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When President Barack Obama was elected in 2008, progressives cheered what they saw as a chance for real change in the country. One of those was Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of the Nation. Still she cautioned, we progressives need to be as clear-eyed, tough and pragmatic about Obama as he is about us. Three years later vanden Heuvel takes stock of the president’s accomplishments and winces at the disappointment she and other supporters feel over compromises he’s made with republicans on critical social and economic issues. In a new collection of her columns, she addresses the challenges limiting political debate and why she’s fighting for progress in the age of Obama.
- Katrina vanden Heuvel editor and publisher of The Nation, writes a weekly column for The Washington Post.
As a proud progressive, Katrina vanden Heuvel cheered the election of President Barack Obama. In the years since, she has expressed a less enthusiastic response to Obama’s accomplishments in office, and to the state of American politics today. Vanden Heuvel talks about what she sees as Obama’s biggest challenges now and what she thinks the Democrats need to do ahead of the 2012 elections.
High Hopes in 2008
Vanden Heuvel had a message for Obama when he was elected, and it included things she wanted to see him do during his term. To her, one of the most important tasks Obama had before him was to put demands on the banks, which she says he has failed to do. Obama also made a mistake in what vanden Heuvel calls “demobilizing” many of the people who helped get him elected. “In the system we live in, you need countervailing power,” she said. “You need wind at your back, and the wind at your back to take on establishment power and corporate money in your system would be people.”
Disappointments on Health Care, Financial Reform
Vanden Heuvel knows that compromise is an essential part of politics, but she saw Obama as retreating from his ideals during the long debate over health care reform. She said he had run on audacity, but what he demonstrated was conciliation. In her view, Obama allowed lobbyists to gut both the health care and financial reform bills, rendering them ineffective.
Obama’s supporters are irritated when left-leaning writers and commentators like vanden Heuvel come out with such strong criticisms of the president. But vanden Heuvel doesn’t want people to look at her writing and her book as a denigration of the president. “It’s trying to take a measure of not just the presidency, but the interconnection of movement, of leadership, of conditions in this country,” she said. Passing two major pieces of legislation, appointing two strong women to the Supreme Court, and repealing the global gag rule are all accomplishments she acknowledges.
What Would an Obama 2012 Win Mean?
A listener asked vanden Heuvel if she would be optimistic if president Obama is re-elected in 2012. In her book, vanden Heuvel wrote that she thinks we need to be as pragmatic and clear-eyed about Obama as he is about us. Right now, she said it’s important for movements to keep working with the president, and pushing him when needed – criticizing, engaging, and supporting when called for.
You can read the full transcript here.
Author Extra: Katrina vanden Heuvel Answers Audience Questions
Q: Why do the democrats never come out and support the president when the Republicans mislead the electorate? I think there would be a benefit to more widely supporting the stimulus or “failed stimulus” as they like to call it, as well as the health care bill and some of the tax reform the president has been talking about. There never really seems ot be much fact checking on the part or the liberals. – From Patrick via email
A: But many Democratss do come out and support the President when GOP misinforms, misleads the public. But it also demands a White House and a President willing to frame and fight hard to support and promote their policies – for example, the stimulus, which this White House didn’t do enough to “sell.”
Q: The left is missing the bullhorn that Fox News provides for the right.The Nation is a passionate, smart, critical voice that needs to be heard. What does Katrina plan to do to make the Nation more visible, more relevant and more part of the daily conversation … currently it is dismissed as a liberal almost fanciful weekly. – From John via email
A: The independent/progressive media infrastructure is stronger now than it was 20 years ago. But it does need to get stronger. MSNBC has become a platform for some strong progressive voices; the Nation now has 1.5 million viewers on its website, thenation.com and has its reporters out on all platforms, radio and TV and more….We are also working with media across the country to make our voice more relevant and connected to real lived experiences of workers and others fighting the Right in places like Ohio and Wisconsin.
Q: Progressives are too reluctant to publicly embrace the fact that Obama and most other Democrats depend on Wall Street financing as much as the Republicans do and that their policy decisions reflect that dependence. If we get policies that favor the top 1% from both major parties, wouldn’t it make sense to start supporting alternatives like the Green Party as one way to work toward more humane policies? – From Josh via email
A: I believe our first goal must be to get corporate money out of our political system and create a small donor network so a new generation of gutsy reformers can have a stronger voice in our politics. Then, as I lay out in THE CHANGE I BELIEVE IN, we must fight for political reforms — I have a passel of ‘em in the book — that would give third parties a real chance, not just Ross Perot third parties, which are top down and run by corporate money, but real alternative voices. But we would also be wise to support and grow the small “d” democratic wing of the Democratic party and find through public financing and new media an end to corporate money in our system…
Read an Excerpt
Excerpted with permission from the introduction of “The Change I Believe In: Fighting For Progress in the Age of Obama” by Katrina vanden Heuvel. Available from Nation Books, a member of The Perseus Books Group. Copyright 2011:
MS. KATTY KAYThanks for joining us. I'm Katty Kay of the BBC sitting in for Diane Rehm. Diane will be back tomorrow. As a proud progressive, Katrina Vanden Heuvel cheered the election of Barack Obama. In the years since, she has expressed a less enthusiastic response to President Obama's accomplishments in office, and to the state of American politics today. Vanden Heuvel's new book is a collection of her columns from The Washington Post and The Nation magazine of which she is the publisher and editor.
