Change comes from the bottom up


The whole knock on President Obama not living up to his promises ignores that nothing major can be done in the U.S. political system without the support of Congress.

Furthermore, traditionally, presidents rarely get done everything they promise; it's an American custom. I always took Obama's eloquent campaign speeches with a grain of salt myself, not because he personally is a hypocrite, but because that's the American game. Obama especially would never have been elected without making great campaign speeches because he is Black. He needed that extra leverage to overcome white supremacy.

It wasn't President Obama who didn't get single-payer health care. We didn't get it past the entire Republican Party and the Democratic Party Blue Dogs in Congress. So, if you hear him propose cutting the military budget and don't back him up by you yourself organizing an occupation of the Pentagon or something similar, do not come back later and say the president didn't live up to his nice words. Take his speeches as marching orders not pleasant ideas and sounds.

With all that said, somehow the tea party demagogues or ultra-left thinking have caused even liberals and progressives to think the health care reform that passed is of no benefit to 99 percent of Americans, for example. Recently articles have come out on the positives that were achieved in the law coming into effect. But somehow the news media or racism has robbed Obama of his significant achievements in this regard.

Other examples: The fact that the president has fulfilled his campaign promise of ending the war on Iraq has no political significance to so many on the left. Most feminists are silent on his splendid record on women's rights (Pay Equity Act passed, two women and only women appointed to the Supreme Court, stem cell research authorized, etc.)

Obama will get nothing done if there is no movement from the bottom up. As he himself put it repeatedly during the 2008 campaign, change comes from the bottom up; there is no such thing as single-handed heroes, even presidents. Everybody will have to pitch in and fight or it won't happen. This is the real world, not Neverland.

That is the challenge for the left and progressive movement: build a mass movement of tens of millions, as was done in the 1930s, to win a new New Deal.

Photo: President Obama speaks at a Labor Day rally in Detroit. John Rummel/PW


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  • It is always salutory to urge that people on the left develop a more sophisticated understanding of how things work in Washington, but I think that this article overstates the case. People I have worked with on a number of struggle issues are perfectly well aware that laws can not be changed without pressure on Congress, sophisticated lobbying campaigns, the building of mass organizations and alliances and so forth, AND HAVE BEEN DOING THIS. They have not been expecting magical results from a charismatic president; their criticisms of the administration often come from the perception that people in the executive branch and in the White House have been working against them in these efforts, either behind the scenes or, in some cases, quite openly. For example: In June of 2009, almost all of organized labor (AFL-CIO nationally and the Change to Win unions) plus almost all of the immigrants' rights movement got together behind a legislative proposal for immigration reform. This was a major breakthrough because for the first time in several legislative cycles, it did not include a major new guest worker program, a previous sticking point which prevented the AFL-CIO from supporting previous reform bills. With few exceptions the whole immigrants' rights movement plus its labor and civil rights allies were ready to move with a full blast lobbying campaign in support of this package. People involved knew perfectly well that this was going to be an uphill struggle in Congress, but they were going to do their level best, a whole national campaign on the issue. But the proposal was NOT supported by the White House and the administration, allegedly because it did not include a new guest worker program, and therefore would not have enough big business support to win Republican votes in Congress and be presentable as a "bipartisan" effort. (There may have been other reasons, but that is what we heard at the time).
    Now, the effort behind the 2009 immigration reform proposal, had it been supported by the administration, may or may not have succeeded, but it is not correct to say that complaints about it show a lack of understanding that Congress makes the laws and not the president. People understood this perfectly well, and were acting on that basis.
    Nevertheless, the Republicans are still FAR WORSE on this and any and all other issues you can mention, and it is important to assure that they do not win the White House and the whole of Congress in 2012. This would be a catastrophe, and support for the Democrats, with all their faults and limitations, is the only way to prevent it, since it is not possible to organize another electoral force with winning capacity between now and November. But let us do so with our eyes open, and not make a virtue out of necessity.

    Posted by Emile Schepers, 01/15/2012 9:19am (4 years ago)

  • Unfortunately, there was a movement to help bring about positive change, it was called "Occupy Wall Street." Instead of at least listening to their voices and educating themselves as to why people might be upset political leaders arrested them and kicked out the movement.

    Posted by Jon, 01/11/2012 9:39am (4 years ago)

  • Unfortunately, I feel as though Occupy Wall Street was a beginning to that change - but instead of heeding their cries - cities and political leaders have simply quieted their voices through camp raids and arrests.

    Posted by Jon, 01/11/2012 9:38am (4 years ago)

  • Re: "Most feminists are silent on his splendid record on women's rights (Pay Equity Act passed)"

    Perhaps they are silent because:

    No legislation to date has closed the gender wage gap — not the 1963 Equal Pay for Equal Work Act, not Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, not the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act, not the 1991 amendments to Title VII, not affirmative action (which has benefited mostly white women, the group most vocal about the wage gap), not diversity, not the countless state and local laws and regulations, not the horde of overseers at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and not the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.... Nor will a "paycheck fairness" law work.

    That's because pay-equity advocates continue to overlook the effects of female AND male behavior:

    Despite the 40-year-old demand for women's equal pay, millions of wives still choose to have no pay at all. In fact, according to Dr. Scott Haltzman, author of "The Secrets of Happily Married Women," stay-at-home wives, including the childless who represent an estimated 10 percent, constitute a growing niche. "In the past few years,” he says in a CNN report at, “many women who are well educated and trained for career tracks have decided instead to stay at home.” (“Census Bureau data show that 5.6 million mothers stayed home with their children in 2005, about 1.2 million more than did so a decade earlier....” at If indeed more women are staying at home, perhaps it's because feminists and the media have told women for years that female workers are paid less than men in the same jobs — so why bother working if they're going to be penalized and humiliated for being a woman. If "greedy, profit-obsessed" employers could get away with paying women less than men for the same work, they would not hire a man – ever.)

    As full-time mothers or homemakers, stay-at-home wives earn zero. How can they afford to do this while in many cases living in luxury? Because they're supported by their husband, an “employer” who pays them to stay at home.

    Feminists, government, and the media ignore what this obviously implies: If millions of wives are able to accept no wages and live as well as their husbands, millions of other wives are able to accept low wages, refuse overtime and promotions, work part-time instead of full-time (“According to a 2009 UK study for the Centre for Policy Studies, only 12 percent of the 4,690 women surveyed wanted to work full time”: See also an Australian report:, take more unpaid days off, avoid uncomfortable wage-bargaining ( — all of which lower women's average pay. Women are able to make these choices because they are supported or anticipate being supported by a husband who must earn more than if he'd chosen never to marry. (Still, even many men who shun marriage, unlike their female counterparts, feel their self worth is tied to their net worth.) This is how MEN help create the wage gap. If the roles were reversed so that men raised the children and women raised the income, men would average lower pay than women.

    See "Will the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act Help Women?" at

    Posted by Male Matters, 01/10/2012 4:12pm (4 years ago)


    Posted by Charles, 01/10/2012 3:02pm (4 years ago)

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