Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Trouble at the grass roots?

I listened to Barack Obama's not quite State of the Union speech last week and marveled. As far as I was concerned, he knocked it out of the park (aside from too much of a nod to continuing our imperial ambitions). Maybe I'm being conned, but for the moment, I'm believing change is ahead. The guy thinks strategically and tactically in a way that no politician has attempted in my quite long memory. If a significant fraction of the Obama plan for economic recovery, education, health care and a transition to a post-carbon energy supply actually becomes reality, this will be a different country and world.

Saturday I had dinner with apolitical friends, middle-class people, relatively insulated from the current maelstrom because they've played by the rules as they understood them, saved, taken on debt only in reasonable amounts, have more or less secure jobs where they may take modest pay cuts in these hard times. That is, they are a lot better off than a lot of folks, a lot less precarious.

The promise of Obama's program that I'm seeing hasn't gotten through to them. They didn't watch the speech or its novelty wasn't apparent to them. They haven't been following the charades that have passed for politics over the last 30 years as closely as I have. And they have different pre-occupations.

They are ready to tear some bankers and financial moguls limb from limb. They see no reason to bail them out AND they cannot see that Obama is doing anything for them except saying comforting words.

I look at the budget and see substantive change. They are absolutely blinded by anger about bailouts of rich people they feel broke the rules of civilized behavior. They can't see the possibility of any positive change coming out of this.

Historically, in times of deep economic distress, disappointed people like these have been ripe to respond to pseudo-populist right wing appeals. My friends almost certainly won't because they are gay, so not likely to be comfortable with the company in those circles.

But they need help to understand that something good can happen. I was pleased to see that the Obama folks plan to brand stimulus projects with this logo:

Let's just hope the projects work or that sign could be as much of a joke as Bush's color-coded threat levels.

Elected officials know about the fury that's out there. Today Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke caught a blast of it when testifying before Congress:

... senators said it did not seem right that A.I.G., whose recklessness was on a grand scale, was apparently deemed too big to fail -- unlike the owners of many small businesses whose troubles apparently do not resonate in Washington.

New York Times

Someone at apparently had the same thought I had about this precarious moment we're in: those of us who grasp that something unexpected and special is possible have some educating to do among our friends. Yesterday I got one of their emails listing 10 things you should know about Obama's plan but probably don't. (Can't find this on the Moveon site, but it is reproduced here.)

The Obama budget is discussed intelligibly here.

In the case of Obama and his Democrats, one priority emerges most clearly from the budget: spreading wealth around for the common good ...

Insofar as that is true, those of us who get it need to share the information far and wide. Popular understanding and pressure is the only way such a redirection of policy is going to be won.


Anonymous said...

re: pseudo-populist right wing appeals

Northwest Gun Sales Booming
January 21st, 2009 | by Seattle Represent
There’s been a recent surge in gun sales all over the Northwest. Terry Rogers, owner of All American Arms in Spokane Valley, says it all started the day after the election. High capacity handguns and semi automatic rifles are flying off the shelves because of fear that the new Democratic president and congress will tighten gun control. Police records for Spokane show that gun sales in pawnshops have doubled this December and November compared to last year. Eastern Washington’s increase in sales are mirroring in other like-minded parts of the country.

(A recent local TV news story on the same subject showed a picture of Obama with wording along the lines of "in these uncertain times..." posted in a gun shop located in western Washington.)

Anonymous said...

Betty, that is *truly* frightening. I wonder if it's happening in other parts of the country as well.

Anonymous said...

I’m afraid it is happening all over the country. Do a search for “obama gun sales” and you’ll find a lot of articles. The few articles I looked mentioned increased sales in Washington state, Texas, Florida Colorado, Ohio, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Alaska, and Wisconsin.

There are a few tiny, very tiny, glimmers of hope. The president of a Montana gun manufacturer stepped down (in October) after word that he supported Obama led to calls for a boycott of the company. In another article, a gun shop owner was quoted as saying he supported some, but not all, of Obama’s platforms.

But the overall tenor is reflected in these random comments from various on-line news sources:

The National Rifle Association Web site encouraged NRA members to go out and buy guns. The site's news scroll read, “Gun stores report brisk business after Obama election. Run on Guns in Texas!”

Some guns are selling more than others. Assault rifles are especially popular because Obama supports renewing the expired federal ban on assault weapons.

"He wants to take our guns from us and create a socialist society policed by his own police force."

From Nov. 3 to Nov. 9, the FBI reported 374,000 background checks on people purchasing guns - a 49 percent jump from last year. Dealers are reporting larger-than-usual sales since Election Day. The rush to buy weapons is more intense than in the days following Y2K and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

In recognition of the unprecedented demand for firearms by nervous consumers, The Outdoor Wire, the nation’s largest daily electronic news service for the outdoor industry, has named President-elect Barack Obama its “Gun Salesman of the Year.”

Gun enthusiasts expressed concern that an Obama administration will resurrect the ban on assault weapons that expired in 2004, while others claim they are “terrified” and need to protect themselves from a potential nationwide race war.

Gun sales are brisk, particularly for military-style weapons, because people are concerned about stricter gun laws after Barack Obama becomes president and Congress begins leaning more to the left.

Some gun sellers like Wild West Guns in Anchorage, AK are holding “Obama Sale” events to take advantage of their customers’ misinformed fears.

Civic Center said...

Dear Jan: Thanks for this. On my recent train trip in California I was hearing lots of the same muttering from fellow passengers, and I kept my opinions to myself for a change and listened. The threat of a paranoid, violent right-wing populist movement right now is real. However, trying to talk sense to these people seems nearly impossible, and I have nothing but respect for people like you who insist on doing just that.

Nell said...

I'd have one hell of a lot more confidence in the possibility of turning aside a fascist-populist revolt if there were any sign of a real commitment to accountability at the top. But there's a complete fecklessness about Wall Street, the refusal to make the pampered "management" pay any price at all.