For months supporters of President Obama have been grumbling that the Tea Party and Grand Obstructionist Party (GOP) have been slapping him around like a rag doll. After buckling to the obstructionists on everything from Health Care Reform, extending the Bush era tax breaks for the wealthy, raising the debt ceiling and awkwardly capitulating to Boehner on the date/day of his speech to a joint session of Congress, the question on everyone’s lips was when will Obama stand and fight. To be fair, the President took a stand during his previous speech to a joint session of Congress last spring when he vowed to protect Medicare and Social Security in any negotiations on the 2012 budget or the deficit and debt. Of course he promptly volunteered to put Medicare and Social Security on the table during his highly touted but failed negotiations for a “grand bargain” with House Speaker Boehner over raising the debt ceiling. So, as the hour for yet another “defining speech” drew near, there was understandable skepticism whether Obama would be equal to the task of offering a bold jobs plan and challenging the obstructionists to oppose it.
To the surprise of many of his critics, President Obama passionately and forcefully articulated a jobs plan that New York Times Columnist Paul Krugman described as “significantly bolder and better than I expected.” Krugman went on to say that “it’s not nearly as bold as the plan I’d want in an ideal world. But if it actually became law, it would probably make a significant dent in unemployment.” Tactically seeking to expose the Tea Party and the Republicans/conservatives as hypocrites and obstructionists, Obama presented a $450 billion package with about $250 billion in tax cuts targeted at small businesses and middle class families and $200 billion in spending on infrastructure repair, rehabbing schools, summer jobs for youth, hiring or retaining teachers and firefighters and extending unemployment benefits. The President pointedly and repeatedly reminded the obstructionists that this modest and moderate package contained proposals which Republicans have supported in the past. In so doing, he seized the high ground by putting them in a position of rejecting proposals they had previously championed.
Clearly relishing the opportunity to put the obstructionists on the defensive, Obama repeatedly called on Congress to “Pass the Bill Now.” Equally refreshing, he defended collective bargaining rights for workers and offered a vigorous rationale for the role of government as the facilitator and protector of the interests of ordinary people. And, he reminded the obstructionists that historically government has played a vital role in making investments to expand the economy. Rejecting the obsessive ” small government, limited spending” orthodoxy incessantly spouted by the Republican/conservatives, Obama argued that spending on jobs was not only necessary, it would help reduce the deficit by increasing demand for the products and services of businesses and ultimately generate taxes for the federal coffers.
I agree with Paul Krugman that a bolder and more expansive jobs plan was preferable. I would have elected to propose a public sector jobs component that would directly and immediately put at least a million people back to work. However, I view the President’s proposal and more importantly his more defiant and assertive posture as potentially the opening salvo in a counter-offensive to overcome the obstructionist’s strategy to make Obama a “one term President.” Their goal is to retake the White House and seize control of both houses of Congress so they can have an unfettered path to implement a pro-corporate, reactionary agenda that it will take decades to undo.
Picking up on his speech before Congress, “Pass the Bill Now” should become the battle cry of progressives as part of the push-back against the obstructionists. Rather than waste time critiquing what could have or should have been Obama’s jobs plan, progressives should adopt a three-prong approach to defeating the obstructionists. First, we should join President Obama in challenging the Tea Party and the Republican/conservatives to “Pass the Bill Now” as a way of relentlessly exposing their hypocrisy and political agenda for 2012. Second, progressives should press the case for public sector, direct hiring of the unemployed as reflected in Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky’s bill; The Emergency Jobs to Restore the American Dream Act which would create 2.2 million jobs over a two-year period at a cost of $227 billion. In fact, if progressives had mounted a serious mobilization around this bill prior to Obama’s speech, it might have created space for him to explicitly include a public sector job component in his plan. Finally, though the idea has yet to gain traction, I am still advocating for the convening of a Progressive National Convention in 2012 to mobilize liberal-left-progressive constituencies to turn back the obstructionist tide and hopefully galvanize a new independent political force on the left.
Now that President Obama has finally taken a stand, let’s hope he doesn’t waffle again. It’s time for progressives to get busy mobilizing and organizing to combat the obstructionists and create a permanent independent force for change that will turn the nation, Obama and the Democrats in the right direction … to the left!
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 www.ibw21.org and www.northstarnews.com.