops, beyond the 62,000 U.S. and NATO forces there now, and that it would necessitate laying waste huge parts of Afghanistan. Many Afghan watchers consider the war unwinnable, and they point out that in the 1980s the Soviet Union, with far more troops, had engaged in a brutal nine-year counterinsurgency war -- and lost."
Dreyfuss quotes Chas Freeman, president of the Middle East Policy Council and a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia:
"We need to recall the reason we went to Afghanistan in the first place. … Our purpose was to deny the use of Afghan territory to terrorists with global reach. That was, and is, an attainable objective. It is a limited objective that can be achieved at reasonable cost. We must return to a ruthless focus on this objective. We cannot afford to pursue goals, however worthy, that contradict or undermine it. The reform of Afghan politics, society and mores must wait."
Bob Herbert wrote in a recent New York Times column, "Our interest in Afghanistan is to prevent it from becoming a haven for terrorists bent on attacking us. ... It does not require a wholesale occupation. It does not require the endless funneling of human treasure and countless billions of taxpayer dollars to the Afghan government at the expense of rebuilding the United States, which is falling apart before our very eyes."
And for Obama’s approach to Iraq, the less direct involvement and military presence the United States has in Iraq, the better chance Iraq has to recover, and the better chance the world has to avoid even deeper military conflicts in the region. Bush’s invasion and occupation of Iraq was a radical act that continues to send destabilizing shockwaves through the Middle East and geopolitics.
Currently, Obama talks about leaving in Iraq only “noncombat” troops, which is as an oxymoronic concept as “clean coal.” As long as U.S. troops remain in Iraq -- and realistically, all indicators point to at least a semi-permanent presence of tens of thousands of soldiers and constant air patrolling -- Iraq will continue to have major internal political problems and problematic relations with neighboring states in the region.
Mistake III: Settle for a Health Care Plan That Doesn’t Include a Competitive Government-Sponsored 'Medicare for All' Program
On the campaign trail, Obama hammered away at the need for lowering health care costs and making care accessible and affordable for all Americans. He promised to establish a National Health Insurance Exchange, which would offer a new public insurance plan alongside existing private options.
Obama's a compromiser, but it's crucial for him to avoid compromising away the public arm of his plan, because offering a competitive, government-paid program -- i.e. Medicare for all -- would drive health care costs down and make insurance companies more accountable. It would expose the sins of our overpriced, profit-driven system and, ultimately, create a future opportunity for a universal, single-payer plan, if the political dynamics changed.
If the current economic crisis isn't proof enough that free markets can fail, what better way to test conservatives' "government is the problem" theory than by letting private and public plans compete? Here's a snapshot of what would likely happen if everyone woke up tomorrow and saw that Medicare enrollment was open to everyone:
People who aren't poor enough to qualify for public assistance, yet aren't wealthy enough to purchase their own private insurance on the open market, would sign up in large numbers. Some employers, burdened by the high overhead costs, would jettison existing plans and switch, potentially cutting costs by a third and still keeping employees happy. The uninsured population would drop dramatically, reducing the country's overall health care bill, because the uninsured often steer clear of doctor's offices and forgo preventative care. They see a doctor or visit the ER only when they're extremely sick, which leads to increased costs.
Mistake IV: Fail to Forcefully Defend Workers' Rights to Join a Union and Deal with Corporate America on a Level Playing Field
One of the dumbest things the incoming Obama administration could do is to fail to forcefully defend workers’ right to join a union and deal with corporate America on a level playing field.
Today, the United States has by far the greatest level of economic inequality in the wealthy, advanced world. That didn't just happen. Economists Lawrence Mishel and Ross Eisenbrey write, "Wage inequality began to grow at the same time" that the decline in unionization gathered steam in the late 1970s. There's a substantial body of research that shows a clear correlation between falling unionization rates, stagnating wages and increases in inequality and poverty.
Harvard economist Richard Freeman surveyed a number of studies of working people's attitudes in 2005 and found that more American workers want to join a union than ever before -- 53 percent. It's their right -- guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution -- but even as the number who want to bargain collectively with their bosses has increased, the labor movement has continued its deep decline.
A big step toward reversing this trend is the Employee Free Choice Act. The measure is relatively simple: It beefs up penalties for employers who violate workers' rights under the law, creates a mediation and arbitration system for disputes and allows workers to form a union if a majority simply sign a card saying they want representation.
This bill alone won't reverse the long decline of American labor -- union organizers say more is needed to create a truly level playing field -- but it would be a huge step in the right direction.
Mistake V: Continue the Destructive, Discredited, So-Called War on Drugs
Will Obama acknowledge that the war on drugs is a failure and that it is an epic waste of time and resources? Nationally, around half a million people are in prison on nonviolent drug charges.
Although Obama has signaled a move to push for sentencing reform and rehabilitation versus incarceration policies, he has some key members on his team with a history of pushing hard on the drug war: Most visible of all is Vice President-elect Joe Biden, who is responsible for creating numerous harsh drug policies.
According to a recent World Health Organization survey, 42 percent of Americans have used marijuana -- by far, the highest rate for all 17 developed countries surveyed.
The FBI's annual Uniform Crime Report shows that in 2007, police arrested more than 872,000 U.S. citizens for pot, a 5 percent increase over the total number of Americans busted in 2006. More than three times the number of citizens charged with pot violations 16 years ago.
And 12.7 percent of state inmates and 12.4 percent of federal inmates incarcerated for drug-abuse violations are serving time for marijuana offenses. That's the equivalent of arresting and ruining the lives of every man, woman and child in the state of North Dakota, plus every man, woman and child in Des Moines, Iowa, on marijuana charges every year.
A study by Jon Gettman, Ph.D. concludes that the war on pot costs $42 billion a year -- $10.7 billion in direct law enforcement costs, and $31.1 billion in lost tax revenues. The answer is quite clear: Regulate marijuana just as we do beer, wine and liquor.
Mistake VI: Fail to Prioritize Climate Change and Continue Fantasies About 'Clean Coal'
Obama's Senate record, and many of the proposals for his new administration, show a seriousness in addressing global warming at a time when the world desperately needs the United States to be a leader on the issue.
