hat tip TPM. Photo by Jeff Malet/maletphoto.com
Last December I reviewed a new book, Obama’s Challenge: American’s Economic Crisis and the Power of a Transformative Presidency. I began with a question:
In his new book, Robert Kuttner has provided a context for the current discussion on Barack Obama’s economic team, men like Timothy Geithner who will be leaving his post as head of the NY Federal Reserve to become Treasury Secretary. What will be their influence in determining the direction of the new Administration? Events have moved rapidly since he wrote the book (released this past labor day), but it is still timely and prescient.
In today's Huffington Post, Kuttner provides a tentative answer, Obama's First 100 Days: What's a Presidency For? He concludes that so far President Obama seems to have ducked and compromised. His title refers to the days following Pres. Kennedy's assassination when Johnson's aides warned him not to push too hard for landmark civil rights laws and he replied, "Hell, what's the presidency for?" Even on the question of Health Reform Kuttner feels that Obama may still pull back and accomodate corporate interests by dropping public health insurance from package.
A fair assessment of the situation we face. The question remains what to do about it. Kuttner points to a key weakness in the situation and provides an implicit answer.
A second systemic obstacle, for now anyway, is the absence of a popular movement to put wind at a progressive president's back. Among the logical candidates, the labor movement is weakened by the same economic crisis, divided internally, and it sorely needs Obama's good will for everything from the Employee Free Choice Act to the auto rescue. The web of grassroots activists who came together to elect Obama is now a website of the Democratic National Committee. MoveOn.org is organizing around issues such as universal health care, but pushes on the president only gingerly. More than anything else, the stance of most progressives is still mainly gratitude.