Princeton historian Sean Wilentz was one of the few opinion writers in the 2008 Democratic primary who saw through the Obama camp’s repeated attempts to smear Bill and Hillary Clinton as racists.
Since the election, the Clintons have demonstrated remarkable forgiveness and resolve in continuing to put their considerable talents to work on behalf of America and the wider world.
As Katalusis readers are well aware, I’ve so far been unable to match the graciousness of the Clintons - but back to the present.
I hadn’t read anything by Professor Wilentz in some time when I spotted his analysis of Obama’s speech last night posted at the Daily Beast. In keeping with his usual style, Wilentz is objective, courteous, and fair in his assessment of what our new president said or neglected to say.
It’s been nearly a decade since the country has heard a vibrant, full-throated Democratic speech from a president of the United States. President Obama gave one tonight. In presenting his budget priorities to the Congress and the American people, he provided a clear defense of the federal government’s historic role as a catalyst for economic growth and the nation’s welfare. From the Transcontinental Railroad to the Interstate Highway System, he explained, private wealth has always expanded with the help of the national government. And with that, the president exorcised the political spirit of Ronald Reagan from Capitol Hill.
Energy, health, education—these are at the top of the administration’s agenda. If nothing had happened last September, when Lehman Brothers was allowed to collapse, these policies also would have been at the top. But a great deal has changed since the Democratic convention ratified the party’s platform, with these same priorities. The country and the world have plunged into the greatest economic crisis since the Depression. And that must be the president’s chief preoccupation.
No matter what the White House decides to do, it should have made some decisions by now—and President Obama should have announced them tonight.
When Franklin D. Roosevelt took office on March 4, 1933, the nation had been in a depression for nearly four years. The banking system had virtually collapsed; the credit markets were frozen; and unemployment had exceeded 25 percent. The calamity that President Obama confronts is still in its earliest stages. He faces the challenge of sparing the country the kind of suffering that Roosevelt inherited from Herbert Hoover and that led to the New Deal.
Today, the banking system is near collapse; the credit markets are nearly frozen; and unemployment is rising dangerously. And the system is vastly more complex than it was in the early 1930s. This is the heart of the crisis—and the president lucidly explained much of it in his speech. But he should also have proposed specific solutions because until he does the crisis will continue to deepen.