MS. KATTY KAYThe book is "The Change I Believe In: Fighting for Progress in the Age of Obama." Katrina Vanden Heuvel joins me in the studio. Katrina, it's a pleasure.
MS. KATRINA VANDEN HEUVELThank you, Katty.
KAYThe phone number is 1-800-433-8850. The email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. We'd love to take your questions and comments, and of course, you can also find us on Facebook and Twitter. I was reading your book, Katrina, over the weekend, and it kind of feels a love story, a love story where the affair has dimmed.
HEUVELI love that description of it, but let me step back and suggest...
KAYThat it's not a romance novel.
HEUVEL...it's not a romantic -- that's my next book. You know, the -- I write in the beginning of this book about being at the offices of The Nation on election night 2008, and we're sometimes a hardened crew at The Nation, but there were tears. There were tears. I think a sense of coming out of eight years of Bush/Cheney. A sense of exhilaration, a sense that electoral politics had become a vehicle for raising expectations, especially among young people, African Americans, Latinos, women.
HEUVELBut I -- at the same time, Katty, the magazine I've edited for many years now, is a magazine that is committed to the idea of change from below. The idea of people making change, of movements allied with politicians of principle. But it was -- what moved me to write these columns is that it's about navigating the Obama era with determined idealism, grounded pragmatism, as an editor, as a citizen, as a small-d democrat, as a woman, and feeling that it was a journey that I think millions of others, and I say this with humility, have taken that sense of exhilaration and now into a different era.
HEUVELBut, you know, I mean, you know, the expression, one campaigns in poetry and governs in prose. The expectations were so high, and I hope we can talk a little bit about why we sit here today and look out at our country and the world with more hope, I have to say, because there is a new spark in this country. The Occupy Wall Street movement, not just on Wall Street, but across this country, and what's going on across the world, a sense finally of enough, of people waking up and understanding that you can't bet your future on politicians, and that one election, two elections will not change the paradigm of our prevailing politics. It takes sustained movements and people involved, not just a spectators, but as citizens.
KAYOkay. Let's go back to 2008, and you open the book with a column you wrote on the transformational presidency, and you talked there about the tears that were in the office and many people felt that same sense of exhilaration right through the country.
HEUVELAnd in the world.
KAYYou had a message for Barack Obama when he was first elected. There were things you wanted him to do. What were they?
HEUVELFirst and foremost, to come out of three, four decades of calamitous right-wing conservative misrule and speak in new ways to a country eager for a voice that would connect with the middle class, with the working class, with the most vulnerable in this society, and use the financial crisis to restructure the banks, the economy, not just resuscitate the banks and the economy, and to ensure that the master of the universe served the people and not vice versa.
HEUVELTo me, that was one of the most important tasks Obama had before him, and he did not put demands on the banks. Now, perhaps our system is so rigged against the possibility of that kind of change that it was too tough, but by bringing in Lawrence Summers and Timothy Geithner, two people whose hands in many ways were -- are on the mistakes and the calamity we had just suffered, and not fulfilling his promise of bringing a team of rivals, I remember how we often spoke of Doris Kearns Goodwin's book, "Lincoln's Cabinet," no Robert Reich, no Joseph Stiglitz, no alternative voice to speak up and say we need a different approach to the economy.
HEUVELSecondly, I believe President Obama was elected largely on the basis of his opposition to the war in Iraq. And though too many people I knew did not pay attention to what he would say that the war in Afghanistan was the right war as we got out of Iraq, I still believed that he spoke against the mindset that took us into Iraq, and in that sense he would find a way not to escalate in Afghanistan, but to find a political resolution to that conflict, which he is slowly coming to, late in my mind, and the fact that wars can kill reform presidencies.
HEUVELWe saw that with Lyndon Johnson and Vietnam, and the space that is needed for true domestic reform I believe was cut off at that moment. Those were some of my major feelings, and I think bringing in Larry Summers at the very outset sent a signal that seated terrain to a right-wing populace movement better known as the Tea Party, and that the left progressive community was less willing to organize independently with someone in the White House like President Obama.
HEUVELLast point, any president like President Obama who campaigns as a former community organizer and comes with the idea of change from below which he did, to come in and demobilize the people who had worked heart and soul for your campaign, to me was wrong pragmatically because in the system we live in you need countervailing power. You need wind at your back, and the wind at your back to take on establishment power and corporate money in our system would be people. People power.
