Romney Finds Republican Religion on the Minimum Wage

Mar 7, 2012Richard Kirsch

Romney's flip-flop on raising the minimum wage betrays what Republicans really mean when they talk about small government.

Last month I wrote about how economic issues like the minimum wage were twisting Republican candidates into pretzels as they tried to make it look like they cared about the economic squeeze on American families while toeing the line on free-market orthodoxy. As I said at the time:

Romney's flip-flop on raising the minimum wage betrays what Republicans really mean when they talk about small government.

Last month I wrote about how economic issues like the minimum wage were twisting Republican candidates into pretzels as they tried to make it look like they cared about the economic squeeze on American families while toeing the line on free-market orthodoxy. As I said at the time:

Romney, clearly aware that he needs to support some policies that show him sympathetic to struggling families, has broken with free-market orthodoxy by supporting indexing the minimum wage to inflation. For this he was loudly attacked by Fox News, The Wall Street Journal, and Rush Limbaugh, among others. Andrew McCarthy’s post in the National Review captured the mood with the headline, “See Mitt Pander.”

It turns out Mitt couldn't take the heat from his right yet again (which makes you wonder how he'd deal with the pressures of actually being president). This week he got back in line with right-wing economic theology, telling CNBC's Larry Kudlow "there's probably not a need to raise the minimum wage." Even in reversing his position he can't help throwing in a waffle: "probably."

In the same interview, Romney told Kudlow that "people are hurting; they want someone who can see rising incomes, rising jobs, and a bright future for their kids." Unless, it appears, those people are working full-time at minimum wage and still don't make enough to rise above the poverty level.

Maybe the problem is that full-time workers are not "the very poor" who Romney isn't "concerned about." He told us "we have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I'll fix it." So I guess since minimum wage workers are just poor, not the very poor, Romney doesn't think they need help.

Check out “The 99 Percent Plan,” a new Roosevelt Institute/Salon essay series on the progressive vision for the economy.

As Romney knows, it's easy to go after the very poor, who are demonized as dependent on government hand-outs in code for racist politics. But there is overwhelming support for people who are working hard and still barely able to feed their families. Even if most people make well above the minimum wage, they still feel the economic crush of stagnant wages, disappearing benefits, and job insecurity.

You can just see the Obama campaign lampooning Romney for pretending he understands that "people are hurting" while opposing raising the minimum wage, after he was for it. It's a perfect combination of Romney the rich guy who doesn't get it, Romney the captive of the right wing, and Romney the flip-flopper.

But beneath the political vulnerability is a deeper truth that Obama and progressives more broadly need to drive home this year. When Republicans preach smaller government, less regulation, and defending business as job creators, they are sentencing families to a future that is the opposite of what Romney told Kudlow he wants. It's a future of shrinking incomes, disappearing jobs, and a darker future for our children.

We don't need smaller government; we need government that works for working people, not the ultra-rich. We don't need less regulation; we need rules that assure that working families can live in dignity. It's not businesses that are the job creators. It's people who go to work every day, who shop on Main Street, who are the business creators. And that includes people who work their butts off every day at the minimum wage.

Richard Kirsch is a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, a Senior Adviser to USAction, and the author of Fighting for Our Health. He was National Campaign Manager of Health Care for America Now during the legislative battle to pass reform.

Share This

Brandeis's Key Components of Citizenship: From Turnout to Time Off

Jan 31, 2012Sabeel Rahman

Louis Brandeis's vision of what it takes to create an engaged citizenry went far beyond voting rights, touching on leisure, regulation, and the welfare state.

Louis Brandeis's vision of what it takes to create an engaged citizenry went far beyond voting rights, touching on leisure, regulation, and the welfare state.

During the Independence Day celebrations of 1915, Louis Brandeis was invited to give the prestigious Fourth of July Oration at Boston's Faneuil Hall. Brandeis was already a towering figure in the progressive movement, driving minimum wage reforms as a practicing lawyer, pioneering the use of social science research in legal advocacy, and serving as the chief intellectual architect of the 1912 "New Freedom" campaign by Woodrow Wilson (who would later appoint Brandeis to the Supreme Court). In this famous speech, which Brandeis called "True Americanism" (full text here), he provided a compelling vision of democracy, freedom, and pluralism, outlining themes that continue to resonate with core progressive values. The speech revolved around two key elements. He portrayed citizenship as more than just voting or civility. Rather, he said, it is fundamentally about sharing in the project of governance -- a view of citizenship that requires policies and institutions to thrive. He also emphasized the economic dimensions of citizenship: both as a right of all individuals to a level of economic wellbeing, and as an obligation for each of us to make public policies that provide those economic necessities.

