Monday, March 28, 2011

Hey, Robert Reich: Why We Need Voters Who Will Get Off Their Asses And Go To The Polls

By Manifesto Joe

Nearly 75 years ago, FDR gave a campaign speech condemning Big Business and its predatory practices in no uncertain terms. Something to recall from history is that he didn't have a hostile House of Representatives or a lot of right-wing Republican governors to face after the midterm elections of 1934.

Economist and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, in an op-ed piece for Truthout, quoted FDR in "Why Governor LePage Can't Erase History, and Why We Need a Fighter in the White House." Here's a link to the entire piece, and following are some quotes:

Big business and Wall Street thought (Labor Secretary Frances) Perkins and Roosevelt were not in keeping with pro-business goals. So they and their Republican puppets in Congress and in the states retaliated with a political assault on the New Deal.

Roosevelt did not flinch. In a speech in October 1936 he condemned "business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering."

Big business and Wall Street, he said,

"had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.
Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me –- and I welcome their hatred."

Fast forward 75 years.

Well, indeed, let's do exactly that.

Practical politics

FDR, on close examination, wasn't quite what the hardcore left had hoped for in America, either. Granted, he got much more done in his first 100 days than Barack Obama did in nearly two years before taking a "shellacking" at the polls. But in large part, that "shellacking" is precisely the point.

Some 29 million Americans who voted for Obama in 2008 didn't vote in November 2010. Some 19 million McCain voters didn't vote, either, but that left Obama and the Democrats with a deficit of 10 million votes for the midterm election. That was enough to make the difference for the Tea Party. The right-wingers got their base out to vote; the "left," or what there is of it in America, simply didn't.

As a result, Obama now faces a House packed with hardcore right-wingers, enough of them to vote to defund National Public Radio (as though it were a huge contributor to the deficit). He is confronted with right-wing, Tea Party-backed governors all over the country, even in states that he carried comfortably in 2008.

Maine and Wisconsin are two big examples. Obama won those states with something like 56 or 57 percent of the popular vote. In 2010, both states elected Republican governors. In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker has made busting the state's public employee unions into his life's work. The right wing is touting him as a possible presidential candidate. In Maine, Gov. Paul LePage has ordered state workers to take down a mural at the state labor department depicting Maine's labor history. He's also renaming the conference rooms that had been named for American labor leaders and for Frances Perkins, the U.S. labor secretary who in 1933 became the first woman to serve on the president's Cabinet.

How could you not have known what would happen?

Excuse me, 29 million sometimes-voting Americans who voted for Obama in '08: What the hell did you think you were voting for then? And what the hell did you think was going to happen when 29 million of you sat home last November and let the radical, right-wing Republicans win high office across the land? Are you going to tell me that you're surprised that these things are happening?

To answer the first question myself: I, for one who turned out to vote both times, had hoped that I would get something more. Obama hasn't been what I had hoped. He's no FDR. Instead of enlisting people like Frances Perkins, he's surrounded himself with Wall Street-minted characters like Timothy Geithner.

But to Obama's credit, he did get some important things done for ordinary Americans. Thanks to his credit-card reform law, I'm likely to get a lower interest rate on my credit card very soon. As for the "Romneycare" health-care law that he pushed through at the federal level -- I favor single-payer for everyone, so obviously it's not what I'd hoped for. But if he'd decided to go down fighting for the public option (a compromise in itself), we'd have gotten nothing. Nada. Zero. Zip.

Obama isn't an idealist or a radical, and neither was FDR. Both were and are pragmatic, results-oriented politicians, the kind who actually get elected to high office, and sometimes even live to tell about it. And remember that FDR had "supermajorities" in both houses of Congress to put across his program. Obama, even last year, didn't have that in either house. As a pragmatist, he decided that something was better than nothing.

Yes, I've been disappointed. Like movie star and Inside Job narrator Matt Damon said, "I no longer hope for audacity."

But what I did understand is what would happen when radical right-wing Republicans got their money-grubbing paws back on the levers of power. Some won't openly say it, but they want to privatize the Social Security system that FDR and Frances Perkins fought for and made a reality in 1935. It's been the most effective anti-poverty program in the country's history, and now the right wing wants to gut it and put it in the hands of speculators who won't have to rely on it when the time comes.

The assault on organized labor has been going on for decades, and what Scott Walker is doing in Wisconsin should be absolutely no surprise. The reactionaries have been telegraphing that punch for many years. The thing that surprises me a bit is how so many "center-left" Americans are now shocked, shocked, that these things are happening, and that the right-wingers actually have the power and votes to get them done.

