I count myself as a fiercely partisan supporter of Sen. Barack Obama, and I am working hard this fall to make sure he and other Democrats are elected up and down the ballot. Yet his behavior in this past week has been very troubling. He, along with Sen. McCain, became national cheerleaders for the Paulson bailout plan, which may well be passed in the House of Representatives today. Rather than allowing for a major public debate on the best way to move forward in this genuine crisis, Sen. Obama opted to use his bully pulpit to scold Democrats who did not want to line up hehind a $700 billion bailout of Wall Street.
In a bizarre move, he even questioned their patriotism — saying that those in the House who voted against the bill were “refusing to do what’s right for our country.” Could the same man who lambasted Republicans for questioning the patriotism of those who criticized the rush to war, now turn around and apply the same charge to those who don’t want to rush to bail out Wall Street? Does Obama dare to negate that the seriousness of the economic crisis we face deserves as serious of a discussion of alternatives? Even after Republicans have denied the reality of an imminent economic meltdown for months and months?
It is not as though there are no other solutions. Indeed, House progressives this week offered a very low-cost idea in the No BAILOUTS Act. The bill contains five sensible proposals that would restore liquidity and oversight to the markets. Despite support from the Service Employees International Union, it is extremely unlikely the bill will even be brought to the floor for a vote in the House. And while it was heartening to see this core of progressives vote “no” on the bailout and make an effort to pass an alternative, it was very disappointing to see other representatives from whom I normally look progressive leadership abandon our principles — among them, our own congresswoman here in New Haven, Rep. Rosa DeLauro.
We also must lay the blame of betrayal at the feet of the House and Senate Democratic leaders, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Harry Reid. They should have pushed for a more progressive bill and forced Bush to sign it. Instead, in order to gather more votes for the current plan, they moved to appease the right, making a bad bill even worse.
What can we expect from our Democratic leadership, then, in the next four years — if current poll trends bear out this November and Sen. Obama is indeed elected as president? Never mind the fact that they have now severely hamstrung themselves financially.
What are they going to do when more major crises in the financial system emerge? Scores of leading economists believe this bill will not address the underlying problems that we’re facing today. So when the next crisis emerges, who will Democrats serve, and what values will they uphold?
The events of these last few weeks have made the answer to that question all too clear. Mainstream Democrats respond like lightning when Wall Street comes knocking, but sit on their hands for months as homeowners around the country have cried out for relief. As the New York Times editorial board pointed out yesterday, six million people are expected to default on their mortgages this year and yet Congress has done nothing in this bailout plan to help them.
More than ever, progressives need to fight for our core principles, and insist that the underlying problem driving us into a depression – unprecedented and enormous income inequality – be addressed by Congress and President Obama.
When FDR took office, he understood the way to combat the nation’s woes was to bolster government support for ordinary working and unemployed people struggling to get by. Unlike the candidates of today, he sought to actually solve the economic problems plaguing the bottom of the social ladder, not hand over the government’s money to the ultra-wealthy. We need that kind of understanding at the heart of our government once again.
If progressives want to realize the kind of change our country and our economy needs, we’re going to have to do more ourselves to demand it in the next four years. And we have to get ready — because the next “crisis” is right around the corner.
Hugh Baran is a senior in Davenport College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.