KAYYou -- that's -- you just laid out basically how you divide the book. There's your columns on the economy, there are your columns on national security, and then there are your columns, let's put it on the broadest state of the country. Flicking through some of the kind of titles of your column, you give the president his first hundred days, and you laid out there what you wanted him to do, and there's a list there. You want him to address Iraq, healthcare reform, women's health and reproductive rights, you talk about energy and the economy, the things that you would like him to take on, labor and trade, global warming. August of '09 you write a column that's titled "Let's Get Real About Barack Obama."
KAYWas this the first kind of -- you'd given him his 100 days.
HEUVELYou know, the -- it was a column written late night, and a sense that we hadn't seen the movement in the motion in the direction so many, not just progressives, but I think people of conscience, people who cared about the future of this country, we had -- we saw a president, and I'm not naïve, Katty, I believe you have to compromise. But the art of the possible is different than the art of incrementalism, and I think we were seeing that summer, if -- you remember that summer when the Tea Party filled halls in this country with inchoate rage and anger, keep your hands off my Medicare.
HEUVELAnd President Obama retreated as he was fighting for a healthcare bill that needed his leadership on the front lines. He was not there mobilizing people behind the public option, and it was a sense that he had run on audacity, and here we were seeing conciliation, and that you -- you compromise when you must, but you don't lead with compromise, especially confronted by a Republican party that has made obstruction if not nihilism its approach to President Obama.
HEUVELI do come back, however, after that column that summer to in that same summer I also wrote that, you know, he could come back and regroup. It wasn't too -- it wasn't too late, but it is true that President Obama has passed two major pieces of legislation, the healthcare bill and the Financial Reform Act. But because he, in my view, did not fight, did not draw lines in the sand, and led too much by compromise, he allowed corporate interest lobbyists to dilute, gut these bills so that they're not as strong as they could have been, and not commensurate with the scale of the crisis we continue to confront both in the financial area, the economic arena, and the healthcare arena.
KAYBut when you listen to his campaign speeches and his stressing of we are not blue America, we are not red America, we are purple America, doesn't that have to lead you to the conclusion that this was a president was going to come in with conciliation, finding compromise as one of his guiding principles?
HEUVELAbsolutely. I mean, there is no question that he -- by the way, he came...
KAYAnd it one of the things, actually that many people loved about his campaign, perhaps not progressives, but...
HEUVELYou know, I think -- no. But I think many people, you know, in many ways -- and he wrote about this in one of his books, I don't know if it was his first book, but he'd said at one point that he was a Rorshach, that people projected onto him what they wanted to here. But he did speak about changing the culture of Washington, and I think, not just for progressives, but for millions of Americans, that spoke to a sense that he would come to Washington and rebuild a government that would not be rigged against the interests of ordinary Americans, that would work for ordinary Americans, that would speak to their interests.
HEUVELAnd common ground, fine, but common ground in investing in a country that would work for everyone and not just the very few. Yes. He comes to Washington, and he did come to national prominence as you know in the convention, I believe, of 2004 where he gave his red blue speech, but great leaders also come -- they see what they see and then they change course, and I think we're seeing that now. We can't wait, President Obama says. He is now doing some smart politics by executive order that he might have done earlier, but he is now seeing that he could have taken Plan B earlier and not confronted this obstructionist Republican party, and a corporate Democratic party that wasn't working with him, and found a way to craft a new politics.
KAYOkay. Katrina Vanden Heuvel. The book is "The Change I Believe In: Fighting for Progress in the Age of Obama." She's with me in the studio. The phone number here is 1-800-433-8850. The email address is email@example.com. Do send us your questions and comments. Of course you can find us on Twitter and Facebook as well. We're going to take a quick break. Stay listening.
KAYWelcome back. I'm Katty Kay of the BBC sitting in for Diane Rehm. Diane will be back tomorrow. I'm joined here in the studio by Katrina Vanden Heuvel. Her book is "The Change I Believe In: Fighting for Progress in the Age of Obama." We'll be opening the phones in just a short while. 1-800-433-8850 is the phone number. Drshow@wamu.org is the email address.
KAYKatrina, we've had lots of emails and Facebook messages coming in already but I want to talk a little bit more about the book before we get to that. We talked about what you wrote in August of '09, "Let's Get Real about Obama." In January of 2010, you write a column saying "Give Up on Post Partisanship."
HEUVELWell, I think bipartisanship, Katty, has been radically hyped as something of value in this city. It has brought us Iraq, it brought us No Child Left Behind. I don't think we can live in a post partisan country with the levels of inequality and downward mobility we now confront. And I think that collision of radical income inequality and downward mobility has led to Occupy Wall Street. And I say Occupy Wall Street even while I think of all the movements around this country, which are now supercharged and given more attention and put into relief and attention because of Occupy Wall Street.
HEUVELSo I think it's -- yeah, post partisanship, it's not a possibility in this kind of environment, particularly also with a Republican Party. I watched the Republic debate the other night, the one in South Carolina. You know, John Huntsman, there's no role for him in this party. Ron Paul has a following of sorts. I wish he cared a little bit more about government 'cause I think his views on the need to end our stance as a global empire sink though we have different values.
