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Huffington to Obama: Get Urgent, Now!

5 years ago
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On Friday, after President Obama issued a Rose Garden statement on the economy and said that he'd be "discussing" new economic initiatives in "the weeks ahead," a liberal journalist tweeted, "nothing says 'fierce urgency of now' like the last three months."

It was a well-timed dig at the Obama (who has often quoted Martin Luther King Jr.'s reference to "fierce urgency of now") for being less than exertive concerning the economy in previous weeks. Though in the coming days, Obama would propose expanding certain business tax breaks and establishing a $50 billion infrastructure improvement bank, Democrats and progressives fearful of the upcoming election had already started complaining it was too late for Obama to reshape the political terrain; he had waited too long to do two crucial things: (1) propose bold actions that could help the economy (whether or not such measures could surpass GOP obstructionism on Capitol Hill) and (2) beat the you-know-what out of the Republicans for blocking recovery initiatives and for offering nothing but Bush-Cheney policy leftovers.

Arianna HuffingtonInto this burgeoning storm rides Arianna Huffington, and, in her usual fashion, she has upped the ante by essentially saying that if Obama doesn't rev up the recovery efforts, the United States will soon disintegrate into a Third World nation. Her assault comes in the form of a book called "Third World America: How Our Politicians Are Abandoning the Middle Class and Betraying the American Dream," which is being released today. Obviously, Huffington, the blogger/author/activist who heads the Huffington Post, finished writing her book months ago -- before progressive and Democratic impatience with Obama became as intense as it is these days. And though she doesn't slam Obama personally, he's certainly in the middle of her radar screen.

Huffington's provocative (and easy-to-promote) "Third World America" idea rests on one main pillar: the decline of the middle class. She writes,
I use it to sum up the ugly facts we'd rather not know. . . . It's a harbinger, a clanging alarm telling us that if we don't correct our course, contrary to our history and to what has always seemed to be our destiny, we could indeed become a Third World nation -- a place where there are only two classes: the rich . . . and everybody else. Think Mexico or Brazil.
She maintains that the middle class -- "the driver of so much of our creative and economic success" and "the foundation of our democracy" -- is "teetering on the brink of collapse." Just like AIG in 2009. Wall Street has been propped up, she argues, but the middle class is experiencing a "plummeting free fall." Her critique is not revolutionary. She lays out the stats: the Bush and Obama administrations devoted hundreds of billions of dollars to financial firms, while millions of Americans lost their jobs and hard-pressed states cut social services (precisely when they are needed the most):
The human consequences of the financial collapse are largely missing from our national debate. I'm referring especially to the people who had steady jobs; people with college degrees; people who were paying their bills, saving for retirement, doing the right thing -- and who have, in many instances lost everything. The daily miseries being visited upon them are unfolding across the country.

So why is there no sense of urgency coming out of Washington?
That's a direct poke at the guy in the White House. And Huffington goes on to suggest that he's not a super-agent of change. Noting that unemployment for people making over $150,000 annually was a mere 3 percent in 2009, she writes:
Does anyone believe that the sense of urgency coming out of Washington wouldn't be wildly different if the unemployment rate for the top 10 percent of income earners was 31 percent [as it was for the bottom 10 percent in 2009]? If one-third of television news producers, pundits, bankers, and lobbyists were unemployed, would the measures proposed by the White House and Congress still be as anemic? Of course not -- the sense of national emergency would be so great you'd hear air-raid sirens howling.
Instead, she observes, "we get policy Band-Aids -- timid moves that will do little to abate a crisis that threatens to change the very fabric of our society." Readers -- especially those facing hard times -- can decide for themselves if Huffington's populist, doomsdayish prognostication is on target. Ditto regarding her recipe for avoiding American Third Worldism (a mix of mostly progressive proposals, including public financing of elections, education reform that focuses on teacher performance, single-payer health care insurance, a modern-day Works Progress Administration, federal assistance to state and local governments, incentives for green jobs and manufacturing, mortgage reform that makes it easier for homeowners facing foreclosure to renegotiate, and tighter restrictions on Wall Street's wheelers and dealers.) But Huffington, an old friend, is quite acute at sniffing out trends (except when she mounted at not-very-successful bid to become California's governor in 2003).

Thus, it's probably more than a coincidence that this book hits at a moment when Obama is generating unease among progressives for having dropped the urgency ball. (Former Clinton labor secretary Robert Reich presents a similar case in his new book, "After-Shock: The Next Economy and America's Future," due out later this month.) As probable disaster looms for Democrats, left-of-center pundits and strategists are devising explanations in preparation, and it seems a consensus is slowly forming among some: Obama has failed to describe fully the economic challenge the nation faces and, despite his success in passing a $787 billion stimulus (and health care reform and Wall Street reform), he has not adequately explained to the public what is truly needed to extricate the nation from the hole it is in. He has fallen short in diagnosis and prescription.

Toward the end of the book, Huffington quotes Obama reflecting that the country is at "a rare inflection point in history where the size and scope of the challenges before us require that we remake our world to renew its promise." She and other progressives expect Obama to act as if he believes and accepts that it's his job to lead such a remaking. But for many, Obama has not done so. And it's not a far distance from disappointment to dismay -- particularly when a political nightmare is on the horizon. As Huffington writes, "Inflection points in history don't come along very often."