But with a financial meltdown on his shoulders, Obama needs to stay committed to the idea that good environmental solutions are also good economic solutions and not ignore our climate crisis in the face of a monetary one.
Unfortunately, there are signs that Obama is buying into some myths that will not produce the solutions we need. One of these is his position on coal, our dirtiest source of energy and a major contributor to climate change.
One of Obama's stated energy plans is to "develop and deploy clean coal technology." But "clean coal," Fred Pearce wrote for the Guardian, "is the most toxic phrase in the greenwash lexicon" and is "up there with the safe cigarette." In fact, "clean coal" is only a part of our vocabulary thanks to a $35 million advertising campaign.
While the media is liable to fall prey to such dirty tricks, it is shocking that the president-elect has taken the bait.
The basic idea behind "clean coal" is being able to capture carbon emissions after the coal is burned and then store them somewhere, probably underground. A commercial application of this does not exists and may not for quite some time, if the technology is ever able to be viable at all.
But what is so shocking about the promotion of "clean coal" is that it only deals with part of coal's dirty legacy -- the burning. The other big part is extraction, and there is really no way to make blowing the tops off mountains and dumping the waste into valleys and streams a clean affair.
And after two recent spills of coal waste from Tennessee Valley Authority power plants, one of which that may go down as the largest man-made environmental disaster in our country's history, it's time to bury the "clean coal" idea once and for all and focus on truly clean forms of energy that will aid us in our fight against global warming.
Mistake VII: Fail to End Torture and Return the Country to Its Founding Principles on Human Rights and the Rule of Law
Obama would be making a major error if he didn't bring the country back to basic principles when it comes to human rights and the rule of law, such as shutting down the Guantanamo Bay detention center, eliminate Bush's sham trials process for suspects in the war on terror, end the process of extraordinary renditions and remove all possibilities of torture.
The so-called war on terror ushered in a dark period in this country's history, one that codified indefinite detention and the endemic torture of prisoners across the globe. It would be enormously problematic for our own civil liberties and international human rights if Obama stopped short of ending these abuses and bringing those who perpetrated them to justice.
For starters, this means closing Guantanamo quickly -- Obama has indicated he plans to shut it down, but that it could take time. Meanwhile, human rights advocates and attorneys argue that closing the prison camp is not that difficult: 500 prisoners have already been released, and the remaining 250 should be tried in federal courts or let go.
It is also critical that Obama make good on his pledge to dismantle the unconstitutional military commissions process -- and fast. It is inextricably linked to torture -- and while much has been made of the possibility of a 9/11-style truth commission to investigate the torture that took place under Bush, Obama should go further and heed the call to assign a special prosecutor to investigate and press charges against the White House's torture team, if warranted.
This is the number one issue being pushed on Obama's Change.gov site, reflecting widespread public demand for prosecuting war crimes from the Bush era. Obama has thus far shown reluctance to pursue prosecutions, saying he has too many problems to solve to embark on a campaign that would smack of a "partisan witch hunt."
"My general belief," Obama recently said, when pressed on the issue, "is that when it comes to national security, what we have to focus on is getting things right in the future as opposed to looking at what we got wrong in the past."
But without accountability, there is no deterrence for future administrations. "People say that prosecuting torture is 'looking backward,' " Michael Ratner, head of the Center for Constitutional Rights, told AlterNet recently. "But in my view, prosecutions are looking forward -- looking forward so that this doesn't happen again."
Mistake VIII: Ignore the Emerging Water Crises
Right now, 36 U.S. states are facing water scarcity in the next five years, and over the coming decades global warming will exacerbate our water woes. Gone are the days when just the desert Southwest was susceptible to periods of drought. Now, that region is predicted to hit what scientists are calling "permanent drying" as a result of climate change. And previously water-rich regions like the Southeast are seeing the bottoms of their reservoirs, and the massive groundwater supply under the Great Plains that serves our country's vast agriculture industry is being depleted 10 times faster than nature can replenish it.
Even with these daunting problems, our water crisis is not just one of quantity; it is also one of quality and infrastructure. This crisis is putting ecosystems and people at risk, but help from the federal government is virtually nonexistent.
Over the last several decades, federal support for infrastructure has fallen greatly in an attempt to privatize the commons. And water has been no exception. The Clean Water State Revolving Fund, which the federal government is suppose to use to help states keep their water clean, has fallen nearly 70 percent since 1991.
Things are worse on other fronts, too. As a proportion of overall spending on wastewater infrastructure, federal dollars made up 78 percent of funding in 1978, but now makes up only 3 percent.
These numbers are reflected every day in beach closings and water advisories from sewage overflows, in waterways that don't meet federal safety standards and in municipalities turning to private companies to run their public water systems because they can't keep up with the costs.
Thirty-five years after the passage of the Clean Water Act, our progress is beginning to erode in a big way. Unbelievably, almost half of our waterways in the United States don't meet water-quality standards.
We have 72,000 miles of pipes in this country, and we need a way to keep them in shape and keep our water drinkable, safe and publicly controlled. And we need a national water management policy to prepare for water scarcity and climate change. These items should be priorities for Obama's allocations on building sustainable infrastructure, creating jobs and protecting the environment.
Mistake IX: Continue the Bush Administration’s Warped View of How to Approach the Israel-Palestine Conflict
It would be a stretch to imagine President Obama radically altering U.S. policy toward Israel and the Occupied Territories. It's unlikely that he will ever tout the Palestinians' right to self-defense, call on Israel to recognize their statehood or mention their need for security, as politicians across the spectrum routinely do when discussing Israel.
But in the most powerful state in the world, a modest change of course can have a dramatic effect. For 30 years, before the Bush administration came to power, the United States was seen as being slanted toward the Israeli position on most issues, but not to a degree where it became impossible for it to play the role of a broker in the peace process. That changed when the Supreme Court elected Bush in 2000.
For example, until the Bush administration reversed the policy, the United States had long deducted a dollar in aid to Israel for every dollar spent on expanding Israel's illegal settlements in the Occupied Territories. It was a small nod to international law, but the Bush administration's reversal was seen as a significant departure from the approach previous administrations had taken.
Having the United States be at least a minimally honest broker is vitally important for both sides of the conflict. It's long been the case that public opinion among both Israelis and Palestinians has favored some sort of deal embracing the concept of "land for peace."
