Oh, now he tells us. ;-) Presdient Obama gave a speech at a fundraiser yesterday in San Francisco for Senator Barbara Boxer, and I think there is a lot in what he said worth thinking about. First, the change is hard part:
Look, I understand. I understand that, but remember what the campaign was about -- hope, change. People weren’t paying attention to me when I said change is hard. People -- a lot of folks, they just missed that part. (Laughter.) They were like, hope, change -- (laughter) -- and they thought, nice swearing-in, you got Bruce Springsteen singing. (Laughter.) Everybody is feeling good. This is going to happen fast. (Laughter.)
Well, no. If it was easy, it would’ve happened before. If it was easy, we would have put in place mileage standards on cars 30 years ago, 40 years ago, 50 years ago -- on trucks. We didn’t do it, because it’s hard.
Change is hard and strong forces are alligned against any deep changes in the system.
President Obama names a few:
And it’s hard not just because of the special interests, although they’re there, but it’s also hard because, you know what, everybody gets kind of comfortable with the devil they know. And change can be scary. And people can be frightened. And issues can be demagogued. And the talking head media debate can get everybody confused, and cynical, and feeling like, you know what, nothing is changing.
Here are a few of mine: The Senate Rules, the filibuster, the corporate ownership of too many in Congress. The Class Stratification in America.
Others might say the timidity of the President has played a role. I've thought that at times, but to the extent it plays a role, I believe it is a relatively minor role. And the 60 Democrats in the Senate (now 59) was shown to be illusory because of Lincoln, Nelson, and Lieberscum, among others.
The biggest problem to me is that too many Americans are still are in thrall to deregulation, fantasies of "free enterprise knows all," and market fundamentalism. And there's racism and anti-hispanic bigotry. Classism is very deep in this nation. "I've got mine Jack and F.ck you."
And the tradmed. FoxNews whips up hate.
There are strong forces against change and those forces have been in power, more or less, since 1981. Indeed, the Great Compression that created the middle class ended in 1979 under President Jimmy Carter and greater stratification began, with the stratification accellerating under Reagan and Bush II:
The great divergence: Since the late 1970s the America I knew has unraveled. We’re no longer a middle-class society, in which the benefits of economic growth are widely shared: between 1979 and 2005 the real income of the median household rose only 13 percent, but the income of the richest 0.1% of Americans rose 296 percent.
So there are powerful forces that prevent deep change. That is real. One can argue that President Obama compromises too often with those forces. Or one can argue that he should lead a popular
movement for change instead of compromising with insiders. I see some truth in both propositions, but I'm uncertain that the power relationships are such that he could win such battles with those tactics. And they don't seem to be his preferred way, for good or not. There are strong forces against change and the best thing we can do to defeat them is for us to organize people, to educate people. (And I still see the Democratic Party as the best way of doing so in electoral activism. Remember, there is issue activism. Issues need no party. Organize people around issues.)
There's another kind of change also: breaking down the hegemony of certain ideas. At his best, President Obama does this. I've written about it before:
Obama provided a counter narrative of America, a narrative that stands in contradistinction to that of Reagan selfishness. It's a truly progressive narrative of America in which the history of America is seen as increasing expansions of democracy. He drew perhaps on his understanding expressed in his Philadelphia "race" speech of "a more perfect union" in articulating this Promise.
It was summed up in this line:
That promise is our greatest inheritance. It's a promise I make to my daughters when I tuck them in at night, and a promise that you make to yours - a promise that has led immigrants to cross oceans and pioneers to travel west; a promise that led workers to picket lines, and women to reach for the ballot.
It's an America that is a community and which includes, rather than excludes. Workers, women, men, blacks, whites, hispanics, asians. It is a promise based on an expansion of democracy and fairness.
And I get frustrated often when he operates rhetorically within the framework of the Reagan counter-revolution, even though he does so for progressive or near-progressive causes or policies at times. But when he talks about the Promise of America, he makes a big difference. Overturning ideas takes time.
But I agree overall with President Obama's conclusion:
The fact of the matter is, over the last year and a half, we have moved this country in powerful ways.
