The Hutchinson Report
President Obama now looks and acts like FDR
The comparison of then-Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama to the late President Franklin Delano Roosevelt at the height of the presidential campaign was hyped, overblown and made mostly to sell magazines, puff up TV pundit sound bites, and to be used by a few carried-away-with-themselves Democratic party campaign boosters. Though undoubtedly flattered by it, candidate Obama did not encourage the comparison to FDR.
This writer, as countless others in the first months after inauguration, did more than just hope that now-President Obama would inch toward looking and acting like FDR. We relentlessly pushed, prodded, and hectored him to lurch in that direction. There were many days of bitter frustration and disappointment, punctuated with grumblings of betrayal.
Obama, just as FDR, knew that he was in a political life-and-death, take-no-prisoners war with his political enemies—the GOP, ultra conservative Democrats, Wall Street, the big bankers, and big manufacturers. But unlike FDR, Obama for months soft peddled, coddled, and placated them even as they made absolutely no effort to mask their loath of his policies and presidency, and made it abundantly clear they will stop at nothing to hound him from office.
FDR, by contrast, hit back hard and repeatedly lambasted his enemies as obstructionists and economic royalists. He never wavered from his commitment that the workers and farmers—the common man—came first.
Now President Obama has done the same. The trench fight-back started with the last-straw recognition that making nice with the GOP and futile appeals to them for bipartisanship sounds good in White House interviews and Congressional speeches but in the ruthless party-eat-party world of real politics, it’s a sure prescription for an ineffectual, moribund, and hapless presidency, not to mention ridicule as a president sans spine.
In quick succession, he rammed through a drastically retooled consumer-friendly health care reform law that looked nothing like the pharmaceutical and private health insurer goody-laden bill of six months ago, and with the added FDR touch of beating back the furious lobbying by banks and private lenders to keep their profit-first fingers in student lending, and making the government the lender of first resort for student loans. He added millions to back it up, with a special nod toward expanding aid to strapped historically Black colleges.
Additionally, a tweak was made on the financial reform package that takes a strong first step toward reining in the orgy of Wall Street freeboot speculation, trading, swaps, and scams of investors, borrowers and the government that nearly wrecked the economy.
Even though the much needed independent consumer agency with full power to oversee and regulate lending practices in the financial reform bill didn’t happen, the legislation created a new watchdog agency. It will not be under the direct grip of the Fed, which would kill any regulation that was perceived as Wall Street and Big Bank unfriendly. Obama has also endorsed enactment of a modified version of the Glass-Steagall act. That’s the tough FDR era bank regulation act.
The watered down and grossly underfunded Senate jobs bill won’t do much to dent the near double-digit unemployment. However, Obama has strongly signaled that he’ll plow stimulus dollars directly into government run job training programs, job banks, and public works projects. The other FDR touch is to virtually order the banks to lend more to distressed homeowners, cut borrowing rates and terms, and promise more aggressive government intervention to aid strapped and endangered homeowners.
These are the programs that will do much to help the working class and the minority poor. It makes the screech for a Black agenda seem even more silly, ridiculous, and self-serving.
Obama ignored the squeals of the GOP obstructionists about his appointments to judgeships. Consequently, there was a slew of recess appointments of top-flight sensitive, moderate, first-class legal and civil liberties, and civil rights scholars and professionals to diplomatic, commerce, and labor regulatory boards.
He drew the ire of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by holding firm on his demand to halt renewed Israeli settler expansion in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
On a personal and humane note, Obama made a magnificent gesture of donating every penny of his $1.4 million Nobel Peace Prize award to solid charities and community help organizations and causes. This is an example of giving back that the bank and Wall Street greed merchants could learn a lesson from (fat chance of that).
FDR did not substitute rock star photo ops, stagy, high-profile media posturing for tough leadership. When the GOP and the press wrote the epitaph for him midway through his second term in 1938, he continued to swing away. FDR took to the airwaves and hit the road to blast the economic royalists, the obstructionist judges, and those in Congress who opposed his reform program.
In the final stages of the healthcare reform fight and the immediate aftermath, Obama snatched this page directly from FDR and mobilized millions of Americans to fight for real reform. As long as he continues to do that, he’ll continue to look and act like FDR.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His nationally heard talk show is on KTYM-AM 1460 AM Los Angeles, Fridays 9:30 AM and KPFK Pacifica Radio 90.7 Los Angeles, Saturdays Noon PST.
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