Transcript: Live Chat with Van Jones and Ari Berman on the State of the Obama Coalition in 2012
Sarah Arnold: Thanks to both of you. We're going to bring in reader questions now. We'll start with one from reader Ryan, about student loans. Van, perhaps you can address this one:
Ryan: Do you feel the conversations regarding student loans and college debt have contributed to changes in student civic engagement and grassroots involvement? If so, what role does grassroots organization play in increasing voter turnout for college-aged and recently graduated students?
Van Jones: The student debt issue is MAJOR. The fight to prevent the interest rates on the Stafford loans from doubling to 6.8% is a huge deal.
We are the only country in the world making it harder for our young people to go to college. My group, RebuildTheDream.com, was one of the first to ring the alarm on this fight. July 1 is still looming as the deadline on the horizon. We can win it, but it will be a war until the very end.
Ari Berman: I think there needs to be a renewed focus on motivating young people to vote in the election and the Obama camp needs to do a better job about contrasting his agenda for young people versus Romney’s. They've begun to do this, but there needs to be more, both in terms of discussion and policy fights.
Van Jones: I do think more youth need to fight for stuff like this, and make the candidates answerable to them.
Ari Berman: Yeah, a lot of young Obama supporters thought their work was done after the '08 election, when it was in fact only just beginning.
Van Jones: Bird-dogging federal candidates in cap-and-gown, dragging a ball and chain of debt. That is one of the things young people could do. It would get cameras and media attention.
Sarah Arnold: Here's a comment/question from Reid Friedson that you both can address:
Reid Friedson: I registered over 400 voters in Florida for Obama in '08. I may be a big part of why this was the only state he won in the "Deep South." Yet, Obama seems to have left behind the liberals, progressives, and environmentalists. No one from his staff has ever thanked me and they just keep asking for more money. Why do we not see "Green New Deal" jobs? Where did the 3/4 of a trillion dollars go? Has Obama lost his way or will his second term be more activist on the left?
Van Jones: Thanks for registering all those voters!
Obama will be as progressive in the next term as the progressives ourselves are activated, loud and insistent.
Ari Berman: Good comment Reid. I'm surprised no one from the campaign has reached out to you. I think they've spend too much time asking people for money and not enough time involving them in how the country should be run. As to green jobs, Van can answer that.
Van Jones: We started down the road of a Green New Deal. The president put $80 billion into clean and green solutions, as a part of the "stimulus" package. Those investments have paid off: we have 3.1 million green jobs in America, despite the GOP blocking our clean energy legislation (cap-and-trade) and China flooding the world with artificially cheap solar. It is not enough, though.
Ari Berman: A lot of the major progressive groups cut the president too much slack after he was elected and the White House actively thwarted progressive pressure. That dynamic has changed somewhat—now many progressive organizations know they need to put pressure on Obama, even if the White House doesn't like it.
Van Jones: We need to renew the fight for a clean energy future, but that will come from the grassroots first. The fight to defend the tax credits for our wind and solar companies would be a good place to start. Americans who have those jobs right now could lose them, if we don't keep the existing tax credits in place.
Ari Berman: I also think people need to focus less on Obama or the White House per se and more on Congress and those in the echo chamber who are blocking progress on these type of policies
Van Jones: I agree with Ari on that one, especially.
I am all for pushing Obama, too, but the conventional wisdom is already moving to the wrong place—leave the tax breaks for the mega-rich in place, impose harsh cuts and don't touch the big military contractors like Halliburton.
Sarah Arnold: Here's a comment from Nancy Bishop on the recent jobs report. Ari and Van, what should Obama do/say between now and the election on that front?
Nancy Bishop: Today's jobs report was very scary. I think we have to see significant changes in jobs numbers and decline in unemployment by late October. All the slogans and arguments (even though I agree with them) won't help without changes in those stats.
Sarah Arnold: Here's reader Kate also on jobs:
Kate: Isn't it important for us to start pointing out that the "job creators" have had the biggest tax breaks in history and the jobs are not being created?
Van Jones: Amen, Kate!
That is key to unmasking Romney, as well. His job creation record in Massachusetts is laughable.
Ari Berman: Van might have a different perspective on this, but there's not much Obama can do on jobs if Congress is blocking his policies under them but continue to build public support for his ideas. The Fed is being cautious, although we could see another round of quantitative easing if things get worse. I basically think Obama needs to say: my policies would make the economy better and Romney's would make it worse and then to really run against the people that are blocking change. The Obama campaign's only hope of winning if the economy grows slowly or contracts is to tear Romney apart. That's the sad truth. It's the strategy Bush used against Kerry in 2004.
Van Jones: I think running against the obstruction is the right way to go. "Give me a Congress that will put your needs first."
Ari Berman: Yeah, Truman '48 is a good model for him.
Van Jones: As I said, the last election was a hope-fueled election. This will be a fear-based election—on both sides.