barack obama’s first year in charge

by Ernie Haberkern
from Berkeley, California

The enormous enthusiasm that the election of the bright, well-spoken, African American woke in the liberal left is fading fast. Of course, much of that enthusiasm was a result of the justified revulsion provoked by the Cheney-Bush presidency and as that bad memory fades liberals are forced to face the current reality.

Nobody should be surprised. Obama was very clear, in his election campaign speeches, that withdrawal from Iraq was a precondition for a dramatic escalation of the war in Afghanistan.

But I must admit that I was surprised when the Obama administration continued the Bush policy of bailing out the banks with no restrictions. Tim Geithner, the Obama administration’s overseer was, for all intents and purposes, an office mate of Hank Paulson, Bush’s appointee.

And the health care reform has become another bailout: this time for the insurance and pharmaceutical companies. They will receive an influx of cash from millions of new customers who will be forced by this legislation to enroll in their plans.

Part of this will be paid for by unionised workers who traded wage increases for company financed health insurance plans. They are now going to be taxed to help pay for the Obama plan. Obama’s education secretary, Arne Duncan has made teacher unions his main target. It is no accident that David Books, a conservative Republican columnist for the New York Times has become a big booster of Obama.

He is, for all practical purposes, the moderate Republican people like Brooks have been looking for. I can’t leave this subject without saying a kind word for Sarah Palin. Her crack about “death panels” was exactly the kind of rhetoric that turns liberals on because it is so outrageous.

But, in fact, the notion that Medicare costs are getting out of control because of expensive treatments in the last few months of life of terminally ill people is a subject that economists, liberal as well as conservative, have been writing about for years. And the current bill, House and Senate versions alike, will institute controls on such treatments.

It is not a problem with a simple solution but it is disingenuous to dismiss the fears of ordinary citizens that government bureaucracy will not necessarily act in their interest.

I think the best place to start in analyzing the Obama phenomenon is to look at the comparison often made with Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Here too was a politician without much of a record who, in a moment of crisis, roused the electorate with his rhetoric (demagogy?) and radically changed American politics for good and ill. The question is: why has Obama so signally failed to make any significant change in the political and economic life of the nation?

The answer is that when Roosevelt was elected there was a powerful opposition movement in the country. The socialist and communist parties had a significant following and they were very influential in the massive explosion of trade union unrest exemplified by the newly formed Congress of Industrial Organizations. That opposition forced, and allowed, Roosevelt to take far more radical steps than he would have
been able to had these forces not existed.

There is a story, probably apocryphal like most good stories, of a private meeting between Roosevelt and a leader of the popular movement. In the version I heard the leader was A. Phillip Randolph leader of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.

According to the story Roosevelt ended the conversation with the remark “I think your proposal is excellent. Now, go out there and make me do it!” Unfortunately, the US of A
is very short on people like A. Phillip Randolph and the movements that created them right now.