It’s been a rough and tough few months. And this August is making a bid to replace the Ides of (is it?) March as the meanest month in our calendar. From a slew of intense late night and early morning calls, I know that many progressives are wondering: Who did we vote for? (And I won’t pose the David Axelrod question: Are you Muhammad Ali or Sonny Liston? Though I confess I think it’s one worth asking right now.)
Now, no one on the left with any savvy or knowledge of history believed we wouldn’t live — and learn — through disappointment. Isn’t that what politicians are for? And anyone who believed Obama was going to remain an idealistic community organizer, well — I got a bridge to sell you.
Still, questions remain: Couldn’t he have picked a cabinet filled with that real team of rivals? Why not include a Joseph Stiglitz along with a Larry Summers and let the sparks fly? It might have led to a kind of creative de/construction. Where is the organizing out of the White House — committed to overtaking those who would undermine its message and policies? And couldn’t Obama, like FDR, have used this moment of crisis, admittedly not as severe as 1933, but still as severe as many living have experienced, to restructure –not simply resuscitate –the smug financial sector? Couldn’t he have used his pulpit and brilliant speaking skills to explain that what we need to fear is joblessness — not deficits? Or as one of the great historians of the New Deal, David Kennedy, argued, Obama “will be judged not simply on whether he manages a rescue from the current economic crisis but also on whether he grasps the opportunity to make us more resilient to face those future crises that inevitably await us.”
The healthcare fight is still up for grabs, yet the emerging stories of White House dealmaking with the drug and insurance industries — and with the heavily mortgaged Max Baucus and the Senate Finance Committee — are more than dispiriting. Yet we also confront a political landscape filled with those who fulminate at rallies about government overreach — the very same folks who should stop, take a deep breath and understand what their lives would be like without government programs like Social Security and Medicare. These are the very programs that Roosevelt, and then Lyndon Johnson, and subsequent Democratic and, yes, Republican Presidents and Congresses, put in place to temper for generations what FDR liked to call the “hazards and vicissitudes” of life.