Robert Kuttner: Saving the Economy—and President Obama—from "Centrism"
One hundred days and some change (pun intended) into Barack Obama’s presidency, the once-nominee has proven his centrist rhetoric on the campaign trail wasn’t just a bunch of hot air. He’s shown himself to be deeply principled and honest—for better or worse.
Those of us hoping his selection of Robert Rubin protégés Tim Geithner and Larry Summers was just a smokescreen to ease the fears of Wall Street, centrist Democrats, and the Right have been a bit disappointed that the President is hewing pretty close to his not-really-that-far-left-of-center platform. But desperate times call for drastic measures.
If we want to pull the Executive Branch further to the Left and save the economy with some FDR-size reforms, We the Frightened and Angry People will have to coalesce into a disciplined movement comparable to those far-flung Depression-era reformers. We’re going to have to accept that the most important word in the chant “Yes We Can” is “We” and nudge the President in the direction he needs to go to save the US economy.
Co-founder and co-editor of The American Prospect, and author of Obama’s Challenge: America’s Economic Crisis and the Power of a Transformative Presidency, Robert Kuttner has some words of tough love for President Obama:
Barack Obama is one of three nominees I voted for with enthusiasm. The first, Lyndon Johnson (then in his 1964 civil-rights and anti-poverty phase), self-destructed over Vietnam. The second, George McGovern, lost 49 states. For the next three decades, Republican presidents pulled the country and the prevailing ideology far right, while Democratic interludes moved it only to the center.
But Obama portended something different altogether. Here was a rendezvous of a gifted, principled, and politically shrewd leader with a deep crisis caused by the failure of free-market ideology. It was — and is — the most stunning political opportunity for American progressives since Franklin Roosevelt. My reaction to Obama’s election was joy, relief, gratitude.
So it is awkward to find myself in semi-opposition after barely 100 days. I’m not a chronic malcontent. I credit Obama with real leadership on multiple fronts, from redeeming the Constitution to reclaiming America’s constructive role in the world. I think he is handling several tricky issues well — accepting the need for large short-term deficits; disclosing details of Bush-era torture without personally sponsoring an inquisition; moving universal health coverage; devising a labor-law reform that can perhaps get 60 votes. All this is huge. But there still is a large risk that Obama will blow the opportunity that history has handed him, and that the political right, though currently in disarray, will pick up the pieces.
The reason, of course, is the economy. The past weeks have seen efforts to seize on every shred of good (or not as bad as expected) economic news. The commercial paper market is loosening up! Some new homeowners are getting bargains! The economy only lost 539,000 jobs in April instead of the predicted 620,000!
Even so, the most optimistic of economists predicts a long slog. We will likely avert a second Great Depression. But we still face a prolonged Great Stagnation, one that could be far worse than necessary because of the administration’s circuitous, Wall Street–friendly approach to reviving the banks.
William Wordsworth was right when he said, “Nature never did betray the heart that loved her.” Nevertheless, the cold, dark days of winter can still get the best of even Nature’s most tenderhearted admirer. What’s one to do? We here at Chelsea Green have concocted the perfect cabin fever remedy with our suggested winter reading…Read More
On Tuesday, October 3rd at 11:30 a.m. EST, check out Facebook.com/SenatorSanders for a special Facebook Live event with Senator Bernie Sanders and Chuck Collins, Institute for Policy Studies, author of Born on Third Base, co-editor of Inequality.org. In case you miss the live broadcast, you can watch the replay on the Facebook event page. In…Read More
Q: First things first: Why did you want to write this book? A: I studied economics at university 25 years ago because I wanted to make a difference in the world and believed that economics – the mother tongue of public policy – would best equip me to do that. Instead, its theories left me…Read More
Reading Naomi Wolf’s book The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot today is an eerie experience. Written in 2007, it detailed the ways in which the Bush administration was beginning to chip away at the freedoms of American citizens. It outlined the ten steps dictators or would-be dictators take when their…Read More
Uncertainty got you down? The political world may seem like it’s crumbling around us, but this we know: We can make it, America. Literally, we can make things. Houses. Gardens. Food. Below we’ve selected some of our classic how-to and DIY books (and some new favorites) to help you sustain your self, family, and community.…Read More