Friday, March 6, 2009

The Big Picture with the Strike: Two Views of the Week

The Strike: Over the course of the campaign and his Presidency, there have been a few points where things have gotten mildly out of hand, and Obama sort of steps back for a day or so, resets, and moves on. After the Lipstick on a Pig thing, the Blogojevich fiasco, the Geithner bomb, Republican attacks on the stimulus…he may not have made the best effort to control the news cycle, but he just sort of put things on pause for a day or so, let the media freak out, and then moved on maturely. I think now is one of those times. Maybe I’m in a bad mood after going to bed with the Sharks up 3-0, and they lost 4-3, but it also might be because of an annoying few days for Obama. We had fun with the Limbaugh mockery, but ultimately, we need to maintain a moral high-ground to fight a lot of these policy battles. Also, the media elite have really had a huge megaphone this week because of the stock market decreasing, and Obama hasn’t really responded forcefully enough. He should be hammering home that these people have been wrong at every juncture and needed to shut up. Then last night the Republicans, along with a few “reform-minded Democrats” blocked the omnibus appropriations bill, which pushes it to next week, and stalls the rest of the agenda. Meanwhile, Democrats have to keep defending a bill with a bunch of earmarks. I’d say Obama needs to take a day or so, take stock of things, pull an “Obama reset” and then come back Saturday in his radio address, talking in a forceful tone about the necessary steps we need to take to revive our economy.

The Big Picture: I think YOU need to take a reset. There is nothing to be concerned about. This wasn't quite the unbelievably dominant week that last week was, but it was still pretty great. The only possible way it's negative is if you're excessively inside-baseball in D.C. and New York, which the vast majority of people definitely are not. Huge unemployment numbers out today, people really suffering, they believe deeply in Obama, and despise the Republican Party more than ever, as I saw yesterday first hand.

As a concerned New Yorker, and as the shop steward for my local union, I walked from my work, past Wall Street, to City Hall, to join a giant rally calling for an alternative budget. Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Patterson are trying to close the budget gap by cutting jobs, wages, and health care benefits from public employees such as nurses and teachers. Public employees and other people calling for more responsible prioritizing demanded that instead of the cuts, the Mayor and the Governor could find all the money they needed by rolling back the tax cuts for millionaires that Republicans had passed in the past decade. Like many states, New York's taxes are highly regressive, taxing people making $40,000 at the same effective rate as investment bankers making millions. The basic message was: the millionaires can afford to pay a bit more to keep New York a decent place to live, to keep our schools and hospitals from collapsing, and to show that a sound economy and a good society is based upon security and opportunity for the middle class, not excess luxury for the wealthy.

As a veteran of many a protest rally and march, it was fascinating and inspiring to notice the differences between this rally and past anti-war protests. Most importantly, it was a focused and strategically sound political manuever that should have a real effect, rather than a march to demonstrate for all time our moral opposition, but knew we were a marginalized minority who would have very little effect on stopping the war. We identified a specific problem and a specific solution in a way that would appeal to the average person. Also, Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Patterson will be facing largely liberal electorates within the next year (Bloomberg in the mayoral race, Patterson in the gubernatorial primary), and the demonstration of organized opposition to their policies could scare them straight, so to speak. Also, the rally brought public attention and showed the human face to the decisions made in closed and arcane budget process, where the forces of the status quo can prevail in their schemes to balance the budgets on the backs of the people who don't have armies of lobbyists. Unfortunately, the only coverage in the New York Times was a photograph with the caption "A tax and spend proposition", which is a highly editorialized and ideological perspective on the rally. Sadly, this is typical of how the media covers issues pitting the interests of the elite editors, reporters, advertisers, and readers, vs. the working and lower middle class.

A second heartening difference was that this rally was full of solid, rank-and-file people, extremely diverse, occupying downtown Manhattan. It could not be pigeonholed as some liberal culturally elite hippie fest of stylized opposition. Clearly, these people were out there to protect their jobs as breadwinners for their families..I can't overstate how much harder it is to demonize a union rally like this.

The final heartening difference was the political climate, and particularly the identity of the President. During all those anti-war marches, we felt as if we were on our own against all the powerful forces, and were ashamed and afraid of our President. Yesterday, speaker after speaker, rank and file union members, called on the election of President Obama as an unmistakable signal that times had changed, and workers and the public sector would not get the short end of the stick any longer. Speaker after speaker praised Obama, his recovery package, and his call for sweeping change, and used them as a weapon against the politicians in this overwhelmingly Democratic city and state. The basic message was that the enormously popular and even revered figure - I have never seen a group of people express such deep faith and trust in a leader - was on our side, this was the future, and these two-bit politicians in New York and Albany better get in line or be run over by the Obama juggernaut. To that end, on one side of my sign I wrote, "New York is Obama Country, not Bush/Limbaugh Land." Even though many of these people faced layoffs and further squeezes to their already tight budgets, the spirit of Obama infused the rally with profound optimism, in stark contrast to all those anti-war protests in the age of Bush.

The Strike: As much as I hate to admit that The Big Picture is right, I may have over-stated the trouble Obama has faced this week. I guess my excessive CSPAN viewing and reading may not have given me the same accurate pulse of the country as the rally. In fact, I’ve probably reinforced a lesson here. The opinions of “inside-the-beltway” and Wall Street types are often completely divergent from the public as a whole. It’s not just conservatives, but the “liberal” New York Times and others, who can’t seem to get passed stale assumptions and see that the political landscape is permanently changing.

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