People voted for President Obama in 2008 for many different reasons. Some believed he would be a champion of the powerless. Some believed he was the best option to solve our financial problems. And some were going to cast their vote as far away from Bush as they could. But nearly all of his supporters seemed to believe, to one degree or another, that President Obama could do what he needed to do alone.
The POTUS is just one leg of a badly warped three-legged government. He cannot pass legislation. He cannot choose Congressmen, and he can’t choose which of them he wants to work with. He can’t do anything about Roberts, Thomas, and Scalia.
He can galvanize popular opinion with rhetoric–better than any president since Reagan. He has style, eloquence, and above all a good message. But though Obama can indeed rouse the public on his own, just rousing the public is not enough.
Ronald Reagan didn’t move the government to the right all by himself. The right-wing noise machine helped him, even back then. And very importantly, Americans supported him by voting in Congresspeople who would help his agenda along.
Polls today show voters in favor of Medicare, Social Security, and expanded health care rights for Americans. But in 2010, they voted for Tea Party people committed to discarding those things. I know a lot of this has to do with the majority of the corporate-owned media no longer committed to telling people what they need to know and hoping they don’t notice. But in the end it’s down to us to make sure our vote matters.
President Obama gave a wonderful speech yesterday about what progressives believe:
…there has always been another thread running throughout our history – a belief that we are all connected; and that there are some things we can only do together, as a nation….We are a better country because of these commitments. I’ll go further – we would not be a great country without those commitments….
Explicitly, President Obama talked about things like Medicare and Social Security and the interstate highway system as proof of the power of what we can do as a nation. But within that speech was a call to action to voters, to the power of the people, to the shared responsibility to govern. He called on us to take the fight in Wisconsin and other states and bring it to Washington. Here he frames the fight against House Republicans’ positions in the same way we have framed the fight against Republican states–which is smart, since it is the same fight.
One vision has been championed by Republicans…. The fact is, their vision is less about reducing the deficit than it is about changing the basic social compact in America. As Ronald Reagan’s own budget director said, there’s nothing “serious” or “courageous” about this plan. There’s nothing serious about a plan that claims to reduce the deficit by spending a trillion dollars on tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires. There’s nothing courageous about asking for sacrifice from those who can least afford it and don’t have any clout on Capitol Hill.
Explicitly he called for government to prove itself.
Indeed, to those in my own party, I say that if we truly believe in a progressive vision of our society, we have the obligation to prove that we can afford our commitments. If we believe that government can make a difference in people’s lives, we have the obligation to prove that it works – by making government smarter, leaner and more effective.
But this is not just telling Washington progressives to step it up. The progressive vision of government is not about leaving it up to Washington. This is a message to all of us that if we want a progressive government, we have to make it happen.
Of course, there are those who will simply say that there’s no way we can come together and agree on a solution to this challenge.
Republicans are known for flying in formation. Progressives are notoriously hard to herd. If we want to bring back progressivism and populism to this country, we better get past any special snowflake-ness and learn to work together. So what do we need to do?
…it does require tough decisions and support from leaders in both parties. And above all, it will require us to choose a vision of the America we want to see five and ten and twenty years down the road…. I don’t expect the details in any final agreement to look exactly like the approach I laid out today. I’m eager to hear other ideas from all ends of the political spectrum.
He wants us to be vocal, tell Washington what we want and give him some negotiating leverage. Pester our Congresspeople with solid information about what we want, what we don’t want, and the tradeoffs that we consider good and bad. We need to do this. The Tea Party made its mark by being vocal and following through with votes. We have to fight for a better world.
But we can’t simply deny the Republican proposal–that’s playing their game. The right-wing noise machine is constantly belching out messaging because that works. We have to reframe the discussion in a progressive way. We have it easier because we have facts on our side, but facts still need to be packaged in the right way. To that end, President Obama gave us facts and arguments and language to work with. I quote it directly below because it is crafted for maximum impact.
How we got here and where we are going if we don’t act:
…in the last decade, if we had simply found a way to pay for the tax cuts and the prescription drug benefit, our deficit would currently be at low historical levels in the coming years.
When I took office, our projected deficit was more than $1 trillion. On top of that, we faced a terrible financial crisis and a recession…
By the end of this decade, the interest we owe on our debt could rise to nearly $1 trillion….
