Obama and Transformation or Failure
By BRIAN A. HOWEY
INDIANAPOLIS - Next Tuesday the bumper stickers seen around the state - 1.20.09 - becomes a reality as Barack Obama succeeds George W. Bush as president of the United States.
With a deepening economic crisis, two wars, a new crisis in Israel and a fresh U.S. Joint Forces Command study that places Pakistan and Mexico on a list of countries most likely to experience a “sudden collapse,” Barack Obama will either become a transformational president or a failure.
In Robert Kuttner’s new book “Obama’s Challenge: America’s Economic Crisis and the Power of a Transformative Presidency,” he lists Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan as presidents who fit this category.
Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin defines the term “transformational”: All of the great presidents used their leadership first to transform the public understanding of national challenges and then to break through impasses made up of congressional blockage, interest-group power, voter cynicism or passivity, and conventional wisdom.
Presidents Lincoln, Roosevelt and Johnson found allies outside of the movements that were precursors to transformational change: abolitionists, labor and civil rights movements. “By appealing to what was most noble in the American spirit, these presidents energized movements for change, and thereby put pressure on themselves and on the Congress to move far beyond what was deemed conceivable,” Kuttner observed.
“They generated accelerated momentum for drastic reform that proved politically irresistible. The abolition of slavery seemed beyond possibility in 1860, as did the vastly expanded federal role in the economy in 1932 and the full redemption of civil rights in 1963.”
In Obama, we have a 46-year-old freshman senator who ignored the riches of Wall Street, became a community organizer in the shadow of idled steel mills, went to the cut-throat Chicago Democratic machine and emerged as a star. He was an African-American who pursued his nomination against the “all-but-certain presumed nominee” Hillary Clinton. As Kuttner observed, “He has an unerring sense of timing, confidence and a feel for the bold stroke.”
But here’s the epic challenge. If Obama cannot find a way to steer through the wars and the Wall Street/Main Street credit crisis, and our energy dilemma, he will likely fail. Kuttner explains, “Obama will need to be a more radical president than he was a presidential candidate. Radical does not mean outside the mainstream. It means perceiving as a leader that radical change is necessary, discerning tacit aspirations and unmet needs in the people, and then making that radical change the mainstream view for which people clamor.”
That Kuttner wrote his book before Obama was elected last fall is gutsy authorship. He describes himself as “no soft touch” after four decades of covering politics. He isn’t a “cheerleader” and didn’t write a “manifesto” but a “sobering counterweight to a lot of bad advice that he will receive to simply govern as a post-partisan, pragmatic centrist.” He notes that for every FDR or LBJ, there is a Jimmy Carter. For every Reagan, a George W. Bush.
For FDR, the advantage he had was a populace not in revolt but in despair with nobody really doubting the crisis. That happens with 25 percent unemployment. At this writing, Republicans I know question the crisis and are ready to blame Obama for any dire events emerging beyond the first 100 days when many analysts expect this spring to be fraught with danger.
Kuttner warns: So either Barack Obama will be a transformative president, or the bad economic circumstances that he inherits will sink his promise and America’s, and the moment will have been lost. He will be a great president, “or a failed one, his presidency grounded in shallows and in miseries.”
It reminded me of a phone call I made after the election to a friend I had tried to convince to vote for Obama. He voted for McCain and with this revelation, the friends I was with at the Irish Lion in Bloomington all chuckled. I felt bad and later told him, “Who knows, you may have the last laugh.”
The problem there is that if he ends up laughing, he and all of us will likely be wincing at the same time.
Read the whole article here.
Posted January 15, 2009 | 02:08 PM (EST)
Obama Still Should Break Bread With The Real Progressive Media
It's healthy that Obama is opening a dialogue with media types from across the political spectrum.
But although he had dinner Tuesday night with members mostly of the hard right, and met Wednesday with members mostly of the moderate liberal establishment media, he has yet to sit down with members of the real progressive media who have meaningful ties to the social movements that helped put him in office.
Both groups Obama met with were heavily stacked with writers from the establishment media like the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, US News and World Report, and the conservative group also included representatives of the founding journals of the neo-conservative movement, The National Review and The Weekly Standard. There were no representatives of similar progressive journals like The Nation or The American Prospect, nor from the progressive blogosphere.
Obama's conservative dinner included several "movement" conservatives, but he has yet to meet with equivalent "movement" progressives. Bill Kristol founded The Weekly Standard, the leading independent journal of neo-conservatism and co-founded the aggressively militaristic Project for a New American Century whose members included Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld and Scooter Libby before they joined the Bush administration. Dana Milbank of The Washington Post called Kristol "perhaps the most outspoken supporter of the Iraq War". Kristol predicted that only 75,000 troops would be needed to police the War's aftermath at a cost of $16 billion a year. He was rewarded for his prescience with a column in the NY Times. Rich Lowry edits The National Review, which under the leadership of William Buckley, was the founder of the modern conservative movement. Lowry had a virtual wet dream over Sarah Palin, writing of her Vice-Presidential debate performance, "By the end, when she clearly knew she was doing well, it was so sparkling it was almost mesmerizing. It sent little starbursts through the screen and ricocheting around the living rooms of America." Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer called "neo-conservatism a governing ideology whose time has come" in 2005 and is credited for coining the phrase "The Bush Doctrine" (as in "in what respect Charlie") which he has said "is essentially a synonym for neo-conservative foreign policy". Editorial Page editor Paul Gigot has maintained The Wall Street Journal as an unrepentant bastion of free market fundamentalism. Peggy Noonan, David Brooks and George Will are more like country club conservatives. I'm sure Obama was smart enough and articulate enough to more than hold his own with this mostly far-right group.
