In his first term, President Franklin Roosevelt denounced “the economic royalists.” He drew the line against the heartless rich: “They are unanimous in their hate for me — and I welcome their hatred.” What a different Democratic president we have today.
For two years — from putting Wall Street operatives at the top of his economic team to signaling that he’ll go along with extension of Bush tax cuts for the wealthy — Barack Obama has increasingly made a mockery of hopes for a green New Deal.
The news from the White House keeps getting grimmer. Since the midterm election, we’re told, Obama has concluded that he must be more conciliatory toward the ascendant Republican leadership in Congress — and must do more to appease big business.
Fifteen days after the election, the Washington Post reported that Obama — seeking a replacement for departing top economic adviser Lawrence Summers — “is eager to recruit someone from the business community for the job to help repair the president’s frayed relationship with corporate America.”
The last thing we need is further acquiescence to the economic royalists. What we need is exactly the opposite: leadership to push back against the Republican Party’s right-wing ideologues and the forces they represent.
Needed: Backbone and Progressive Activism
We need principled backbones in high places — and much stronger progressive activism at the grassroots.
In moral and electoral terms, the status quo is indefensible. Economic realities include high unemployment, routine home foreclosures, huge tax breaks for large corporations, and widening gaps between the wealthy and the rest of us — in tandem with endless war and runaway military spending.
Escalation of warfare in Afghanistan is running parallel to escalation of class war — waged from the top down — in Washington. The presidentially appointed co-chairs of the deficit commission, Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, are pushing scenarios that would undermine Social Security.
Let’s get a grip on matters of principle.
More and more warfare in Afghanistan? Extending massive tax cuts for the wealthy? Promoting plans to slash Social Security and Medicare? Pretending that “clean coal” is not an oxymoron? Failing to uphold habeas corpus and other precious civil liberties? . . .
We Can Do Better
The best way to fight the Republican Party is to stop giving ground to it.
The best way to defeat right-wing xenophobic “populism” is to build genuine progressive populism. In the process, we can draw on the spirit of the New Deal.
Back in the 1930s, millions of progressive activists — under all sorts of names — fought for economic equity, while FDR became willing to make common cause with them. Today, our scope of understanding has grown to include more dimensions of social justice and ecological imperatives.
These days, progressives have plenty of reasons to feel discouraged. But we have a lot more good reasons to rededicate ourselves to the vital tasks ahead.
A much better world is possible.
Si se puede! Φ
Norman Solomon is co-chair of the Healthcare Not Warfare campaign, launched by Progressive Democrats of America. His books include War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. To hear an excerpt from FDR’s 1936 speech welcoming the hatred from wealthy foes, click here.