The day before the election, Republicans were warning that Barack Obama would bring too much change too soon, that he was a “socialist” who would “spread the wealth around”
and that his election would usher in “one-party rule.” Then, in the days after his sweeping victory, they tried to claim that his election represented no change at all. According to RNC chair Mike Duncan, Obama’s not even really a Democrat. Reckoning with his party’s dismal loss, Duncan claimed Obama won because he “ran the most successful moderate Republican presidential campaign since Dwight Eisenhower.”
Even so, op-ed pages and TV pundits have warned the incoming administration “not to overreach” and have declared America a fundamentally, unalterably “center-right nation.”
We beg to differ. On November 4 the electorate clearly and emphatically rejected the conservative economic ideology that has dominated this country for too long. Throughout this election season, it has been progressive ideas–on war and peace, energy independence, trade and healthcare–that have redefined politics. But if the postelection talk is any indicator, the electorate’s thirst for change will now face a powerful backlash from an establishment–represented within both parties–wedded to the status quo.
The first big test of whether Obama can resist the pull to cautious centrism will come in the first 100 days of his presidency. He has talked about the need to measure his administration’s accomplishments over the first 1,000 days, given the problems he has inherited from George W. Bush, which will take years to undo. But the first 100 days are still crucial in signaling to the American people and the world that the administration will take determined steps to repair this nation.
Obama faces major challenges: a cratering economy, a broken healthcare system, two wars, poverty and growing inequality, and the stained reputation of the United States in the world. The millions who were mobilized and inspired by his campaign and candidacy must continue to drive a bold agenda to respond to these crises.
Here is a list of actions President Obama can take in the first 100 days. Some he can accomplish on day one, with the stroke of a pen; others will demand coalition building and an inside-outside strategy to push legislation through Congress.
Bush executive orders. As Obama said of his first 100 days when campaigning in Denver, “I would call my attorney general in and review every single executive order issued by George Bush and overturn those laws or executive decisions that I feel violate the Constitution.”
Economic stimulus. Stop the bleeding–by expanding healthcare and unemployment benefits, providing essential aid to beleaguered state and local governments and investing in long-delayed infrastructure projects.
Iraq. Hold to the sixteen-month timeline for withdrawal.
Healthcare reform. Expand health insurance to kids by passing the State Children’s Health Insurance Program legislation vetoed by Bush.
Women’s health and reproductive rights. Repeal the “global gag rule,” which prohibits NGOs that receive federal funding from promoting or performing abortions in other countries.
Energy and the economy. Announce a clean-energy strategy that will reduce oil dependence, address global warming, create thousands of green jobs and improve national security.
Bailout for Main Street. Work to ensure that homeowners are able to renegotiate mortgages and remain in their homes.
Poverty and inequality. Appoint a hunger czar–as Senator George McGovern and Congressman Jim McGovern called for in a recent op-ed–who would “coordinate the various food, nutrition and anti-poverty programs…to increase the independence, purchasing power and food security of every human being.” Announce a commitment to the goal of cutting poverty in half in ten years.
Labor and trade. Reject the Colombia, Korea and Panama trade agreements as currently written and ensure that future agreements promote the public interest. Work toward passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, which will enable workers to organize unions without fear of employer intimidation.
Science. Allow federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research.
Global warming. Reverse Bush’s EPA decision and allow California to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks. Call for a new climate treaty and ask Al Gore to lead that effort.
Guantánamo. Close the prison, and try detainees in the United States or resettle them in countries where they face no risk of persecution or torture.
Torture. Officially reject all memos, signing statements and executive orders that justify the use of torture. End the use in court of any evidence obtained through torture. Establish an independent commission of inquiry into all aspects of detention and interrogation practices in the “war on terror.”
Executive power. Repudiate the Bush administration’s claims for the “unitary executive.” Renounce the use of signing statements as a tool for altering or ignoring legislation. Pledge to abide by the War Powers Act and end the abuse of the Authorization for Use of Military Force.
By taking these steps–with “deliberate haste”–President Obama would get a real start on repairing our nation. It just so happens that at this moment in American political history, progressives are the only ones offering real solutions to most of these problems. But as the late, great Paul Wellstone noted, ideology is always less important than results. “Politics is not about left, right and center,” he said. “It’s about speaking to the concerns and circumstances of people’s lives.”
If the Democrats improve people’s lives, the electorate won’t care if it’s called socialism or Eisenhower Republicanism. They’ll call it a success.