President Barack Obama valiantly tried to regain his voice and momentum in his State of the Union Address. Facing growing anger and frustration by an absent-minded electorate which has increasingly fallen prey to conservative attacks against his policies, Obama went on the offensive, reminding the American people what a horrible mess his administration inherited from eight years of Bush-Cheney. I was not too thrilled with some of the President’s policy proposals, notably the “freeze” on discretionary spending beginning in 2011 and energy proposals which include a renewed emphasis on nuclear power and offshore drilling. But, it was gratifying to see Obama stand up and hold conservatives accountable for the reckless policies that brought this nation and the world to the brink of economic catastrophe.
Obviously reacting to the “Scott heard around the world” with the stunning loss of Ted Kennedy’s seat to a Republican, one wonders why President Obama and the Democrats did not go on the offensive sooner. Not only have the President and the Democrats been too timid in their policy proposals, they have failed to continually remind the electorate of the root causes of the current crisis -- eight years of pro-rich, “free market” policies which allowed Wall Street and the financial sector to run amok and the federal government to incur staggering deficits. It is absolutely incredulous that working people and the middle class would see the conservatives as having any credibility on the issues of national debt and deficits when Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush left office with huge deficits. How is it that the “Tea Party” movement could direct its anger and venom at President Obama and the Democrats, railing against “big government” and out of control spending instead of aiming their fire at the real villains, the Barracudas on Wall Street and K Street.
They can do it because the Republicans are skilled at fueling, exploiting and misdirecting the outrage of the American people away from their misdeeds toward the “tax and spend liberals” who are “ruining the country.” They can do it because the liberals/progressives/Democrats refuse to be relentless in exposing and educating the people about the reactionary history and policies of conservatives when it comes to addressing the concerns of labor, working people, the middle class, women and people of color. Liberals and Democrats act like sheep in the face of wolves, bent on devouring them for lunch. They are too timid and tame before ruthless adversaries who will stop at nothing and know no shame in their goal of achieving a “Waterloo” moment to regain power.
Liberals and Democrats must be bold and clever enough to turn the tables on the conservatives. For example, it would have been great to hear President Obama or other major Democratic leaders challenge frustrated voters to have a “Tea Party” on Wall Street or K Street. Democrats should remind the American people that it was not big government but “big financial institutions,” the banks, mortgage houses and insurance companies, entities bloated with revenues from risky bets on the market that became “too big to fail” that are responsible for the painful plight that millions now suffer in this country. These same institutions are now bristling against being reined in by new regulations proposed by President Obama. The same conservatives who are backing the Tea Party Movement are siding with the banks and financial institutions in their opposition to regulations that would prevent them from engaging in the same risky behavior that brought on such pain and suffering. Democrats should challenge the Tea Party movement to have a Tea Party where it really matters – on Wall Street.
In addition, the Democrats should challenge disgruntled Americans to have a Tea Party on K Street in Washington, DC, the corridor of power for lobbyists who spend hundreds of millions of dollars buying politicians to do their bidding in the Congress of the United States. It is not “big government” which poses a threat to “our democratic way of life” but “big lobbyists” who corrupt the system with big money. Given the propaganda about preserving our democratic values spewing from the mouths of conservatives, you would think that a right/left coalition, a united front, would be possible to stop the influence of big money in politics. However, this will not happen because the Tea Party Movement is inspired by rightwing ideologues whose mission is to misinform, offer half truths and demagoguery to mask their anti-working class, pro-rich policies. Indeed, it is one of the great ironies and tragedies of American history that the captains of Capitalism have often been able to confuse and disorient ordinary people to act against their self-interest.
Moving forward, the challenge is for the liberal-progressive movement and the Democrats to consistently and persistently pin the source of the current economic calamity where it belongs, on the pro-rich, anti-working class/middle class and anti-poor policies of the conservatives and Republicans. Liberals and progressives must find a way to harness the anguish, frustration and discontent of the electorate and direct it at the Grand Obstructionist Party (GOP), to rally ordinary Americans not to be duped by the machinations of the conservatives. Liberals and progressives must clarify the differences between “our side” and “the other side” such that the American people can choose which side best represents their interests. Finally, liberals and progressives must be visionary, bold and aggressive in pursuing an agenda for change but not so ideological that we cannot achieve small victories where more sweeping change is not possible given existing political circumstances. At all costs, we must deliver for ordinary people, the working class/middle class, the poor and people of color and keep them on our side rather than allow them to be manipulated and misguided by the rabid reactionaries on the right!
Dr. Ron Daniels is President of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century and Distinguished Lecturer at York College City University of New York. His articles and essays also appear on the IBW website and www.northstarnews.com. To send a message, arrange media interviews or speaking engagements, Dr. Daniels can be reached via email at email@example.com.