By 2025, the amount of taxes we currently pay will only be enough to finance our health care programs, Social Security, and the interest we owe on our debt….
Ultimately, all this rising debt will cost us jobs and damage our economy. It will prevent us from making the investments we need to win the future. We won’t be able to afford good schools, new research, or the repair of roads and bridges – all the things that will create new jobs and businesses here in America. Businesses will be less likely to invest and open up shop in a country that seems unwilling or unable to balance its books. And if our creditors start worrying that we may be unable to pay back our debts, it could drive up interest rates for everyone who borrows money – making it harder for businesses to expand and hire, or families to take out a mortgage.
In the last decade, the average income of the bottom 90% of all working Americans actually declined. The top 1% saw their income rise by an average of more than a quarter of a million dollars each.
The Republican plan:
[The Republican plan] says up to 50 million Americans have to lose their health insurance….[and] even though America can’t afford to invest in education or clean energy; even though we can’t afford to care for seniors and poor children, we can somehow afford more than $1 trillion in new tax breaks for the wealthy….They want to give people like me a two hundred thousand dollar tax cut that’s paid for by asking thirty three seniors to each pay six thousand dollars more in health costs?
Up until now, the cuts proposed by a lot of folks in Washington have focused almost exclusively on that 12% [of the budget]. But cuts to that 12% alone won’t solve the problem.
Go to China and you’ll see businesses opening research labs and solar facilities. South Korean children are outpacing our kids in math and science. Brazil is investing billions in new infrastructure and can run half their cars not on high-priced gasoline, but biofuels. And yet, we are presented with a vision that says the United States of America – the greatest nation on Earth – can’t afford any of this.
Getting Back On Track
Reduce the deficit by $4 trillion over the next twelve years… It will lower our interest payments on the debt by $1 trillion. It calls for tax reform to cut about $1 trillion in spending from the tax code.
The first step in our approach is to keep annual domestic spending low by building on the savings that both parties agreed to last week – a step that will save us about $750 billion over twelve years.
The second step in our approach is to find additional savings in our defense budget.
The third step in our approach is to further reduce health care spending in our budget. Here, the difference with the House Republican plan could not be clearer: their plan lowers the government’s health care bills by asking seniors and poor families to pay them instead. Our approach lowers the government’s health care bills by reducing the cost of health care itself….saving us $500 billion by 2023. [Other measures include] reduce wasteful subsidies and erroneous payments… cut spending on prescription drugs by using Medicare’s purchasing power… speed generic brands of medicine onto the market…. work with governors of both parties to demand more efficiency and accountability from Medicaid…. new incentives for doctors and hospitals to prevent injuries and improve results.
And just in case you listen to one of the news channels that didn’t tell you, a reminder that….
Already, the reforms we passed in the health care law will reduce our deficit by $1 trillion.
The fourth step in our approach is to reduce spending in the tax code. [Itemized deductions] provide millionaires an average tax break of $75,000. [I propose] limiting itemized deductions for the wealthiest 2% of Americans – a reform that would reduce the deficit by $320 billion over ten years….reform our individual tax code so that it is fair and simple…reform our corporate tax code as well, to make our businesses and our economy more competitive.
This is very important. The tax code is a tool of wealth distribution and financial incentives. Republicans are moving wealth up, spending taxpayer money on corporations and the wealthy via the tax code. Some companies get back more than they pay in taxes. Tax code reconfiguration is the single best tool we have to repair the economy, including the third-world distribution of wealth from which we currently suffer.
[We must] work together now to strengthen Social Security for future generations. But we must do it without putting at risk current retirees, the most vulnerable, or people with disabilities; without slashing benefits for future generations; and without subjecting Americans’ guaranteed retirement income to the whims of the stock market….We’ll invest in medical research and clean energy technology. We’ll invest in new roads and airports and broadband access. We will invest in education and job training.
We will invest in each other. Here is the vision, progressives, but this isn’t a one-man job. It is a shared responsibility. This was near the close:
This sense of responsibility – to each other and to our country – this isn’t a partisan feeling. It isn’t a Democratic or Republican idea. It’s patriotism.
Did you hear that? That was a call to action.