There are, tragically, extremist minorities on both sides of the conflict that reject any effort to negotiate a settlement. The United States has put unrelenting pressure on the Palestinians to renounce their rejectionists, but next to none on the Israelis. What's more, by insulating Israel from international condemnation, Washington has essentially given the Israeli majority no incentive whatsoever to rein in its violent fringe. This is a formula for endless conflict, and Obama would be unwise to continue it.
Mistake X: Continue to Detain Nonviolent Immigration Offenders
Regardless of Obama’s views on the larger debate over immigration, Bush’s push to automatically lock up those suspected of immigration offenses while they are waiting for their cases to be heard is one of the most boneheaded policy shifts of the last decade, and it has to be reversed.
It's not just a matter of ethics, separating people who are suspected of having committed a misdemeanor from their families, sometimes leaving children uncared for. According to Detention Watch, the "supervised release" of immigrants while their cases are pending costs as little as $12 dollars per day, and 93 percent of them do show up for their day in court. Each of the tens of thousands of detainees held in ICE's nationwide prison network costs taxpayers $95 per day, or about eight times as much.
With more than 1.5 million people currently in immigration proceedings, a Washington Post analysis found that ICE "holds more detainees a night than Clarion Hotels have guests, operates nearly as many vehicles as Greyhound has buses and flies more people each day than do many small U.S. airlines."
At $95 bucks a day, that's a policy that just doesn't add up.
This week, House Democrats unveiled their vision for an economic recovery package of massive heft -- a bill totaling more than four times the cash spent during FDR's New Deal.
According to the Washington Post, the recovery package, totaling around $825 billion, contains $550 billion in domestic spending -- infrastructure investments, help for those getting pummeled in the downturn and aid to cash-strapped state and local governments -- and about $275 billion in tax cuts for businesses and individuals. The proposal circulating on the Hill calls for:
- A $500 payroll tax credit for workers making below $75,000. Couples making below $150,000 would receive a $1,000 credit.
- About $85 billion worth of infrastructure spending, most for highway and bridge construction.
- A variety of tax incentives to promote development of renewable energy sources. Expanded assistance to workers who are laid off because their jobs are shifted overseas as the result of trade agreements.
- Unemployment benefits increased by $25 per week, and federal welfare funding for the poor also temporarily increased.
- Low-income elderly and disabled Social Security recipients would receive a one-time additional monthly payment.
- $80 billion in funding to states for education programs and about $90 billion for Medicaid assistance.
- The package also contains "temporary subsidies to workers who have lost their jobs, and would extend the availability of COBRA [health] coverage through former employers, beyond the current 18-month period. Addressing another Obama campaign priority, the bill would launch a new health information technology initiative aimed at establishing nationwide standards, payments incentives and privacy protections for medical records."
Congressional Democrats are also considering including a middle-class tax measure that might add $75 billion to the total value of the bill.
Now the legislative wrangling begins, and Obama's transition team is reportedly hoping to pass the final product with at least 70 votes in the Senate. That means it's going to be the first test of the sunny "post-partisanship" Obama promised Americans on the campaign trail. The $64 question -- or maybe the $825 billion question -- is whether Obama will compromise with Republicans and conservative Democrats to an extent that makes the enormous economic investment fall flat; whether in the name of bringing civility (a mythical civility that never existed) to Washington, hundreds of billions of our tax dollars are dedicated to measures that line the pockets of various constituencies, but ultimately provide little bang for the buck in terms of kick-starting the economy.
Also to be determined on The Hill in the coming weeks is whether, and to what degree, the final stimulus package will represent a real break from Washington's often shortsighted status quo -- with longer-term projects designed to wean America off its 1950s-era, fossil-fuel-driven commuter lifestyle. In the short-term, infrastructure projects may be the way to create new jobs, but simply rebuilding the highways and bridges that enable us to maintain an ultimately unsustainable lifestyle isn't going to bring the United States into the 21st century.
Compromise or Bang for the Buck?
The budgetary debates in Washington have become dully formulaic. The Republicans -- joined by pro-business "Blue Dog" Dems -- want to cut taxes, and although they cage it in rhetoric touting the wonders of entrepreneurial endeavor, the bottom line, as always, is that they want to skew those cuts toward the wealthy.
Both the right-wing Heritage Foundation and the Club for Growth, a corporatist political action committee, have their own proposals for a recovery package. Both have the same prescriptions -- and embody the same ideological assumptions -- as conservative lawmakers in Congress: extend Bush's "temporary" tax cuts into forever, and then cut taxes on corporations and wealthy investors, yet again.
In the House, the Republican Study Committee -- the dead-enders of the conservative movement -- released its plan, which gives a nod to the middle class by increasing the child tax credit, but is otherwise more of the same: tax cuts and a 1 percent decrease in discretionary spending, just when there is something approaching a consensus among economists -- from across the ideological spectrum -- that the government must spend money in an attempt to make up for the fact that people are not.
More enlightened pols generally want to beef up social programs targeted at vulnerable segments of the population, and that's especially true at this moment in time.
In recent history, bipartisanship has generally resulted in a "compromise" that entails the conservatives getting some but not all of their cuts for those at the top of the heap and progressives getting some but not all of their wish list. Math, being for the most part non-ideological, dictates that the result is borrow-and-spend, with deficits mounting, and the resources needed to service that debt taking an ever-greater chunk of the government's revenues.
That dance of poor governance is frustrating in normal circumstances, but with the economy still teetering on the brink of disaster, too much "post-partisan" dealmaking can result in a whole lot more pain in the real world than might otherwise be the case.
That's because when it comes to stimulating the economy, the facts have a distinctly liberal bias. Corporate tax cuts, cuts on investment gains and other gifts to the wealthy do next to nothing to kick-start the economy, while aid to the unemployed, help for cash-strapped governments and other progressive measures have the potential to make a significant impact.
According to an analysis by economist Mark Zandi of Moody's (who happens to be a conservative Republican), each dollar spent on corporate tax breaks results in an economic boost of 30 cents; a dollar for reducing capital gains taxes results in 37 cents worth of stimulus, and each dollar in lost revenues from making Bush's tax cuts permanent gives the economy a miniscule 29-cent lift.