Brandeis opened his speech by noting the diversity of American citizenship: America, unlike other countries, welcomed the inclusion of immigrants and thrived on diversity. This uniquely "inclusive brotherhood" recognized equality regardless of race, gender, or country of origin, and saw such equality "as an essential of full human liberty and true brotherhood, and...[as] a complement of democracy." America's greatness, for Brandeis, stemmed in part from its commitment to the belief that "in differentiation, not in uniformity, lies the path of progress." This was the central foundation of democracy: the belief that "all men are equally entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," and the "conviction that such equal opportunity will most advance civilization." This democratic faith sought progress in diversity and the drive of ordinary people rather than relying on an aristocratic faith in the "principle of the superman."

But Americanism for Brandeis also meant accepting a substantive view of human freedom. This ideal of freedom served two purposes: it offered a set of values that knit together an otherwise diverse populace, and it implied a particular vision of the good society that was built to expand and foster the capacities of citizens themselves, thereby ensuring the very progress that Brandeis saw possible in a diverse democratic society. American ideals, then, meant "the development of the individual for his own and the common good" through the promotion of "democracy and social justice." Freedom thus meant more than just the negative freedom from interference by the state. It also meant freedom "in things industrial as well as political" and the fostering of opportunities for meaningful participation in the political, social, and economic life of the country. On this view of freedom, self-fulfillment could come "only through the full development and utilization of one's faculties."

This view of freedom and fulfillment thus implied a particular configuration of social, political, and economic arrangements designed to foster each individual to make full use of his or her abilities. In particular, Brandeis outlined several elements required to realize this vision.

First, he defended the importance of an inclusive franchise, giving individuals the opportunity to partake in the central political issues facing the country. But the franchise was only one of the necessary elements.

The second element was a robust welfare state. "In order that men may live and not merely exist," argued Brandies, they must have education, regular employment yielding "reasonable income," and health care: "the essentials of American citizenship are not satisfied by supplying merely the material needs or wants of every worker." Further, citizens needed insulation from "sickness, accident, invalidity, superannuation, unemployment," or "financial losses" -- thus "the standard worthy to be called American implies some system of social insurance."

Click here to buy Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch’s new book on the epic health care reform battle, Fighting for Our Health.

Third, citizenship required leisure. In stark contrast to the anxieties around contemporary defenses of the welfare state, Brandeis argued that leisure was essential to human fulfillment and was a worthy goal for the welfare state. "But leisure," he warned, "does not imply idleness. It means the ability to work...at some thing besides breadwinning. Leisure, so defined, is an essential of successful democracy."

Fourth, citizenship required the extensive regulation of concentrated private power. Citizens in a successful democracy must be free, and they could not be free so long as they were "dependent industrially upon the arbitrary will of another." Thus, "some curb must be placed on overweening industrial power," in particular on the threats posed by the vast economic and financial power of trusts. These constraints on private power required both external government regulation and internal empowerment of workers themselves as co-participants in the governance of these private firms: "control and cooperation are both essential to industrial liberty."

In this brief account of American citizenship, Brandeis outlined a vision that offers significant lessons for progressives today. This is not to say that Brandeis or his contemporaries had all the answers. Indeed, Progressive Era reformers of the early twentieth century were notorious for their Victorian sensibilities, often favoring the interests of white, middle-class, male Americans over others. Nevertheless, the thinking and rhetoric of key Progressive Era intellectuals like Brandeis paints a picture of progressive politics and of American citizenshp more broadly than ours. In many ways it is more compelling and more substantive than much of contemporary political rhetoric.

Inclusion is central to citizenship, but it requires more than formal inclusion in the franchise. Inclusion was not just a value in the abstract for Brandeis; it was also a central driver of progress. It rested on a commitment to progress through the empowerment of all individuals, rather than through an "aristocratic" faith in superhuman individuals. By contrast, too much of contemporary discourse speaks of inclusion and opportunity, but valorizes the particular unique genius and capabilities of a few select individuals -- from Steve Jobs to Alan Greenspan or even to Barack Obama. Rather than seeking such heroic ideals in business, expertise, or political leadership, progressives should focus on unleashing of every individual's talents and capacities.

This unleashing of individual capacities -- and in turn the larger social progress that arises from it -- requires a sustained and coherent set of reforms across all policy areas designed to protect individuals and unleash their capacities to innovate, to create, and ultimately to lead fulfilling lives. These reforms would expand the ability of individuals to participate in both political and economic decision-making. They would also expand the scope for individual leisure, giving people the space to engage in fulfilling activities in both the public and private arenas. They would constrain the ability of private actors to interfere with these individual capacities. This approach makes citizenship more than a mere exhortation to civility or virtue; it is instead something that has to be fostered and sustained through extensive political, social, and economic reform.

Brandeis's vision of citizenship is ultimately shaped by a sense of active humility, rather than passive exceptionalism. While the values he articulated are powerful and important, they are aspirational, demanding extensive action to make them a reality. In the final moments of his speech, he alluded to the great conflict in World War I Europe, calling for a universal commitment to this vision of democracy and economic wellbeing as a route to world peace. But he also warned his audience that America did not possess a monopoly on rightness, but rather must work to promote these ideals through its own example.

