Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Perlstein meets Klein

One of my favorite political writers, the historian Rick Perlstein, uses the theories of another of my favorite political writers--Naomi Klein--to argue that Barack Obama should use the sense of crisis in America to push for a new New Deal. And this was back in August, 2008:
Progressive political change in American history is rarely incremental. With important exceptions, most of the reforms that have advanced our nation's status as a modern, liberalizing social democracy were pushed through during narrow windows of progressive opportunity -- which subsequently slammed shut with the work not yet complete. The post–Civil War reconstruction of the apartheid South, the Progressive Era remaking of the institutions of democratic deliberation, the New Deal, the Great Society: They were all blunt shocks. Then, before reformers knew what had happened, the seemingly sturdy reform mandate faded and Washington returned to its habits of stasis and reaction.
That is a fact. A fact too many Democrats have trained themselves to ignore. And it sometimes feels like Barack Obama, whose first instinct when faced with ideological resistance seems to be to extend the right hand of fellowship, understands it least of all. Does he grasp that unless all the monuments of lasting, structural change in the American state -- banking regulation, public-power generation, Social Security, the minimum wage, the right to join a union, federal funding of education, Medicare, desegregation, Southern voting rights -- had happened fast, they wouldn't have happened at all?
Relevant still today, no? Unfortunately, I'm afraid the Democrats--Obama included--don't get it. They are letting a golden opportunity slip right through their hands. Worse than that, they will probably muster enough Republican support to pass something very similar to the bill defeated yesterday. This bill is better than the original Paulson plan, but is still not very good. It may do some good in the short term for the credit markets--which, by the way, is where the big problems are; we should be watching them, not the stock market, to see how things are going. But it doesn't address the underlying problem of lots of pricey mortgages on over-valued houses. Nor does it do anything to push forward needed progressive reforms not just of our financial system, but of our infrastructure and healthcare systems.

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