Sunday, March 28, 2010
Earl Ofari Hutchinson
The comparison of then Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama to Franklin Delano Roosevelt at the height of the presidential campaign was hyped, overblown and made mostly to sell magazines, puff up TV pundit sound bites, and by a few carried away with themselves Democratic party campaign boosters. Though undoubtedly flattered by it, candidate Obama did not encourage the comparison to FDR.
This writer as countless others the first months after inauguration did more than just hope that President Obama would inch toward looking and acting like FDR. We relentlessly pushed, prodded, and hectored him to lurch in that direction. There were many days of bitter frustration and disappointment, punctuated by loud grumbling of betrayal.
Obama as FDR knew that he was in a political life and death, take no prisoners war with his political enemies-- the GOP, ultra conservative Democrats, Wall Street, the big bankers and big manufacturers. But unlike FDR for months he soft peddled, coddled, and placated his opponents even as they made absolutely no effort to mask their loath of his policies and presidency, and made it abundantly clear they will stop at nothing to hound him from office. FDR, by contrast, hit back hard at his enemies as obstructionists and economic royalists. He never wavered from his commitment that the workers and farmers, the “common man” came first.
Now President Obama has done the same. His in the trenches fight back started when he admitted what everyone knew and that’s that making nice with the GOP and making futile appeals to them for bi-partisanship sounds good in White House interviews and Congressional speeches but in the ruthless party eat party world of real politick it’s a surefire prescription for an ineffectual, moribund, and hapless presidency, not to mention ridicule as a president sans spine.
In quick succession he’s rammed through a drastically retooled consumer friendly health care reform law that looks nothing like the pharmaceutical and private health insurer goody laden bill of six months ago and with the added FDR touch of beating back the furious lobbying by banks and private lenders to keep their profit first fingers in student lending, and making the government the lender of first resort for student loans. He added millions to back it up, with a special nod toward expanding aid to strapped historically black colleges.
A tweak of the financial reform package that takes a strong first step toward reining in the orgy of Wall Street freeboot speculation, trading, swaps, and scams of investors, borrowers and the government that nearly wrecked the economy. Though the much needed independent consumer agency with full power to oversee and regulate lending practices in the financial reform bill didn’t happen. The new agency will not be under the direct grip of the Fed which would kill any regulation that was perceived as Wall Street and Big Bank unfriendly. Obama has also endorsed enactment of a modified version of the Glass-Steagall act. That’s the tough FDR era bank regulation act.
The watered down and grossly underfunded Senate jobs bill won’t do much to dent the near double digit unemployment. But Obama has strongly signaled that he’ll plough stimulus dollars directly into government run job training programs, job banks, and public works projects. The other FDR touch is to virtually order the banks to lend more to distressed homeowners cut borrowing rates, and terms, and promise more aggressive government intervention to aid strapped endangered homeowners. These are the programs that will do much to help the working class, and the minority poor. It makes the screech that he push a black agenda seem even more silly, ridiculous and self-serving.
Obama ignored the squeals of the GOP obstructionists with appointments to judgeships. And a slew of recess appointments of top flight sensitive, moderate, first class scholars and professionals to diplomatic, commerce, and labor regulatory board posts.
He drew the ire of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by holding firm on his demand to halt renewed Israeli settler expansion in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
On a personal and humane note, Obama magnificent gesture of donating every penny of his 1.4 million dollar Nobel Peace Prize award to solid charities and community help organizations and causes. The Big Bank and Wall Street greed merchants could learn a lesson from this example: fat chance of that.
FDR did not substitute rock star photo op, stagey, high profile media posturing for tough leadership. When the GOP and the press wrote the epitaph for him midway through his second term in 1938 he continued to swing away. FDR took to the airwaves and hit the road to blast the economic royalists and the obstructionist judges and those in congress to his reform program.
In the final stages of the healthcare reform fight and its immediate aftermath, Obama snatched a page directly from FDR and mobilized millions of Americans to fight for real reform. As long as he continues to do that he’ll continue to look and act like FDR.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His nationally heard talk show is on KTYM-AM 1460 AM Los Angeles, Fridays 9:30 AM and KPFK Pacifica Radio 90.7 Los Angeles, Saturdays Noon PST.