Sabeel Rahman is a Roosevelt Institute Fellow, a PhD candidate in Political Theory at Harvard University, and a JD candidate at Harvard Law School.

Share This

What Do Obama, the Tea Party, and Occupy Have in Common? Citizenship.

Jan 30, 2012Sabeel Rahman

A new series to look at how to meaningfully engage Americans in a political system run amok.

A new series to look at how to meaningfully engage Americans in a political system run amok.

In last week's State of the Union address, President Obama repeatedly appealed to the civic virtue of both voters and representatives, calling for all Americans to work together to overcome the central challenges of a struggling economy and declining social mobility. This call to civic engagement and collaboration has been central to Obama's most compelling moments as a public figure, going back to his remarkable campaign. The most memorable moments of 2008 stemmed from Obama's evocation of the ideal of American citizenship -- the ability of citizens to work together, to get involved, and, through politics, to remake their world.

While the resonance of that appeal has varied over the course of Obama's presidency, the theme is one that lies behind the other defining episodes of political discourse over the last few years. Although neither was as much of a mass movement as it purported to be, both the Tea Party and the Occupy movement tapped into a similar set of anxieties and aspirations. They channeled anxieties that the scale of contemporary social challenges exceed our capacity to manage them, whether they be from the economy, the environment, corporate power, or government regulation; and aspirations to expand the collective political power of "we the people." While both movements diagnosed the problems and defined "the people" in vastly different ways, the root of their appeal was in some sense a result of this shared notion that ordinary citizens are not as empowered, not as capable as they ought to be in a well-functioning democracy and a good society.

Click here to buy Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch’s new book on the epic health care reform battle, Fighting for Our Health.

Both the power and transience of each of these experiences -- Obama's campaign, the Tea Party, the Occupy movement -- point to a deeper structural problem in American politics that lies beneath specific policy debates or electoral rhetoric. This problem is fundamentally one of the nature of modern American citizenship: that despite formal inclusion in the franchise and the political process, we as citizens continue to lack the capacities to meaningfully engage in the practice of politics. On top of that, the mechanisms we do have are inadequate for the scale of the challenges the country faces and the defects in the political process itself.

In the coming months, I will explore this problem through a series of posts about democratic citizenship, what it means, and what it requires. But appeals to citizenship cannot simply be appeals to "bipartisanship," or the obligation to vote, or the individual virtue of elected officials. These are often empty appeals, lacking in definitive substantive content, and thus unable to really shape our thinking or response in an effective way. Instead, a coherent vision of citizenship necessarily requires a set of substantive commitments about what freedom means, about how an economy should be structured, about what democracy requires in practice. Thus this series focuses in particular on progressive citizenship. In other words, these posts will try to explore what is a distinctly progressive view of citizenship. What are the core ideals that animate progressive citizenship? What are its implications for substantive policy debates on issues such as economic revival? What does it imply for the reform of governmental institutions?

Sabeel Rahman is a Roosevelt Institute Fellow, a PhD candidate in Political Theory at Harvard University, and a JD candidate at Harvard Law School.

Share This

Liberalism Unlimited? Finding the Boundaries of Policy is What We're All About

Jan 13, 2012Mark Schmitt

Liberals aren't seeking a limitless welfare state, but the right balance between competing approaches.

Liberals aren't seeking a limitless welfare state, but the right balance between competing approaches.

Breakthrough Journal, which I predicted would offer a significant contribution to the political debate when it launched last summer, has doubled down on expectations by publishing a companion to their challenging  "Modernizing Liberalism" article from the first issue with "Modernizing Conservatism" by the Reagan biographer and AEI scholar Steven Hayward. The path forward for the country won't be found just by identifying some middle ground between two unyielding ideologies or some magical third way. It will be found by creating some real conversation among people who are fully engaged in reevaluating the future of their own assumptions.

The editors of Breakthrough invited my comments on Hayward's essay, which I tried to offer in a respectful spirit, although of course I'm not a conservative and conservatives don't need my advice. Hayward's main point was that conservatives should back down from the "starve the beast" strategy of cutting taxes and hoping that government will shrink as a result and acknowledge that they aren't going to crush liberalism forever. But before conservatives can make those compromises (which seem more like common sense than compromise), Hayward insists that liberals would have to back down from our aspiration to extend the "welfare state" to infinity.

I had a couple of comments on Hayward's first points, which you can read at the site, but the main point of disagreement, particularly in his reply to me, had to do with the question of whether liberalism's aspirations for the welfare state are limitless. This is worth digging into at length because it's quickly becoming a major theme on the right. William Voegeli of the Claremont Institute has written an entire book, which Hayward draws on extensively, contending that liberalism knows no limits, that for us progress is "Never Enough." It's the central premise of Mitt Romney's new stump speech, which argues that Obama's "entitlement society" economic policies have as their goal "equality of outcomes," rather than "equality of opportunity," and won't stop until they (we) achieve that radical leveling. This is the central charge in the economic culture war: As Hayward puts it, "the absence of any principled limit to the reach of egalitarianism is implicit -- and occasionally explicit -- in modern liberalism. The insatiable egalitarian impulse is only held in check by practical politics, not by any discernible principle."