Meanwhile, a dollar spent on infrastructure gives the economy a boost of $1.59; a dollar in aid to cash-strapped states gets $1.36 back in economic activity, and each buck spent on food stamps provides $1.73 worth of stimulus.
Economist Dean Baker at the Center for Economic and Policy Research looked not only at the various approaches' impact in terms of dollars, but also on employment. He estimated that $100 billion spent on infrastructure investments would yield about a million net new jobs, while that same amount spent on corporate tax breaks would yield 200,000 jobs -- one-fifth of the bang for the same buck.
Obama has hoped for broad bipartisan support for the package, but the question is how much cash he will throw toward corporate America to get it. The transition team was reportedly considering structuring as much as 40 percent of the recovery package as tax cuts (although some of those cuts were targeted lower down the economic food chain).
There's some room for optimism on this front. According to The Hill, "Obama told Democrats behind closed doors that he would listen to their suggestions to reduce the number of tax cuts in the package and spend more on infrastructure projects and renewable energy development" than he'd previously planned. On Monday, his transition team leaked that it was dropping a corporate tax credit for creating new jobs that was widely criticized as a pointless giveaway. About a third of the value of the Democratic proposal released this week are structured as tax cuts -- a smaller chunk than what Obama's team had floated earlier.
Obama is coming into office at a time of deep crisis and with a pocketful of political capital. His administration needs to get this measure -- one that will likely define his presidency -- right. There won't be a second chance down the road; the political moment will end with the new president's honeymoon period.
There are three serious dangers in the debate about the stimulus package. The first is that President Obama will think too small. The second is that he will think too bipartisan. The third is that the public will be swayed by myths, such as the claim that infrastructure spending just takes too long to gear up, or that the deficit is the paramount problem.
The economy is now collapsing at an accelerating rate. With the 2008 job loss at the worst annual level since 1945, and even sound businesses unable to get ordinary credit from a traumatized banking system, this will quickly become a classic downward depression spiral unless government acts at a very large scale, and fast. The GDP probably shrank at a rate of at least five percent in the fourth quarter of 2008, and the nosedive will be worse this quarter.
There is simply no good news anywhere in the economy, as the costs of the financial crash keep reverberating. Yet a stimulus in the range of $400 billion a year is less than three percent of GDP. (It's bizarre that the incoming administration uses two-year numbers. They only make the figure sound too large, rather than too small.)
The reality is that we need additional spending of at least a trillion dollars a year for at least two years. The only encouraging sign is that more and more mainstream economists and Democratic politicians are starting to say that the greater risk is that we will aim too low rather than too high. Even Martin Feldstein, who chaired Ronald Reagan's Council of Economic Advisers, is a born-again Keynesian.
My educated guess is that the first stimulus package will be too small, and that as the economy-wide collapse deepens, we will be back for a second one by April or May. That would be a shame. It would be far better to have adequate stimulus now.
The Perils of Post-Partisanship
In the past week, the incoming administration has sounded almost desperate in its eagerness to enlist Republicans. First, Obama offered huge concessions in the form of business tax write-offs. Then he signaled a willingness to negotiate limits on Social Security and Medicare. While it may make some sense to reward businesses for creating jobs or for not cutting them, the idea of allowing corporations to write off more past years' losses on their current taxes is mainly a reward to the same banks that got us into this mess. Tax cuts should be part of the package, but they should go to working families.
Politically, the likelihood is that the Republicans will take whatever concessions they can get from Obama, and then try to block the spending parts of the package. Obama genuinely hopes to reach across partisan divides--it's part of his make-up--but he may have to get bloodied a few times before he realizes the folly of this approach. It would be far better for him to draft the stimulus package that he wants and that the country needs than to compromise with implacably opposed Republicans going in.
The fact is that he has a much stronger hand than the Republicans do. Families and businesses, mayors and governors, are hurting in red states as much as they are in blue states. If a trillion-dollar stimulus package is pending before Congress and unemployment is rapidly heading towards double digits, he should dare the Republican leadership to try to block it. In such circumstances, it should not be difficult to peel off the two or three senate Republicans he needs to break a filibuster.
Every reformist president has faced an early test of resolve, usually a partisan one. John Kennedy has to win a fight, by three votes, to enlarge the House Rules committee, which had been a graveyard of liberal legislation. Bill Clinton won his first budget vote, raising taxes on the top two percent, by one vote in the House with Vice President Al Gore breaking a tie in the Senate, and Republicans united in opposition. FDR needed all of his persuasive powers to rally the country and the Congress behind the fifteen great bills of his first hundred days, as did Lyndon Johnson on civil rights.
Nothing would enhance the credibility of the president-elect as much as a decisive win on the stimulus, over the opposition of conservative Republicans. If sensible Republicans want to vote with the new president, more power to them - and to Obama.
But this victory will take all of Obama's skills of leadership, and then some. He needs to explain to the people why public outlay of this scale is urgently needed, and increase the pressure on Congress to support it. At this point, however, the cause and effect are running the other way. Progressives in Congress are urging Obama to think bigger, and not to cave in to the Republicans in the name of a hollow bipartisanship.
Rep. Barney Frank recently told me, "The said this post-partisan stuff was just for the campaign. I think maybe he believes it." But Obama is no fool. Post-partisanship will last only until it's clear that Republicans will try to wreck his presidency--and they will.
Yes, We Can Spend It Well.
The most disabling myth, which you hear over and over again, is that the government can't competently spend large sums of money fast enough, and will end up building bridges to nowhere. "Infrastructure," as the main supposed form of public spending, is getting far too much attention, and is being used as a straw man to discourage adequate outlay.
Here is a trillion dollars of stimulus that can take effect instantly, and another trillion that can take effect over the course of eighteen months. For Part I, the only planning process necessary is for government to start writing checks. The estimated costs are approximations:
1. Make sure state and local governments don't lay off a single worker or cut back a single existing program. Approximate Cost: $200 billion. Benefit: big loss to communities and workers is avoided. Capacity of local government to fight recession is enhanced.