HEUVELBut there's no room for a John Huntsman in a Republican Party that has become so extreme that it will not even countenance increasing taxes on the wealthiest. Ronald Regan was willing to do that. So where's the room for post partisanship in a city, in a country like this?
KAYSo Obama's premise wrong?
HEUVELHe came to office at a time when this country was perhaps more deeply divided again because of the economic factors we've come to learn more about. By the way, The Nation, three years ago, did a special issue on inequality. These issues are not new to those who seem closer -- and I say with humility -- to what's going on outside a city, D.C., where the beltway disconnect and the austerity class seems ascendant these days.
HEUVELSadly, I think President Obama was closer as he was campaigning. And as he came into the city he began to, perhaps because he's of a generation, he's grown up with 40 years of extremist conservative myths and he did not speak clearly enough about the true crisis in this country, that is joblessness. Too often he would lapse back and forth between the crisis of deficits and debt. And you're in the media. In this fractured media environment a president needs to be very clear about what his program is in this arena. And I think many Americans are confused.
HEUVELAnd that is another reason why we have Occupy Wall Street. It's not just because of the Republicans by any measure. It's because of a systems crisis. People look out and say, enough, enough. The political system in this country is not according me the representation, the dignity or the possibilities I believe we as American people deserve.
KAYLast month, Katrina, you posed the question, will Occupy Wall Street spark -- will Occupy Wall Street spark reshape our politics? What's your answer?
HEUVELYou know, we're talking about the collection of columns I wrote before Occupy Wall Street arose. But I hope in many ways the change I believe in prefigures the emergence of Occupy Wall Street because it is the belief again that movements make change. I do believe that we will see Occupy Wall Street evolve in ways movements do but it is not going away. It is not going away because it has already shifted the gravity of our political dialogue and debate.
HEUVELI saw the other day the word income inequality. The term income inequality has been now used 500 percent more in the media in the last month or so. Just the fact that there is a discussion and debate it will be up to other groups to run candidates who speak to Occupy Wall Street's ideas.
KAYWell, do you see Democrats adopting Occupy Wall Street in the way that Republicans have adopted the Tea Party?
HEUVELVery good question because Occupy Wall Street is not an electoral formation but you have a candidate like Elizabeth Warren running for the senate in Massachusetts. Putting aside the ridiculous Republican smears against her, she is someone who has been speaking about these issues, holding the banks accountable, speaking about inequality, speaking about student loans and the idea that it's not a left right issue. It's about giving people the representation the banks have too much of.
HEUVELSo I -- and by the way, I often argue with some of my colleagues who say electoral politics. But, you know, I quote Bernie Sanders, the Senator from Vermont quite a bit in the book. I write quite a bit about the progressive caucus and their people's budget, and Tammy Baldwin who's running for the senate from Wisconsin. There are good people and I'm excited.
HEUVELAnd my column this week is about a group call Progressive Majority, which is running -- hopes to -- 2012, people who come out of movements. Some of them may be Occupy Wall Street in different formations in 2012 from the state to the congressional national level. Because I do think that piece of it is critical and Occupy Wall Street will evolve in different ways. It will become a movement of the 99-percenters. And it's not just Wall Street, as you know so well, Katty. I mean, it's from Maine to Alaska. There are 2000 plus encampments. Yeah, there'll be problems. There are with all movements. But as with all movements, it is lighting the spark that we see now.
HEUVELAnd President Obama's been forced to -- he will be forced to respond to it. Think of the key -- the decision...
KAYWe've had also the Republican candidates being forced to respond to it.
HEUVELThat's right. I mean, at first, it's mobs, mobs, mobs and then it's...
KAYRight, but actually people are changing their tone and you're seeing some of that change of tone filter through to Capitol Hill as well.
HEUVELAbsolutely. The Keystone -- the decision on the Keystone Pipeline, very interesting, I think partly reflection of the movements -- again environmental movements coalescing with the Occupy Wall Street. And of course elections concentrate the mind. And as we enter 2012, I think President Obama must pay attention, again, to a term I don't like. It's often used in derogatory ways, the base. I mean, the base are good people who worked their heart and soul out in 2008 and he's lost many of them because of his unwillingness to speak with clarity and passion about the issues that he spoke to in the campaign.
HEUVELSo I think that we're seeing a president coming to terms with the politics that he now understands no longer works, this kind of post partisanship, let's play "Kumbaya" with a Republican Party that is as extremist as we've seen it in decades.
KAYKatrina, do you think President Obama is courageous?
HEUVELIt's a, you know, very good question. The term courage interests me, Katty, because I wrote a column in The Change I believe and about how so many in this city called Paul Ryan courageous. Is it courageous to take on the most vulnerable in this society? I think President Obama has shown courage at different times. I think the fact that he had the audacity to run was a courageous act. But he has not stood up to the most powerful forces in our country with the courage that we may yet see, but I believe are so important to reclaim and revive our democracy.
KAYLast December, in the sequence of articles that sort of mirror your reading of the Obama presidency, you wrote, "Obama, on the way to a failed presidency." What did you mean?
