by Al Timke
January 30, 2021
(In response to “The First Post-Reagan Presidency”,
by Michelle Goldberg, New York Times, January 28, 2021
Before I posted this, I could already hear the knee-jerk ridicule of my naïveté from fellow progressives. It may well prove appropriate, but that’s a risk I accept. At the moment, I cannot endure the alternative vision that apocalypse of ruin can only be avoided by chanting an ideologically pure mantra while awaiting the ascendancy of an economic and political messiah who will be its embodiment. That is not going to happen.
The last left turn in America is usually spoken of as beginning with Roosevelt’s New Deal, a reaction to the preceding coservative fiasco of the 1929 crash and the resulting Great Depression. But although it happened during the Roosevelt administration, facilitated by his initiatives, it would not have happened, and certainly not on the scale it did, without a large-scale public mobilization. That’s how we got Social Security, federal labor laws, and a host of other progressive measures. It was the beginning of an era. In the 1950s, Republican President Dwight Eisenhower strongly endorsed a top income tax rate in the 90 percent range. These policies continued, and were enhanced in the 1960s with Civil Rights legislation and the War Against Poverty, again with broad public mobilization.
It could be argued that Lyndon Johnson’s prioritization of a different war, the Viet Nam War, presaged the end of the era, accelerated by Richard Nixon, but a deccisive turning point was reached when much of the progressive foothold was washed away, following the election of Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. The trend persisted through the neo-liberalism of Bill Clinton and the debacle of the Trump administration. This era saw a dramatic increase in inequality, and stagnation of wages for the bottom half of the income distribution. There were mass movements, ironically, behind these changes as well, culminating with the Tea Party movement among the public and in Congress, and the militant right supporters of Trump.
My point is that it is up to progressive Americans, to seize the moment in the early stages of the Biden presidency, agressively take advantage of progressive policies being considered, build on them and create a mass movement to turn the country to the left again. For too long, Democrats have been satisfied to settle for equality of opportunity, rewarding the winners of the “fair” competition (and fallen short) while failing to address those who lose out, or who have other priorities. A progressive America produces a good standard of living for all. It prioritizes the common good! That is doable if there is the collective political will,
The current pandemic and the dismal condition of the world economy combine to make conditions ripe for public receptivity to progressive policies. The revulsion of much of the public for Trump’s contempt for democracy also helps to fertilize the soil in which a progBidenressive movement can grow.
There will be no economic and political messiah. Remember, Roosevelt helped move the New Deal along, but it simply would not have happened without mass public mobilization. The closely divided Congress is a serious problem and Biden will need much encouragement. In the New York Times, Michelle Goldberg writes, Biden “… has at least the potential to be the grandfather of a more socially democratic America.” We must create the necessary political will!