Robert Reich: The Enthusiasm Gap

I had dinner the other night with a Democratic pollster who told me Democrats are heading toward next fall’s mid-term elections with a serious enthusiasm gap: The Republican base is fired up. The Democratic base is packing up.

The Democratic base is lethargic because congressional Democrats continue to compromise on everything the base cares about. For a year now it’s been nothing but compromises, watered-down ideas, weakened provisions, wider loopholes, softened regulations. Health care went from what the Democratic base wanted — single payer — to a public option, to no public option, to a bunch of ideas that the president tried to explain last week, and it now hangs by a string as Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid try to round up conservative Democrats and a 51-vote reconciliation package in the Senate.

The jobs bill went from what the base wanted — a second stimulus — to $165 billion of extended unemployment benefits and aid to states and locales, then to $15 billion of tax breaks for businesses that make new hires. Financial regulation went from tough new capital requirements, sharp constraints on derivative trading, a consumer protection agency, and a resurrection of the Glass-Steagall Act — all popular with the Dem base — to some limits on derivatives and a consumer-protection agency inside the Treasury Department and a rearrangement of oversight boxes, and it’s now looking like even less.

The environment went from the base’s desire for a carbon tax to a cap-and-trade carbon auction then to a cap-and-trade with all sorts of exemptions and offsets for the biggest polluters, and now Senate Democrats are talking about trying to do it industry-by-industry.

These waffles and wiggle rooms have drained the Democratic base of all passion. “Why should I care?” are words I hear over and over again from stalwart Democrats who worked their hearts out in the last election.

The Republican base, meanwhile, is on a rampage. It’s more and more energized by its mad-as-hell populists. Tea partiers, libertarians, Birchers, birthers, and Dick Armey astro-turfers are channeling the economic anxieties of millions of Americans against “big government.”

Technically, the Democrats have the majority in Congress and could still make major reforms. But conservative, “blue-dog” Democrats won’t go along. They say the public has grown wary of government. But they must know the public has grown even more wary of big business and Wall Street, on which effective government is the only constraint.

Anyone with an ounce of sanity understands government is the only effective countervailing force against the forces that got us into this mess: Against Goldman Sachs and the rest of the big banks that plunged the economy into crisis, got our bailout money, and are now back at their old games, dispensing huge bonuses to themselves. Against WellPoint and the rest of the giant health insurers who are at this moment robbing us of the care we need by raising their rates by double digits. Against giant corporations that are showing big profits by continuing to lay off millions of Americans and cutting the wages of millions of more, by shifting jobs abroad and substituting software. Against big oil and big utilities that are raising prices and rates, and continue to ravage the atmosphere.

If there was ever a time to connect the dots and make the case for government as the singular means of protecting the public from these forces it is now. Yet the White House and the congressional Democrats’ ongoing refusal to blame big business and Wall Street has created the biggest irony in modern political history. A growing portion of the public, fed by the right, blames our problems on “big government.”

Much of the reason for the Democrats’ astonishing reluctance to place blame where it belongs rests with big business’s and Wall Street’s generous flows of campaign donations to Democrats, coupled with their implicit promise of high-paying jobs once Democratic officials retire from government. This is the rot at the center of the system. And unless or until it’s remedied, it will be difficult for the President to achieve any “change you can believe in.”

To his credit, Obama himself has not scaled back his health care ambitions all that much, and he appears, intermittently, to want to push conservative blue-dog Democrats to join him on a bigger jobs bill, tougher financial reform, and a more effective approach to global warming. (His overtures to Republicans seem ever more transparently designed to give blue-dog Democrats cover to vote with him.)

But our president is not comfortable wielding blame. He will not give the public the larger narrative of private-sector greed, its nefarious effect on the American public at this dangerous juncture, and the private sector’s corruption of the democratic process. He has so far eschewed any major plan to get corporate and Wall Street money out of politics. He can be indignant — as when he lashed out at the “fat cats” on Wall Street — but his indignation is fleeting, and it is no match for the faux indignation of the right that blames government for all that ails us.

Cross-posted from

Read more: Robert Reich, Wall Street, 2010 Elections, Health Care Reform, Democrats, Tea Party, Barack Obama, Republicans, Politics News

Michelle Kraus: Democrats: Harness the Rhetoric of the Tea Baggers for States’ Rights If You Want to Pass Health Care Reform

The prediction of 2010 is that States will become much more integral to governance, management and rebuilding the economy.

