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Julianne Malveaux: People do need to develop independent politics, but even if they are disillusioned, people must consider what Romney/Ryan would do to the country

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.

As the American presidential elections heat up as we get closer to September, President Obama clearly leads amongst African Americans in polling, but he needs African Americans to actually go to the polls, not just answer phone calls about how they’re going to vote. The question is: has he done enough for African Americans and not just African Americans? Has his administration fulfilled enough of the promises he made to poor people, working people across the country, enough that they will actually go and vote?

Now joining us to talk about all of this is Julianne Malveaux. She’s former president of Bennett College for women. She’s an economist, an author, and a commentator, and her latest book is Surviving and Thriving: 365 Facts in Black Economic History. Thanks for joining us, Julianne.



JAY: And I should say Julianne’s joining us from Washington. So what do you make of my question? You know, it’s easy enough, when somebody phones you, to say, who do you like, who are you going to vote for, who has likability. But that’s not the same thing as being inspired enough to actually go down and vote. How do you think this might play out?

MALVEAUX: Oh, I think in the next two months the Obama challenge is really to mobilize the base. There are a lot of people who were very excited in 2008 because, of course, 2008 was history. We need people to get out in the same numbers.

And there are a lot of people who are somewhat discouraged. They didn’t, in their minds, get enough. But we have to remember President Obama inherited—in other words, he inherited an economy that was going [downhill], and to the best of his ability, he shored it up. But for two years he was able, with a Democratic Congress and Senate, to do some things. And in the last two years he’s really had major Republican opposition. Mitt Romney has said that the president doesn’t know how to create jobs. But he has a JOBS Act that’s sitting on the table that the Republicans just won’t move.

However, those nuances don’t mean very much to someone who doesn’t have a job, to college graduates who can’t find jobs. And so, basically, the base has to be mobilized both by talking about what President Obama has done—and I think he’s not done enough of that, his team has not done enough to talk about accomplishments. But also, although it’s a little bit negative, we have to remind people of what the alternatives are. I mean, Romney–Ryan is not an alternative to Obama unless you want to give up an awful lot.

JAY: Now, if you talk to young black activists in Baltimore—and I’m in Baltimore, and I’ve talked to a lot of people here—they are so disillusioned with President Obama and his administration that they’re unlikely to vote at all. I was at a class at Morgan State where I spoke to the class, and one of the young women in the class raised her hand and said, can they do anything to you if you decide you don’t want to vote. And followup, it was a very conscious decision: I can’t vote Republican, she says, but I don’t want to vote for President Obama because I don’t really think you did much of what he promised. And this was back during the time when they did control both houses, this exchange. There’s a feeling that President Obama simply represents another section of the American elite and they may do a little more than the Republicans but nothing close to what the rhetoric was.

MALVEAUX: Well, the rhetoric was soaring, the rhetoric was game-changing. Everyone was excited by the tone, yes we can, yes we can. [But the fact is] that when you take rhetoric and you add it to practical politics, you can do as much as your legislature and the Supreme Court allow you to do.

I think that lots of young people understand this theoretically, but especially when you have high unemployment, they want to see results now. We’re looking at especially young people, those under 25, and, you know, finding a job is almost a miracle for some of them. Too many have gone back home to live with their parents. Too many are volunteering, as opposed to [inaud.] paid jobs. So I can understand the discouragement.

JAY: But, Julianne, part of the issue is—and I’ve seen you say this yourself in some of the interviews I’ve read of you—is that, you know, it was a mistake for people if they thought President Obama was, quote-unquote, a progressive, that if you look at his history, if you look at how he spoke, and in fact how he campaigned, he campaigned as a centrist, corporatist Democrat. If he hadn’t been African-American, you know, he would have been another kind of Clinton type Democrat, and maybe perhaps people wouldn’t have had the same kind of expectations they had of him. But I’ll give you an example, and this is one that’s raised often when I speak to people here, is that he was so wedded to the private sector in terms of job creation that he just would not try to initiate a direct jobs program, you know, in a Rooseveltian New Deal style. He more or less took that off the table right from the beginning. So—and early in those days of his presidency, when everyone was talking about the financial apocalypse, you know, he had the political capital to do something like that, but he actually didn’t want—he doesn’t believe in that.

MALVEAUX: I think the [inaud.] mistake that President Obama made, number one, is that he brought Larry Summers and Tim Geithner into his economic team. These guys are clearly [inaud.] Wherever President Obama was coming from, he got basically the establishment to advise him on economic issues, and neither of them has been [inaud.] progressive. I mean, they are, you know, more than centrist, right-leaning. And so that’s one issue. Secondly, when you had the stimulus package, more money should have gone not to the states but to the cities. That’s where the highest unemployment is and that’s where you really could make a difference. I think, thirdly, although many would disagree with me, health care is historic. This thing that people are calling Obamacare is the first time we’ve changed the social contact since FDR. The flipside: look at how much political capital you had to get up.

If I were President Obama—and, of course, I’m not—I would have done jobs before I did health care, because you would have had more people excited and engaged if they had jobs. And so jobs should have been at the top of the agenda, health care second. I think that you might not have seen the flip in 2010, but you did.

But, anyway, hindsight is 20/20 and neither you or I is the president of the United States. I hate to say—come from a negative perspective and say, consider the alternative, but that’s one of the things we have to consider.

