Roger Hickey: Speech took up issue of income inequality but jobs program proposed far from enough
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington.
And in Washington, President Obama delivered his State of the Union. And joining us from Washington is Roger Hickey. Roger is the founder and codirector of Campaign for America’s Future. He’s also one of the founders of Americans United to Protect Social Security. Thanks for joining us, Roger.
ROGER HICKEY, CODIRECTOR, CAMPAIGN FOR AMERICA’S FUTURE: Thank you, Paul.
JAY: So what did you make of President Obama’s speech?
HICKEY: Well, I think the president is benefiting from the fact that the Occupy Wall Street movement has galvanized the country and put a focus on economic fairness, and the simultaneous self-destruction of the Republican Party in the Congress, which has looked more and more self-serving and obstructionist. So the president looked active, and as a leader tonight he certainly placed some amount of emphasis on economic fairness and on a government that was on the side of the American people. I think he’s still taking too much for granted an economic recovery that I don’t think is there yet, and therefore did not talk much about what it needs, what it’s going to take to get large numbers of Americans employed, 30 million Americans who need employment. But heâ€”. So with that kind of a big, gaping hole, he did emphasize the need for tax fairness, he did emphasize the need to be on the side of working Americans, and he talked about things like manufacturing and world trade in a way that made him sound like he was on the side of good jobs for American workers.
JAY: Yeah. I thought in terms of, like, passion and rallying people to have a fight for these things, in some ways Newt Gingrich is doing a better job in terms of Gingrich’s rhetoric against the elites and, you know, the excesses of big capitalists and all of this, and he still seems so worried about being accused of waging class warfare, which is the obviously the Republican speaking pointâ€”no matter what he says, they say that’s what he’s doing. But instead of actually saying, okay, yeah, there is a war going on, he plays this, oh, we’re all in one unit and we’re all in this together and get each others backs, when clearly we’re not.
HICKEY: Well, as we all know, the president’s personality does not tend toward confrontation. And, of course, he’s surrounded himself by some of Wall Street’s best and brightest in his administration. So he’s always got that problem of being able to finger the bankers who plunged us into catastrophe. On the other hand, the Republican Party is putting forward ideas that are so regressive and so, so bad that just a ringing declaration that he won’t go back to the policies that got us into this mess is compelling.
And I do think that the president is tryingâ€”tryingâ€”to make a turn toward populism. It would be better if he had been consistent all the way through. It would be better, as you say, if he was willing to stand up to some of the more powerful institutions in our economy. And we as a political movement are going to have to push him even farther. We’re going to have to of course try to get him reelected, of course criticize the terrible policies of the Republican Party. But we’re also going to have to chart our own agenda that talks about how we really create 30 million jobs, how we really revive manufacturing and balance American trade. And that means going way beyond what the president has advanced today in his State of the Union message.
JAY: And the problem is is the State of the Union message is justâ€”really is just words. You know. And certainly the first two years of this administration, when they had both houses, there was so much more they could have done, except they managed this so much from the point of viewâ€”certainly the White Houseâ€”from the point of view of Wall Street. And so now we’re in just into kind of year-of-campaign rhetoric. I mean, I’m talking to a lot of people that voted for Obama last time that are just so furious at the actual practice, not the rhetoric of this administration, that they are saying, I don’t care anymore, I’m not going to vote for Obama anyway. In terms of charting a more independent movement, even if people are going to vote for Obama in the final analysis, does there need to be a more honest reckoning with what this four years has been?
HICKEY: Listen, I think we have to do both. I think we have to get Obama reelected. The alternative is just too terrible to contemplate. I think we have to work really hard to get a new Congress, win back the House, and keep the Senate. And the hope is that we can get a Congress that is even better than the one that Obama lost in the last election, one that will push him, a political movement and a Congress that will push the political system to challenge the power of the banks, to challenge corporate America, and to put Americans to work. It’s a job that we have to do to build an independent political power and, since third parties are very, very impossible to do in America, to move the Democratic party in a more progressive direction. We have to do all that anyway. We can’t sit on our hands. We can’t just say it doesn’t matter.
