Sunday, January 8, 2012

2009 Advice to a President, Advice Ignored

2012 is upon us, and 2009, the year of President Obama's inauguration, seems like only yesterday. Perhaps that time distortion owes a bit of its presence to how little both the Congress and the President have accomplished during the past three years. Mission not accomplished, mission not even attempted. While most Americans didn't expect much from the Republicans (beyond the rescue of their traditional moneyed constituency), we did expect more, much more, with regard to social and economic justice from the Democrats, and, most of all, from a Democratic President who, in a time of economic crisis, had campaigned in a manner that implied that significant populist change would be pursued.

By midsummer 2009, it was clearly apparent that either Mr. Obama's political savvy, or his willingness to engage the reactionary forces of this country, or both, were sadly lacking, a far cry from what trusting voters had been led to believe. Such timidity could not possibly result from presidential ignorance of the alternatives. Advice regarding a desirable progressive course of action was plentiful from all corners, including academics, the press, and the public. I myself chimed in, though with no real expectation that the president would read, let alone heed, what I wrote.

The blog post below is the exact text of my comment (comment #2) posted to Paul Krugman's July 26, 2009 (in-print July 27) column "An Incoherent Truth" at the New York Times. As 2012 begins, it seems appropriate to reprint it as review of what might have been. Faced with a 2012 choice between a Democratic president who has for three years followed a course grossly inadequate to the needs of the nation and most of its people, and Republican challengers dedicated to blending the selfish and the delusional into one poisonous stew, one can now only wish for a genuinely progressive alternative to appear in the form of an unlikely Democratic challenger or third-party candidate. How sad that our hopes of January 2009 should have been reduced to only that.

July 27, 2009

You've recently delivered several decent speeches on healthcare, President Obama, rational and earnest, though more than a bit short on passion and specifics. You choose your words carefully, undoubtedly aware of their power, but you still seem overly worried about offending (let alone confronting) the healthcare industry, your Republican opponents, or "blue dog" Democrats.

Talk is good, Mr. President, but only up to the point where action is required, and action should occur long prior to the point where important principles get badly compromised. Do you still think that you can bridge the gap between progressives and Republicans? Even if achievable (it isn't), that would truly be a bridge to nowhere, a purgatory of thin mush in which your presidency would sink as if in quicksand.

It takes more than a teleprompter and a BlackBerry to govern. It takes more than an elusive --- or a meaningless --- consensus. Text softly and carry a big stick. Read about Abraham Lincoln if you choose. But also read about Lyndon Johnson, a generally progressive president (with the exception of his pursuit of the Vietnam war) who was a masterful politician, employing, at various times, promises, threats, flattery, and old-fashioned "horse-trading" in order to advance desired legislation. The American public understands that a few political compromises may be needed, and will tolerate them, provided that the overwhelming benefit accrues to the majority of the people, not to the rich or to corporate interests. We won't be satisfied with half a loaf --- not when we've harvested the grain, milled the wheat, baked and transported the bread. We won't take kindly to charade or co-optation. (Senators and Representatives: Are you absorbing this message? It's directed at you too.)

As a matter of pragmatism, Mr. President, I would advise you and your allies to stop worrying about the next election --- excessive worry about the future is the enemy of achievement in the present. Accomplish something substantial during your current term, and the future will take care of itself, you'll be re-elected in a landslide. Or piddle around instead, and history will consider you nothing but placeholders in the decline of the American Dream.

Both a grand vision and political leadership are required, not a finger-in-the-dike strategy. Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to significantly move this nation in the direction of freedom, justice, and morality. Freedom includes but is about much more than political freedom; freedom includes freedom from exploitation, freedom from hunger, freedom from homelessness, freedom from ignorance, as well as freedom from inadequate access to medical care. Justice includes not only justice within the legal system, but also economic and environmental justice. Morality isn't about a flash of nudity on television, it's about how the least among us, anywhere in the world, are treated --- and how the world itself is treated.

A large number of Americans understand the full scope of what is needed. Do you, Mr. President? Do you, Senators and Representatives? Equally important, do you have the political acumen and the courage to unabashedly work to achieve it?

Fred Drumlevitch


  1. Such a fine letter, Fred. You saw, earlier than most of us, how one politician veered sharply away from his own promise. Back then (2009) I would have supposed that President Obama, after reading your letter, if only it could have reached his desk, would have been moved enough to make a course correction. Now, we both know better. The consistency with which he has catered to big money makes it clear he was always a Trojan Horse and never intended to do the right thing. He deserves to be drummed out of office. George Washington discovered his Benedict Arnold in time; we did not.

    Your comments over on Sardoncky are appreciated. I liked yesterday evening's comment, especially the part where you defined so aptly 'clip' and 'magnum.' A hit, a palpable hit.

  2. Here as well as at Sardonicky your comments are always admirably sober, balanced and well reasoned. Unfortunately, for a simple man like me, they often make their points with subtlety. Over on Sardonicky a week or so ago I did not know where you were going with what seemed to me an axe to the root of Havel’s philosophy.

    By way of background from my perspective: There is abroad an old pattern of dismissal of our secular saints. It boils down to eliminating a public figure from the pantheon of greats because of a relatively minor flaw. For instance, people will say we should disregard the life work of Gandhi because he had weird dietary and sexual practices, or that Nader messed up the world by his presumption to run for office in 2000, or that Havel lost all his credibility when he cozied up to NATO and then followed Bush into Iraq (at least initially).

    So I unloaded my raft of questions for you, the whole business further complicated by your and my reading each other’s comments out of phase then being cut off by the need to close that string of commentary. I understood you had more to say and want to understand your point.

    My original point was that, taken as a whole, Havel was a blessing upon European governance. He may have misstepped on occasion in his public and private lives, but he was still -- as admirers refer to Gandhi -- a great soul.