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Yes, she would know about 3rd world nations since she came from one. Greece. She so totally hosed her husband that ran a failed senate bid with like 20+ million bucks and dumped the dude after the election and a gay scandal. I wish our Immigration laws could keep these eurovipers out of amerika. gimme a guatemalan worker any day.

October 04 2010 at 2:00 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Too late Arianna the President and the Democrats have sealed there fate by ignoring the American people and putting labels on us ( Racist , Nazis , Bigots , Uneducated miss guided souls ) And what did we do ? Oppose the far left policies of the President .

September 14 2010 at 7:15 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Huffington's horse is running in the wrong direction: going faster just puts us further behind. Note that Obama's Labor Day "new idea" was exactly the old idea hustled through congress in January 2009 promising the same "shovel-ready" jobs we should have seen months ago. "Summer of Recovery", my foot.

September 07 2010 at 10:09 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply

Can you imagine...Arianna has seen the light..... well maybe all is not lost...well of course, except for the left.

September 07 2010 at 6:35 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply

There is a word for this "third worldism". It is one that dare not speak its name. It is one that has been tied to Latin American dictatorships, dictatorships on the Iberian peninsula, Italy from the 1920's to mid-1940's, and the dream of every American industrialist since the late 19th century. It is an "F" word that not even the FCC would or could ban, but in polite, mainstream politics, is never uttered except in a historical context. But of late, it has made its appearance in its other word "Corporatism", since as one of its European proponents has said, should more properly called, since it is the merger of state and corporate power. I wonder how many people on the left have ever heard of the National Civic Federation, the organization founded in the late 19th century to guide the immigrants and internal migrants into America's cities into the working class as "human robots". This group, made up of industrialists, bankers, capitalists, academics, clergy and some labor leaders, was the forerunner of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Trilateral Commission. These elitist organizations, while appearing and practicing democratic values, were more interested, especially after the First World War, to impose this "F" word system on working-class Americans. If one reads George Seldes' autobiography, Witness To A Century, you will learn how Col. Robert McCormick (Seldes' boss for ten years at the Chicago Tribune) and other newspaper barons and American industrialists, sold this system to the American people in their newspapers and other media outlets. The numerous attacks against journalists and progressives throughout the 20th century, attest to the lengths to which the Corporatists will go to get their way. So, Huffington's book, and that of Robert Reich, is nothing new, but does speak to the current situation we are finding ourselves in. If Obama is really the change we need, then he will break with corporatism and side with real working Americans, both white-collar and blue-collar. These terms are not dirty; it's ok to say that, but as Obama has never worked a day in his life for a company that makes something or creates a service, then his ability to empathize with laid-off Americans is just theoretical, something he can never understand in his gut. He's a lawyer, not a proletarian. But there have been elitists in the Democratic Party who have understood the American worker, FDR being one of them, JFK another. Obama has yet to show that side. What we need are more FDR's, JFK's and Harry Truman's, not Lincoln's. We need a Democratic Teddy Roosevelt, not Wendell Wilkie (the Wall Street lawyer and southern Electrical company executive who opposed the TVA and Rural Electrification). Oh, and by the way, that "F" word is........FASCISM. And not the kind practiced by the paperhanging SOB in Berlin.

September 07 2010 at 11:24 AM Report abuse +10 rate up rate down Reply

Ms Huffington is correct, as always. Many of us who call themselves progressives are no doubt disappointed with both Democrats and President Obama, but the blame may be spread further. This assault on the Middle Class has been the norm for a very long time, even before NAFTA. We got rid of the steel mills, and so many other industries, outsourcing for profit. No one should totally shun the profit motive, but even slave owners knew to keep their slaves well fed and housed in order to be successful.

September 07 2010 at 11:18 AM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down Reply
dc walker

...........its about time the left realized this country was built on capitalism, American ingenuity and not on socialist or spread the wealth concepts. Everyone has a chance to educate themselves, be creative in whatever pursuits they want and succeed. The I will take care of you because you are too stupid to take care of yourself crowd has finally awakened.

September 07 2010 at 11:16 AM Report abuse +18 rate up rate down Reply

I truly Love Arianna Huffington, her point is Right On. I would like to see what the President Task Force on the Housing Crisis has come up with. These modifications the Banks have given out are a Joke to the criminal extent. They are deceitful and only to have homeowners walk away from their homes and have the homes sold at value to which if the Banks would have given it to the homeowners at that value they would have been able to still live in their homes. I absolutely do not understand how the Bank Notes were lost or destroyed which raises all kinds of questions and creates all kinds of problems, the whole while the Banks are hiding this from the General Public from knowing this. Where are the Feds on this when it comes to a universal decision. I have heard and read comments and decisions from Florida to New York and from Nebraska to California. No one is on the same page with the same problem. Who is in Control?

September 07 2010 at 10:48 AM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Wayne's comment

Back in the day if you defaulted on your mortgage you lost the house, why should now be any different, I could care less about other people not using their heads when they took out mortgages! Why should my tax dollars be used to bail out anyone, let them deal with reality for once!

September 07 2010 at 11:00 AM Report abuse +8 rate up rate down Reply
Rob & Kathy

Obama's policies have contributed to decline...

September 07 2010 at 10:18 AM Report abuse +24 rate up rate down Reply

Huffington's book sounds right on. Obama and his "change" seem to be intent on dragging America and Americans down to third world status, while he and his wife go on their ninth vacation this year... I hope Americans can see what is happening and vote accordingly in November.

September 07 2010 at 10:10 AM Report abuse +23 rate up rate down Reply

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