Go figure! Who would have thought that the rhetoric of the Tea Party loonies would be laden with gems? Those spin doctors have always been better than ours. So why not hijack “their” rhetoric, strip away the absurdities, create NEW “hybrid” State and Federal programs, and make it the new Democratic message? Borrow from their spin doctors and use it for good! We can do this because we need good solid social programs that retrain the work force. We need jobs. We need affordable health care. We need local finance — like community banking. We need incentives for companies that retool workers for the new economy. We need to give control back to the PEOPLE who can reclaim their dignity through their day-to-day lives.

And we all know that the system is broken at the national level just watch the squabbling going on in Congress. We also know that disproportionate monies are extracted from the large voting states leaving them bereft with broken roads, broken schools and broken dreams. Why should Senators from miniscule states in Podunk determine the future for the majority of folks that vote? Kibosh the nudniks, and take away their Pork Barrel spending that comes off the backs of the bigger, and more densely populated states. It is time to say NO!

This is pretty cool, and it seems that even our President may be onto it. At the televised Health Care Summit, he made a big, bold move to co-opt many of the most conservative Senators as he engaged them in a dialogue about State run health care exchanges to level the playing field on health care insurance premiums. Who would have thought that he would commend the likes of Senator Tom Coburn? Well he did while he silenced others with a stare. Aha, if he keeps this up he may win big time by installing a “hybrid” of Federal legislation mixed with State run solutions for health care reform.

OMG, he may have found the magic elixir to squash the discontent pervading the psyche of the people. Who would have thought that the secret mission of the right wingers could bring it home! If the President and his minions do not stumble, fall or fight with one another because they can, this may be the very strategy that is the hope of rebuilding America. Admittedly, this is not a plea for succession from the Union by the big states that take their toys and go home; rather it is a plan to revitalize a broken system that has gotten too “big’ and is failing. Consider this breed of “hybrid” solutions that are not made by Toyota or Honda.

This is the first of a series of articles on “hybrid” solutions that harness the power of the States with a mix of Federal legislation.

Read more: Senator Tom Coburn, Tea Party Movement, Spin Doctors, Community Banks, Economy, Federal Government, Economic Crisis, Middle Class, President Obama, Health Care Reform, Year of the Tiger, Health Care Summit, Tea Party, Moving to Community Banks, Barack Obama, Politics News

Duchess Harris: Why Lord?

“Black America stands at the precipice. African American unemployment is at its highest in 25 years. Thirty-five percent of our children live in poor families. Inadequate healthcare, rampant incarceration, home foreclosures, and a general sense of helplessness overwhelm many of our fellows,” said Princeton Professor Eddie Glaude, Jr., Ph.D. in his recent The Huffington Post article, “The Black Church is Dead.”

Glaude laments the absence of press conferences and impassioned efforts around black children living in poverty, and organizing for jobs and health care reform, in lieu of anti-abortion and anti same sex-marriage protests.

For those of you who are not familiar with Humanism, they would prioritize prison reform, and value that as a “right to life. “So I’d like to ask Black Christians, “Can you afford to dismiss the Humanists, the way some dismissed Malcolm X because he wasn’t a Christian?”

Two days after Glaude’s blog posting, representatives of the Obama Administration met with about 60 people with the Secular Coalition for America although the President did not attend.

Leaders of the Coalition’s 10 member groups billed their visit as an important meeting between a presidential administration and the nontheist community. They discussed three policy areas: child medical neglect, military proselytizing and faith-based initiatives.

Says coalition executive director Sean Faircloth: “Despite what we hear from Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin, we’re in a stage in history where millions upon millions of Americans share a secular perspective on American public policy. We think the real ‘silent majority,’ if you will, is the Americans who say, ‘Enough of this religious and even theocratic nature to American policy.”

The coalition doesn’t embrace all of the Obama administration’s stances, but members feel that they have more of a kindred spirit in this president than in his predecessor. Obama’s late mother was spiritual but agnostic. His inaugural address was the first by a U.S. president to include explicit recognition of nonbelievers as part of the fabric of the nation.

Bishop Council Nedd, Chairman of the Christian advocacy group In God We Trust, , slammed the administration, saying, “It is one thing for Administration to meet with groups of varying viewpoints, but it is quite another for a senior official to sit down with activists representing some of the most hate-filled, anti-religious groups in the nation.”

I think I’ll save my commentary on the appropriation of Civil Rights language by the historically racist conservative Right for another time.

