Obama Public Works Program? Thank you, Ralph Nader

By Steve Conn

While liberals wring their hands in despair over the Obama’s revisions to his campaign promises, the President-elect is doing exactly what Roosevelt did when challenged by third party candidates and political independents. He is adopting pieces of their platforms without acknowledgement. Call it pragmatism. Or call it desperation. Or call it vindication, if you supported Ralph Nader and suffered the abuse.

Before he became a Kennedy apologist, Arthur Schlesinger Jr. wrote a multi-volume series on the age of Roosevelt. The volume least acknowledged by the liberals is “The Politics of Upheaval 1935-36,” liberals who would cast Obama’ s betrayals  as evidence of a new, “pragmatic” FDR. “The Politics of Upheaval” describes some of the various political movements and leaders that arose in the Depression to challenge the national agenda. Their presence and mass popularity forced bold change on the Roosevelt administration. Schlesinger smears each leader in turn, good Cold War liberal that he was, but does not ignore their influence on FDR. Only Ralph Nader seems to have read that book when he pursued political challenge after political challenge against the entrenched and corporate dominated political process. Other progressives seem to think that ideas and speeches translate into action when nobody challenges the political power center and competes for its votes with a counter message. You just go along, say the right things about friends and enemies served up to you  and things work out. So far, the joke is on progressives.

The corporate welfare checks to the bankers have been written with the blessing of both major parties and no strings attached. A check to the once Big Three auto companies is in the works so long as the unions take adequate blame by Right to Work Southerners who attracted competitive auto manufacturers with closer-to-slave wages and local tax subsidies. Single payer health care to make domestic companies more competitive as a component of any and all bailouts is still redacted by both major parties. The wars and nonworking weapons systems, like the so-called missile defense system, the prelude to placing weapons in space, drain us into national bankruptcy and dollar bills in wheelbarrows. More Ralph Naders are needed, not less. New Ralph Naders who are not looking for jobs in the Obama administration or tickets to one of the Balls. Ralph Naders who say what millions of Americans do not hear on TV about class warfare, the rich getting richer and the middle class disappearing when illness and job loss strikes a family member. People ready to be under constant surveillance  and challenged by  the troops to be stationed in America to deal with complainers.

Barak Obama has dumped the progressive agenda of his campaign, piece by piece, that he used to delude liberals who actually begged to be deluded. So where did he find a public works program? From Ralph Nader’s writings and  platforms in 2000, 2004 and 2008 and even before. Back when the country had a national surplus and only corporate flaks to tell Clinton, Gore, and candidate Bush how to spend it.

Nader began to hammer for massive public works before the country was drowning in deficits. Remember that. The issue before the 2000 election was how to handle a projected surplus. Bush wanted and got tax cuts for the rich. Nader wanted mass transit and repair of our crumbling infrastructure. Nader’s 1999 response in a Meet the Press “debate” between third party candidates.

How would you handle the projected surplus?

First of all, the surpluses are very hypothetical. The economy could turn down. Second, the surpluses involve a lot of Social Security surpluses, which must be secured. Third, we’ve got priorities. Abolishing child poverty should be one. Rebuilding and repairing America, the public works, the drinking water systems; public transit systems, schools, clinics are crumbling. And third, we really need to focus on a universal health insurance that’s accessible with an emphasis on prevention. Those are communal needs of the American people as a community. They’re overwhelmingly desired. The Bush tax cut is basically to make the rich richer, including himself after taking advantage of a Texas Ranger stadium subsidy boondoggle that turned a $600,000 investment that he borrowed in the Texas Rangers into a $14 million profit. He knows about corporate welfare. He’s a corporate welfare king. (Source: Nader-Buchanan debate on ‘Meet the Press.)

In a Los Angeles Times piece in 1999 on perspectives in Federal Spending, “Build on, Repair What We Have,” Ralph Nader pressed for spending on infrastructure not as a federal stop-gap for job creation, but as a wise investment of our surplus. His stats are now dated but the problem remains:

* One in three schools across the United States is "in need of extensive repair or replacement," according to a 1995 General Accounting Office report. Fixing the schools, the GAO estimates, will cost $113 billion over three years.

* The Centers for Disease Control estimates 1 million people become sick every year from bad water, with about 900 deaths occurring. The EPA estimates nearly $140 billion will be needed over the next 20 years for water system investments to install, upgrade or replace failing drinking water infrastructure.

* Maintaining the public transit system at current levels, the Department of Transportation estimates, will cost $9.7 billion a year. Improving the infrastructure to a condition of "good" would require upping annual expenditures to $14.2 billion a year. However, maintaining or slightly upgrading the public transit is not nearly enough. Bold new investments are needed to create a modern mass transit system conducive to livable cities, one which will bring community residents closer together, combat the momentum toward sprawl, guarantee lower-income groups the ability to travel efficiently in metropolitan areas, abate air pollution and improve transportation safety.

 * As a society we have failed to respect the foresight of Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir and other conservationist founders of the national park system, neglecting to invest sufficient resources to maintain, let alone properly expand, the parks. A National Park Service-estimated funding gap of nearly $9 billion has left animal populations at risk, park amenities in substandard or unusable conditions and many national historical artifacts in danger of being lost to posterity.”

These are still great priorities, still reflective of the needs of America in 2008. They do require a national perspective, a national plan. But as a “Newer Deal”, if that is the verbiage which most pleases the Obama focus groups, they accomplish what Nader referred to back in 1999, even though the surplus is long gone and never to return. Wrote Nader then:

"Historically, investments in public works have been a key spur to private wealth creation. A national public works plan, Franklin Roosevelt said in his 1934 State of the Union speech, "will, in a generation or two, return many times the money spent on it…More important, it will conserve our natural resources, prevent waste and enable millions of our people to take better advantage of the opportunities which God has given our country."

Thank you, Ralph Nader and, then, you, President-elect Obama, for your predictable response.

– Steve Conn is a retired professor at the University of Alaska. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.

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