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.
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.