Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Is Obama Squandering his Legacy?

In July Obama visited  Knox College in Galesburg Illinois and told the audience that he cared about “one thing and one thing only, and that’s how to use every minute of the 1,276 days remaining in my term to make this country work for working Americans again,” but now Obama is so boxed in with regard to Syria that it is highly unlikely that many of those days will now be devoted to delivering on that major goal.  This will be unfortunate as the slow crisis that has been building since the implosion of the economy under reckless mismanagement by the former president, his friends on Wall Street and enablers in Congress, is now stealing the futures of the young. The portion of people aged 20-24  who have jobs has fallen from 72.2 percent in 2000 to just 61.5 percent, while adjusted for inflation, their median earnings has fallen by nearly 30 percent since 1973 and women, the median by 17 percent.  Meanwhile the average net worth of the wealthiest seven percent of households climbed by 28 percent. The effects on the next generation will be even more severe. In 2011 nearly one third of all children lived in a household where no parent had full-time year round employment while half of all children in urban centers experience unstable family employment.  As a recent ETS report points out “only Romania has a higher child poverty rate than the US." This is shameful for a nation that claims to be a world superpower. There is no use to pretending either that these numbers don't translate into significant gaps in achievement between rich and poor particularly in cities where continued segregation compounds the problem. As the recession continues income and educational equality will make the lives of poor families even worse as 26 states provide less funding per student to local school districts in the new school year than a year ago.

Syria is a huge distraction from the battle to focus people’s attention on unemployment and underemployment.  A Syrian operation will likely cost several billion dollars just a few of those dollars could be spent to raise the minimum wage. How can you justify paying workers who support families wages that cannot support those families so that they have to apply for food stamps ? These are not handouts. The minimum wage in 1963 when Martin Luther King marched for jobs and justice was held constant for inflation it  would now be $9.40 an hour in today’s dollars, not $7.25. Rather than wasting his political capital on rounding up Congress to authorize a dubious strike with a dubious legal basis he should be raising the minimum wage to reignite his flagging presidency. Doubtless MLK, Obama's hero, as he declared so passionately on the grounds of the Lincoln Memorial this month, would have supported the fast food workers. As their strikes move to more cities he could allow his inner MLK to sign an executive order to raise the minimum wage and rescue at least some of the workers caught in today's  economic vice. On Syria he should follow Jane Harman’s advice and get Russia on our side, “If Russia would align with us on stopping all the butchery, that would be an important change, and Russia’s not there. For Russia to be on the wrong side of the use of chemical weapons is stunning, and we’re just not calling them out adequately. Our recent track record with Russia has not shown many results, but I think pulling the international community together to shame Russia is something we should be doing. We should use the leverage we have. The G20 is happening [September 5-6] in Russia. I would look at the G20 and at the United Nations General Assembly as two places where the international community comes together. It should be G19 against G1 going into Russia.”

For Obama to squander his last year and a half in this way will not help his legacy and set back the hopes of a generation.