Unfortunately, too many of our citizens have lost faith that our
biggest institutions-our corporations, our media, and, yes, our
government-still reflect these same values. Each of these institutions
are full of honorable men and women doing important work that helps our
country prosper. But each time a CEO rewards himself for failure, or a
banker puts the rest of us at risk for his own selfish gain, people's
doubts grow. Each time lobbyists game the system or politicians tear
each other down instead of lifting this country up, we lose faith. The
more that TV pundits reduce serious debates to silly arguments, big
issues into sound bites, our citizens turn away.
No wonder there's so much cynicism out there. No wonder there's so much disappointment.
I campaigned on the promise of change-change we can believe in, the
slogan went. And right now, I know there are many Americans who aren't
sure if they still believe we can change-or that I can deliver it.
But remember this-I never suggested that change would be easy, or
that I could do it alone. Democracy in a nation of 300 million people
can be noisy and messy and complicated. And when you try to do big
things and make big changes, it stirs passions and controversy. That's
just how it is. (from Obama's State of the Union; Jan. 27th 2010)
President Obama's speech shows little understanding of the time
we're in or of the daily experience of real Americans. Maybe it comes
from being in D.C. for a solid year now.
- In the last 18 months, Wall Street
nearly brought the world economy to its knees, paid itself huge
bonuses, and, with the boldness of a gambler backed up by the U.S.
Treasury, is out doing more of the same.
- The American people,
meanwhile, are suffering from joblessness, housing foreclosures,
unaffordable and complicated health insurance bureaucracy, and an
economy that continues to stumble, with no real reason to believe it
- The window of time we have to confront our climate crisis is closing,
and the impacts on our economy, security, biodiversity, agriculture,
access to water, and the habitability of our coastlines is just
starting to be felt. Desperately needed action is being stalled by
- The war in the Middle East threatens to expand, the casualties continue to grow, and the military budget keeps ballooning, while no one in the administration can say what we can reasonably expect to accomplish there.
To deal with these and other crises, Obama will have to overcome the influence of powerful special interests,
who work overtime to block any progress that could threaten their
quarterly profits. He can only overcome those powerful interests when
he partners with the American people.
Early on, I was encouraged that a president who came up as a
community organizer would know how to do that. Even before Inauguration
day, he was holding health care house meetings across the country to
create a foundation for action. And when the workers at Republic Window
and Door, who were laid off without the pay they were owed, occupied
their factory, Obama reached out a hand of support.
But the insider disease seems to have taken over. Obama's health
care proposal was already a compromise-keep private insurance
companies, but offer the public a strong public option. From that
starting point, it was compromised again and again until it is now more
give-away to health insurance companies and PhRMA than benefit to
Americans. The mass movements pressing for single-payer health care
(which at the time enjoyed majority support) weren't invited into the
process to balance the special interests and ideological opponents of a
strong public option. Instead, they were excluded from White House
summits and systematically ignored.
When Wall Street greed threatened to crash the economy, Obama's
inner circle wrote blank checks to some of the worst offenders,
establishing a precedent that the most risky global gambling is backed
by the American taxpayer. (Obama's recent announcement that he is
dealing with the "too big to fail" issue is promising, but the details
will be what counts. And precious time and momentum have been lost).
So yes, Americans are furious. The Massachusetts vote disproved what
Democratic Party insiders have said-you can take the progressives for
granted. After all, where can they go? To the Republicans? To the
Greens? Here's the answer. If they are excluded from the process,
progressive voters, and the progressive activists who built the
grassroots Obama campaign, have shown they can stay home on election
President Obama, it is not too late to make common cause with the
American people. Instead of feeding them a list of policy tweaks-a tax
credit here, and new commission there-go back to the vision of "change
we can believe in." Admit the mistake of trying to placate Wall Street
and recalcitrant Republicans. Show you can fight for the American
people, and the American people will stand with you.
You'll have to start by taking on the corporate special interests
that crippled our economy, undercut the promise of health care reform,
and stalled desperately needed action on climate change. Partner with
the young people, the working people, state and local government, small
business, the grassroots leaders who believed in change. Work with
those who don't mind telling the truth about the effectiveness of
single-payer health care, even if you don't agree with them. Get rid of
your Wall Street economic advisers, and bring in a team that is rooted
in the real, Main Street economy. Tell the story of what is happening
to our country, with the clarity and unity of purpose that you are so
good at. It's not too late to bring us together, not by scolding
partisanship, but by helping us see our common purpose and how we can
take courageous action, together, to make change more than a belief-to
make it a reality.