Here's Hayward's killer piece of evidence: That liberals once talked about "comparable worth" -- that is, a system to adjust pay scales to reduce discrimination based on job classifications. "The idea almost made the 1984 Democratic platform," he says. That's it? An idea that didn't make it into a party platform 28 years ago proves that we're boundless egalitarians? (Actually, it was endorsed in the 1984 platform, and several states were implementing comparable worth standards for public employee job classifications without controversy. But it died such a quick death that most people under 40 have probably never heard of the idea.)

Sign up to have the Daily Digest, a witty take on the morning’s key headlines, delivered straight to your inbox.

It's really a pretty good example of where liberalism finds its limits, and why the process of finding those boundaries makes liberalism such a vital and adaptive political philosophy. Employment discrimination was and is a real problem, and formal job classification systems that systematically underpaid women were part of it. The market wasn't getting rid of this discrimination any more than the market eliminated racial discrimination before the Civil Rights Act of 1964. A number of ideas were on the table, some of which worked. (Collective bargaining turned out to be a good way to fix discriminatory job classifications.) Ultimately, most liberals decided that a formal, government-mandated system of classifying the "worth" of different occupational categories across the private sector would be a solution worse than the problem. (I remember that being my view, even as a naïve college student at the time.) Liberalism is always about finding the right boundary between market and state, public and private, fairness and liberty. The process of considering and rejecting an idea like comparable worth is the process of finding that boundary.

Hayward would say that's not a "principled" limit. A principled limit presumably would be obvious and not argued about. But what's the principled limit to libertarian conservatism? Is it the minimal "watchman state"? I know that in practice most conservatives don't go that far, but why not? Part of the answer is "practical politics," as Hayward says of liberalism. But what's wrong with practical politics? In a functioning democracy (which ours, in which money plays a huge role and institutional quirks such as the filibuster play an outsized role, is not), ordinary politics -- elections, debates, fights over values, legislative struggles -- are a perfectly valid or even ideal way of defining the limits of the governing party's philosophy. We even internalize the limits of practical politics. For example, I've never been a supporter of single-payer health care, and most of the liberal wonks I know haven't been either. If pressed on the point by one of the few single-payer supporters I know, I can't give a very good answer on policy grounds. I understand that single-payer would be fairer, more efficient, and would lift the burden of health insurance costs from employers. But it's never going to happen and so I don't waste much time or energy on it. That's a limitation on my aspirations imposed by practical politics, but it's no less real a limit.

Egalitarianism (of opportunity) is one element of liberalism, but it's not the only one. Democratic practice is part of it, too, so the limits of practical politics are real -- not just the way we achieve other social goals, but an end in themselves. It's why making democracy work better is more than just a process concern. At the end of my comments on Hayward's essay, I suggested that the key to "modernizing conservatism" would be for conservatives to rejoin the democratic process, to get over the all-or-nothing impulse that led them to opt out of the health care debate entirely, or to attempt "nullification," to use James Fallows' word, of laws already passed. Hayward, like Romney, is basically saying that no real debate or compromise will ever be possible, that we face a pure clash of irreconcilable worldviews. That's simply not true of modern liberalism, and it shouldn't be true of conservatism either.

Mark Schmitt is a Senior Fellow and Director of the Fellows Program at the Roosevelt Institute.

Share This

What Was Missing in Kansas: the Greatest Generation's Political Power

Dec 12, 2011Harvey J. Kaye

fdr-we-need-you-150President Obama's speech recognized the progressive values of his grandparents' generation, but not the democratic action that put those values into practice.

fdr-we-need-you-150President Obama's speech recognized the progressive values of his grandparents' generation, but not the democratic action that put those values into practice.

President Obama speaks proudly and often of his grandparents and their generation -- the men and women who confronted and beat the Great Depression and fascism. But for all of his words of admiration and affection, he has yet to show that he truly understands what made the Greatest Generation truly great. His remarks last Tuesday in Osawatomie, Kansas reflected a common misconception of what their struggles, labors, and achievements entailed and what they have to say to us today.

Seeking to regain the political initiative from Republicans, Obama went to Kansas not only to present his ideas on how we might reinvigorate the American economy, but also to reiterate his commitment to enabling Americans to pursue and realize the nation's historic purpose and promise. He specifically chose Osawatomie because it was there, 101 years ago, that the former president and Republican-turned-progressive Teddy Roosevelt delivered his famous "New Nationalism" speech. As Obama noted, it was in that speech that TR said, "Our country...means nothing unless it means the triumph of a real democracy...of an economic system under which each man shall be guaranteed the opportunity to show the best that there is in him."

