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Katrina vanden Heuvel on Obama and change for whom?

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network. Again we’re with Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of The Nation. So there’s all kinds of talk about change, and you’ve talked about in your editorial, where you say even some establishment figures now see change because of the extent of the crisis. But isn’t the question change for whom? Are we going to have change that benefits ordinary people at the end of this whole process? Or is change to somehow just get back to what the status quo was before the crisis? And how do you think progressives are going to respond to the stimulus package? ‘Cause there’s nothing in this stimulus package, even the conversation, that leads to higher wages.

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL, EDITOR AND PUBLISHER, THE NATION: That’s a very good question. I think that is the root problem, that workers have lost out in these last 30 years. At a time of extraordinary productivity, wages have been stagnant. I also agree with you that for the first time in many years the idea of government, activist government, smart government, not fighting about the size of it but ensuring that government can be on the side of working people, is an important step on the road to building increased wages for working people. The problem is it isn’t built into the stimulus in any real way, because the stimulus, as even mainstream liberal, good commentators like Paul Krugman will tell you, is not big enough. Joseph Stiglitz has talked at great length about this. So the stimulus is the first plan, the first part. It’s part of the relief. We now need reform and recovery, and it’s not clear to me that the team around Obama is fully capable or willing of thinking about a new economy, which will be needed to raise wages, to empower workers, and to create and save the jobs. Today we sit here staggering when it’s—I read estimates today, 75,000 jobs lost yesterday—in one day. So, at the same time, what we’ve seen is the full discrediting of economic theories, this idea of deregulation, the market can save all. People are flirting in mainstream media with nationalization, but nationalization designed to save the financial system.

JAY: And then get out.

VANDEN HEUVEL: And then get out. So I think—.

JAY: Is there a mistake being made that there’s such a fight taking place over the size of the stimulus that there’s not enough conversation about stimulus for who? Because if it’s just a lot of money thrown into the economy, we wind up with the same, more or less, best-case scenario, back to status quo, and even that’s going to be hard to see for quite some time.

VANDEN HEUVEL: The best-laid recovery plans do begin to invest in rebuilding America, and investing in this greening of the economy, and investing in jobs for the future. But there’s not enough laying down the tracks for a rethinking of the economy. It seems to me you need this stimulus plan, and you need it as big as you can get. But it cannot stop there. You then need the re-regulation that could protect and empower workers and diminish corporate power and diminish the corruption of corporate power. But then you need, in my mind, something that has been off the radar in this country. Fortunately, nationalization is coming back on the radar. But you need an industrial policy, you need national planning, and that may be very tough for people who have (1) been complicit in some of the problems we’ve seen with deregulation and (2) wary of pushing too hard against some long-held truths in America about individualism. Again, the crisis which is metastasizing may provide an opening. We need to be ready. Naomi Klein, our columnist, wrote a book called The Shock Doctrine. Part of the brilliance of the right was to have plans ready in moments of crisis. We’re working with a team of economists, and on that end of it I would argue that there are progressive economists who are (1) somewhat listened to inside corridors of power and (2) have plans: Robert Poland, Jamie Galbraith, Stiglitz. They’re not directly inside as they should be; and if the team-of-rivals concept had been fully implemented, one or two of them should have been in there in addition to the Summers, the Geithners.

JAY: Pretty big omission. Yeah.

VANDEN HEUVEL: But they are on advisory councils, and they will be in the mix.

JAY: But we talked to James Galbraith, and nobody’s talking to him.

VANDEN HEUVEL: Jerry Bernstein is in the mix, but not in as high a position as he should be. He’s someone who’s written eloquently about the disasters of the economy of these last 30 years, sort of the YOYO economy (“you’re on your own, Jack”), as opposed to “we’re in this together.” So there are, you know, tremendous shifts going on in the larger political culture, ordinary Americans understanding that they need an active government. That alone is a shift one can work with. We don’t yet know how bad this is going to get, and that again opens different doors, different doors, ’cause if it doesn’t really move in a way that shows people that government can actually improve the conditions of their lives—and we haven’t seen that in many, many years—it may be tough to sell people.

JAY: Obama had dinner at George Will’s house about a week ago, as you know, with some of the—Charles Krauthammer and several of the other conservative columnists. And David Brooks reported on that meeting on the Stephanopoulos show and said that the big question that the conservative columnists raised with him was not about the necessity for stimulus. Even they seemed to be on—there seems to be a general consensus that public money should be used to—

VANDEN HEUVEL: To salvage—

JAY: —salvage the crisis.

VANDEN HEUVEL: —the system that they’ve destroyed.

JAY: Yeah. Exactly. But they raised with Obama, when it comes time to face the music and try to deal with the inflation that many people are predicting is going to hit as a result of the printing of currency to create a lot of the stimulus, would he look at entitlement programs as a way to deal with this? And, according to Brooks, he said he would. And then The Washington Post editorial board apparently had a meeting with Obama where Obama said something similar, that he’s open to look at entitlement programs. There’s going to be a paying of the piper here at some point, one assumes, if the stimulus actually is even affected, which is another debate. Does it concern you this is even a conversation for Obama?

VANDEN HEUVEL: It’s our next cover story: William Greider, on the false narrative of this crisis of entitlements. Listen, for 30 years in this country workers have not participated in the gains. They’ve worked two or three jobs. Their health care has been gutted, their pensions ravaged. And now they’re talking about entitlement reform on the backs of these workers? I mean, they’re asking workers to tighten belts, belts they don’t even have, and I think it is a big fight ahead. And I think the Pete Peterson institute, Mr. Peterson of “Blackstone Greed,” hedge funder, has funded this foundation to fight for the narrative of entitlement crisis. Going to be a big fight. And Obama seems more open than he should be. And what the left progressive community needs to do is not only expose the falsehood of this crisis, but lay out how do you rebuild pensions, how do you strengthen the pension system, and how do you fix a health-care system that’s broken so that the attention isn’t paid to Medicaid’s failings and problems with funding. So I think it is a big fight, and I think, you know, that’s where our attention needs to be paid. All the blogs were—and I will admit, I blog too about, you know, if he’s really going to do team-of-rivals, why did he meet with conservatives that night? It should have been a trans-partisan gathering. But the bigger problem is that push on the entitlement front.

JAY: In the next segment of our interview, let’s talk about how the progressive movement and The Nation positions itself vis-à-vis Obama, and to what extent do you articulate objectives that go far past what Obama’s talking about. Please join us again with Katrina vanden Heuval in the next segment of our interviews.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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Katrina vanden Heuvel is The Nation's editor and publisher. She is the co-editor of Taking Back America--And Taking Down The Radical Right and, most recently, editor of The Dictionary of Republicanisms. She is also co-editor (with Stephen F. Cohen) of Voices of Glasnost: Interviews with Gorbachev's Reformers and editor of The Nation: 1865-1990, and the collection A Just Response: The Nation on Terrorism, Democracy and September 11, 2001.