The New Frontiers
On March 29, the House Republicans passed their budget proposal. Written by Representative Paul Ryan, the “Path to Prosperity” would eliminate $5.3 trillion in spending over 10 years. Savings would be achieved through enormous cuts to social programs and important investments; HeadStart, food stamps, welfare, scientific research, infrastructure improvements would all be on the chopping block to the tune of $2 trillion. The safety net wouldn’t be spared either – Medicaid would be block-granted to the states and shrunk by $770 billion, Medicare would be privatized and see its funding slashed by $205 billion. Meanwhile, the tax code would be revamped, reducing rates on the wealthiest to 25 percent from the current 35 percent.
The budget was approved by a party-line vote, and the conservatives subsequently enveloped themselves in a euphony of self-congratulation, with Fox News and talk-radio hailing Ryan and his cohorts as heroes of fiscal restraint. Mitt Romney, for his part, called the proposal “marvelous.”
We have seen this movie before – the Republicans come up with cruel, revolting, and perverse ideas, mix terrorist tactics and theatrics, and then get the president to meet them more than halfway, e.g. the debt ceiling debacle.
Except, this time, their victim won’t be cowed. Since his September jobs speech, President Barack Obama has struck a defiant tone in response to his Republican opponents, and his recent address to the American Society of Newspaper Editors dramatically underscored this shift. In what The New York Times praised as “a thunderclap of a speech,” Obama echoed what we liberals have been saying for a year: Republican budget proposals are nothing but “thinly veiled social Darwinism” and “a Trojan horse” by which the party wishes to shred the safety net and rip up the country’s social contract.
The president did not use such harsh language lightly. He knows that the results of this election will profoundly affect America, that November’s contest represents a fight between two competing visions of this nation. Accordingly, Obama should break with the conventional wisdom and run as a populist-progressive, using Franklin Roosevelt’s 1936 playbook.
Though he was popular, FDR was loathed by many. The business community despised him for the eagerness with which he challenged their control of the political process. Turn-of-the-century progressives like Jane Addams disliked his emphasis on government aid to the needy, rather than private charity. Conservative Democrats even formed an organization known as the Liberty League to oppose his 1936 reelection bid.
Obama would do well to read the speech Roosevelt delivered at that year’s Democratic National Convention, in which Dr. New Deal articulated a governing philosophy that the current president should embrace more emphatically. In 1776, FDR posited, the Founders overthrew a political autocracy. Modern civilization, however, had brought forth market forces that had undermined those cherished freedoms; monopolies and a lack of regulation had created a new dictatorship headed by greedy businessmen, whom Roosevelt labeled economic royalists, the inheritors of the 18th century British Crown.
FDR realized “freedom is no half-and-half affair,” that “if the average citizen is guaranteed equal opportunity in the polling place, he must have equal opportunity in the market place.” He also sought to bring government closer to the people, to “give it the vibrant personal character that is the very embodiment of human charity.”
These goals clearly translate into policy imperatives today. Break up the big banks. Reinstate the Glass- Steagall Act and other commonsense regulations. Bring back a fair tax code by implementing the Buffett Rule. Expand the safety net. Preserve Medicare and Medicaid. Grow the labor unions. Find palatable ways to cut the deficit in the long run, while enacting targeted spending increases in the short term. Finally, and most importantly, evict the moneychangers and the special interests from the halls of Congress and the Oval Office. These rent-seekers, these leeches have dominated the political arena for too long, to the detriment of everyone else.
One might find this too bold, but making November 1936 a stark choice turned out okay for FDR – he won 46 of 48 states and almost 60 percent of the popular vote.
While we are on the subject of the Ryan budget, let’s talk about Bob Turner. Last year, the congressman swore up and down that he opposed an earlier version of the proposal, denouncing the privatization of Medicare and the block-granting of Medicaid. But as I predicted in an August column that touched off a firestorm, Turner has turned out to be “another shill for Big Money and an enemy of working families and the social safety net.” Many in this district voted for him because he seemed to break with national Republicans on Medicare and Medi-caid. It makes me almost grateful to have Gregory Meeks as our representative. At least Meeks’ lack of integrity is out in the open.
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