Progressives welcomed President Obama's speech. Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne wrote, "It was, at once, a clear philosophical rationale for his presidency, a straightforward narrative explaining the causes of the nation's travails, and a coherent plan of battle against a radicalized conservatism." Progressive editor Matt Rothschild exclaimed, "I wish Obama would go to Kansas more often. His speech... was unlike any I've ever heard him give. He finally embraced progressivism."

Undeniably, Obama made some strong points in his remarks. He finally pointed his presidential finger at the "greed" of bankers and "irresponsibility" of regulators and all that they have wrought. He spoke of the gross inequality that has come to mark American life and how it has corrupted our democracy. And he insisted that government has an important role to play not only in responding to the continuing joblessness and suffering, but also in addressing the ever intensifying inequality and declining opportunity we have experienced.

Sign up to have the Daily Digest, a witty take on the morning’s key headlines, delivered straight to your inbox.

Nevertheless, elements of the president's Kansas speech make me doubt that he fully grasps what needs to be done and how to do it. My reservations stem from the way he spoke of his grandparents -- and my parents -- and their generation. Before he quoted Teddy Roosevelt, Obama said:

My grandparents served during World War II. He was a soldier in Patton's Army; she was a worker on a bomber assembly line. And together, they shared the optimism of a nation that triumphed over the Great Depression and over fascism. They believed in an America where hard work paid off, and responsibility was rewarded, and anyone could make it if they tried -- no matter who you were, no matter where you came from, no matter how you started out... And these values gave rise to the largest middle class and the strongest economy that the world has ever known.

All this is true. But like many who praise the Greatest Generation's values, the president left out the most critical, progressive, and democratic, if not inspiring, part of the story.

The men and women who saved the nation from economic destruction and political tyranny, and went on to create the middle class and turn the United States into the strongest and most prosperous nation on earth, didn't do so simply by having the right values and working hard to achieve them. They did so by electing and re-electing Franklin Delano Roosevelt. They chose a leader who not only believed in them, but also rallied and engaged them directly in progressive initiatives and struggles of recovery, reconstruction, and reform.

They undertook these labors against historical expectations, in the face of powerful conservative, reactionary, and corporate opposition, and despite their own terrible faults and failings. In the process, they subjected big business to public account and regulation, empowered the federal government to address the needs of working people, organized labor unions, fought for their rights, reconstituted the "We" in "We the People," established a Social Security system, rebuilt the nation's public infrastructure, and improved the environment. They did so, that is, by harnessing the powers of democratic government and in the process making America freer, more equal, and more democratic than ever before.

We should honor our parents and grandparents from the Greatest Generation. The best way for us to show our appreciation is to live out their politics.

Harvey J. Kaye is the Ben & Joyce Rosenberg Professor of Democracy and Justice Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and the author of Thomas Paine and the Promise of America. He is currently writing The Four Freedoms and the Promise of America. Follow him on Twitter @HarveyJKaye.

Share This

A Feast for the 1%, a Famine for the One Third

Nov 23, 2011David B. Woolner

As we celebrate this Thanksgiving, we should remember that 100 million of our fellow citizens are struggling to get by.

[H]ere is the challenge to our democracy: In this nation I see tens of millions of its citizens -- a substantial part of its whole population -- who at this very moment are denied the greater part of what the very lowest standards of today call the necessities of life.

I see millions of families trying to live on incomes so meager that the pall of family disaster hangs over them day by day.

As we celebrate this Thanksgiving, we should remember that 100 million of our fellow citizens are struggling to get by.

[H]ere is the challenge to our democracy: In this nation I see tens of millions of its citizens -- a substantial part of its whole population -- who at this very moment are denied the greater part of what the very lowest standards of today call the necessities of life.

I see millions of families trying to live on incomes so meager that the pall of family disaster hangs over them day by day.

I see millions whose daily lives in city and on farm continue under conditions labeled indecent by a so-called polite society half a century ago.

I see millions denied education, recreation, and the opportunity to better their lot and the lot of their children.

I see millions lacking the means to buy the products of farm and factory and by their poverty denying work and productiveness to many other millions.

I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished.

-Franklin D. Roosevelt, January 20, 1937

Nearly three quarters of a century ago, Franklin Roosevelt rededicated himself and his administration to the creation of an America where the government and the people alike would strive to eliminate the destructive and unjust disparities of wealth that had wrought such great economic hardship that they threatened to undermine the very essence of our democracy. Thanks to this commitment, generations of Americans embraced the idea that, as President Obama once said, "in this country, hard work and responsibility should be rewarded by some measure of security and fair play."

