Wednesday, April 13, 2011

More and Better Democrats

Tonight's Presidential address announcing a plan to slash $4 Trillion from the national debt is a good time to reflect on how best to use Democratic resources in 2012. It has become obvious that President Obama is not interested in transformational change of our politics or even changing the current anti-public domination of American political discourse. Even though the nascent job market recovery provides a perfect opportunity to extol macroeconomic intervention that prevented a deep Depression, I don't expect President Obama to start making the argument now that government has a role in regulating or safeguarding the economy.

I don't know what to expect from tonight's speech, but I certainly doubt it will have the content that I and millions of moderates would like to hear. As I would write the speech at the moment, it would certainly include:
It is time to get serious about the future of our country. The economy is finally regaining ground, not just with growth at the national level, but adding jobs for working families across America. That didn't happen overnight, and it didn't happen by accident. Hard work by millions of Americans, including those in the private sector, state governments, and this administration, have finally gotten it to its feet.
It's a little boastful, but call it a first draft. The President needs to take credit for the economic recovery, but not because it will help his electoral prospects if people think he fixed the economy. I would like to see an acknowledgement that there was a crisis that was caused by a failure of government under the Bush Administration to regulate or oversee the financial market and prevent the crisis. I would also like to see an acknowledgement that the public has the power to intervene in the market, and that it this case it was the right thing to do.

That piece of the speech would be necessary to set up the larger vision of America that can defend itself and its workers in the 21st century. How else would President Obama propose to keep the federal government healthy unless it had a vital role to play? Policing markets is one thing that the government needs to do better, but it also needs to perform its core functions. A defense of taxation and the fairness of paying for government-provided benefits (e.g. rule of law) should be the core of the speech.
Back in December, Republicans threatened to stop all work in Congress until they could give billions of dollars away to the wealthiest 1% of Americans. They stopped work on a nuclear defense treaty, they stopped work on immigration reform, and they stopped work on this year's budget, all to give billions of dollars to stock brokers, hedge fund managers, and CEOS. Now this month, they have taken billions of dollars away from the middle class. They stopped the Mortgage Modification program that was designed to help keep middle class Americans in their homes and out of foreclosure. Republicans took one half of a billion dollars away from the WIC program that gives working mothers the extra help they need to afford groceries. The Republican budget took money out of students' hands so they won't be able to pay for summer classes to get into the workforce sooner. It is time to get serious about the national debt, but putting our workers and our middle class into personal debt is not the way to do it.
Of course, President Obama would never make this speech. By calling out his political enemies, it certainly does sound a little partisan. By focusing attention on exactly what Republicans have done and the values of Congressional Republicans, it sounds a little mean-spirited. I would be shocked if President Obama gave a speech that contained either of these two necessary explanations to the American people.

And that is precisely why we need more and better Democrats willing to make these arguments in public. Focusing on building a bench for real Democrats to draw upon would be the best use of organizers' talent, fundraisers' energy, and bloggers' attention in the coming two years. At the national level, that means filling House districts with the best progressive challengers. At the local level, it means organizing for progressive state senators and state house representatives. House members, senators, and even Presidents come from somewhere, and that is the base that we need to build if we want to have a transformation of American politics any time in the next generation.

transcript of the President's speech on debt reduction is online.

No comments:

Post a Comment