The age of Obama has fallen tragically short of fulfilling King’s prophetic legacy. Instead of articulating a radical democratic vision and fighting for homeowners, workers and poor people in the form of mortgage relief, jobs and investment in education, infrastructure and housing, the administration gave us bailouts for banks, record profits for Wall Street and giant budget cuts on the backs of the vulnerable.Nice to see a so-called advocate for the poor just skip right over health care - the number one cause of bankruptcy and the least affordable for working and poor Americans. Nice to see that the President's expansion of SCHIP to an additional 4 million poor children doesn't even register with this elitist professor. Nice to see this advocate for the poor and the working class ignore the largest expansion of Medicaid ever through health reform. Nice to see this poor-man's-advocate wannabe not once think of the $11 billion expansion of community health centers - where the poor disproportionately obtain health care. Nice to see Cornel West, judge of all things pro-poor and pro-working class, whistle right past health reform that will result in the largest expansion of public responsibility and the first public subsidies for those who cannot afford it on their own to obtain health insurance.
And I suppose poor seniors - for whom the elimination of copays for preventive services under Medicare is a lifesaver, as far as Cornel West is concerned, can go suck a thumb. Poor seniors getting help from the collapsing and the eventual closure of the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit donut hole? Screw you, says Cornell West. Same for poor women who happen to have insurance, whose insurance is now required to cover birth control for free as preventive care.
Nice, also, I guess, to see the elite, cushy rich professor ignore the $4.5 billion increase in federal funding for school lunches for children from low-income families - the first increase since 1973 - and still pretend to be an advocate for the poor with a straight face. This "poverty tour" West and Smiley took, one would think they would come across a few families whose children were getting school meals, whose parents were able to take better care of themselves through Medicare, and so forth. Apparently, the only thing their "poverty tour" accomplished was the further impoverishment of their quality of discourse.
Just what type "radical democratic" vision should President Obama articulate? What the hell does that even mean? Dr. West doesn't tell us. As West rams through his loud whining about how the President is not doing anything about workers and poor people and jobs and education and infrastructure, the President has done an extraordinary amount just on those fronts. Let's lay out a few more things that we have not already seen above (all of these related to jobs):
- For workers: President Obama has extended unemployment benefits to 99 weeks to help out of work Americans have a little safety net while they look for jobs in the tough job market. The President's Recovery Act has saved or created 3 million jobs. The rescue of the auto industry that the President did almost single-handedly saved another 1 million jobs.
- For workers and the poor: The President instituted the first reduction in the tax burden on the working poor in a long, long time in the form of the payroll tax cut. Wealthy, Ivy-league elitists like Cornel West may not realize the importance of this relief at a crucial time, but maybe he should go ask the average American family who has $3,000 extra to buy groceries for their home and shoes for their kids.
- Investments in education: President Obama signed into law the biggest expansion of Pell Grants ever, and has protected it entirely from the budget negotiations. As part of the health care reconciliation bill, President Obama cut the banks out of the process of issuing federal student loans and used that money to increase actual student loans.
- Infrastructure: Whether or not you think it was "big enough" the Recovery Act was the largest federal investment in America's infrastructure since Eisenhower and the interstate highway system. A total of $103 billion was invested in infrastructure through the ARRA, including nearly $50 billion on transportation and $10 billion on broadband and technology infrastructure.
- Green Jobs: Not only has the Recovery Act saved jobs, it has sparked off a revolution in electric vehicle technology and thus in that industry. Combine that with the recent stunning accomplishment by the President to nearly double the nation's fuel efficiency standards to 54.5 mpg by 2025 along with the first ever fuel efficiency standards for trucks and other commercial vehicles, these are the next industry of jobs, and President Obama is smart enough to get us ahead on this. And it's not just me saying this: the Natural Resources Defense Council agrees.
- Housing: HAMP has not been as successful as it was intended, but it was for the lack of cooperation from the banks. And right now, the administration is trying to negotiate a legal settlement that will mandate for the banks to have to offer loan modifications to homeowners, and it's your pals, Prof. West, that are trying to stop it by all means necessary.
Oh, and not only has 99% of TARP money already been paid back, taxpayers are expected to make a 10% profit when all is said and done. The banks weren't given the money for free, either. It made taxpayers not simply a creditor but the dominant shareholder in the bailed out institutions until the bailout money was paid back, and the administration moved swiftly to block bank executive boondoggles and corporate jet purchases while banks still had TARP money. Finally, it was President Obama, along with a Democratic Congress, that ensured that taxpayers will not have to bail out banks in the future by giving regulators the authority to wind down systematically important but risky financial institutions and have them pay for it, as well as by instituting the most significant financial regulatory reform in the banking system since the 1930s.
It's easy to say big words about helping the poor and working Americans from your nice, cushy Princeton professorship, Dr. West. It is much harder to actually do something for the people who are suffering, which President Obama has done, and is working hard to continue in the face of unprecedented right-wing obstruction, and all you're doing, Cornel West, is throwing more knives at the President. So do us all a favor and next time your pen itches to write a piece to bash the President, try to have some retrospective and some perspective first. Next time you want to present yourself as the advocate for the poor, first get out of your comfy chair and the comfy column and see if anything's actually being done to help the poor.
And shame on you for trying to use MLK's legacy to try to malign President Obama's. Maybe Dr. King is weeping from his grave. But that's not because of what President Obama has done, but because of what people like you are trying to do with his legacy - misusing it to tarnish rather than help the first African American president of the United States.