But in a disturbing article published earlier this week, the New York Times took note of the growing number of Americans whose hard work and responsibility have not brought them the measure of economic security they deserve. Struggling with incomes that stand just above the poverty line, they are labeled the "near poor." This diverse group of individuals and families lives paycheck to paycheck under the constant threat of economic ruin, often working multiple jobs at low wages that have remained stagnant for decades. According to data that has yet to be published by the Census Bureau, the number of "near poor" in the United States has risen to 51 million individuals, which, as the Times reports, places approximately 100 million people, or one in three Americans, "either in poverty or in the fretful zone just above it."

The fact that one in three Americans now lives in poverty or just above the poverty line provides us with another distressing link between the Great Recession and the Great Depression. It harkens back to Franklin Roosevelt's Second Inaugural Address, when, after noting the nation's economic progress since the beginning of his first term, he challenged the American people to do better and join him in an effort to "paint out" from our national canvas the sight of "one third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished."

It was true, Roosevelt said, that since the day of his fist inauguration, the country had made great strides in reversing the downward economic spiral that had gripped the nation in paralyzing fear. Faced with an unprecedented economic catastrophe, the people of the republic had dedicated themselves "to the fulfillment of a vision -- to speed the time when there would be for all the people that security and peace essential to the pursuit of happiness." But, he went on, "our covenant with ourselves did not stop there. Instinctively we recognized a deeper need -- the need to find through government the instrument of our united purpose to solve for the individual the ever-rising problems of a complex civilization."

Sign up to have the Daily Digest, a witty take on the morning’s key headlines, delivered straight to your inbox.

In that purpose, he continued:

...we have been helped by achievements of mind and spirit... We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics. Out of the collapse of a prosperity whose builders boasted their practicality has come the conviction that in the long run economic morality pays. We are beginning to wipe out the line that divides the practical from the ideal; and in so doing we are fashioning an instrument of unimagined power for the establishment of a morally better world.

This new understanding undermines the old admiration of worldly success as such. We are beginning to abandon our tolerance of the abuse of power by those who betray for profit the elementary decencies of life.

It is odd that in this time of Thanksgiving, one hears little about the millions of Americans trapped in or threatened by poverty or the need to fashion a society where the "elementary decencies of life" -- a job with a decent wage, access to health care and higher education -- are within the reach of all. It is even more perplexing that in a time of serious economic depravity, the focal point of our all-but-dysfunctional Congress is not how "to find through government the instrument of our united purpose" but how to obstruct the very sort of structural reforms needed to help average Americans secure better lives for themselves and their children.

Part of this stems from the blind faith that free market fundamentalists have falsely promoted as the solution to all of our problems and from the inordinate amount of money that now flows from Wall Street to Washington, creating a new Gilded Age where the 400 wealthiest individuals in the United States possess more wealth than the bottom 150 million combined. But another part of it stems from our own misguided perception of what constitutes wealth and progress. In this second Gilded Age, wealth and progress have come to mean one and the same thing -- the acquisition of an inordinate amount of capital or other assets by an individual, often obtained through mere financial transactions.

For Roosevelt, however -- and for much of his generation -- the definition of wealth and progress was much more in keeping with the spirit of Thanksgiving. "Happiness," as FDR famously said in his First Inaugural Address, "lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort." Four years later, he added that the "test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little."

For the 100 million citizens of our nation now struggling to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table, these words sadly offer little comfort, for it appears we have abandoned the noble effort of the Depression generation to paint the specter of poverty out of our national canvas.

David Woolner is a Senior Fellow and Hyde Park Resident Historian for the Roosevelt Institute. He is currently writing a book on U.S.-UK economic relations in the 1930s, entitled Cordell Hull, Anthony Eden and the Search for Anglo-American Cooperation, 1933-1938.

Share This

The Real Media Bias: The Police Force's Disproportionate Power

Nov 22, 2011John Stoehr

occupy-journalTo say Occupy Wall Street has "clashed" with police is to pretend they have equal power and weaponry.

occupy-journalTo say Occupy Wall Street has "clashed" with police is to pretend they have equal power and weaponry.

Brian Stelter wrote last weekend about the news coverage of Occupy Wall Street and of its 1,000 or so offshoots here and abroad. Stelter reports that the Pew Center's new survey found that OWS captured just 10 percent of national news coverage (presumably liberal, moderate, and conservative media combined) starting in October. Coverage fizzled to 1 percent until last Tuesday, when the NYPD prepared to muscle protesters out of Zuccotti Park. No surprise: At that point, news coverage soared.

With a few exceptions, the general tendency has been to ignore OWS. It doesn't have obvious leaders or an obvious agenda, both of which make it hard to understand if you don't put in the effort. So it gets a pass from most newsrooms -- unless the cops get involved. Then you have a story that lends itself to the genre of news writing. It has characters, conflict, chronology, drama. Every reporter wants to cover such news. But it's this habit of waiting for the cops that leads me to my point.

The media has a bias, but not the one everyone talks about. The media's bias favors cops.

