21 January 2009

"Obama is Lyndon Johnson"

"Obama is Lyndon Johnson." This rain on the Obama parade comes from Glen Ford, executive editor of Black Agenda Report, in an article in Al Jazeera. It is a harsh judgment, but does it have merit?

In his inaugural address, Obama challenged his fellow Americans to "remake America." He has vowed to build infrastructure, invest in scientific research, improve health care, harness new sources of energy, and transform education. He has already committed to a stimulus package that could exceed $1-trillion. All this he will do while expanding the war in Afghanistan, even into Pakistan if necessary.

Does this not stir a memory? Didn't another president promise to reform society, in fact to build a Great Society, while at the same time expanding a war in Asia? His name, of course, was Lyndon Johnson. As rich as the United States was, it wasn't rich enough to fight a war on poverty at home and a war abroad at the same time. As a result, both failed.

Moreover, as Glen Ford points out in his article, the Vietnam war, which precluded victory in the war on poverty, is where Martin Luther King departed from Johnson. And Obama's support for the Afghan war is largely where Ford departs from Obama. "National revitalization," Ford insists," including redress of historical African-American grievances, is impossible unless military expenditures are dramatically reduced." Yet Obama has promised to expand the military.

The U.S. is richer today than it was in Johnson's time; nonetheless, it is hard to believe it is now so much richer it can afford to massively resuscitate its economy, reform its society and fight at least one major war all at the same time. At least not without a significant raise in taxes and Obama has promised to cut taxes. America's debt is massive, its financial institutions enfeebled, consumer spending has collapsed, social programs are poorly funded, 45 million citizens lack health care insurance, the war in Afghanistan gets worse ... how is all this to be fixed and paid for?

In any case, we have a new emperor: vigorous, enthusiastic, inclusive, open-minded, highly intelligent and curious -- immeasurably superior to the last one and perhaps the best in living memory. We are immensely relieved not only to see the last of the appalling Bush presidency but to have been spared -- I shudder to think of it -- a McCain/Palin administration. We cannot help but be optimistic. And yet ...

Yesterday, he told his fellow Americans in the soaring rhetoric for which he has become famous, "Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions — who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short." Perhaps, Mr. President, but I also hope your memory is not too short to remember LBJ.

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