The "liberal" media representatives whom Obama sat around a conference table with the next day was a generally more moderate group. Rachel Madow--who started out as an AIDS activist before moving on to Air America and now to meteoric success on MSNBC--was probably the only true progressive. There were two writers from The New York Times (Frank Rich and Maureen Dowd) and two from The Washington Post (E.J. Dionne and Eugene Robinson), which is about as mainstream as you can get in the media. Rich, Dionne and Robinson are all solid mainstream liberals, although none are particularly connected to progressive movements the way Kristol, Lowry and Krauthammer are connected to the neo-conservative movement. I'm not really sure where Dowd fits in the ideological spectrum except for the snarky and sarcastic wing. Andrew Sullivan, the only blogger in the group, is an iconoclastic conservative and strong early supporter of the Iraq War, although he was also an enthusiastic backer of Obama during the election. Again, a it was highly esteemed group among whom Obama could also hold his own, but not really representative of the progressive media and blogosphere that spoke for so much of Obama's activist base.
So having dined with the neoconservatives and met with the establishment liberal media, Obama still owes a meal to the progressive media and blogosphere.
I'm not talking Bill Ayers here. I'm talking progressives who are tied into social movements, who write for the progressive equivalents of The Weekly Standard and The National Review, who supported Obama at the grassroots, but also may have some alternative viewpoints that it would be worthwhile for Obama to hear and engage with.
Here are some suggestions for a sample guest list:
Arianna Huffington: Our beloved and charming leader, who has turned The Huffington Post into the most followed progressive media venue in the nation. According to the Nielson ratings, The Huffington Post had 8,107,000 unique visitors in October, putting it 1.5 million ahead of Slate, 2 million ahead of The Boston Globe, and 3 million ahead of Fox TV. (Compare that to The National Review's circulation of 155,000 and The Weekly Standard's circulation of 83,000.) I'd like to see Arianna engage Obama in a dialogue about holding Bush administration officials accountable where they broke the law.
Robert Kuttner edits The American Prospect, the other leading independent magazine of progressive thought. He recently wrote the book "Obama's Challenge", calling on Obama to take bold action to become a transformative President. He has recently challenged Obama to "think bigger" with his economic stimulus package.
Michael Moore: "Farehneit 9/11 gave comfort and humor to liberals during the darkest days of the Bush administration. "Sicko" helped turn healthcare reform in a major national issue. It would be interesting for Obama to engage in a dialogue with Moore about single payer national healthcare versus reforming private health insurance.
I'm sure a meal with a group like this would provide Obama with a delightful and challenging evening and would allow him to get out of the Washington media bubble and hear from his base. And oh yes, I volunteer to organize the catering. Perhaps my own Huffpo blogs don't put me in the same league as the guests I suggested above. But I promise to provide a tasty and healthy meal and that a good time will be had by all.
Read the whole article here.
‘Radical’ economic reform within Obama’s reach
By J.C. O'Connell 8/27/08 5:52 PM
The Colorado Independent
As president, Barack Obama could radically transform the United States economy, but his policies aren’t progressive enough — at least not yet, according to journalist Robert Kuttner, author of “Obama’s Challenge: America’s Economic Crisis and the Power of a Transformative Presidency.”
In his book, and at a labor delegate caucus panel Aug. 26, Kuttner explains the parallels between Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal to combat the Depression and the current economic situation, and describes potential solutions for the economic woes that Obama will have on his hands if he is elected this fall.
While Obama was in some ways more conservative than his primary opponents Hillary Clinton and John Edwards, Kuttner sees the potential for radical change under Obama — along the lines of a $200 billion economic recovery package that is far more pro-active than simply tax cuts and rebates.
“Sometimes Obama has a gift of intuitively knowing how to talk about what ails Americans and sometimes he just goes hope-y, and I think he’s got to do both things,” said Kuttner, adding that he had seen the presidential candidate do just that in a March 27 speech on the economy.
If Obama is willing to take up a progressive agenda, which would include investments in renewable energy, human services jobs and education on a scale too massive to normally be seriously discussed in liberal circles, he could persuade the American people to go along with a revolutionary plan, Kuttner argues.
While this is a radical approach to reinvigorating an American economy that is obviously plagued by problems, it would not be unprecedented, Kuttner says, pointing to how FDR and Abraham Lincoln both took bold steps to address the nation’s problems.
“In every single case, what needed to be done was more radical than the conventional wisdom,” said Kuttner, the co-founder and editor of The American Prospect.
The rising cost of health care and energy, along with shaky markets, less money in Americans’ savings accounts and more debt on their credit cards might convince the American people to take a chance on radical economic reform, according to another member of the panel, which was sponsored by the AFL-CIO.
“The American economy isn’t working for the working people,” said Richard Trumka, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO.