>Within hours of Barack Obama’s election, naysayers chastened caution. Don’t go too far, they inveighed. Build trust slowly with restrained, moderate, and gradual actions, they admonished.
In other words: Start with piddling plans.
Basically, they want to abort hope — kill it before it has a chance.
That is all wrong after an election in which it’s believed that a higher percentage of Americans voted than at any time in the past 40 years; a win that brought tears to the eyes of even hardened reporters; a result that drew joyful citizens into streets across the country to celebrate, a balloting that swept even larger majorities of Democrats into the U.S. House and Senate.
This moment during which the nation is suffering great economic peril pleads for political valor. This moment screams for boldness.
Troubled times demand greatness. Franklin D. Roosevelt knew that. He’s the reason U.S. presidents are judged by the sum of their accomplishments in their first 100 days in office.
When FDR was inaugurated in 1933, the country was in the midst of the Great Depression. He didn’t waste time tinkering. After 100 days, he’d given the country the Emergency Banking Act, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Federal Emergency Relief Act and the Tennessee Valley Authority.
Obama may not inherit a Great Depression, but he’ll take the oath during an intense recession. Look at the news that arrived the same week as his election: unemployment rose to 6.5 percent after 10 straight months of jobs losses totaling more than 1.2 million; the stock market dropped 1,000 points in 48 hours after the worst October showing in two decades; auto makers travelled to Capitol Hill begging like hobos for handouts to stave off bankruptcy, two dozen major retailers revealed sales declines, most double digit, and the New York Times reported hospitals strained as they register fewer paying patients and increasing charity cases.
These problems won’t be solved with timidity. In his first press conference after the election, Obama said resolving the economic crisis is his top priority. He said, in fact, “I will confront the economic crisis head on.” No weak-heartedness suggested there.
He said a new president can restore confidence and advance an agenda for the middle class. That is exactly what FDR did with the combination of legislation and fireside chats.
During this brief press conference, Obama got it right, emphasizing aid to the middle class. He said it is essential to pass a rescue plan that would create jobs and extend unemployment benefits. He wants aid to state and local governments so they don’t increase taxes or furlough workers.
The federal government should help both small businesses and the huge auto industry, which provides jobs directly and indirectly through its suppliers.
The $700 billion bailout must be reviewed, he said, to ensure that it is stabilizing markets, that it’s not unduly rewarding the Wall Street risk-takers who caused the crisis, and that it’s helping families avoid foreclosure.
In addition, he said it’s essential to implement policies to grow the middle class such as investing in clean energy technology, resolving the nation’s health insurance dilemma, and providing tax relief for working families.
These are the correct priorities. And his plans are audacious. Which means he needs our help.
He called for bipartisan cooperation in accomplishing these goals. But he’ll need more than that. He will need the kind of support he got in those weeks just before Election Day.
All of those who voted for him, all of those who want to keep hope alive, and all of those who want real change must demand both houses of Congress and both political parties work with Obama to accomplish it. Those who believe in real change must make it clear that they won’t stand by and allow courageous action to be reduced to faint-hearted baby steps.
On election night, Obama told the crowd in Chicago that the victory was theirs: “I know you didn’t do this just to win an election and I know you didn’t do it for me.”
Then he warned of what is ahead:
“You did it because you understand the enormity of the task that lies ahead. For even as we celebrate tonight, we know the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime – two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century.”
With more than 10,000 volunteers across the country, the United Steelworkers campaigned hard to help get Obama on that Chicago stage to make that speech. We will back him as he works to fulfill his promises of what is a New Deal for the new century. And we urge every American who wants real change to join us to ensure his success, the nation’s success.
Leo W. Gerard
United Steelworkers International President