Movements are not political parties and do not operate like them. They seek something far more thorough than changing which political party is in control, as important as that project is. They seek to overturn the dominant paradigm, whether that is an economy founded on slavery or an industrial system based on the burning of fossil fuels. But throughout our history reforms — big and small — also have required the confirmation of a congressional vote and a presidential signature. And most have required more than one or two presidential terms to achieve. So making those changes means reforming how our leaders get elected, among other things.
At The Nation, Peter Dreier and Donald Cohen have written about three needed reforms in this realm:
|Given the power of the Chamber of Commerce, Wall Street banks, the insurance industry, the oil lobby and the drug companies, it’s remarkable that Obama managed to enact the Affordable Care Act, the Dodd-Frank legislation, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, and tough new standards on fuel efficiency and electric plant emissions. Voters rewarded Obama with a second term and defeated many business-backed candidates and ballot measures, like California’s anti-union Proposition 32.
But the major contours of American politics remain intact. The nation’s extreme concentration of wealth still gives businesses and billionaires outsize political influence. Corporate campaign contributions and lobbyists tilt the political playing field so much that ordinary citizens often feel their votes and voices don’t count. The United States ranks number one in low voter turnout: even in this year’s hotly contested elections, fewer than 60 percent of eligible voters went to the polls. Paradoxically (but understandably), the people least likely to vote—the poor, the jobless, the young—are those who need government the most, and who, if they did vote, would tend to favor liberals and Democrats.
With re-election safely behind him, we hope Obama will be bolder in his second term. He should diversify his inner circle of economic advisers and cabinet appointees to include more progressive voices, not just those who reflect business and banking. He should use his bully pulpit to focus public attention on the disproportionate influence of the Chamber and other corporate lobbying groups. He should be willing to deflect their attacks, as FDR did when he said, “I welcome their hatred,” referring to the forces of “organized money.” We’d like to see more of the Barack Obama who showed up on December 6, 2011, at a high school in Osawatomie, Kansas, echoing the themes of the then– burgeoning Occupy Wall Street movement. […]
But however skilled Obama is as a politician—and despite the many principled progressives in Congress—we cannot expect to enact more than modest reforms until we tame the power of the corporate plutocrats. Ultimately, we need to change the system that ensnares even the most progressive politicians in its web.
Campaign finance reform. […]
Voting reform. […]
Labor law reform. […]
As Frederick Douglass once said, without struggle there is no progress. But the efforts of issue-oriented movements would be far easier and far more effective if we could “change the system” that puts so many hurdles in the way of making our country a healthier democracy.
Blast from the Past. At Daily Kos on this date in 2010—As Obama, Reid, and Pelosi meet on tax cut plan, GOP attacks with a whimper:
|Here's how John Boehner's spokesman is responding to the Democratic plan to vote on extending middle-income tax cuts:
Michael Steel, a spokesman for John Boehner, emails a response to the news that House Dems are planning to hold a vote just on extending the middle class tax cuts:So their big comeback is that cutting taxes on every American is actually a massive tax hike. I certainly wouldn't have expected them to say anything less, but really, this is pretty much a ho-hum response. It doesn't necessarily prove that Republicans are about to blink, but it also isn't a line in the sand sort of response -- Steel didn't say there's no way in hell Republicans would vote for middle-class tax cuts unless upper-income cuts were passed as well.
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