Saturday, June 20, 2009

Don’t Be Disappointed in President Obama, Be Disappointed in Yourselves

Don’t Be Disappointed in President Obama, Be Disappointed in Yourselves
Response to Former Student Distressed by the Slow Pace of Change in the New
Administration.


Dr Mark Naison
Fordham University

Yesterday, one of my favorite former students wrote an email to my alumni listserv expressing his extreme disappointment with Barack Obama’s presidency and arguing that if one looked at how the administration has dealt with three key issues- health care, the environment, and foreign policy- Barack Obama was indistinguishable from Hilary Clinton and perilously close to becoming “George Bush Lite.”

As a concerned citizen who has followed the Obama administration’s economic policies very closely, and as an historian who has spent many years studying the Great Depression and the New Deal, I would like to respectfully dissent from this assessment of the Obama presidency

In my judgment, Barack Obama did not ascend to the presidency with a clear mandate to overhaul the nation’s health care system, radically revise its environmental policies and steer a dramatic new course in foreign policy. The Republicans and Independents who rallied to Obama during the last two months of the campaign did so because they wanted a president to prevent the nation from falling into a catastrophic Depression and to make sure that victims of the current economic crisis receive government aid

In the first six months of his presidency, that is exactly what Barack Obama has done. He has prevented the banking system from collapsing and restored commercial lending, taken emergency measures to rescue the automobile industry, and funneled hundreds of billions of dollars to state and local governments to allow them to continue functioning without massive layoffs and cuts in services. The Stimulus Package alone has staved off incalculable hardship. According to my wife, an elementary school principal in New York City, hundreds of thousands of dollars of stimulus money have flowed into every public school in New York City, preventing what otherwise would have been massive teacher layoffs and dramatic increases in class size. Health care institutions throughout the nation have also been able to avoid dramatic reductions in staffing because of an infusion of federal funds. When all is said and done, the Obama administration can be credit with helping save a capitalist system gone mad with its own excesses, while saving millions of public and private sector jobs that might have disappeared if Bush Administration economic policies had continued

As for health care, environment and foreign policy, where are the grass roots social movements marching in the streets, and besieging congress, to demand progressive change in those areas?

During the 1930’s Franklin Roosevelt was elected to office in amidst massive political unrest. In every part of the country, there were strikes, hunger marches, eviction riots, and armed resistance to farm seizures by banks. Some portions of this unrest, particularly hunger marches and eviction protests, eased after the emergency measures of the “First Hundred Days,” but some portions of it, especially labor organizing, actually escalated in intensity right up through the 1936 Presidential election, putting pressure on Roosevelt to make far more dramatic changes in economic policy than he had originally intended to do. It was continuous “pressure from below” that led to the passage of the Social Security Act, the Wagner Labor Relations Act, and other measures which created a safety net for America’s workers and retirees.

If we want the Obama administration to implement radical changes in America’s health care system and environmental policies, to begin dismantling the prison industrial complex and to reduce the size of the American military and its role in shaping foreign policy, than we will have to fight for those policies in the streets and the halls of Congress, day in day out, for many, many years.
Changes of that magnitude cannot be implemented by a sitting president without popular movements fighting the entrenched interests that support current policies

It’s time to take the scrutiny off the President and put it on ourselves.

If key policy areas remain immune to reform, it is our own inaction, not the President’s, that is largely to blame.

Mark Naison
June 20, 2009




Response to Former Student Distressed by the Slow Pace of Change in the New
Administration.


Yesterday, one of my favorite former students wrote an email to my alumni listserv expressing his extreme disappointment with Barack Obama’s presidency and arguing that if one looked at how the administration has dealt with three key issues- health care, the environment, and foreign policy- Barack Obama was indistinguishable from Hilary Clinton and perilously close to becoming “George Bush Lite.”

As a concerned citizen who has followed the Obama administration’s economic policies very closely, and as an historian who has spent many years studying the Great Depression and the New Deal, I would like to respectfully dissent from this assessment of the Obama presidency

In my judgment, Barack Obama did not ascend to the presidency with a clear mandate to overhaul the nation’s health care system, radically revise its environmental policies and steer a dramatic new course in foreign policy. The Republicans and Independents who rallied to Obama during the last two months of the campaign did so because they wanted a president to prevent the nation from falling into a catastrophic Depression and to make sure that victims of the current economic crisis receive government aid

In the first six months of his presidency, that is exactly what Barack Obama has done. He has prevented the banking system from collapsing and restored commercial lending, taken emergency measures to rescue the automobile industry, and funneled hundreds of billions of dollars to state and local governments to allow them to continue functioning without massive layoffs and cuts in services. The Stimulus Package alone has staved off incalculable hardship. According to my wife, an elementary school principal in New York City, hundreds of thousands of dollars of stimulus money have flowed into every public school in New York City, preventing what otherwise would have been massive teacher layoffs and dramatic increases in class size. Health care institutions throughout the nation have also been able to avoid dramatic reductions in staffing because of an infusion of federal funds. When all is said and done, the Obama administration can be credit with helping save a capitalist system gone mad with its own excesses, while saving millions of public and private sector jobs that might have disappeared if Bush Administration economic policies had continued

As for health care, environment and foreign policy, where are the grass roots social movements marching in the streets, and besieging congress, to demand progressive change in those areas?

During the 1930’s Franklin Roosevelt was elected to office in amidst massive political unrest. In every part of the country, there were strikes, hunger marches, eviction riots, and armed resistance to farm seizures by banks. Some portions of this unrest, particularly hunger marches and eviction protests, eased after the emergency measures of the “First Hundred Days,” but some portions of it, especially labor organizing, actually escalated in intensity right up through the 1936 Presidential election, putting pressure on Roosevelt to make far more dramatic changes in economic policy than he had originally intended to do. It was continuous “pressure from below” that led to the passage of the Social Security Act, the Wagner Labor Relations Act, and other measures which created a safety net for America’s workers and retirees.

If we want the Obama administration to implement radical changes in America’s health care system and environmental policies, to begin dismantling the prison industrial complex and to reduce the size of the American military and its role in shaping foreign policy, than we will have to fight for those policies in the streets and the halls of Congress, day in day out, for many, many years.
Changes of that magnitude cannot be implemented by a sitting president without popular movements fighting the entrenched interests that support current policies

It’s time to take the scrutiny off the President and put it on ourselves.

If key policy areas remain immune to reform, it is our own inaction, not the President’s, that is largely to blame.

Mark Naison
June 20, 2009