HEUVELThat on so many core issues from the economy to support for working people to a stance that would challenge the corporate powers, that he had not stood strong, he had not stood strong and it was a shout out in a sense. I mean, I think -- and you may do this with your writing and your work -- sometimes the hope is to trigger a reaction. It may have been -- gone farther than in terms of the title -- that wasn't my title. But I did think at that point we were heading to a low point and it needed -- there was a jolt. And I felt it in the people I was working with and in many of the communications I had day to day with people around this country.
HEUVELI was struck that the next day -- and I don't think the president was speaking to me but the Washington Post put that column in the paper center and the next day the president had a press conference and lashed out at sanctimonious liberals. And I felt, and I think many people I know felt at that point that the president too often lashed out at those who were or could be his allies as opposed to those who were his adversaries.
HEUVELIt is the case that the following week I wrote a column on the nature of compromise in a system rigged -- hardwired against change. But yet again I called on the president to lead through mobilizing people, not just accepting the outlines of what was.
KAYI want to read an email that's come to us from Katy in Ohio. Katy writes, "I think that liberals saw in Obama what they wanted to see. He very much campaigned as a moderate and most of his decisions have been in keeping with that."
HEUVELAs I said, there is a -- there is a Rorschach quality to this president and I do think that, as I would tell my colleagues, just remember that this president thinks Afghanistan is the good war. That this president may not be as populist as Hillary Clinton, but that there was a possibility of someone who had been a community organizer and understood the power of people and the power of change from below that moved many. And not just progressives, but moved people to think that you would have someone on your side.
HEUVELSo in that sense your caller -- your emailer is both right. But there was evidence that we could see in this president, someone who would break with the existing model. That view changed. I -- two reason I supported President Obama, I didn't want to see Larry Summers back in the White House and I thought he would have, if not the courage but the intelligence to understand when he said that we had to end the mindset that took us into Iraq to find a way out of Afghanistan. So in that sense I do think many saw in him what they wanted to see.
KAYRoberta writes to us on Facebook, "I'm sick to tears of the extreme left denigrating everything our president does. Look at his accomplishments. How could anyone be disappointed in him? Disappointed in the Republican obstructionism sure. In Obama, no way."
HEUVELWell, I want to say that I kind of, you know, weave through this book, Katty. It's not a denigration of the president. It's trying to take a measure of not just the presidency but as again, the interconnection of movement, of leadership, of conditions in this country. And in many places I talk of President Obama's achievements of repealing the global gag rule, of what he's done for women, of appointing two strong women to the Supreme Court, of passing two major pieces of legislation, which were again diluted and gutted but were major.
HEUVELAnd never forget that the healthcare bill passed without a single Republican vote. Lyndon Johnson and Franklin Roosevelt did not face that kind of obstruction. But there is a bitterness out there. There are many people who feel that the left progressive community has been too tough on the president. You know, Michael Kazin, a very good historian of populism once said that the left wouldn't be the left if it wasn't critical of the president.
HEUVELAnd previous presidents have used that relationship to great purpose and affect going back to Lincoln and his relationship to the abolitionists. Abolitionists founded the nation. Franklin Roosevelt, telling people go out and make me do it, Lyndon Johnson's relationship with the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King. So you find your way in that and I think President Obama is now beginning to reach out again instead of retreating.
KAYI'm Katty Kay of the BBC. You are listening to the Diane Rehm Show. And if you'd like to join us, please do call 1-800-433-8850 is the phone number or send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. We are going to go to the phones now to Ezekiel who writes to us from Covington, Kentucky. Ezekiel, you've...
KAYHi there. You've joined the program.
EZEKIELYes. I just want to say that the Democrats and Obama are not going to save us. The Republicans are going to save us. Our two-party system is broken. The corruption is so deep, we need a complete cleansing of government. All these status and all these corporatives need to be fired. The left right system's a sham to control minds. The only real people out there that I have trusted is Ron Paul, Dennis Kucinich, Bernie Sanders, Ralph Nader and Jesse Ventura. And most people that I know agree with me and that we're moving into an authoritarian technocracy and our rights are being destroyed.
EZEKIELAnd we need to do -- we don't need more government, we don't need less government. We need no government. How about that? You know, we don't have...
KAYOkay. As a -- let me just put that to Katrina 'cause there's a lot there to digest. You named a whole string of candidates from different parties actually.
HEUVELAbsolutely. And, you know, I do sometimes think that we -- part of the role of the nation is day in, day out to challenge the downsize politics of excluded alternatives, to challenge the limits of our politics. We are locked into a two-party system. But what's interesting is that within certainly the Democratic Party, you do have a democratic wing of the Democratic Party. You named some of the people in that wing, Dennis Kucinich, Bernie Sanders. Ralph Nader, by the way, wrote his first article for The Nation in 1959, which led to the book "The Safe Car You Can't Buy." He is someone who's controversial but someone who is brilliant in his critique of the corporate powers in this country.