This has always been true. Journalists need access to power. Those in power provide information that cannot be obtained otherwise. Reporters trade access for favorable coverage. The best reporters succeed without compromising their integrity. But most of this means interacting with everyday, run-of-the-mill manifestations of power, and for most journalists, and Americans generally, that means law enforcement.

Media's natural tendency is to sympathize with the police. They are the good guys, criminals the bad guys. And I think this is the right presumption until facts compel us to think otherwise. But I also think this habit of deference is so ingrained in the minds of journalists that even when it's very obvious that the cops are the bad guys in a story, the media still can't avoid false equivalency.

False equivalency is a term coined by James Fallows. It has other names. Eric Alterman calls it on-the-one-handism. Paul Krugman calls it the cult of balance. In any case, it means the journalistic convention of representing two sides of a story equally, no matter how unequal they may in fact be. For Krugman, this means putting Republicans and Democrats on the same plane, even though Tea Party Republicans have been far more radical than Democrats. For the media coverage of OWS demonstrations, this means portraying non-violent civil disobedience as if it were the same as outright acts of police violence.

Sign up to have the Daily Digest, a witty take on the morning’s key headlines, delivered straight to your inbox.

By far the most exasperating example I can think of is contained in one word: "clash." Google this: "protesters clash with police." Many of those links will lead you to stories with pictures of cops armed with rifles and batons, wearing body armor and face shields, and squaring off with unarmed and peaceful protesters. In many of those photographs, you will see cops blasting pepper spray into the faces of Americans whose only crime appears to be exercising an inalienable right. Pepper spray is one of those "non-lethal" weapons, like rubber bullets and sonic grenades, that have come into widespread use in the past 15 years. You'd think police would deploy them sparingly, only in cases in which officer safety is endangered. But OWS has revealed what observers have known for some time - that police, with the approval of courts, have used them increasingly to intimidate, coerce, and terrorize crowds. What else explains the horrible stories of police officers casually pepper-spraying an expectant mother, an 84-year-old woman, and hundreds of students at UC Davis?

These are not conflicts between rivals of equal proportion, as "clash" connotes. These are incidents of police violence and media should start calling then what they are. With so much amateur video out there, the media has little choice but to set aside convention, examine bias, and report what's happening.

Worse, the type of police violence used against protesters appears to be institutionalized. According to the Associated Press, what we saw at UC Davis -- a campus police officer, who did not appear in any way to be in danger, casually doused students who were peacefully protesting -- is considered "fairly standard police procedure." Though the UC Davis chief was put on leave and the chancellor has called for a review, that doesn't address how police forces nationwide have become increasingly militarized, according to Norm Stamper, former Seattle police chief. As he writes in The Nation, "It's showing in cities everywhere: the NYPD 'white shirt' coating innocent people with pepper spray, the arrests of two student journalists at Occupy Atlanta, the declaration of public property as off-limits and the arrests of protesters for 'trespass.'"

And let's not forget the two dozen journalists arrested during the evacuation of Zuccotti Park. Some have said the media landscape has changed so much that cops can't tell who's a professional reporter and who's an amateur. That's why they ended up arresting reporters and photographers. But another reason for so many arrests is that the cops are increasingly militarized and indifferent to the First Amendment.

If this were a war zone, the OWS protesters would be called innocents or victims of war. Police violence would be described as a crackdown, a suppression. As it is, protesters are "clashing" with police, as if they have anywhere near comparable weaponry to what the police have. As if they have weapons at all. Most are just engaging in acts of civil disobedience. Perhaps, with enough people being traumatized by this violence, the media will start talking about the police in terms that actually convey the experiences of those who "clash" with them.

John Stoehr is the editor of the New Haven Advocate and a lecturer at Yale University.

Share This

Dorian Warren: Police Brutality is Reigniting the Occupy Movement

Nov 22, 2011Dorian Warren

The shocking police brutality at UC Davis last week was just the latest example of authorities reacting to the Occupy movement with violent contempt. But as Roosevelt Institute Fellow Dorian Warren tells CNN's Don Lemon, these overbearing attempts to silence protesters might only be helping their cause. "Every time there's a lull in the protests, there's a spark of something that happens, usually police brutality of some kind, that gets people energized again and gets them motivated and recommitted to the Occupy movement," Dorian says.

The shocking police brutality at UC Davis last week was just the latest example of authorities reacting to the Occupy movement with violent contempt. But as Roosevelt Institute Fellow Dorian Warren tells CNN's Don Lemon, these overbearing attempts to silence protesters might only be helping their cause. "Every time there's a lull in the protests, there's a spark of something that happens, usually police brutality of some kind, that gets people energized again and gets them motivated and recommitted to the Occupy movement," Dorian says.

As for the police's actions, Dorian thinks the public will agree that the blithe use of pepper spray is "not very different from firehoses, frankly." And though Mayor Bloomberg seemed to score a major victory by evicting protesters from their home base at Zuccotti Park, Dorian believes that being untethered from a specific location or organizational hierarchy may actually work in the movement's favor. He argues that this nullifies complaints about conditions at the parks and "makes it so that there aren't any particular targets that opponents of Occupy can really focus in on." Ultimately, these crackdowns may simply be giving the movement an opportunity to prove its power and durability.

