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A Presidency in Peril: An Excerpt

A Presidency in Peril: An Excerpt



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This excerpt is taken from the introduction to Robert Kuttner's 'A Presidency in Peril: The Inside Story of Obama's Promise, Wall Street's Power, and the Struggle to Control our Economic Future,' published by Chelsea Green Publishing.
This excerpt is taken from the introduction to Robert Kuttner's 'A Presidency in Peril: The Inside Story of Obama's Promise, Wall Street's Power, and the Struggle to Control our Economic Future,' published by Chelsea Green Publishing.

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Published by: Chelsea Green Publishing on Apr 06, 2010
Copyright:Traditional Copyright: All rights reserved


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The Man and the Moment
We will need to remind ourselves, despite all our differences, justhow much we share.—Barack Obama,
The Audacity of Hope 
 Despite his 11
hour success in winning enactment of health reform,Barack Obama remains at risk of being a failed president. What would failuremean? Economically, not quite a second Great Depression, but very possibly agreat stagnation with prolonged suffering for ordinary people—an intensificationof trends that were intolerable before the crash began. Politically, it would meanthe lost promise of an age of reform anchored in a durable progressive governingcoalition. Failure would leave 2008–12 as merely a brief interregnum in a longRepublican era, with the far right more dominant and more extreme with eachelection cycle.Events were not supposed to turn out this way. As the financial crash of2007 and 2008 deepened, Barack Obama
s appearance on the political sceneseemed an almost providential rendezvous of man and moment. Wall Street wasin shambles. Its excesses had brought the economy to the brink of depression.The great collapse was also the practical failure of an ideology and the ruling elitethat embraced it. The claim that the banking system operated most efficientlywith the least government interference was suddenly ludicrous. The high priestsof that worldview were coming hat-in-hand to the same government for help.The failure of the old order was pervasive. The public officials of bothparties who had assured us that financial deregulation would deliver broadprosperity were shown to be catastrophically wrong. The Wall Street moguls whoinsisted that their own grotesque enrichment was merely a by-product of theirvital service to capital markets were revealed as frauds. The free-marketeconomists who had given intellectual cover to the deregulators in governmentand the scoundrels in the banks were now intellectually bankrupt.For progressives, it was the ultimate teachable moment, and here was aleader with unusual gifts as a teacher. As an outsider, Obama owed few debts tothe political establishment. His idealistic call for transformative change roused afearful electorate to vote its hopes. George W. Bush, meanwhile, was leavingoffice as the most unpopular incumbent since Richard Nixon
s resignation indisgrace, adding to the impetus for a clean break.The early signs were encouraging. In a powerful speech on the financial
collapse, in March 2008, Obama declared, “Instead of establishing a twenty-first-century regulatory framework, we simply dismantled the old one, aided by a legalbut corrupt bargain in which campaign money all too often shaped policy andwatered down oversight. In doing so we encouraged a winner-take-all, anything-goes environment that helped foster devastating dislocations in our economy.”Obama displayed a superb facility for framing boldly progressive idealsas reassuringly patriotic. In his keynote address to the 2004 Democratic NationalConvention, which instantly established him as a national contender, Obamadeclared:If there
s a child on the south side of Chicago who can
t read, thatmatters to me, even if it
s not my child. If there
s a senior citizensomewhere who can
t pay for her prescription and has to choosebetween medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it
snot my grandmother. If there
s an Arab American family beingrounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, thatthreatens my civil liberties. It
s that fundamental belief—I am mybrother
s keeper, I am my sister
s keeper—that makes this countrywork. It
s what allows us to pursue our individual dreams, yet stillcome together as a single American family.If Obama heartened liberals, it was also because here was a black manwho had lived the American dream, a man whose own life experience wasexemplary as husband, father, scholar, and community leader—a genuinelyidealistic politician who once again could inspire. When the extended Obamafamily was introduced at the 2008 Democratic National Convention, this was afamily of strivers far more evocative of the American dream than the McCainfamily. It was an all-American family that just happened to be African American.The possibility that the Obamas could be America
s First Family suggested adegree of racial healing that most of us thought we
d never see in our lifetimes.In the 2008 elections, the Democrats gained twenty-four seats in theHouse and eight in the Senate. Soon their Senate margin would grow to sixty, thelargest Democratic governing majority in more than three decades. Young peoplewho knew John Kennedy only from history books had their first experience ofbeing deeply moved by a believable new leader. Voters casting ballots for thefirst time favored Obama by an astonishing 71 percent. Obama carried statesthat Democrats had long given up for lost, such as Indiana and North Carolina;he won nearly all the important swing states, like Ohio and Florida. His campaignstrategy eventually enlisted an army of 3,000 full-time organizers and anunprecedented 1.5 million volunteers, while more than 13 million people signedup for his e-mail list.Obama
s inspirational eloquence, his call for transforming change, andhis skill at the mechanics of retail politics suggested a president who couldmobilize citizens as a necessary counterweight to the concentrated power offinancial elites. This was not just posturing. His voting record was one of the mostliberal in the Senate. So the stage was set, seemingly, for a great ideological andpolitical reversal, comparable to the Roosevelt revolution of 1933. Obama waspoised to create a new majority coalition, built on the premise that rapacious

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