Friday, December 5, 2008

Undoing Reagan/Bush/Cheney & Gingrich's 1990s Congress



Phil E. Benjamin

Lo and behold, the new Administration did not pick international activist, Sean Penn, to be our next Secretary of State; or any other pro-peace members of Congress. Rep. John Murtha, the first notable member of Congress to demand an end to the Iraq war; as well as, Dennis Kucinich, didn't seem to earn a mention. And, Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz or Dean Baker were not named to head up or even to be part of the new economic team to lead us through the economic abyss. The Secretary of Labor, whoever it is, has not been named to the economic team. That would have made some sense.

Late word: The discomfort of not having any pro-worker, pro-union voice near the White House did reach the Vice President's office. Jared Bernstein, economist for the Economic Policy Institute, was named today by Joe Biden as his top economic advisor. That is good news.

Former US Senator Tom Daschle was named to head up the Health and Human Services Agenda and not a leader of the universal national health care movement touting, for example, HR 676. Again, Dennis Kucinich, a top fighter for universal health care, doesn't seem to warrant any attention. In fact, Daschle seems to be a supporter of the health care market system, albeit, maybe a need for a little regulation of the actors.

The labor movement, used to these kinds of bypasses, will probably be asked for their comments on the next Secretary of Labor, but you can be sure they will not be fully satisfied. They will probably be forced to accept a politician or academic who has a decent labor record for that role. This, after labor serving as the foot soldiers in the key battle ground states. Was John Sweeney, the head of the AFL-CIO, considered for any positions? Remember, in 1981, when Reagan appointed labor leader Ray Donovan, as his labor secretary?

Those expectations were probably not on the front burner of most experienced activists who are used to these pre Election Day promises and post election appointments. But, nonetheless, you can feel a sort of collective resignation and possibly some real cynical and bitter feelings creeping in. Some are offering rationalizations for these appointments. Nothing wrong with that. Past elections are full of these discussions and debates.

The more important question remains: WHAT IS TO BE DONE?


As the story goes, not sure if it is true or not, when FDR appointed Francis Perkins, clearly the most left of any presidential appointment to a cabinet post, she asked the president to take action on key working class issues, FDR said something like, "Go out and get a movement to force me to do it."

The president elect said similar things in his formal speeches. He said his election was an opportunity to get things done, not an event, as such, itself.

And, BTW, even if those highly visible pro-peace, pro-economic fairness; and health care equity people were appointed to those lofty cabinet posts, our job would be the exact same.


Socio-economic organizations like Jesse Jackson's Operation PUSH, I am sure, are not sitting back and watching these leadership things develop in Chicago and then in D.C. An economic justice program is surely being developed to be placed at the feet of the new Administrations economic team. [RAINBOWPUSH.ORG]

Similarly, the peace and anti-nuclear war groups of organizations, lead by United for Peace and Justice and the World Peace Council, I am sure are developing its programs and action plan. Immediate withdrawal from both Iraq and Afghanistan probably being high top priority; along with the nonproliferation nuclear treaties. [UNITEDFOR PEACE.ORG]

Socio-economic programs, along with key labor union issues are already in high gear.

The Economic Policy Institute, a pro-labor think tank, has been hard at work for months. [EPI.ORG] And, now, one of theirs is Biden's top economic advisor.

Health care activists across the country are sharpening their action programs. Medicare must be de-privatized and improved; Medicaid must be made more accessible at NO costs are in the works. Rolling back Bush's attack on Medicaid, taking place right now is the first step. All of this to prepare the ground for a strong national health program.

University faculty and students are working hard to dump the crushing debt caused by college and university tuition. Tuition debt must be forgiven in return for national service [not military]. And, faculty levels must be preserved and improved to teach students.

Labor and employment based organizations are demanding massive Living Wage public employment programs.

But, most importantly, the labor movement is already planning a massive demonstration in Washington, D.C. to demand economic and social justice for its members and all working class people. This will be coalition event of the year 2009.

In fact, the final months and days of the Bush Administration is seeing executive orders pushing the ideological right wing agenda all the way to January 20th. To be fair, Presidents Carter and Clinton did the same. But, most of their actions were very progressive. And, upon election Reagan and Bush turned practically all of those actions around. The new president will have to do the same starting on January 21st.

Bush, just this week, as stated above, has made it more difficult for Medicaid recipients, the most financially challenged people and families, to pay for medical care under Medicaid. His rightwing, pro-market, and pro-big health business tycoons know no shame.


The litmus test for the New Administration, and lets face it, we all have these; will not be just one issue. The almost 30-year War by the Reagan/Bush/Chaney White House and Gingrich Congress in the 1990s has set our country into a tailspin that must be reversed. The current recession and complete financial collapse can be laid to those ultra-right politicians; and, also to a lack luster, too often compliant Democratic Party.

For labor the issue will be the "Card Check" bill, the Employee Free Choice Act. This is crucial for labors' future; and, therefore, the future of all other litmus tests.

For health activists it will be Medicare and Medicaid improvements; drastically reducing the power of the health insurance and drug lobbies is essential. Saving billions by eliminating the insurance carriers and having the federal government negotiate the price of drugs in the Medicare program is crucial to begin the fill the national treasury with corporate profits. Other cost savings in the health care system, i.e., cutting out the profit-makers, can lead the way to a national health program.

For seniors it will also be to guarantee their regular Social Security check each month.

For economic justice activists it will be the quickness of arriving at and starting a "Living Wage Employment Program." Unemployment rates, for many segments of our country, i.e., African-Americans, Latins, are already double digit. We cannot wait until the national rates reach those levels.

For public education it will be freeing up schools from the backward, anti-working class Bush policies.

And, for young people it will be a tuition forgiveness program that wipes out past debt and awards no tuition with genuine, useful public service, career programs upon graduation.

Are these all achievable with the New Administration? Why Not?


So as we watch the development of the new presidential cabinet and other key advisors, and surely we all do, let's keep our eyes on the prize.

The way it looks, all of these pro-peace, pro-economic justice organizational efforts will be brought to Washington, D.C. under labor's banner, in the late Spring of 2009 to tell Congress and the White House of its expectations.

And, BTW, all of those possible unsuccessful candidates for Administration positions are not going to go away; on the contrary, they will be part of parcel of the broad peoples' movement.

Get ready for a great ride in 2009; and, get active now---your own future and your family's future are at stake.