Monday, January 3, 2011

Obama, Inequity, and Democracy

Obama does seem to care about income inequity: the appointment of Sotomayor, a strong critic of corporatism, to the Supreme Court indicates that. Likewise, his environmental and energy appointments indicate a liberal sensibility. But he is not willing to challenge the bankers, health insurance companies, or militarists directly. This suggests that Obama has adopted an incrementalist approach. His health care plan is also suggestive of this. If it stands as written, it will be a failure; the hope is that it will be changed later.

"Hope and change." I remember those words.

Can it work? Obama's supporters point at improvements to Social Security to argue that it can. Yet the improvements to Social Security were made against the background of a strong left, especially a strong union movement. The groundwork for the incremental gains of labor in the period 1950-70 was laid by the labor radicalism of the 1930s. In 1953-4 Social Security was extended, the authoritarian wealthy of that period were also afraid of a communist revolution, and so, it seems, were willing to make more concessions  The Glass-Stegall banking law probably could only have been passed in a mood of public outrage. I croak: sometimes the times call for radical approaches, other times incremental approaches. Obama came to power in a time when radical approaches were appropriate and instead adopted incremental approaches, discarding a great opportunity.

An incremental strategy can only be maintained in a time of relative prosperity and peace: when people are terrified of attack, losing their jobs, and being thrown out of their homes they demand action. Obama delivered small steps and concessions to the people who made the problem instead. So now the Republicans control the House, and the Tea Party (or is that the Koch Party?) controls the Republicans.

Beyond that the administration's incremental strategy ignores the present pain, which seems to me a deeply undemocratic course of action. Surely the "government of the people, by the people, for the people" is to respond to the people in their great need? Yet it is not responding, and the Obama administration is part of that failure. People are losing their homes by the millions. People are going from well-off to poor by the millions. In response to this, so far the Obama administration has offered only small and inadequate steps. The Obama administration, even, is part of the problem. Ancient rights of property and person are routinely abrogated by financiers and local officials. And what does the Obama administration do? Take small and inadequate steps. The oppressive polices of Guantanamo Bay and Homeland Security set an example for local policing. People who helped lay the financial system open to looting are in charge of the President's economic policy. The Obama administration looks ready to bargain away Social Security, one of the United States's great bulwarks against poverty, and for what? No-one seems to know.

I believe that the US is now in for a decade of misery which might have been avoided if Obama was more willing to confront the enemies of freedom and democracy. The next two years, as the radical right attempts to implement its program of domestic reforms, promise to be be especially hard. Obama's hero Gandhi never shrank from confrontation, though he pursued his political goals without violence. Obama seems not to grasp this, and I can only wonder at his rigidity and lack of empathy. Gandhi was willing to sacrifice his life for his goals; Obama seems not willing to sacrifice one iota of his beliefs.

And that is enough about Obama's failings. Let us now turn to what we may do.


[Minor copy errors corrected 2010.01.04-5]

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