2. Add emergency revenue sharing to states and cities by picking up half of the state share of Medicaid, which has suffered drastic cuts in eligibility and coverage. Cost $100 billion. Benefit: states can restore Medicaid benefits to more people and can get some general budget relief.
3. Have government temporarily pay most of the cost of COBRA coverage for laid off people who lose their health insurance, and allow people over age 55 to buy into Medicare. Cost: $100 billion. Benefit: unemployed people keep their health coverage, people in late middle age can buy affordable insurance, while Congress debates out how to get universal health insurance for all.
4. Expand Unemployment Insurance to cover part time workers, extend eligibility period, and increase benefit levels. Cost $50 billion. Benefit: people thrown out of work at a time of rising unemployment get more nearly adequate income support.
5. Roll back tuitions at state universities and community colleges, and increase Pell Grants--contingent on universities not increasing costs to students. Cost: $100 billion.
Benefit: young people spend the recession in college rather than clogging unemployment rolls or graduating with huge debt burdens. Colleges are spared the need to cut programs and lay off people in a recession.
6. Declare a temporary holiday on the worker share of the Social Security tax, and have government make up the loss to the trust fund, contingent on employers not cutting wages. Cost: $450 billion. Benefit: an immediate raise of 6.2 percent for all workers, with the benefit being tilted downward, since moderate income workers pay more in payroll taxes than in income taxes.
Total cost: $1 trillion.
Stimulative Effect: Instant.
So the idea that the government can't spend adequate sums efficiently or quickly is nonsense. Then, during 2009, state, local, and federal government can begin planning programs that take a little longer to realize, though the rollout could begin by summer 2009 and continue into 2010.
7. Continue many of the Part I relief programs into a second year, as economic conditions warrant. Cost: $500 billion. Benefit: the momentum of the overall stimulus is maintained.
8. Use direct federal lending to refinance distressed mortgages, and as necessary reduce the outstanding principal amount. This can begin by mid-2009. Cost: $200 billion of subsidy; most additional debt is eventually repaid. (Roosevelt's Home Owners Loan Corporation returned a modest profit to the Treasury.) Benefits: some three million at-risk homeowners don't lose their homes. We finally put a floor under collapsing housing prices. Bondholders and banks that bought toxic mortgage-backed securities realize at least something on their investment, which currently has a market value of zero.
9. Begin planning immediately for a broad range of infrastructure programs, from traditional outlay on roads, bridges and mass transit to spending on 21st century infrastructure such as retrofitting homes, green energy, universal broadband, and smart-grid electricity systems. Spend money on worker training as necessary. Cost: $300 billion. Benefit: a more competitive economy and the generation of millions of domestic good jobs.
Total stimulus is two trillion dollars over two years, or about seven percent of GDP a year. If we spend at this level, we can avoid the worst, and a recovery can begin by 2010. Along the way, we will make life better for a lot of working and middle class people, create (or prevent the destruction of) millions of decently-paying jobs, and rebuild public systems that have gone to ruin.
A secondary benefit is that people start believing in government again. As the economy returns to normal, it should never return to the kind of unequal bubble economy that created the mirage of prosperity in the 1990s and the first part of this decade. Many of these programs should not end after 2010. We need a permanent increase in public outlay to pay for adequate levels of public and social investment. But once the worst of the recession is behind us, the increased spending should be paid for by higher taxes on wealthy people so that the budget can be close to balance over the long term. As the economy returns to broad prosperity, the ratio of public debt to GDP begins declining as it did after World War II.
Will Obama reach for the stars and embrace a program this bold? He may suffer a few partisan defeats first, and he may find himself chasing a deepening depression downward. But my guess is that eventually will get there. Let's hope that it's sooner rather than later.
You have to begin with the Statute Law Ã¢â‚¬â€ in this contest, the party bringing the suit has the burden of proof. What the court will and can order would depend on whether Coleman comes in with proof of his claims sufficent to cause the court to issue an order. The court could, for instance, require bond for any expenses, and by law the loser pays all court costs.
Ironically, the whole Minnesota Recount system and statute law is based on the foundation of the decisions in the MN GovernorÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s recount case in 1962-63, Anderson V. Rolvaag. That decision is actually addressed in Bush v. Gore to the argument that State Election Law prevails in State Elections. The court in 2000 had to argue around Anderson v. Rolvaag on the grounds that the Constitution set a deadline for FlordiaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s vote count Ã¢â‚¬â€ the date of the Electorial College meeting. That exception would not apply to Minnesota, as we have no deadlines other than requirements as to when trials have to begin in a Contest. So in essence Bush v. Gore actually recognized Anderson v. Rolvaag as the lead precident, the settled law. So no, I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t predict it will successfully get into Federal Court. In '63 the case went through the Federal Courts Ã¢â‚¬â€ the decision Anderson v. Rolvaag was written by the 8th Circuit Appeals Court, and affirmed by the Warren Supreme Court. So given this Ã¢â‚¬â€ I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t think the Feds will even look at the case.
A whopping 70,000 questions poured into Change.gov over the past week, in response to the Obama transition team's call for citizen queries to the President-Elect. After votes from about 100,000 people, the top ranked question asks Obama whether he will appoint a special prosecutor to investigate allegations of torture and illegal surveillance by the U.S. government. I've been working with activist Bob Fertik to organize support for the question, and several progressive bloggers urged readers and Obama supporters to vote for it last week. Digby, who has written extensively about the Bush administration's abuse of the rule of law, recently reported on the progress:
I wrote a post about [an] initiative spearheaded by Ari Melber of The Nation and Democrats.com to ask President-elect Obama if he will appoint a special prosecutor to investigate war crimes in the Bush administration over at Change.gov. (In a previous round, it was the sixth most asked question...) This time, through their efforts, it's number one. This is particularly important, since the press has only asked Obama about this one time, last April. And a lot has happened since then, most obviously the fact that Vice President is all over television admitting to war crimes as if he's proud of it.
Then The New York Times picked up the news:
[T]he number one submission on the popular "Open for Questions" portion of the site might seem more than a little impolitic to [President Bush]: "Will you appoint a Special Prosecutor -- ideally Patrick Fitzgerald -- to independently investigate the gravest crimes of the Bush Administration, including torture and warrantless wiretapping," wrote Bob Fertik of New York, who runs the Web site, Democrats.com.
