Friday, November 19, 2010

What is next? Richard Flacks

What is next? Richard Flacks.
Are you as tired as I am with never-ending critiques of Barack Obama coming from the left as well as the right? Mainstream punditry has decided that he is largely a failed president (never forget that the MSM thought he was a failed candidate before he wasn't). Everyone on the left thinks, as one friend (a committed feminist) said the other night, ‘he has no balls.' The current rage is focused on apparent White House support for some sort of compromise on extending those Bush tax cuts. And there's plenty of other betrayals over which to wring hands and gnash teeth.
Handwringing and teeth gnashing don't bring the needed change, however. Why do we keep playing this blame game?
Let's stipulate, the administration needs to be criticized and pressed to correct course. There's no doubt that the president needs to figure out how to explain his key policies to those whose disapproval seems based on misunderstanding. This seems especially true for health care reform, the complexity of which has been key to its apparent unpopularity (I say this in light of the fact that large majorities approve of most of the specific provisions of the act when these are described). But the demand that Obama become more confrontational in order to challenge the fatuous and foolish GOP in congress isn't good strategic advice for him. The country sees him as trying to solve problems and govern, and sees the GOP already as obstructionist. A significant number of people who once identified as Republican now declare as independents. Here's some recent polling evidence. For us on the left, Obama's reasonableness is frustrating. But it could be his best chance to prevail in terms of policy as well as politics.
As I keep saying in this space, if progressives want to promote real change we can't be waiting for Barry, it's up to us. We should be asking each other, not what should he be doing, but what should we do. Of course it's fine to mobilize for a progressive/populist tax measure in the lame duck congress and to defend social security in the face of the Bowles-Simpson initiative. These very focused issues lend themselves well to on-line actions that will give counter-weight to the rightwing onslaught.
But there are more far-reaching measures we should be figuring out how to mobilize for-measures that might really help the people:
       A new WPA?
In a recent web posting, Jeanne Mirer and Marjorie Cohen, argued that Obama could do what FDR did-create a lot of jobs by executive order:
"Can the President directly create jobs by executive order? The answer is a resounding yes. Remember when the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, which created the $700 billion Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) was passed, one of the purposes was to preserve homeownership, and promote jobs and economic growth.
Much of the TARP money has been repaid and the administration refers to the profit on the payments. If one assumes an average cost of one job is $50,000, 6 million jobs could be immediately created for $300 billion. 12 million jobs could be created for $600 billion. Because this is already appropriated money, Congressional Republicans could not block it""
Such funding could also be used to support state budgets to protect education and public safety, and to promote weatherization and other green economy job creation.

This past Labor Day the President proposed establishment of an infrastructure bank that would leverage federal seed money to get private and public capital investments to begin dealing with the $2 trillion in infrastructure development the country needs. It's an idea that has been supported by labor movement economists as well as libertarians. LA Mayor Villaragoisa's 30/10 plan to develop massive public transit in LA is in the same spirit. It's likely to attract avid support from all kinds of business interests. It strikes me as the sort of proposal that would substantially outflank TOP obstructionism-and that potentially could result in millions of jobs.
One of the administration's largest failures is the effort find relief for homeowners who are being foreclosed or are below water. The crisis is intensifying because of the tremendous bank fraud. Moratorium on foreclosures, and/or real pressure on banks to modify loans are at least two possible pathways.
       Toward a progressive anti-deficit agenda
Socialist senator Bernie Sanders has convened a progressive gathering of major organizations to formulate an alternative deficit reduction program focusing on corporate tax benefits and the Pentagon budget. Congressperson Jan Schakowsky, a member of the deficit commission, has outlined a five year deficit reduction program with a similar thrust.
I list these in order to show that there are very promising major initiatives that could really help the hurting ‘middle class' (i.e. working class). I don't think they will be led from the White House-but I do think they could be next steps for the coalitions that pushed for healthcare and financial reform and that brought about the One Nation march in October. I don't think these formations will do anyone a favor by simply lining up to support whatever the White House considers politically feasible, nor just by waging defensive battles to ‘save' social security and the like.
And, if truth be told, I don't have a lot of hope that the national organizations I've mentioned will easily decide to promote the grassroots action that such initiatives will require. Somehow a national grassroots jobs movement needs to stir-just as it did in the early Thirties. Socialist and communist activists in 1930-32 organized unemployed councils, marches on city hall and the white house, disruptions of relief centers, storming of state capitol buildings, and massive rent strikes.  The evidence is pretty clear that these uprisings propelled the reforms now attributed to the New Deal. I've no idea what the contemporary equivalent of such action might look like. But here's the thing-the little inventory of job creating measures I listed earlier shows that something real could be done but for the political stalemate that now rules. History suggests that such stalemates can be dissolved when people with grievances take matters into their own hands.  That's what democracy looks like.
Some resources:
Dan Froomkin has been running a series at Huffington Post on ideas to create jobs of which the above are some but there are a number of others.
Please go see the new documentary Inside Job which depressingly dramatizes how we are controlled by a kleptocracy. Some exceedingly rich people, one feels, need to be in jail. And some very prominent academic economists are exceptional embarrassments to the academic profession.
Incidentally, if you take a look at this interesting web article on the unemployed movement of the thirties you will see significant reference to the tenants battles in the Bronx in 1932 in buildings on the same block as where Mickey Flacks grew up a decade later. These events were news to us!
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