Bottom line for me: there are strong, strong forces aligned against change. President Obama is imperfect. Nonetheless, his actions are improving things.
Second, a revised "bipartisanship" Obama-style is sketchd out in the speech, including comments about the meeting he had with Republican senators earlier yesterday:
Now, California, the last thing I said to my Republican colleagues was you don't even have to meet me halfway. (Laughter.) I'll bring most Democrats on these issues. I’m just looking for eight or 10 of you -- (laughter and applause) -- you know? I mean, the day has passed when I expected this to be a full partnership. I mean, it’s just -- you know, I understand the strategy of sitting on the sidelines. And let’s face it. Politically, it hasn’t been bad for them. It made a lot of people forget how we got into this mess in the first place, just sitting there and saying no to everything.
snip [a fun couple paragraphs about the Rs driving the car into a ditch. No, they can't have the keys]
But here’s my point, look -- and then after the meeting, we got some of the usual stuff about, well, he talks about bipartisanship, but we don't really see partisanship in the financial regulatory bill, you know, it just passed with mostly Democratic votes, few Republican votes to break the filibuster.
Look, understand this about bipartisanship -- I have a track record in my legislative career of working with folks across the aisle. And I also, by the way, am sympathetic to the fact that it’s hard for Republicans to work with me right now because there are members of their base who, if somebody even smiles at me, they think, you’re a traitor. (Laughter.) You smiled at Obama. You’re nice to him. You were polite. And if you’re rude to Obama, we can raise money. (Laughter.) So the incentive structure right now for cooperation within the Republican Party is not real strong. So I’m sympathetic to that.
But when we talk about bipartisanship, what we mean is, is that there’s going to be some negotiation, and, no, the Republicans aren’t going to get their way on everything. And there are going to be some times where we disagree. And when we disagree, if we’re not doing everything the way they want and they say, I’m going to take my ball and go home, and I won’t vote for anything, that's not a failure of bipartisanship on our part. There’s got to be some give on the other side, particularly when you drove the car into the ditch. (Applause.)
You know, we can’t just go back to business as usual. So on immigration meet me a quarter of the way. (Laughter.) We’ll deal with border security issues -- and I’ll be serious about it. And by the way, sometimes I’ll get attacked in my own base, right, because sometimes some of the things I’ve done some of you guys aren’t happy with.
But what I said to them today was, if I’m willing to make decisions that aren’t always comfortable for me politically, I need you to make some decisions that aren’t always comfortable for you politically. (Applause.)
And if they're willing to do that, we can get immigration reform done. And it needs to be done -- comprehensive immigration reform. (Applause.) And if they are willing to do it, we can get an energy package that puts us on the path to a clean energy future. (Applause.)
Few Republicans are willing to do that. Olympia Snowe at times. Bipartisanship to Republicans means surrender. President Obama may compromise a lot, but he draws a line. On the stimulus, when it mattered, he said no. Yes, it was too low, but I believe it made a difference in preventing a Great Depression.
Now we need to pass a jobs bill, a "second stimulus."
I wish the public option has been something he was not willing to compromise, but from early in 2009 we knew that it was.
President Obama has been President long enough for people to see his philosophy in action. Some people here grade him an A+, while others an F. I give him a B overall, and after so many Fs and Ds as President, that is a real improvement. And I also am aware that he took over in a Great Recession that easily could have been as bad as the Great Depression. Preventing a much worse depression helped many people, even though too many are still unemployed.
I believe he is the most progressive president since LBJ. That does not make him all that "progressive," but the reality of America means he is a vast improvement. (I promised a diary on why I see him as more progressive than Clinton or Carter (and one commenter yesterday claimed Nixon was more prpogressive. To that I say bullshit. I opposed Nixon in 1972 (I was 17 and could not vote) Nixon was a pig. Period.) Anyway, I'll write that diary next week or the week after sometime)
Long, rambling diary. Read the speech. He says much in it.
You Tube video of entire speech. Warning 26 minutes long. Whoops wrong video. Feb. 2007. That's what I get for not watching it.
Update II: From blackwaterdog in the comments, here is a link to the video:
C-SPAN: Presidential Remarks at Senator Boxer FundraiserMay 25, 2010