“I thought he did very well during the transition on things like the dinner with George Will, and all the words sounded good,” said Newt Gingrich, the Republican former speaker of the House. “But I think they are right at the cusp of either sliding down into a world where their words have no meaning or having to follow up their words with real behavior.”This leaves one to wonder why anyone is quoting Newt Gingrich any more. Gingrich is the former speaker of the House and the Republican most associated with the retrograde "Republican Revolution" of 1994 that ended forty years of Democratic Party majorities in that institution.
One of the problems working toward broad bi-partisanship is that it gives power to people and a Party that was not earned at the ballot box and which goes against the democratically expressed will of the people. However, bi-partisanship is a goal for President Obama because he has to run for another term and, while the electoral college vote count in the 2008 elections was hugely in the President's favor, the actual ballots cast gave Obama a slimmer margin and showed a more divided nation. Further, the reelection period for those who have to run in 2010 is already started, and the calculus of political realities is already playing some role in political decisions today.
Given all that, it is still distressing to see Newt Gingrich ressurected to opine on questions of political moment. Does the focus on bi-partisanship in effect ressurect the dying embers of the ultra-right that saw crushing defeat at the polls? That may be the hope of Newt Gingrich and his ilk but hopefully the Administration will feel no pressure to respond to the hypocritical, racist, anti-working family, and destructive message that sector of the political spectrum has been spewing since the late 1970's when Newt Gingrich was elected. It should not be forgotten that the Newt followed Dick Cheney as House Minority Whip in 1989.
While not reporting the details in this article, the NYT mentioned that the President's
plan to build bipartisan consensus around an economic package ran smack into discontented House Republicans.Should the Republicans, who had the Presidency for the last eight agonizing years of decline and destruction for this country, play any role in crafting a plan to address the wreckage for which the Republicans, as leading representatives of capital at the time, are responsible? If you have a wolf at the door of the hen house, would you ask the wolf how to protect the hens from being eaten?
The NYT said too that the President
wrestled with fresh challenges at every turn, found some principles hard to consistently apply and showed himself willing to be pragmatic — at the risk of irking some supporters who had their hearts set on idealism.There is a consistent theme that counterpoises pragmatism with idealism, with pragmatism as the obvious winner. After all, idealists hope for that which can't be achieved while pragmatists get stuff done, which is at the heart of the US capitalist credo: Just Do It!
Some advocates for the needs of the masses of working people in this country and globally are looking at this and coming to the conclusion that the definition of pragmatism needs to be changed by mass grass roots organization around the issues that are of import to working families. According to Robert Kuttner of Demos, interviewed on Democracy Now,
a crisis is also an opportunity, and the crash on Wall Street was also the crash of right-wing ideology, the ideology that claimed that markets could do nothing bad and governments could do nothing good. We’re going to have reality making the most compelling case for activist government since the New Deal. The question is whether Obama seizes the moment. He will either be Roosevelt, or he will be Hoover. There’s no middle ground.The programs instituted during the Roosevelt administration were the result of the people's movements of the time which made the President's decisions the pragmatic decisions, as evidenced by his three term presidency. The New Deal was not a one-man show; it was the result of mass movements and progressive thinking that challenged the status quo and effected real change in the lives of the majority of people in the country.
As Katrina Vanden Heuvel says in The Nation,
The President will only be as brave as ordinary citizens move him to be.Vanden Heuvel continues:
President Barack Obama takes office at a time defined by hope and fear in equal measure. To confront this nation's many challenges he will need to act swiftly, show that he is on the side of people whose homes are being foreclosed and jobs lost and invest political capital--along with trillions of dollars--in a sustained recovery program. While many caution our new President to tread carefully, the reality is that half-steps will not lay the groundwork for a new economy that is more just and fair. Only by effectively marshaling the power of government can Obama improve the actual conditions of peoples' lives--and consign anti-government evangelists to the dustbin of history.Certainly in this blog there have been many calls for a grassroots people's movement to counterbalance the pressure from the right, and surprisingly from the ultra-right that was considered by some to be superfluous and without any power.
