I, of course, was a supporter of Barack Obama during the 2008 elections, and I still think that of the options we had he was the best choice, but it appears pretty clear by now that he simply isn't getting the job done. I do think that F.D.R. is the appropriate president to compare him to, and in such a comparison he falls extremely short.
Granted, Roosevelt actually had it easier than Obama in many ways. In Roosevelt's day it was much more difficult to mount opposition to the president. There was no real mass media that had the kind of power that today's conservative talking heads have. F.D.R. himself actually became one of the prominent media voices with his own use of the leading media technologies of the time. There were no major television and radio programs voicing opposition to his policies. There was plenty of opposition in print, but the ability to foster public outrage against the president and his policies simply didn't exist during F.D.R.'s time the way it does now. Likewise, the public was at a different place ideologically in the 1930s than it is today after the Cold War. In the 1930s there was widespread public faith in government and public support for collective programs. While F.D.R. was also called a socialist, the term simply didn't have the impact back then that it would come to have after World War II. Likewise, while there certainly were entrenched corporate interests in government, their power and influence was no where near the level that it is today.
But despite all these things, the reality is that Obama isn't even making an effort at even approaching the mantle of F.D.R. What made Roosevelt the ideal man for the situation is that F.D.R. was a technocrat. Roosevelt was a strong forceful leader who led from the driver's seat, who took the reins of power, strengthened the power of the executive, used the bully pulpit, and cast the special interests aside almost completely. F.D.R. truly is the closest thing to a dictator that this country has ever had, but he was a benevolent dictator in a time of crisis when that type of strong leadership was needed.
What we need in the White House today is a benevolent dictatorial technocrat. In some ways Hillary Clinton does fit this role, but her problem would always have been too much baggage and the fact that she is just not likable. What made F.D.R. successful was that he had overwhelming charm and magnetic appeal, and this is essential for any president using a strong arm. Obama has the charm and the appeal, but he's no technocrat and he's demonstrated no ability to take on the special interests.
America today faces a vast array of complex problems that have been festering for decades. The vast majority of the problems have been created by the entrenched special interests, who have profited from the system and who have a short term interest in maintaining the status quo. Still other problems are created by the American public itself and will require sacrifices and adjustments on the part of the public to address.
This is why we need a president who can be a dictatorial technocrat. We need someone who can design policy around what is the best for the country without being cowed by the special interests and even by public interests. F.D.R. was able to do this largely by using the public against the special interests, which he was able to do by constantly engaging the public to shape public opinion himself. This is where Obama has fallen woefully short, which is surprising given his rise in the campaign based on his rhetoric. That is the area where he should be doing well, and yet he isn't. Clearly F.D.R had the courage of his convictions, but its not clear that Obama does.
What I always like to consider is this: what is the difference between the current system or proposed legislation, and what would be designed by an objective specialist working in a vacuum.
Good policy, in my opinion, is policy that is close to what an objective specialist without outside pressure on him/her would create.
When we look at the policies and systems in place in America today, the entire thing is a mess. All of our policies and systems are riddled with problems, which is almost all a product of the horse trading and vote buying that takes place in the political process. The current health care proposals in the House and Senate are perfect examples of this as well, and demonstrate that even with a Democratic President and Democratic majorities in Congress, we still can't produce effective legislation. The process of "appeasing" the centrists and the entrenched powers in the medical and insurance industries, as well as seniors, has produced absurd, ineffective, and wasteful legislation. Its a situation where more power and less need to appease special interests would likely have resulted in better legislation.
And the really bad thing is, is that I think Obama's term in office right now is a critical time in history, and if he does fail to deliver meaningful reform, as it appears he will, then the results can be quite devastating. Things are made all the more precarious by the fact that there is no clear place to go from here. The Republicans not only have no solutions, they are complete idiots at best. Every policy idea I've seen from them in the past year is of course the exact opposite of what needs to be done. They go farther out into absurdity with each day, and even the serious ones are completely delusional with no pragmatic agenda for fixing America's problems. A case in point is a recent article in the Wall Street Journal by two Republican representatives proscribing a return to the "policies of Reagan" to fix the economy. In the article they denounce the national debt and decry the Obama administration's deficit spending, while saying that "doing what Reagan did" would fix the economy, i.e. cut taxes...
Umm... When Reagan came into office the country had virtually no debt at all, taxes were fairly high on the wealthy, and interest rates were extremely high. Reagan cut taxes on the rich, raised taxes on the poor, cut interest rates massively (well the Fed did), and engaged in massive deficit spending.
When Reagan left office there was so much alarm over the national debt he had wracked up that George Bush Sr. was forced to raise taxes once he got in office to prevent a total budget disaster. Indeed the problem we are in today is because of the massive debt hole that the previous three Republican administrations have put us in, all based on Reagan's legacy of massive debts.
We can't cut interest rates anymore, they are already at zero. We can't cut taxes anymore either, hell the problem is that taxes have been too low for the past 30 years, except under Clinton. You can't get out of debt by reducing your income. The fact that Republicans can't seem to get beyond Reagan, and on top of that can't even seem to honestly look at his policies, means that the party is completely bankrupt of ideas at best and is simply dishonest and intentionally subversive at worst.
So we can pretty much be assured that the Republicans aren't going to make any positive contributions to fixing America for years to come, if ever. And yet the Democrats have shown themselves to be impotent as well. I suspected as much but wanted to give them a chance and was hoping for the best.
I do think that there are a few good people in the Democratic party with good intentions and good ideas, but its clear when they have control of every branch of government and they still can't get anything done now that they aren't going to be able to do anything any time soon either.
Think about the fact that it took F.D.R. 12 years in office with Democratic majorities in Congress, and with him stacking the Supreme Court, to make the progress that he did in fixing the American economy and putting the country on solid footing for the future. Its inconceivable, and technically impossible, that such an opportunity will come again. If Obama fails to gain traction and fails to bring about major reforms, then the next 20 years in this country appear to be very bleak indeed.