Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Can we afford progress?

Volunteers for Obama, Hackensack, NJ

I was canvassing for Obama this past weekend, and one conversation with a man named Ira whose home I visited stands out in my mind this morning. He was older than me - maybe 65 or so - and he talked about the inequities of the past 8 years, and how the system was rigged to benefit the rich guy. He talked about the bailout - he called it the $7 billion bailout and I wonder if he could even conceive of $700 billion. He complained about the cost of the Iraq war - $10 billion a month (he had that figure right) - and he wondered how we could pay for any of it.

It is quite reasonable to be worried - even amazed at the scale of our recent financial debacle.

I also worry that the many important things we need to do may be held hostage to the debt we have accumulated through the Bush years - that this recent debacle will make us hesitant about important undertakings. I worry that reasonable people will support the kind of small-minded compromises that became the legacy of the Clinton presidency - prioritizing deficit-reduction over progressive policy priorities, cleaning up the economic mess of a past Republican administration rather than building a platform for future growth, and delaying once again a serious effort to gain energy independence and limit the impact of global climate change.

Having endured 8 years of winter, I fear that we will not take full advantage of this marvelous springtime opportunity for renewal and growth. We must not miss this opportunity.

Jonathan Cohn, writing in The New Republic, argues on good economic grounds that President Obama should ignore the bailout and move forward with his program. Cohn writes:

...the perception that Obama must radically pare back his ambitious spending proposals--a perception widely shared in Washington--makes several fundamental errors. For one thing, it misunderstands the nature of a Wall Street "bailout"--which, properly constructed, shouldn't seriously deplete federal funds. More important, the conventional analysis ignores the fact that we face deep economic problems besides the financial crisis--problems that only government can fix. The case for Obama's spending agenda hasn't suddenly become weaker. If anything, it's actually grown a bit stronger.
Cohn's article is worth a read, if like me you are concerned that our progressive agenda has been hocked by the outgoing lame-duck President and his ongoing lame-ass legacy.

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