Fortunately, Obama has a mandate for change. People support reconstruction of America's crumbling physical infrastructure, and of our society
The President's early signs of a commitment to pragmatism are not surprising; one does not get to be President of the United States without being pragmatic in building support across a wide political spectrum. In the case of the Obama presidency, the pragmatism was linked to an appeal to hope that evoked an amazing response in the US electorate and resulted in the election of the first African American to the highest office in the nation.
Hope is not about pragmatism or idealism, hope is about meeting the needs that the moment puts before the people and which the people see as priorities. These are bread and butter issues: work, health care, housing, education, peace, financial stability for the elderly, pension protection, and similar issues.
The issue of torture is one of those that motivated people to stand against the Bush administration. While running for office, President Obama
had tough criticism for the Bush administration’s use of harsh interrogation tactics, President Obama left himself some wiggle room in overturning that policy, by deferring a decision on whether some techniques should remain secret to keep Al Qaeda from training to resist them.This raises the question of how keeping the door open to torture represents firm principle but flexible application? At its core, this is another example of the tension between principle and pragmatism, with pragmatism winning out.
“I think it emphasizes a realist, a pragmatist, someone who is not on a strictly political or ideological exercise,” said Senator Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island, who is close to the president. “It underscores what I think is part of his leadership style, which is that there has to be some flexibility — a firm principle but a flexible application.”
Republicans continue in their coercive style to threaten obstruction if the President doesn't respond to their foul demands. Talking about the bill to address the financial crisis:
“I said to him straight up, ‘I think your electoral success was largely based on the hope that you could deliver change to the way Washington works,’ ” said Representative Eric Cantor, the Republican whip. He said he had told Mr. Obama pointedly that he would lose Republican support unless House Democrats were willing to make some changes in the bill.Republicans are proving once against that they are willing to hold the hopes of the many hostage to the machinations of the few.
While highlighting the tension between Republicans and the President, it must be noted that there are similar if more muted tensions within different sectors of the Democratic Party itself. The 1/25 NYT reports in a lead story on the Obama economic program that Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus, a Democrat, does not include in his stimulus bill funds to pay for health insurance (COBRA) for laid off workers, nor for putting laid off workers who cannot pay for their own health insurance into state medicaid programs with federal funds meeting the costs. Further, recent extensions to unemployment benefits exclude people who are long term unemployed. This highlights the fact that the struggle to meet the needs of the working families in the United States today has to go beyond two-party politics and root itself in a class conscious grassroots movement that fights consistently for needs of the exploited and the oppressed.
While looking forward to a more sympathetic and certainly more intelligent administration, working people cannot afford to view the President as our leader and follow his lead, which will reflect many anti-working class pressures. Working families need to be an independent political voice during this administration's tenure. We may all live in one country, but we don't all have the same interests. Politics matters. Pragmatism under capitalism = death, literally.
Will the focus on pragmatic bi-partisanship undo the President by making it impossible for him to achieve any real change due to including so many conflicting interests that what results is mud?
The answer to this question cannot be up to the President, it is up to the people's movements in this country who engage in mobilization and education to ensure that pragmatism and hope coincide and that the needs of working families, the disabled, the young and the old, the unemployed and the underemployed, the unorganized who want to become organized, the soldier who wants to come home, are the needs that must be addressed when looked at through the sophisticated and possibly cynical lens of political pragmatism.
The calls of the few Newt Gingrichs of the world should be drowned out with the calls of the masses of people demanding help for the social problems that face this society, including protecting those programs like Social Security and Medicare that appear to be under attack based on fiscal pragmatism of the worst kind. The calls of Democrats who refuse to see beyond the current structures, or who are wedded to the forces of capital, for pragmatism in the face of need must to be overcome by a people's movement that is resolute on behalf of working families and our needs.
As many others are saying, its time to organize!