I believe the first 21 months of Democratic control of the Executive and Legislative branches of the federal government has been a missed opportunity, and an enormous one.
When Obama and the new congress took office, they had a country which was staring terrified into the abyss, angry at the oligarchs who created that abyss, and ready to be led in a new direction by the soaring rhetoric of Hope from their new president. The Reagan/Gingrich-Era conservative revolution was about played out, and people were ready for a change.
This was a shining, golden opportunity for a charismatic Democratic leader to begin a New Era in American political life.
The story the Right had been selling for decades - that if only government got out of the way of business, it would boom and benefit everyone - was now easy to dismiss as the fairy tale it was: Between 1980 and 2010, the productivity of the average America worker increased by over 40%, while the median wage barely budged. All the benefit of those productivity increases went to the top of the wealth ladder, and stayed there. People were actually talking about things in just those terms.
I think part of the reason the 2008 presidential election went the way it did was that the economic crisis that fall stirred a cultural memory in the non-rich ground troops of the culture warriors of the right: a memory of which party had righted things and returned economic stability to the country the last time things had gone terribly wrong.
FDR, from his acceptance speech at the 1936 Democratic Convention:
An old English judge once said: 'Necessitous men are not free men.' Liberty requires opportunity to make a living-a living decent according to the standard of the time, a living which gives man not only enough to live by, but something to live for.
For too many of us the political equality we once had won was meaningless in the face of economic inequality. A small group had concentrated into their own hands an almost complete control over other people's property, other people's money, other people's labor-other people's lives. For too many of us life was no longer free; liberty no longer real; men could no longer follow the pursuit of happiness.
Against economic tyranny such as this, the American citizen could appeal only to the organized power of government. The collapse of 1929 showed up the despotism for what it was. The election of 1932 was the people's mandate to end it. Under that mandate it is being ended.
The royalists of the economic order have conceded that political freedom was the business of the government, but they have maintained that economic slavery was nobody's business. They granted that the government could protect the citizen in his right to vote, but they denied that the government could do anything to protect the citizen in his right to work and his right to live.
Today we stand committed to the proposition that freedom is no half-and-half affair. If the average citizen is guaranteed equal opportunity in the polling place, he must have equal opportunity in the market place.
These economic royalists complain that we seek to overthrow the institutions of America. What they really complain of is that we seek to take away their power. Our allegiance to American institutions requires the overthrow of this kind of power. In vain they seek to hide behind the flag and the Constitution. In their blindness they forget what the flag and the Constitution stand for. Now, as always, they stand for democracy, not tyranny; for freedom, not subjection; and against a dictatorship by mob rule and the overprivileged alike.
We need a new New Deal. We need vastly higher taxes on the wealthy, and we need to use the money from those tax revenues to finance a WPA for the 21st Century. We need to give ordinary workers a far greater say in how our economy is organized, and in how the goods of economic activity are distributed. The elites have so gamed the system in their favor that they have begun killing the golden-goose working and middle classes. They need to be restrained; the oligarchy needs to be gravely inconvenienced, in order to save the system itself.
Thomas Frank (author of What's the Matter With Kansas and other books) is a hero of mine. He remarked in a review of hack Joe Klein's book of a couple years back, Politics Lost:
Harry Truman was no centrist, and neither was he a radical. Still, listening to his ferocious ad-libs back in 1948 (which was, incidentally, not during the Great Depression), his audience could have had few doubts about what the Democratic Party stood for. Truman was explicit: "[T]he Democratic Party is the people’s party, and the Republican Party is the party of special interest, and it always has been and always will be." He reveled in what Mr. Klein would call "class war," calling a Republican tax cut a "rich man’s tax bill" that "helps the rich and sticks a knife into the back of the poor" and describing politics as a contest between the "common everyday man" and the "favored classes," the "privileged few." Even more astonishingly, Truman went on to talk policy in some detail, with special emphasis on Mr. Klein’s hated "jobs, health-care, and blah-blah-blah": He called for the construction of public housing, an increase in the minimum wage, expansion of Social Security, a national health-care program and the repeal of the Taft-Hartley Act. And this sort of high-octane oratory propelled Truman on to win the election in a historic upset.
This is precisely what is called for in the present environment - and this is precisely what the oligarchy is spending millions of dollars to prevent from being discussed.
I've read a fair amount of history. These things either happen relatively nicely through reform; or, eventually the people being reamed will figure out -- despite the propaganda, beamed from every form of media, pointing the blame elsewhere -- just who it is that has been doing the reaming, and then those being reamed will come for them.