HEUVELI think that it's a moment -- and your caller is right -- where people feel neither party is working for them. But within that we have to retrieve and in "The Change I Believe In," as you saw, Katty, I have a whole chapter on perfecting our democracy, a set of reforms. How do we clean up our politics from the money politics that so afflict and corrupt and metastasize through our system? And how do we listen to a range of views? At The Nation we, by the way, have had ongoing conversations with libertarians around issues, like how do we end the wars, how do we close the bases around this world.
HEUVELAnd I think we need all kinds of things, but I would close with something you and I were talking about earlier. How do we redefine security? I think that's a project for both parties, if they're open minds. Too often it's a hyper militarized as I write about in -- toward a new national security in this book. Too often it's hyper militarized as opposed to crafting a new security that is about human security, about how you deal with pandemics, with global economic instability, with trafficking of both nuclear materials and women? Of all sorts of issues that aren't going to be dealt with in the traditional ways.
HEUVELSo I think we're at a crossroads in our politics. And your caller in his inimitable way addressed that.
KAYAnd with that range and it is true that we are hearing more and more people at the moment talk about the prospect of a third party. Now whether the system can ever handle it is something else, but this is something that is being raised and suggesting dissatisfaction on both sides.
HEUVELAnd in "The Change" I believe -- and I lay out a whole set of reforms that people could fight for and have a true three-, four-party system.
KAYThe book is "The Change I Believe In." The author is Katrina Vanden Heuvel. She joins me here in the studio. We'll be taking more of your calls after this short break. 1-800-433-8850 is the phone number. Do stay with us.
KAYWelcome back, I'm Katty Kay of the BBC, sitting in for Diane Rehm. You've joined my conversation with Katrina Vanden Heuvel. She's the publisher and editor of The Nation magazine and the author of the new book "The Change I Believe In: Fighting for Progress in the Age of Obama." Let's go straight back to the phones to Andrew who joins us from Quantico, Va. Andrew, you have a question for Katrina.
ANDREWYes, thank you very much. My question is, Katrina's talking about a lot of social issues that are obviously very important in how she kind of sees the President address those. My question is, with the current debt crisis as large as it's become as we watch governments overseas collapse and while we want to believe that can't possibly happy here, it's obviously something that looms over everything that we're doing right now. How would she see the President moving forward in that and being able to keep a government that is able to run to enact some of those things, how would she have the President address the debt crisis now?
KAYVery good question, Andrew. Katrina?
HEUVELThank you and let me just bring that back home here first. I don’t think we have a debt crisis. I think that as our cover story in The Nation, a week ago, on how the austerity Clouse rules Washington, we've seen a manufacturing of a crisis in the short term. I think in the short term, the real crisis and the best deficit reduction plan is job creation. And I think that there are good deficits and bad deficits. I think the important good deficits are investment in this country and its people and infrastructure.
HEUVELAnd let's not forget why we have these deficits. We have the Bush tax cuts for the richest, we have two unfunded wars, we have health care costs which do need to be controlled but best would be through Medicare for all. And it's that that needs attention. So I think there's been manufacturing of a crisis. We are different then Greece. I understand Greece weighs on the minds of some people as a model for what might happen here. But that isn't our problem. We have a federal reserve. We have a different structure of monetary fiscal and social and governmental structures.
KAYYou say in the book that Afghanistan could up end Obama's reelection strategy. This is back in April of 2011, of this year. And you say that anti-war sentiment is at the heart of Obama's base and also of his appeal to independent voters. It's interesting isn't it that a lot of the calls we get are about the economy and about deficits. And I think that in a sense, President Obama's record on the wars is almost kind of disappeared from the front pages of newspapers, certainly. But you still believe this is a very important factor heading into the next election.
HEUVELI think it's important factor heading into the next election and I think it's an important fact or generally -- and I also think it's connected, as I said, to the economic problems we face. Two unfunded wars, the numbers are astronomical. I believe it's $2 billion a week in Afghanistan. However, we've seen, and it part it was due to the Iraqi parliament, we are seeing a withdrawal from Iraq, though there will be trainers and mercenaries and we are seeing, now, movement on Afghanistan.
HEUVELI think President Obama, sort of, cut it halfway. I think he had an opportunity to have relied on Vice President Biden and Ambassador Eikenberry in Afghanistan at an earlier stage to not escalate. But we're seeing him withdraw, come down. So I think, again, there's understanding that the mainstream-ization of opposition to Afghanistan is something he needs to take account of. However, I do think that the ongoing war on terror frame, Katty, is one that is very debilitating.
HEUVELThe president doesn't use that language, but it's still frames our national security policy. Until we free ourselves from that, we are seeing the expansion of new forms of warfare, drone warfare, which has the potential to foment blowback in countries like Pakistan. And the expansion of bases which a majority of Americans, when polled and asked, are against. But we are expanding into Africa.
HEUVELWe're expanding in parts of this globe which make no sense for our national security. So there is an intersection both of economic and security policy that President Obama has not addressed. I mean, I -- the grip of the national security state would make President Eisenhower roll around and roll over because it has grown and expanded in ways that threaten and endanger a republic, a democracy.