Though the Obama team has promised to answer some of the top questions as early as this week, they have not said whether they will respond to Mr. Fertik's, which has received more than 22,000 votes since the second round of the question-and-answer feature began on Dec. 30. The site logged more than 1.5 million votes for 20,000-plus questions ... The second highest-ranked submission, which is about oversight of the nation's banking industry, is several thousand of votes behind the query about a special prosecutor. Mr. Fertik's question has been pushed to the top, in part, by a coalition of liberal bloggers ...
The national press corps has not raised this issue with Obama since his victory. (When it surfaced in April, Obama said he would order his attorney general to "immediately review" the potential crimes.) And while the leading question in the last Change.gov forum was dispatched breezily -- Will you legalize marijuana? No. -- this one is far more challenging, both substantively and politically.
The Times notes that Obama's team has "not said" whether it will even answer Fertik's question, though ignoring the question that came in first out of 74,000 would turn this exercise into a farce. A terse, evasive answer would be similarly unacceptable. After all, there would be little point in this online dialogue if it reiterates things we already know, (Obama is not in N.O.R.M.L.), and refuses to provide new information.
That's why this may be the first big test for Change.gov as a genuinely interactive dialogue.
Thousands of Americans are asking whether President Obama will order an independent investigation to ensure our laws are enforced -- in an era when powerful people in government have engaged in criminal conduct and relentlessly tried to make their behavior off limits for media and political discussion. We expect a "yes," "no" or detailed explanation of how and when Obama and his aides will make this decision. Time is running out, of course, because the question must be answered, for Congress and the public, before Eric Holder's confirmation hearing. He must explain how he will restore independence, professionalism and the rule of law to a Justice Department that politicized U.S. attorneys and covered up torture and warrantless surveillance.
Law professor Jonathan Turley, a nonpartisan legal analyst who testified before Congress in favor of President Clinton's impeachment, recently explained that Holder simply should not be confirmed if he is not prepared to enforce the laws banning torture. "Eric Holder should be asked the same question that Mukasey refused to answer in his confirmation hearing: is waterboarding a crime?" Professor Turley stated. "If he refuses to answer or denies that it is a crime, he should not be confirmed. If he admits that it is a crime, he should order a criminal investigation." According to Change.gov, the crowds agree with the experts on this one.
This week, SEIU, one of the most aggressive -- and progressive -- labor unions in the country, announced the launch of what Anna Burger, the organization's international treasurer-secretary, promised to be "the greatest grassroots accountability campaign that had ever been seen in America." In a press call, Burger promised that the organization would invest a massive 30 percent of its annual budget for the "Change That Works" campaign, money she said would be used to "[make] sure that elected officials live up to their promises to working families."
The union reportedly spent $80 million during the election and claims that its members knocked on 3.5 million doors and placed over 16 million calls to sway voters to back pro-labor candidates during the election. According to a press release, "More than 3,000 SEIU members, staff and local leaders voluntarily took time off the job to work full time on the 2008 election cycle."
Now they're trying to make sure that the investment of time and resources was worth it. SEIU President Andy Stern said, "After 25 years of market worshipping, deregulating, privatizing, trickle-down economics, American workers have ended up working more, earning less; they've seen the middle class erode and the gap between the rich and the rest of the population grow larger every day.
"Winning an election only provides an opportunity for change," Stern said and promised that the campaign would be focused on "organizing, mobilizing and getting the involvement of people in communities in every part of our country."
The union's agenda is both simple and substantive. The campaign -- described by Stern as the largest legislative plan of any single organization in recent history -- has three primary goals:
- The passage of a significant economic-recovery program, with infrastructure investments and aid to states and municipalities whose revenues have been decimated by the economic crunch.
- Passage of a universal health care bill that conforms to the broad set of principles for reform SEIU laid out last year.
- Passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, a bill that would make it harder for employers to intimidate -- or fire -- workers trying to organize a union.
All of these initiatives echo calls heard from the broader progressive movement for some time.
State and local governments have seen revenues from real estate taxes, as well as other sources of income, plummet just when the services they provide are needed most. Economists also warn that deep cuts to local governments' payrolls will mean more unemployment, more foreclosures and a further decline in consumer spending -- exactly the things that must be avoided as the private sector sheds jobs at an alarming rate.
A Gallup poll released Thursday found that a majority of Americans -- by a 53-36 margin -- want such a package to be passed in the first days of the Obama presidency.
A number of polls show that they want Washington to address the health care crisis as well. And the link between health care reform and the economic recovery is becoming increasingly clear. For example, a Harvard University study found that health crises contribute to half of all home foreclosures and may put as many as 1.5 million Americans at risk of losing their homes each year.
SEIU officials also point to an analysis released in November by the New America Foundation predicting that rising health care premiums will continue to outpace wage gains, which will result in a situation in which "Americans will continue to pay more for less-generous health coverage, and fewer employers will offer health insurance to their workers." The union also points to a Health Affairs study which found that, absent changes to the health care system, the number of uninsured Americans will rise to 56 million -- about 1 in 6 -- by 2013.
But the cornerstone of labor's agenda is the Employee Free Choice Act, a bill that would smooth the way for workers to join a union if they desire to do so. Studies show that during an average unionization drive, 25 percent of employers fire workers, and more than 9 in 10 employees are required to attend one-on-one meetings with supervisors in which they're told that the sky will fall if they vote to unionize.
There's a substantial body of research that shows a clear correlation between falling unionization rates, stagnating wages and increases in inequality and poverty. That's true in all countries; data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development -- the "rich countries' club" -- shows that "countries with high levels of union density or collective bargaining coverage are much more equal than countries with low union density, but perform no worse in terms of creating jobs."
Of course, all of these progressive reforms will face stiff opposition from the corporate Right. To counter that, SEIU has opened up a rapid response "war room," will partner with other organizations to fund a major ad campaign and promises to commit 1,000 full-time staff members in dozens of states across the country to organize the effort to keep elected officials' feet to the fire.
"SEIU members have created one of the largest and most effective political programs in the country," Stern said this week.
We'll soon see if that organization can flex enough muscle to overcome corporate America's inevitable push-back.