JAY: Right. Now, to get to this kind of number, jobs number you’re talking about, you know, to really make any serious dent in the unemployment, every economist I’ve talked to says there needs to be some kind of straightforward public jobs program. You can’t just do it through a private sector. And he’s completely ruled that out as far as I can make out. It’sâ€”he talked very much about how this has to be private sector solutions. I mean, what doâ€”how do you think he should get to that kind of job creation you’re talking about?
HICKEY: Well, I agree with you that we face the prospect of another lost decade, where young people coming into the workforce have no opportunity, where millions and millions of people who’ve lost their jobs in the last depression or recession can’t find them again, and we just can’t afford that. A recovery at this pace means high levels of unemployment, 8 percent unemployment forever. So part of our independent movement has got to be getting beyond just the short-term stimulus that Obama’s trying to get through the Congress. Since we can’t pass anything in the Congress big until we change the composition of the Congress, we’ve got to make that the focus of the political debate.
JAY: I mean, I don’t thinkâ€”I’m not asking you to come up with a easy solution to what I’m about to ask, but I need to say it anyway. Just before the State of the Union speech, one of the cable channels was interviewing the White House communications director and asked him: is this speech going to be something that galvanizes the base? Is he going to come out swinging, you know, for the middle class and against the wealthy and all of this? And his answer was, oh, no, no, no, no, no; we’re going to put forward policies even Republicans will like. Like, heâ€”you know, this idea of pushing him from the left and so on, they don’t even seem to be all that concerned that so much of the progressive base has kind of given up on him.
HICKEY: It’s not a good idea to give up on Obama. Whatâ€”the thing that we’ve got to do is we’ve got to build a political movement that surrounds Obama and forces him to do better. You are not going to change his personality, but we could change the political environment and the composition of the Congress so that when we have the election, it’s a mandate for public investment, for public jobs, for defending Social Security and Medicare, for a new and more egalitarian vision of America.
JAY: But the problem is he’s not even campaigning on that.
HICKEY: Well, listen, we can sit here and complain about how Obama’s campaigning, or we can change the nature of the debate. It’s very, very important that progressives stand up and say, we need to create 30 million jobs, and if we don’t, if we don’t do the public investment and public job creation necessary, we’re going to be stuck for a generation. It’s very, very important that we say what we know to be true and force the politicians, including Obama, to respond and to make this next election the Occupy election, I hope, in which members of Congress get elected, pledge to go to Washington and turn things around, invest in the future, make America a fairer place to work and live. And Obama is slowly, slowly making the turn to populism. He’s not doing nearly enough, but it’s an indication that that’s what the American people want to hear.
JAY: Yeah, that’s the problemâ€”that’s what they want to hear. So in election year, you say what they want to hear. I guessâ€”I’m not arguing with you. There’s no other choice than to create an atmosphere in the country in favor of policies that are good for ordinary people, whatever happens. But I guess what I’m saying is we better beâ€”everyone needs to kind of be cogent about what Obama actually says and not once more kind of foster a lot of disillusionment afterwards.
HICKEY: Oh, no, this is going to be a very, very different election. This is not going to be Obama as the savior, Obama walks on water. That’s not the kind of election we need or will have. It’s we’ve got to help this guy get reelected and we’ve got to outline an agenda, we’ve got to mobilize the country to demand real change, because this trying to make deals with the Republicans and the conservatives and corporate America has clearly not worked. But we’ve got toâ€”you know, we’ve got to understand that we managedâ€”the progressive movement managed to get Obama off of deficit reduction and onto talking about jobs. We managed to get him talking about economic fairness, if only to be in tune with the Occupy movement. It’s not enough, but we’ve really had an impact, and I think we can have more, especially if the Republican Party nominates somebody like Mitt Romney, who is the epitome of the 1 percent, or the 1 percent of the 1 percent.
JAY: Right. Well, that’sâ€”thanks very much for enough for joining us, Roger.
HICKEY: Good be with you.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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