KAYKatrina, during this hour you've pointed out shifts that the president has made economically. And you've pointed out shifts that he's made in national security. Do you think you can now point to an Obama doctrine?
HEUVELWell, it's complicated as this President is, as this Presidency is. Because I respect what he did in the first months of his Presidency when he went to Cairo and he spoke to the Muslim world. I respect he went to Ghana, he went to Moscow. He gave a set of speeches and I think that in those speeches there was a sense of more humility about Americas role in the world, coming off of the Bush/Cheney years of a kind of messianic foreign policy.
HEUVELOn the other hand, we've seen a president committed through the war on terror to show that he is, as quote, "Tough" as the republicans in an attempt to neutralize this idea of democrats as, quote, "Soft." Someday we will get rid of these terms and use sanity. But the Obama doctrine is one where I, you know, it's working in a multilateral way. We saw it in Libya. It is also working though with an institution which I believe should've been abolished after the end of the Cold War, NATO.
HEUVELNATO is not a tea party. NATO is a military institution which was constructed to counter the Warsaw pact which no longer exists and I wish we could find other forms of engagement with the world. But he is certainly one who works with allies. And in the case of Libya, there's no question that the UK and France played a much more critical role.
KAYLet's go to David, who is calling us from Little Rock, Ark. David, you joined the Diane Rehm show.
DAVIDHey, I think anybody who's seen the movie "The Inside Job" will understand that Barack Obama's pretty much the guy to do the reforms we really need in this country. He's got it in him. You know, if you watch the way he eviscerated Donald Trump at that speech he gave, you'd understand that he could -- if he wanted to, he could take on this bunch of knuckleheads in Congress.
DAVIDI mean, he's got a decent approval rating and these people have an approval rating in the single digits. And if he dealt with them like he did with Donald Trump, we -- he could get some stuff done. Mans got it in him, but I just don’t think he's really inclined to do so. I've been very disappointed in him. He's got a lot done, don't get me wrong, but he's just not your man if you're looking for a big turn-around.
HEUVELBut you know, I think he is showing that he is responding now to the spirit, the changing spirit, in this country. And, you know again, not to be too systemic about it, but don’t forget that the inside job showed the control of corporate power, the banks in this country. And I'll never forget Senator Dick Durbin who is -- was President Obama's colleague, the senator from Illinois, said at one point during the fight over the financial reform legislation, he said the banks own this place.
HEUVELI think we really need to look hard at our system. We can look hard at the man but anyone who believes one man or one woman in a flying leap like Superman or Superwoman is going to change the mess our political system in, I got some bridges to sell them. So we need to look, yes, at leadership, at people speaking out and exposing but also at people power. We need people ready to engage and working both electorally and in movement ways with people inside and outside to clean up, clean up this money system we live in. And I lay out quite a few reforms in "The Change I Believe In."
HEUVELOf course, the Supreme Court, which President Obama to his credit at the state of the union, he spoke to the court after that decision on citizens united, which basically gives corporations the right of power to...
KAYYeah, he gave him a dressing down.
HEUVEL...gave them a dressing down which was very good and I think forgotten by many. And then what do they -- Judge Roberts, like, "Oh, this is so inappropriate." Inappropriate, give me a break. Inappropriate is that decision, not what President Obama said.
KAYOkay, well, bearing that in mind, Katrina, here's an email from Diana in Fairfax who writes "I find it either totally disingenuous or incredibly naive that anyone could believe that the Obama machine, which raised more money from corporate interests then any campaign in history, was going to change Washington. How can Ms. Vanden Heuvel really say that with a straight face?"
HEUVELThe Obama administration also raised unprecedented amounts of contributions from small donors. And that, in my mind, is the possible future of this country. If we can have clean money, public financing, but...
KAYBut she does to an...
KAY...issue there. I mean, there's a problem with the President taking large amounts of money from Wall Street and then...
KAY...trying to regulate Wall Street.
HEUVELAbsolutely. On the other hand, you have seen other politicians take money and they stole, regulate, do the reforms but there's no question, that again, many people overlook the fact that he did take huge amounts and he's still taking huge amounts, not as much from Wall Street. Partly because Wall Street -- because he called them -- what did he call them "Fat Cats" please, I mean, it was mild, have sort of turned on him. But he took a lot of money from Goldman Sachs, he took a lot of money from Wall Street.
HEUVELAnd that is one reason why Occupy Wall Street, though it's not targeting President Obama, per say, does see in our system the corruption of both parties. However this cycle is interesting. You're seeing far more Silicon Valley money whether this is, you know, which is less tethered to the Wall Street economy, going to the President. And far more, going to a republican party which has said it will do Wall Street's bidding.
KAYOkay. Let's go to Frank who calls us from Paris, Tenn. Frank, you've joined the program.