Here it is: our moment of economic truth. We're standing at that historic fork in the road where the nation decides, now and for the foreseeable future, whether it's going to hang on to the catastrophic assumptions of the free-market fundamentalists and rely once more on the nostrums that have so far failed to fix the mess, or take a bold step down a new, more progressive path that will finally re-empower the American people to build an economy that works for us all.
As usual, the conservatives have absolutely no conscience about what they did to create this mess. If they did, they'd all be holed up in their gated communities or on their private islands, embarrassed into silence at best and terrified of peasant uprisings at worst. Instead, they're jetting into D.C. en masse in a last-ditch attempt to head the country off -- or at least make sure that any money that does get spent ends up, as it always has, in their pockets.
To that end, the self-serving myths are starting to fly so thick and fast that the staff here at CAF has been working full-time to keep ahead of them. Here's some of what they're flinging in this latest B.S. storm -- and what you need to know to fire back.
1. The proposed recovery package is too big.
False. Most progressive economists agree (and Paul Krugman is downright emphatic) that it's going to take a minimum of a trillion dollars of well-placed investment to pull our economy out of this ditch. This is no time for half-measures, blue-ribbon committees, pilot projects, or trial balloons: this is a life-or-death crisis that requires immediate and massive intervention.
CAF Senior Fellow Bernie Horn puts it this way: "The American economy is huge and it’s at a standstill. It’s like a motionless 100-car freight train -- or one going backwards slowly. A small locomotive simply can’t pull it forward. We need an engine large enough to work, one that can create millions of jobs. If anything, a $775 billion 2-year plan may be too small rather than too big."
Dean Baker of the Economic Policy Institute echoed this same thing on MSNBC's "Countdown" last Tuesday night. It's got to be big. And it's got to be now. Anything too small -- or too late -- and the American economy will be at serious risk of stagnating the same way Japan's did in the 1990s.
2. If we can't afford (insert pet project here), we certainly can't afford this.
Yes, we can. What we really can't afford is a huge recession that undercuts the tax base. That's a vicious cycle that will make it increasingly harder to dig out the longer this goes on. The Congressional Budget Office projects that the current slowdown will cost the federal government $166 billion in lost tax revenues in 2009 -- a number that could easily get even larger in coming years if we fall into a real depression. If we get on that trendline, we could lose a trillion dollars in government revenues by the end of Obama's first term. We need to invest what we have while we still have it if we hope to have a strong economy going forward.
This argument is based on the limited view that wealth is mainly generated by loaning or borrowing at interest -- a common enough assumption among financial people over the past 30 years. A more progressive view is that real wealth is generated by labor, combined with access to resources required for production. Putting people to work creates wealth. So does ensuring that our current failing energy regime is replaced as rapidly as possible with one that's infinitely renewable and that we will finally be in full control of. And so do other kinds of infrastructure investments, which form the footing on which a new round of businesses can rise and thrive.
Businesses have always invested their capital to create more capital. The best parts of Obama's proposal involve getting the government to do the same thing. Conservatives are resisting this because don't believe that there's such a thing as the common wealth -- which is how they've rationalized their plundering of our common assets. We need to make it absolutely clear that we do believe in the common wealth -- and that their assaults on everything that allows America to generate national wealth are going stop, right here and right now.
3. It's more important to balance the budget. Fix that, and the rest will take care of itself.
Read history much? Herbert Hoover is history's poster boy for the idea that balancing the budget during a recession is the best way known to turn it into a full-on depression. And that wasn't a one-off: FDR repeated the lesson in 1937, when he succumbed to the pleas of budget-hawk conservatives and tried to balance the budget -- a move that put the brakes on what had, until then, been a solid recovery.
Looking forward, this year's numbers also show the case clearly. Economists are already estimating that spending by individuals and businesses will be off by $300 to $500 billion in 2009. The upshot of this will be millions of lost jobs, which in turn will mean even lower spending and more job losses next year as the country accelerates toward depression.
The only way to halt this slide is for the government to step in and fill the hole with an additional $300 billion-$500 billion of its own spending -- and to spend that money on investments that will create as many jobs as possible. The longer we wait, the more government spending it will ultimately take to pull us out of this -- and the less able we'll be to muster that much cash.
Balanced budgets are important, but not as important right now as making sure every American has a paycheck they can count on. We can't afford to sacrifice the fate of the entire country to this one economic ideal.
4. The worst thing we can possibly do is raise taxes. Or borrow the money, God forbid.
More misplaced priorities.
As for taxes: Obama's already told us, without apologies to anyone, that he plans to raise taxes on people making over $250,000 a year -- the people who've profited most from our current high levels of inequality. Practically, it makes sense to raise taxes on the affluent, since they're increasingly the only ones left who actually have any money. And morally, it's only fair that those who've gained the most from conservative mismanagement of the economy (regardless of their own political leanings) should be the first to pay the bills for it.
As for borrowing: Don't look now, but the whole planet is reeling from financial problems as least as big as ours. Even in the midst of this colossal fiscal mess we're in, if you're an individual, business, or government with excess capital to store somewhere, the USA is still the safest place on earth to park it.
They're so eager for our American brand of low-risk investment that they're even willing to lend their cash to us at interest rates that are very close to zero (and may actually turn out to be less than zero, once you add in inflation). If someone offered you the chance to borrow massive amounts of money without paying interest, you'd do it, right? Well, that money's already sitting on the table, just waiting for us to put it to work jump-starting our economy again. We'd be fools not to take it.
5. When you want to stimulate the economy, tax cuts always beat government spending hands-down.
Another conservative fantasy that disintegrates on contact with reality.
The chart that shows the effectiveness of various forms of government stimulus, based on recent attempts, is here. (Conservatives will be infuriated to learn that food stamps come out on top, generating $1.73 for every dollar spent. Infrastructure investments come in a respectable third. The bottom half of the chart is wall-to-wall tax cut schemes.)
The problem with tax cuts is that people don't spend them in ways that get the economy moving. The Wall Street Journal reports that only 10 to 20 percent of the money remanded to taxpayers in the 2008 tax rebate actually got spent. The other 80 to 90 percent ended up in people's personal savings, were used to pay off creditors, or were simply absorbed by inflation and higher living costs.
