SEPARATING US FROM OUR MONEY -- PROGRESSIVELY
In today's New York Times Magazine, Matt Bai asserts that Barack Obama, while not a "populist," is certainly a "progressive." The evidence?
By the definition of the word as it came to be used in the early part of the 20th century, Obama is indisputably in the progressive tradition. Like both Roosevelts and Woodrow Wilson, he has pursued financial regulation -- radical by the standards of the last two presidents -- that would seek to temper the power of the markets without controlling them. His recalibration of campaign fund-raising, achieved through the triumph of small-dollar donations over the influence of lobbyists and corporations, would have delighted progressives like Robert La Follete, who fought in their day for women's suffrage and the direct election of senators. And Obama's relentless pursuit of health care reform, even at the expense of provisions that liberals held sacred, may well place him alongside F.D.R. and Lyndon Johnson in the pantheon of progressive presidents who were able to substantially amend the nation's social contract.
We can argue forever about whether Obama-style health care reform is really reform for anyone other than insurance companies, and I'd say the jury is still out on the question of whether Obama "has pursued financial regulation" with any kind of real vigor.
But as for that bit in the middle ... really? At this distance from the '08 campaign, do we really regard all that fund-raising from us non-fat cats as progressive?
It seems to me that, by that standard, Oral Roberts and Jimmy Swaggart and all the other mountebank TV preachers of the last half-century were also progressives in the tradition of La Follette. So are the folks who run payday lending companies rather than merchant banks.
Yeah, I remember: at the time the Obama fund-raising method seemed progressive, but was it? It's not as if Obama refused large gifts, like Jerry Brown turning back any contribution over $100 in his 1992 presidential bid, so, really, what was the impact on how we practice campaign finance? Wasn't aggregating a lot of small donations just the clever way the Obama campaign found to run with the big boys -- who also came on board?
Lately I've been thinking that the deeply compromised health care bill would be a step of some kind in the direction of helping at least some ordinary people. I still think some reform of Wall Street may happen, however compromised. And the administration has kept a few people employed with the stimulus who otherwise wouldn't be, and may possibly work harder on jobs in the months to come.
That's all TR-style progressive, I suppose. But all those fund-raising e-mails we received in 2008 (and since)? They aren't.