Saturday, December 19, 2009

Pass it already! Also: What the Dems must do.

In my previous post I referred to an excellent video interview by Bill Moyers of Matt Taibbi (see his piece in Rolling Stone Magazine) and Bob Kuttner (editor, The American Prospect); in case you missed it, it can be found on PBS HERE.

I agree with both Taibbi and Kuttner on the shortcomings of both Obama and the Democratic Party -- especially vis-a-vis healthcare reform. Taibbi thinks that the current Senate bill is so flawed that its passage will hurt the Democrats badly enough that it's best to kill it if it can't be changed during reconciliation with the House bill. Kuttner thinks that the failure of the bill will be so catastrophic that the Democrats and Obama will be crippled and the reactionaries revitalized to the extent that the disaster would be even greater. I agree with Kuttner. Failure of even this travesty of a bill will be played out in the press -- with the active encouragement of the Republicans -- as the defeat of the backbone of Obama's presidency. It will render him a lame duck for the remainder of his term, and the Democrats, with a toothless leader -- ducks don't have teeth -- will pay a heavy price in the 2010 and 2012 elections.

As both Taibbi and Kuttner point out, the three most effective presidents in American history, Lincoln, Roosevelt and LBJ, all were backed and identified with major social and political movements, from which they drew great strength: abolitionism for Lincoln, the labor (and socialist) movement for FDR, and the civil rights for LBJ. At the moment, there is no important movement associatied with Obama, nor is any progressive one on the horizon.

People are angry, frightened and confused by many recent developments. These include, of course, the terrible persistent unemployment resulting from a disastrous financial meltdown, accompanied by a massive bailout for the thoroughly culpable but unrepentent banking and investment industries; also, the massive increases in healthcare, college and home ownership costs; also, shifting gender roles; also, the changes in U.S. demographics which are leading to the decline in the traditional power of the white middle and working classes. This last development, I believe, accounts for a lot of the shockingly virulent attacks on Obama from the right, in which he is characterized as both a communist and fascist, and depicted as an incarnation of both Lenin and Hitler. (I think MLK was only called a communist and Leninist.) When people are upset and fearful, racism usually can't be far away; it, along with red-baiting, has always been a standard tool for fighting unionism and other popular movements.

I remember when Bill Clinton was running for president I heard a speech of his in the Boston area. He laid on all sorts of populist phrases and had the crowd cheering wildly. He did this for a week in other campaign stops around the country, and his poll numbers began shooting up. Then, for some reason, he stopped that tack and started saying lots of standard political boiler plate, full of the usual boilerplate of patriotism and apple pie. And his ratings went down. It was almost as if he became fearful of actually engaging people in political feelings that were powerful, different, and important to them.

The only hope for Obama and the Democratic party is to start using public speeches and the traditional communication outlets -- the press and TV -- to promote populist progressive ideas, and to paint their political opponents as elitist, overly wealthy, and greedy; in other words, exposing them for what they really are. The Dems had the opportunity before and just after the last election to rally people behind them with populist messages on taxes, healthcare and economic inequalities, but they didn't, thus squandering an opportunity that was eagerly seized by the tea-partiers and thugs at Fox news. Will they never learn that the time to start the advertising blitz is before you need the support of the voters; waiting till a program is before congress or an election is taking place is already too late.

Can Obama and the Dems learn how to use these things? If they can't, we'll have to wait until the next disaster of the "free market" for an opportunity to rise again.

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