Let’s just say I wasn’t surprised that the same evening the meeting occurred, Sean Hannity went even further, accusing the Obama administration of a pattern of hostility towards religion. On his Friday evening show, his guest, the former Governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee, said that evangelicals were disappointed because many had supported Obama.

Evidently Obama is supposed to chose: Humanism or Hannity?

It’s a flawed choice, one I’ve been struggling with for ten years. When I was going through the tenure process at Macalester College, I learned that my chair was a humanist. In 2000, I wasn’t quite sure what that meant. I spent a lot of time in his office and he would point out that, since the time of slavery, American Blacks have been critiquing the questionable, traditional Christian narrative that suffering is redemptive and should therefore be accepted and rather than resisted.

The Humanist alternative in African American spiritual life traces its roots at least as far back as the criticism of reactionary tendencies within religion by thinkers Frederick Douglas and W.E.B. Du Bois, the agnosticism of former Pentecostal child preacher James Baldwin, the socialist-influenced irreligious stances of Langston Hughes and Huey P. Newton, the full-fledged modern Humanism of Zora Neale Hurston and Alice Walker, recipient of the prestigious American Humanist of the Year award in 1997.

And if there was anyone who decried the redemptive value of suffering by Black people, it was Malcolm. Some of it though, may have been hard for African American Christians to hear: “Brothers and sisters, the white man has brainwashed us black people to fasten our gaze upon a blond haired, blue-eyed Jesus! We’re worshiping a Jesus that doesn’t even look like us! …..The white man has taught us to shout and sing and pray until we die, to wait until death, for some dreamy heaven-in-the-hereafter, when we’re dead, while this white man his milk and honey in the streets paved with golden dollars here on this earth!”

Even Malcolm eventually saw the limitations that strict adherence to dogma can create, and took a more humanistic view. Towards the end of his life, he wrote a friend, “Here I am, back in Mecca. I am still traveling, trying to broaden my mind, for I’ve seen too much of the damage narrow-mindedness can make of things, and when I return home to America, I will devote what energies I have to repairing the damage.”

My chair’s first book was called, “Why Lord?: Suffering and Evil in Black Theology.”

In the preface he states, “I could not accept the idea that the suffering of those I saw on a daily basis had any value at all. …I believe that human liberation is more important than the maintenance of any religious symbol, sign, cannon, or icon. It must be accomplished–both psychologically and physically -despite the damage done to cherished religious principles and traditions. Holding this belief, I will stand or fall.” (p. 11)

The events of the last week have made me wonder, will Black Christians unite with non-theists because human liberation is more important than divisiveness? Can we learn to put our theological differences aside for the good of humanity? Or will we turn our backs to the real suffering at hand, and ask, “Why Lord?”

Crossposted from Race-Talk

Read more: Eddie Glaude, Religion, Humanism, Nontheist, Culture, African-Americans, Humanistic-Leadership, Black Church, Malcolm X, Reform, Glenn Beck, Health Care, Sarah Palin, Barack Obama, Economy, Politics News

Pelosi On Job Creation: House Will Get Behind Incremental Approach

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said on Sunday that House Democrats would come around and embrace the incremental approach to job creation that the Senate is pursuing. Last week, an uprising from liberal members of the House stopped a Senate package of tax cuts and infrastructure spending — which Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and a leading progressive voice, said was not fit to be referred to as a jobs bill.

The rebellious Democrats want to pass a stronger jobs package and go to conference committee, Lee said on Friday, where they would negotiate with the Senate. Senate leaders, however, insist that they will lose Republican votes if they pursue anything other than a step-by-step approach.

Interviewed on ABC’s “This Week,” Pelosi said that while she would prefer a bigger package all at once, the smaller bills will get to the same goal.

“This won’t take a long time to do, but every piece of it will not have every provision that we want. But [it] will all create jobs, help small businesses grow, because that’s where major job creation is, and addresses concerns that we have about our veterans coming home,” she said.

“It would have been faster if they’d just agreed to our bill last year,” she pointed out.

Read more: Jobs, Congress, Jobs Bill, Economy, Nancy Pelosi, Nancy Pelosi Jobs Bill, Politics News

Blaming the weather for high unemployment

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Snowstorms have repeatedly battered parts of the United States this winter, making it more difficult to discern returning weakness in the economy from

Obama’s Democrats voice new confidence on healthcare

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democratic leaders in the Congress voiced confidence on Sunday they will have the votes, possibly within a couple of months or so, to pass landmark legislation to overhaul the healthcare system.