For more of Dorian's take on the Occupy movement, check out his early reflection on what's driving the protests and his analysis of their populist message, co-authored with Joe Lowndes for Dissent.

Share This

John Deutch's Four Steps Toward a Functioning U.S. Energy Policy

Nov 21, 2011

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Bo Cutter has brought a lot of top thinkers together to discuss what the Next American Economy should look like. But it's hard to imagine future economic policy without also figuring out energy policy. As Bo's latest guest points out, American energy policy has largely failed. John Deutch, professor at MIT and former Director of Central Intelligence, explains how "we have not had an energy policy for 40 years" and why "it is a hard slog to improve this." In this excerpt, he lays out four key steps to making real progress:

John Deutch :: [excerpt] from Roosevelt Institute on Vimeo.

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Bo Cutter has brought a lot of top thinkers together to discuss what the Next American Economy should look like. But it's hard to imagine future economic policy without also figuring out energy policy. As Bo's latest guest points out, American energy policy has largely failed. John Deutch, professor at MIT and former Director of Central Intelligence, explains how "we have not had an energy policy for 40 years" and why "it is a hard slog to improve this." In this excerpt, he lays out four key steps to making real progress:

John Deutch :: [excerpt] from Roosevelt Institute on Vimeo.

His imperatives to get us on the right track:

1. Something must be done to "integrat[e] domestic and international policy in the White House." Energy issues can't be fixed solely within our own borders.

2. In order to have a "coherent voice following energy" at the federal level, we must "establish a single energy commission between the House and the Senate in the place of the dozens and dozens who fool around in it."

Sign up to have the Daily Digest, a witty take on the morning’s key headlines, delivered straight to your inbox.

3. "There should be a rule adopted both by Congress and the [OMB]... to say no proposal goes in unless you attach to it a serious analysis of its projected costs and benefits." Without this, he says, "you don't have the basis for a discussion with Congress."

4. "You have to do something about personnel to get good people" working on these policies, he concludes.

Above all, he says, "You have to make people understand that if we don't change this system, things are not going to get better." And that could be disastrous for the economy and the planet.

Watch the full discussion:

John Deutch :: lecture from Roosevelt Institute on Vimeo.

Share This

Taking Back the Right to Vote

Nov 21, 2011Dante Barry

By passing voter ID laws, conservative legislatures are denying the franchise to those who have fought hardest for it.

By passing voter ID laws, conservative legislatures are denying the franchise to those who have fought hardest for it.

Last week, I participated in the New Organizing Institute BlackRoots NewMedia BootCamp. I had the privilege of joining 31 organizers representing communities of color from across the country to be trained in online organizing. As part of the training, each organizer was placed on a team to develop an online fictional campaign over the course of the week. For this boot camp, we developed a campaign around the issue of voter suppression.

My team took on a situation where the fictional "State X" legislature was considering a plan that would require the state's voters to present two forms of identification in order to protect against voter fraud. The state senator who represented my team's community was on the fence as he recognized that his rural constituency would have difficulty obtaining the additional identification.

Sadly, this scenario reflects a regressive trend that is all too real. Since 1920, the United States has expanded voting rights in three significant ways: the Nineteenth Amendment, which granted women the right to vote; the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which ended racial barriers to voting; and the Twenty-Sixth Amendment, which lowered the voting age to 18. Now, conservative legislatures throughout the U.S. are passing voter identification laws that disenfranchise women, young people, and communities of color. 

Sign up to have the Daily Digest, a witty take on the morning’s key headlines, delivered straight to your inbox.

FDR once said, "We are trying to construct a more inclusive society. We are going to make a country in which no one is left out." I am a Millennial and at least 24 percent of the voting age population in 2012 will be under 30 years old. Approximately 14 million adults between the ages of 18 and 29 will be enrolled in degree-granting institutions in 2012. But instead of trying to bring these potential young voters to the polls, legislators are making every effort to turn them away. In states such as Indiana, voters must present photo identification with an expiration date issued by the state or U.S. government. This prevents students who are attending private institutions from using their school identification. Legislators claim that such laws are intended to prevent voter fraud; however, there is little evidence that voter fraud is a problem in the United States.

Houses have been burned down; families have been torn apart; people have fought, gone to jail, and died for the right to vote. Voting provides the opportunity to decide, and that is powerful. Suppressing voters and denying them the power to decide excludes them from the political and policymaking process. We need to take back that power and make our voting system more inclusive.

I'd like to extend special thanks and recognition to the #blackroots11 team. You can follow the campaign on Facebook and Twitter.

Dante Barry is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network's Chapter Services Coordinator and Summer Academy Coordinator.

Image via Getty

Share This

Pages