FRANKYes. My message is, don't blame Obama, blame the republicans and Tea Party members and blue dog democrats and all other new conservatives for stonewalling and obstructing and sabotaging Obama's reforms. And the second point I want to make is that Obama and all his supporters need to start demonizing the republicans and tea party members more then they -- they haven't done any real demonizing in, oh, I mean -- courtesy -- and you're right in saying that courtesy and attempts at post partisanship don’t work here.
FRANKAnd that's right. In fact, they've never worked and I've studied history of the whole world and history of the United States, in particular and it just doesn't work. I mean, it's a sad fact but he who slings the mud wins the vote. Ask John Kerry.
HEUVELWell, I like your caller. But let me just say, I think that it is time to take on, and as I write in the book, the obstructionist GOP and the President Obama is talking now about the do nothing, no nothing Congress. The Congress has fallen to nine percent approval ratings, I believe. I also, you know, believe, you know, that it doesn't make a lot of sense, following up on your callers point, for progressives at this point to do a lot of what I call the betrayal sweepstakes.
HEUVELI write about this in the book, the constant, you know, denunciation of Obama and the administration. I think we are at a more hopeful moment now because we're seeing movements, organizing. Don't whine, organize and try to move this administration, even if it has all this Wall Street money but try to make the case that it -- Wall Street's never going to side with many of the reforms that President Obama spoke of when he was running.
HEUVELSo it's the movement power and that energy as opposed to the betrayal sweepstakes which disempowers, leads people to be apathetic and it's just what our advisories want.
KAYI'm Katty Kay, you're listening to the Diane Rehm show. And if you'd like to call us, do so with your questions and comments. The number is 1-800-433-8850 or send us an email to email@example.com and I have an email here that I wanted to read you, Katrina. "Looking forward to the next election." And Sal writes to us and asks "Do you think any democrats should challenge President Obama in the primaries?"
HEUVELWe had an article about this in The Nation a few weeks ago. There's an effort among some to run favorite sons, favorite daughters in various states. But what's interesting is that what about two months ago, that article. And I think what's happened is Occupy Wall Street, in some ways, has become a virtual primary. It has become a pressure point on this President to move. I think I'm not in favor of a primary, largely because I think you would have an ugly division of a democratic party in which the African-American community, the base, is a very powerful constituency in the democratic party.
HEUVELI would prefer to focus on trying to take back the house and recruit and run and elect more progressive democrats in the Congress and build toward 2016. And really find a candidate who is committed to people power, to reform and who is perhaps less of a Rorschach and more political leader of conviction. Though, to be honest, some say that President Obama maybe the most progressive leader who could be elected in this country at this time.
HEUVELI don’t believe that anymore. I think that too much of what we've seen has been a disconnect between the majority views of Americans and what they seek, everything from investment in jobs to higher taxes on the rich, to ending the wars. And not seeing that represented in the politics in the city.
KAYKatrina, we're getting a lot of emails like this one from Anne who writes to us "Please give President Obama credit for all of his accomplishments. It was courageous to rescue the auto industry and save...
KAY...all those jobs. It was courageous to send in the SEALs to kill Bin Laden. And leadership, who else in the world, early in his first term, could've had all the world leaders including China, fly in to commit to the most important issue of our time, the nuclear summit in 2010."
HEUVELWell, I mean, the President did speak about nuclear abolition in his speech in Prague and credit or power to him, we have not seen movement on much. The agreement with the former Soviet Union, with Russia, did make some limits. But the defense budget, Katty, is still higher then it was during the Cold War and what sense does it make to have this increasingly bloated defense budged when schools in parts of this country are deteriorating?
HEUVELDoes that make sense for a strong country? On the other front, I'm not saying don't give President Obama credit where credit is due but I'm also thinking of the larger framework of his Presidency and the opportunity offered. These opportunities don't come along very often. And I think that he faced -- he had one when he was elected. There were all kinds of constraints which I write about.
KAYHe is heading into, what is going to be a tough, reelection process.
HEUVELYou said it.
KAYIt's definitely a battle, whoever the republican nominee turns out to be. I wanted to end the program by asking you something that Alvin, who writes to us from North Carolina. He's an independent, he asks himself -- calls himself, "If Obama does win in 2012, would you again be optimistic?"
HEUVELVery good question. You know, in the book, I write about how one -- I think we need to be as pragmatic and clear eyed about Obama as he is about us. I will write that romance novel someday, Katty, but right now, my romance factor has been diminished and I still believe that it is important to keep moving with movements, with people engaged and working with the President, pushing him when needed, criticizing, engaging, supporting when called for. And so that's how I see it.
KAYThe book is "The Change I Believe In: Fighting for Progress in the Age of Obama." Katrina Vanden Heuvel, it's been a pleasure having you in the studio.
HEUVELThank you very much. Thank you.
KAYI'm Katty Kay of the BBC, I've been sitting in for Diane Rehm. Diane will be back tomorrow. Thank you all so much for listening.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Denise Couture, Monique Nazareth, Nikki Jecks, Susan Nabors and Lisa Dunn. And the engineer is Tobey Schreiner. A.C. Valdez answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. And we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington. This is NPR.
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