Now, your young woman in Baltimore who you spoke to at Morgan State, frankly, is the rule and not the exception. I’ve had blistering debates with young people under 25 who aren’t going to vote, who need to be persuaded to vote, who are disillusioned with President Obama, some of whom went out in the streets in 2008, registered people to vote, who aren’t going to do it this time. I was recently with some friends who were high rollers. I’m not, but a woman who maxed out last time, $23,500 is what she gave, and she said this time she’s going to give $5,000. And I said, why so much less? I mean, she hasn’t experienced any losses in the stock market. And she said, I’m just less enthusiastic. So this is the challenge that President Obama—.

JAY: Now, just—I’m curious. Is she African-American?

MALVEAUX: Absolutely.

JAY: So that’s very interesting, ’cause that’s a constituency. I mean, if he loses that constituency, you know, upper middle class or even well-to-do African Americans, that’s a real weakness.

MALVEAUX: Well, this lady’s going to vote. She’s going to vote. She’s going to vote for the president. But she’s not going to give as much. And that is alarming. But, again, I think a lot of people are feeling disillusioned. So how do you combat that? First [inaud.] this summer may be an exception—tends to be a pretty dry time for campaigning. While you and I and people who are political junkies pay a lot of attention to the conventions, a lot of people don’t pay attention to the politics until a little bit after Labor Day. And so September and October, with the debates and everything else, is going to be a high-energy time, and the president’s job is to take his high energy and his team and mobilize, get the base out.

JAY: Okay. In one of your interviews you said essentially—I’m paraphrasing you, and if I’m a little brutal doing it, please say so. But more or less you said, okay, we’re all pretty disappointed with the Obama administration, but, you know, a Romney–Ryan presidency will be so much worse that you’ve got to support Obama. But—and your but was—now focus on developing independent politics, an independent movement that makes demands on behalf of African Americans and other working people. So if I paraphrased you right, what are you envisioning in terms of that independent politics? What does that look like?

MALVEAUX: Well, Reverend Jesse Jackson with Rainbow Push, I think in 1988 he really did talk about independent politics. The late Ron Walters wrote extensively about independent politics. It doesn’t have to be inside a [inaud.] but the fact is that you won’t even [inaud.] in your mother’s house unless you bring your plate to the table. In other words, African-American people, progressive people have not made demands. Some people have been so excited about having an African-American president that they haven’t brought their plate to the table, and if you don’t bring it, you won’t get anything.

Even more importantly, I think, people have to decouple themselves from some of these parties and some of their rhetoric. We can still be supportive of President Obama or others, but I think that in some ways, working outside the system may be more effective at this juncture [than working] inside the system.

Romney takes it to the extreme, but before Mitt Romney, when you look at, let’s say, a Clinton and a Bush—I used to call them the Demublicans and the Republocrats. In other words, when you looked at the parties, there was an awful lot of similarity, especially with the leaning to corporate America, often with the positions on social programs. And that’s just not acceptable. We should be sending young people to college in much greater numbers. China, India, and Eastern Europe are investing in higher education while we’re divesting. These are some of the conversations we need to have, and they don’t need to be conversations we can have inside the party tent.

JAY: So, is—how, then, did you develop—deal with—. Let me back up. How do you deal with the problem that every two years there’s an electorial campaign that draws people back into this thing, that the Republicans are such a draconian alternative, you wind up supporting the corporate Democrats? And where does the independent movement develop, then? Or is there any possibility of waging a fight within the Democratic Party, a real fight? Because a real fight would mean that at some point people have to say, well, we’re not going to vote at all if there isn’t some kind of movement.

MALVEAUX: Well, let’s look at the Tea Party and what they’ve done to the Republican Party. They’ve pulled them all the way to the right. The Tea Party does not represent every Republican, but the moderate Republican has almost become an endangered species because of the influence of the Tea Party.

Why can’t the progressive left organize in the same way? I don’t want moderate Democrats to become endangered, but what has happened in the past couple of decades is that the progressive position has been swallowed by the centrists. If you look at any number of people—I think of Reverend Jesse Jackson as one, I would think of many [inaud.] raised progressive issues, and they get swallowed by the centrists. And so the left wing of the Democratic Party has to endeavor to be as influential as the left wing or the right wing of the Republican Party. That simply hasn’t happened. Progressives get together and they grouse, this isn’t right, that isn’t right, but as you said, we come back into the fold eventually.

What we haven’t done is an intraparty insurrection inside the party to say: these are [inaud.] believe in. We look at the platform, and it’s a reasonable platform. But the Democratic platform doesn’t even ask for statehood for the District of Columbia, where you have 600,000 people who are virtually unrepresented. And so these are some of the kinds of things that I think progressives need to rally around and say, we’re going to draw a hard line on this in the sand.

JAY: Okay. Thanks very much for joining us, Julianne. And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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Julianne Malveaux is the former President of Bennett College for Women. She is also an economist, author, and commentator. Currently, Malveaux is the Honorary Co-Chair of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, and serves on the board of the Economic Policy Institute. Dr. Malveaux is the Founder and Thought Leader of Last Word Productions, Inc. which has published her newest work, Surviving and Thriving: 365 Facts in Black Economic History.