I found Obama’s message encouraging, but then again the president always speaks/reads well.
His speech was a direct attack on the Reagan revolution and made important social democratic points about solidarity and equality — health and education — being directly connected to economic prosperity. I think it was also important to connect gay rights to the Declaration of Independence: America is full of beautiful words, filling those words with meaning is America’s perennial unfinished symphony.
Despite being black Obama isn’t Doctor Martin Luther King, and there doesn’t seem to be any MLK right now to pressure him. That is the American left’s perennial unfinished symphony.
In his speech the president was obviously asking the people who voted for him to pressure Congress to support his agenda. I think that in many ways the ball is now in the court of America’s progressives and they would be wise to play that ball as it lies. If there is even an ounce of sincerity in Barack Obama’s message, this is the best opportunity that America’s progressives have had since Reagan entered the White House, maybe the best since Johnson left it, ruined by Vietnam.
I think it is mistaken to criticize Obama for not being MLK, because, except for the color of their skins, there is no real similarity between Obama and King, Hawaii is a long way from Georgia and, except for the color of their skins, there are many similarities between Obama and LBJ, both being presidents of the USA and ex-senators.
Being dissatisfied is an essential ingredient in making a person progressive, but I think people on the left may be asking more of the US presidency than it can deliver. MLK, for example, was not LBJ: King produced the pressure, Johnson — who also did Vietnam — with that pressure, produced a wealth of legislation. What little we have of social democracy in America, in great part we owe to him.
Here is a sample of what LBJ did with an active society pushing him:
Johnson was a brilliant politician of uncommon intelligence and grand visions for improving the country’s domestic life. His effectiveness as a presidential legislator translated into great advances, some of which had been bottled up in Congress for more than 60 years: health insurance for the elderly and the poor; federal aid to elementary, secondary and higher education; repeal of the 1924 National Origins Act giving favored treatment to Western European immigrants; environmental protections promising cleaner air and water; urban renewal under a Department of Housing and Urban Development; more effective and integrated means of national movement under a Department of Transportation; National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities; and national public television and radio. And most important, the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts of 1964 and 1965, respectively, ending Southern apartheid and fulfilling long-stymied constitutional promises of black freedom to vote. Robert Dallek – Los Angeles Times
The job of the left today is to create pressure, consciousness, just as King did… and be grateful that Romney didn’t win, because at least Obama finally talks like a liberal centrist in the Johnson tradition, maybe now he’ll walk like one… at least if there is enough pressure and support from the people who voted for him.
From the speech also I gather that president Obama has learned the most important lesson that Johnson can teach any progressively inclined president: you can’t have guns and butter; foreign wars and social progress are inimical.
Living in Spain as I do and having become familiar with its history I have learned that Spain’s decline and decadence came from spending its riches on foreign wars, dynastic and religious, and neglecting the development of its own land and people. This is the lesson that Americans may be learning.
The Cold War is over and no matter how hard the neocons try to invent one, there is no ideological enemy facing the United States trying to undermine its “way of life”… the far away Islamic movement is one of anti-imperialist reaction to foreign interference in their societies. Finally, if and when they take power, they will have to feed their people and their people cannot eat oil, so they will have to sell it. Cost effective intelligence and immoral and unethical drones will have to keep them at bay till they are ready to deal, not expensive aircraft carrier battle groups, supersonic jets, heavy armored divisions and boots on the ground that drain America’s social net of resources.
Where America does have to keep a credible military presence is Asia, but that doesn’t mean getting caught in armed conflict, on the contrary, in Asia, America’s navy and air force are a stabilizing influence, but the USA would be foolish to allow itself to be drawn into all the frictions produced by a newly powerful China flexing its muscles. For example, the Senkaku-Diaoyu islands. If the Japanese want to pick a fight with China, one could only wish them the best of luck, but the USA should never go to war with China to defend Japan. I wouldn’t cut one school lunch or old age pension to pay for that, much less sacrifice American lives for such a cause.
That is the bottom line, keeping out of other people’s fights, rebuilding America’s infrastructure, social net and middle class. Let us hope that Barack Obama can deliver that. The role of progressives now is to hold Obama’s feet to the fire and hold his words up to him.
Cross posted from: http://seaton-newslinks.blogspot.com
Public domain photo by Walter Albertin, New York World-Telegram and the Sun staff photographer.