Douglas Brinkley is, among other things, a professor of history at Rice University in Houston. Besides particular events and eras in American history, he has written books about past presidents, about foreign policy, about war.
He recently interviewed President Obama for Rolling Stone magazine, and the quote heard most often from the piece so far is this one, as relayed by The Guardian:
Brinkley’s interview recorded a conversation between Obama and Eric Bates, the executive editor of Rolling Stone. Bates told Obama that his six-year-old daughter had a message for the president: “Tell him: you can do it.” Obama replied with a grin:
You know, kids have good instincts. They look at the other guy and say, ‘Well, that’s a bullshitter, I can tell’.
Bullshitter. Bullshitter. Bullshitter. That’s all I’ve heard about the interview, except that in our too-polite media it is presented as “bulls****er.” How kind of the media to cover for Obama like that.
In any case, besides Obama’s stunningly accurate characterization of Romney’s shtick, Brinkley’s interview was full of other worthy quotes, and I mean quotes from the historian, Brinkley:
Barack Obama can no longer preach the bright 2008 certitudes of “Hope and Change.” He has a record to defend this time around. And, considering the lousy hand he was dealt by George W. Bush and an obstructionist Congress, his record of achievement, from universal health care to equal pay for women, is astonishingly solid.
Now, when is the last time you heard anyone in the media bidness refer to “an obstructionist Congress” ? Particularly in the context of Obama’s accomplishments? When one thinks about it, what the President has been able to accomplish has been remarkable, and remarkably progressive, given the times we live in.
Brinkley, the historian, continued:
Viewed through the lens of history, Obama represents a new type of 21st-century politician: the Progressive Firewall. Obama, simply put, is the curator-in-chief of the New Deal, the Fair Deal, the New Frontier and the Great Society. When he talks about continued subsidies for Big Bird or contraceptives for Sandra Fluke, he is the inheritor of the Progressive movement’s agenda, the last line of defense that prevents America’s hard-won social contract from being defunded into oblivion.
Since the time of Theodore Roosevelt, Brinkley asserted, “the federal government has aimed to improve the daily lives of average Americans.” TR fought “Big Money interests”; Woodrow Wilson created the Federal Reserve, the Federal Trade Commission, and re-established the federal income tax; FDR brought the country the New Deal, Social Security, laws to protect workers and give them the right to bargain collectively, regulation of Wall Street, unemployment compensation and the FDIC, which brought confidence to depositors that their money was safe, even if banks weren’t.
But in between Wilson and FDR came “the GOP Big Three of Harding-Coolidge-Hoover,” who “made ‘business’ the business of America, once more allowing profiteers to flourish at the expense of the vulnerable.” It was the policies and resulting disaster from those three Republican presidents that FDR was elected to fix.
And it took him a while to do it. But he did it. And as Brinkley wrote,
The America we know and love today sprung directly from the New Deal.
Ever since the election of Ronald Reagan, what Brinkley calls the “Grand Reversal,” an assault on the New Deal has been ongoing, even including to some degree Democrat Bill Clinton, who “survived two terms only by co-opting traditional GOP issues like welfare reform and balanced budgets.”
And Brinkley makes another essential point in anaylzing President Obama in terms of the historical trend to unravel “the America we know and love today” :
Paul Nitze, the foreign-policy guru of the Truman administration, once told me that the problem with historians like myself is that we’re always hunting for a cache of documents to analyze. What our ilk tends to forget, he chided, is that inaction is also policy. Under this criterion, Obama must also be judged by the things he won’t allow to happen on his watch: Wall Street thieving, Bush-style fiscal irresponsibility, a new war in the Middle East, the reversal of Roe v. Wade, the dismantling of Medicare into a voucher program – the list is long. The offense-driven, Yes-We-Can candidate of 2008 has become the No-You-Won’t defensive champion of 2012. Obama has less a grand plan to get America working than a NO TRESPASSING sign to prevent 100 years of progressive accomplishments from being swept away, courtesy of Team Romney, in a Katrina-like deluge of anti-regulatory measures.
That analysis might not appeal all that much to undecided voters who are apparently pathologically unable to make up their minds about this election, but it should damn well appeal to unenthusiastic liberals, unionists, and other Democrats who have been angry with Obama because, like FDR before him, he hasn’t been able to do everything he set out to do, or done things exactly the way various interest groups wish he would have done them.
When we cast our votes for the leader of this country, we are casting votes for someone with the instincts we most desire in a leader, with the instincts to not only do good things, but to protect the good that has been done. The one thing we know about Barack Obama and Mitt Romney is that they both have very different instincts about what is good and what should be preserved.
If Obama wins re-election, his domestic agenda will be anchored around a guarantee to all Americans that civil rights, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, affordable health care, public education, clean air and water, and a woman’s right to choose will be protected, no matter how poorly the economy performs. Obama has grappled with two of the last puzzle pieces of the Progressive agenda – health care and gay rights – with success. If he is re-elected in November and makes his health care program permanent, it will take root in the history books as a seminal achievement. If he loses, Romney and Ryan will crush his initiatives without remorse.
If that isn’t enough to get Democrats to run not walk to the polls, then they—those who sit on the sidelines and allow Republicans to win, to govern, to destroy what we value as Democrats, as Americans—are a miserable lot.