Why is this so? Because 29 million of you out there sat on your asses last November and didn't vote, in effect handing the country over to them. I sure as hell knew what was going to happen, and that's why I voted. You apparently didn't know, and hence didn't vote?

Obama may well be a Republicrat. But we know now from the Clinton presidency that a centrist Republicrat is better for most Americans than a reactionary, any day. We live in an imperfect republic, and sometimes it's necessary to hold one's nose and vote for the lesser of two evils.

Just remember this in November 2012; and, more importantly, remember this again in November 2014.

Like former Labor Secretary Reich, a lot of people have been disappointed that Obama hasn't shown more fire. But it's a two-way street: It's much harder to be a fighter when so many people are deserting your corner. With more reliable support, he might surprise all of us.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.


Cletis L. Stump said...

Joe, I think you are the best writer on the net. Shamelessly, once again, I humbly ask permission to reprint this with all due attribution and accolades. I;ll drop back by and check your response. I hope you are well.

Manifesto Joe said...

Please do reprint.

Cletis, I am honored by your praise, but will temper it by pointing out that not everyone has such a good opinion of my work. (I put this on, and got a couple of very unpleasant responses.) I found out long ago that Ricky Nelson was right -- "You can't please everyone, so you've got to please yourself."

Cletis L. Stump said...

So, my erstwhile friend, is that a yes? I will seek out buzzflash.

Cletis L. Stump said...

By the way, "erstwhile" in the sense of reincarnated (long ago)friend. I believe we make the same friends, enemies, etc. each time around. Weird huh?

Also, just saw the first line. I will reprint with relish. Thanks so much for all you do out here. It really does matter.

lunamother said...

So nice to know we're not alone here in Texas :)
(we're not underground, just hidin' out in the Pineywoods...)

Jack Jodell said...

Manifesto Joe,
To hell with the critics on Buzzflash---this was brilliant and needed to be said. Those 29 million are LAZY and think once they've voted, their job is done. They are fools, because once you've voted, your job has just BEGUN. People forget that elected officials are our EMPLOYEES, and, once elected, they need constant babysitting and guidance or they'll go astray.

Cletis L. Stump said...

Joe, your post will appear after midnight. Thanks so much. Cletis

Manifesto Joe said...

To discuss the Buzzflash incident in more detail -- there's one person on there who's quite toxic and has gotten into vicious exchanges with a number of other people who frequent that site. I had already dissed the guy once, long ago, and hoped I'd gotten rid of him. But he keeps crawling back out from under his rock. I really lost my temper and cussed him this time. Hope I don't get banned from the site. But they don't seem to want to ban him, and that's amazing.

Manifesto Joe said...

Hi, lunamother:

Texas has a lot of what I would describe as "paleoconservatives." It may sound snobby, but much of it is, I think, rooted in ignorance, because you find the same kinds of people in Mississippi and South Carolina. I recall them being even more aggravating decades ago, when they were "Democrats" and I was just coming of age to vote. Them being "Democrats" just ensured that we had two Republican parties in Texas. At least now, you find the jerks on the side where they belong.

Anonymous said...

I do agree that compromise is important in Washington. However, I'm not sure that Obama and his team know how to compromise very well.
At the outset, Obama should have pushed for single-payer, or Medicare-for-all. Then, during negotations, he could have dropped that demand and instead pushed for a public option.
Instead, Obama never even seriously pushed for single-payer at the outset. It was a bargaining chip that he just never employed.
Unless I'm missing something, it seems to me that this was not a good negotiation strategy.

Ulysses said...

Anonymous makes a good point. I think maybe that President Obama, like President Clinton before him, is too influenced by reactionary dominance inside the beltway. He moves further than he has too in their direction, forgetting that he could (like President Truman) rail against the teahadists and motivate those 29 million slackers to vote for someone who's on their side.

Cletis L. Stump said...

Joe, thanks for the use of your genius. The post was widely read.

Manifesto Joe said...

Yes, I think anon's point is good. But, unfortunately, Obama & Co. are what we now have. And we're seeing quite vividly what the alternative is.

Manifesto Joe said...

Another problem with all this is that, to summon history:

Obama did indeed get a bill with the public option through the House, albeit by a very narrow margin. Then he ran up against the Senate, which by current rules seems to require a 60-40 vote before anything can really get through. Republicrats like Blanche Lincoln and Joe Liebermann wouldn't vote for that bill, so what we ended up with was national Romneycare. I think Obama decided that it was better to get something than to get nothing, which is what would have happened if he'd held out.