Knowing this, we're a bit dismayed Obama is proposing to sink as much as 40 percent of his stimulus package into tax cuts. That's too much, if you ask us. But at least they're targeted at the middle class -- people who are more likely to spend that money here in the U.S., rather than ship it off to investments abroad.
6. Large-scale government investment would inevitably turn into an orgy of waste, fraud and abuse.
True -- but only if we let conservatives run the show.
The fact is that all human endeavors -- from running a household to running a nation -- entail a fair amount of waste, fraud and abuse. Bad decisions get made. Greed gets the better of people. Not everybody is as honest as we'd wish them to be.
But in spite of that truth, nobody in history can top the Americans when it comes to planning and executing successful large-scale investment projects. (A thousand years from now, that's what they'll be saying about us: Not always smart about foreign policy, but man, could those people think big -- and they usually pulled it off, too.) In our happier past, good management, careful oversight, and clear accountability have always gone a long way toward preventing really big problems, and ensured that we got the most for our collective buck.
Unfortunately, if we've learned anything about conservatives at this late date, it's that they'll defang or dismantle these mechanisms every chance they get. They think rules are for lesser mortals, oversight is a form of Big Brother-style oppression, and accountability is for people who can't afford lobbyists and lawyers. I don't think anyone would even try argue any more that when it comes to waste, fraud, and abuse, conservatives are the hands-down experts.
What's ironic is that they're now offering edifying moral guidance to the rest of us on the subject. All you can do is point and giggle at the stupefying hypocrisy of it all.
7. We need stimulus now -- and tax cuts are the only way to get the money out there fast enough.
Not really, no. Much of the infrastructure spending in the recovery package will be targeted at projects that are “shovel ready” -- the ones that are planned, approved, and sitting on the shelf ready to go as soon as there's money to fund them. Some of these could start generating jobs as early as April or May.
Some of this money will also be aimed at covering state budget deficits. That money will also be spent immediately on things like health care, child-care programs and other underfunded state services that employ large numbers of people.
That's a lot of direct funding that will put people to work quickly -- quite likely, faster than giving people tax cuts and letting them trickle out through the economy.
8. It’s wrong to bail out spend-thrift states. Let them stimulate their own damned economies.
Please. Haven't we all had a lifetime bellyfull of tax revolutionaries and drown-the-government-in-the-bathtub crazies? I swear...can't live with 'em, can't just shoot 'em....
States aren't in trouble because they overspent their allowances. Almost every state constitution in the country requires that the government balance its budget every single year. You want fiscal sanity? Anybody who's put in their time in state government knows all about it. They've made the hard choices, and faced the consequences, too.
The problem is that the recession has undercut state tax revenues to the point where these governments can no longer afford to cover their obligations -- some of which (like bonds) were taken on years ago, when times were better. Commitments that were fiscally prudent by any measure back then are wiping them out now. Budgets that were balanced and sound when they were first outlined a couple years ago are impossible monsters today.
And, unlike the federal government, the states can't deficit spend their way out of it. That's why they need federal help.
9. This whole Keynesian thing has been totally disproved. It didn’t work during the Depression. It didn’t work for Japan in the 1980s.
Say what? We know that rewriting history is a favorite conservative pastime. America is Christian country. Slavery was good for black people. Bush was never a real conservative. Saddam was in cahoots with al-Qaida. And on it goes.
The campaign to discredit Keynes (which is directly traceable to the Heritage Foundation) is a new and rather audacious fiction -- one that leaves both progressive and conservative economists as gobsmacked and sputtering as scientists get when you bring up "intelligent design." And the factual basis for it is, if anything, even more specious.
Paul Krugman addresses both the Depression and the example of Japan in his new book, "The Return of Depression Economics." According to his telling of the tale, in both cases the affected economies strengthened as long as the government continued to infuse capital into them; but bobbled when there was enough improvement that the budget hawks could get some political traction. When the spending flagged, so did the recovery. In Japan, bold steps alternating with repeated failures of nerve created a liquidity trap that stagnated the country's economy through most of the 1990s.
Keynes' prescription has worked everywhere it's been tried -- as long as governments acted boldly and quickly enough. It's not medicine that works if you take it in half-doses, or quit before the course of treatment is finished. In fact, doing it with less than full commitment can actually make the situation worse.
10. This is a partisan program that's designed to promote the Democratic agenda.
No. Almost every businessperson in America -- including the conservative ones -- are stepping forward in support of the stimulus package. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is on board with it. So (unsurprisingly) are most of the building trades and engineering groups who stand to prosper with a new round of infrastructure spending. The current economy is hurting everyone, regardless of political affiliation -- and most Americans agree that it's time for the government to step in and get things going again.
And Yes. I've written before about the way this kind of investment in the health and well-being of the middle class can, in the end, transform long-held conservative beliefs about how the economy should work. A stimulus package that works will prove that government can do important things that no other entity can do; that it can effectively in the public interest; and that there's actually such a thing as a national common good that deserves to be protected. In short, it will reaffirm progressive values in a way that's irrefutable, and will earn the enduring respect of the country.
Bernie Horn and the Institute for America's Future research staff contributed extensively to this post. For other sources, follow the links provided.
Fallout from the surreal political scandal in Illinois has now wafted into Minnesota.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is refusing to seat Roland Burris, appointed by disgraced Ill. Gov. Rod Blagojevich, for lack of state certification. That's a problem for Al Franken, who also lacks final state certification despite the fact that the state canvassing board declared him the winner Monday.
Will Senate Democrats seat Franken without official certification? "I don't think so," said Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois.
"Republicans will object to trying to seat him," said Reid spokesman Jim Manley. Later in the day, Manley said that Democratic leadership would not seat Franken when the new class of Senators was sworn in on Tuesday. "Now that the bipartisan state canvassing board has certified Al Franken as the winner, we hope Senator Coleman respects its decision and does not drag this out for months with litigation... However, there will not be an effort to seat Mr. Franken tomorrow."
The remarks from Senate's top two Democrats cast a shadow on what was an otherwise bright day for Franken's political objectives. The comedian-turned-Senate aspirant claimed victory on Monday after the Minnesota canvassing board's final tallies showed him with a 1,212,431 to 1,212,206 vote victory.