The times call for a leader of Churchillian or Rooseveltian magnitude; what we have instead is a cautious risk-averse manager. Bold progressives must fill the leadership vacuum in order to restore and support a vibrant US middle class.

When he confronted a world-wide economic collapse not of his making last winter, BHO and his team facilitated the deployment of bailout packages to industries and financial institutions judged "too big to fail." These bailouts supplemented the TARP monies being disbursed to big banks that had been initiated by his predecessor. Though some market economists decreed that these "too big to fail" enterprises should have been allowed to do just that, the President wisely decided to immediately stop the bleeding in order to avoid catastrophic consequences down the economic "food chain" rather than hew to doctrinaire free market theories.

As banks and markets stabilized, attention turned to getting the consumer economy back on track, with arguments more or less boiling down to laissez faire versus massive government intervention. BHO’s decision to embrace modest stimulus enraged libertarians and conservatives who wanted to let the Free Market reign and disappointed progressive liberals who identified the need for a momentous government employment initiative that would restart and sustain the nation’s economic engine while preparing our infrastructure for the next generation in a changing energy environment.

BHO’s demonstrated personal need to achieve consensus during crisis and his failure to assert bold leadership on economic recovery and employment set the stage for the health care debate. In order to avoid alienating big campaign donors he allowed the playing field to shift to a focus on major health insurers and pharmaceutical companies (with their incestuous big bank brothers and sisters cheering from the sidelines). They were able, with the complicity of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel, to exploit BHO’s self-imposed Christmas 2009 deadline and his apparently congenital aversion to conflict (expressed as the goal of a "bipartisan" bill, which he did not achieve anyway!).

Emmanuel believes that no crisis should be wasted (as do I!). One can forgive liberals for thinking that the crises of the last two years presented opportunities for a major overhaul of the economy and regulation (including health care), a new New Deal, an opportunity to serve the public interest. Instead, though, Emmanuel used the moment of opportunity to reward wealthy benefactors in order to ensure the continued employment of the political class. That’s his prerogative of course, but the direct result of his cynicism has been a redefinition downward of any aspirations for a renewed vibrant American middle class.

Into the resultant breach, bold progressive liberals much step. Here are some reasons:

  • The White House clearly stated its desire and ability to abandon the Left. That leaves only progressive liberals standing up for the true interests of the battered middle class, working poor, and disenfranchised.
  • BHO and his Chief of Staff are deathly afraid of repeating Clinton’s failure to reform HC in the 90s despite the fact that conditions today are not like those in the 90s. The lesson they failed to recognize was not that the WH had to neutralize the health insurance/pharmaceutical industry by catering to them; it was that they had to neutralize the health insurance/pharmaceutical industry by pro-actively going over their heads directly to the American people, who were primed by economic realities to accept social democratic solutions to the unsustainable US health care model.
  • Progressive liberals have no obligation to march in lock step with the Democratic Party; we do have the right to use the Democratic Party as a vehicle to achieve our ends.
  • Alliances with "strange bedfellows" are force-multipliers; that is, they allow us to affect outcomes we otherwise would not.