President Barack Obama returned to his populist roots Dec. 6, traveling to Osawatomie, Kansas, to channel the spirit of Teddy Roosevelt. The Bull Moose had gone to that small Kansas town in 1910 to criticize unregulated capitalism in his speech on The New Nationalism and Obama returned to Kansas, home of his mother and grandparents, to echo that theme.
Obama defended the middle class, advocated massive investment in education and job-creating infrastructure programs and protections for working people from predatory financial institutions. He also proposed to tax the rich and regulate corporations and banks so they act in the public good.
Calling the present economic situation a make-or-break moment for the middle class, Obama said: At stake is whether this will be a country where working people can earn enough to raise a family, build a modest savings, own a home, and secure their retirement. ... I believe that this country succeeds when everyone gets a fair shot, when everyone does their fair share, when everyone plays by the same rules. These arent Democratic values or Republican values. These arent 1 percent values or 99 percent values. Theyre American values. And we have to reclaim them.
It might seem like too little, too late for some on the Left, but the populist rhetoric is welcome as the president turns his formidable skills to outlining the reasons behind our economic and political crises and signaling that hes ready to take on the powerful and the privileged that have gamed the system to their advantage.
Here, finally, is the Barack Obama many of us thought we had elected in 2008, Robert Reich wrote. Since then weve had a president who has only reluctantly stood up to the moneyed interests Teddy Roosevelt and his cousin Franklin stood up to. Hopefully Obama will carry this message through 2012, and gain a mandate to use his second term to take on the growing inequities and game-rigging practices that have been undermining the American economy and American democracy for years.
Greg Sargent of WashingtonPost.com suggested that the most enduring line in the speech was, We simply cannot return to this brand of youre-on-your-own economics if were serious about rebuilding the middle class in this country. On Twitter, the shorthand quickly became YoYo Economics. Democrats think inequality will be a central theme in 2012 as the publics rising anxiety is linked to the perception that unfettered capitalism undermined the security and future of the middle class in a very fundamental, frightening way. Occupy Wall Street reflects broader deeper concerns that are thoroughly mainstream, and no matter what people tell pollsters about government, they want sustained government action when they understand its about restoring the middle classs security and durability, Sargent wrote.
Some of our progressive friends have no use for Obama the compromiser, but were not going to get a more progressive president than him next year, so we might as well set about electing more progressive Democrats to take back the House and shoot for a filibuster-proof supermajority of 60-plus in the Senate, which is now split 53-47. (That will be difficult, since 21 Dems are up for election next year, as are 10 Republicans, plus independent socialist Bernie Sanders and the seat Joe Lieberman is giving up. If the Dems get the Senate back with a bare majority, they probably will have to get rid of the filibuster rule. If Republicans get a Senate majority and the White House, theyll get rid of the filibuster in a minute.)
If you want to support a progressive independent candidate who has a chance to win an election, thats fine Bernie Sanders is one of our favorite senators, after all but if youre just in it to defeat a conservative Democrat and hand the election to a more right-wing Republican, youre not helping.
The past year started out tough, as the Republicans took the majority in the US House, dousing any hope for progressive legislation getting out of the new Congress. In Washington the Republicans not only prevented progressive legislation from passing, but they were able to sabotage economic recovery and played chicken with the nations credit rating. But in a dozen state capitols, they claimed absolute power and passed a package of right-wing legislation developed by the corporate American Legislative Exchange Council for just such an opportunity. Republicans started ramming through bills that threatened collective bargaining for public employees, restricted voter access, cut corporate taxes and regulations and privatized government assets.
Wisconsin showed the first signs of progressive rebellion in February after new Republican Gov. Scott Walker called for slashing pay and benefits for state workers and eliminating almost all collective bargaining rights for public employees. He refused to negotiate with Democratic legislators or unions representing public employees. Democratic senators fled the state to deny the Senate a quorum while 30,000 students and public-sector workers rallied at the Statehouse to protest the power grab.
The Republicans ended up passing the union-bashing bill, but Wisconsin voters initiated recall elections against six of the Republican senators and replaced two of them with Democrats. Now Democrats are aiming to recall Gov. Walker this spring.
In Ohio, where new Gov. John Kasich and his Republican Legislature passed a similar union-busting bill, organized labor, progressive groups and Democrats collected 1.3 million names a million more than they needed to force a referendum on the general election ballot and 61% of voters rejected the union-busting bill. Progressives in Maine also repealed a bill to stop same-day voter registration and Ohio progressives gathered enough signatures to stop restrictions on early and absentee voting from taking effect until the matter is decided in the 2012 general election.
In the meantime, Occupy Wall Street was setting up camp in Lower Manhattan. In a few weeks, as Occupy groups set up camps in cities around the country, they changed the debate from the need for more austerity in the federal budget to the need for more accountability from the banksters who wrecked the economy.
Also, US carmakers rebounded this year, increasing their share of domestic car sales for the first time since 1988 and getting back in black. Two years after President Obama and the Democratic Congress rescued GM and Chrysler, over the almost unanimous opposition of Republicans who believed that destroying the United Auto Workers was more important than rescuing more than a million jobs in the auto industry, both companies are back on track and have repaid their federal loans. The three Detroit-based carmakers promised investments in American manufacturing that will add more than 20,000 new jobs in the US as part of contracts with UAW this past fall. That is expected to add 180,000 jobs with suppliers and other businesses that support auto manufacturing. Republicans owe an apology not only to the auto industry, but also to communities that depend on car and truck manufacturing.
Progressive populists survived 2011 and we hope the momentum is turning. With the help of the Occupy movement and a revitalized union movement, a working class and middle class that now has a clear indication of where the Republican Party stands, and a president that is talking the populist talk, the new year offers an opportunity to walk the populist walk on restoring the American Dream.
Republican presidential candidates have short-changed Iowa this year, relying more on broadcast ads, Fox News and debate exposure to reach Iowa Republicans than the traditional meet-and-greet politics that motivates caucusgoers. Consequently, there is little enthusiasm for the candidates, but that also leaves the Iowa caucuses up for grabs. Our choice, due to the process of elimination, is Ron Paul, the Texas congressman who is good on foreign policy and civil liberties but bad on nearly everything else. We would prefer Buddy Roemer, the former Louisiana governor who has been excluded from Republican debates apparently because he is campaigning on getting money out of politics. Roemer is concentrating on New Hampshire, and deserves the support of Republicans in that primary. JMC
From The Progressive Populist, January 1-15, 2012
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