An Interview I Would Love To Read

Imagine it is January 2, 2011.


Imagine that Barack Obama has been President of the U.S. for two full years.


Finally, imagine also that the following interview with Obama takes place on prime time TV, as a way of situating what has occurred over those two years and also to foreshadow what is forthcoming.


And since this is all make believe, let’s make believe the interviewer’s name is Barb Walt.


I believe what follows is not an absolutely impossible scenario for all times, though I don’t believe it will happen in the next two years. I don’t believe Barack Obama will take office with the views that I here place in his mouth or with the courage to act on those views I attribute to him. But I could be wrong, and of course I hope I am, and more importantly, it could happen another time.


I know that a great many people, unlike me, believe that Obama is absolutely sincere about empowering the working people, women, minorities, and young people of America, even at the expense of those with wealth and power.


Against all evidence of Obama’s own words, of the forces he is beholden to, of the inclinations of the “experts” he is welcoming into his administration, of the system preserving pressures he feels every day, and of past U.S. history – many people have an elated feeling that this man will transform the country. I fervently hope they are right, but think they are wrong. I offer this essay to indicate what I think would justify their outlook.


Obama will be transformative, or not.


That’s a given, like it will rain tomorrow or not.




Either: like Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, Barack Obama will be a man elected into office with major elite backing, who when he became President was only a sincere reformer, but who was then polarized by elite resistance and inspired by popular activism, to become much more.


Or: unlike Chavez but like every past American President, Obama will not evolve into holding more radical views, will not stand up to conforming pressures, and will not learn from activists, but will instead oppose us.


Since many Obama voters anticipate the former outcome, the imagined interview below reveals what it might be like if things turn out as they hope. It describes what having a radicalized president with great courage might be like.


But if the future holds no interview remotely like the one below, and no Obama transformation remotely like the one described, and no President-inspired uprising like that reported, and if instead Obama becomes an eloquent mainstream solidifier of elite stability, then it will mean Obama has fallen way short of his supporters’ hopes, and it will mean it is incumbent on all who wanted a much more transformative outcome to keep pushing Obama’s administration and to keep building the activist means to move forward even as Obama becomes more of an obstacle than an aid to the task.


Which way will it turn out?


Will Obama galvanize efforts to transform society including becoming a movement builder against elite opposition?


Or will Obama settle into office as a system sustainer, defending elite agendas with only modest (albeit important) variations from recent administrations?


We will see.


Below, we see what the transformative scenario might look like. My point is that we should push as hard as we are able to make the transformative path real, but we should also persist in our movement building even if Obama is more obstacle than ally.



Barb: Mr. President…


Barack: Barb, please, don’t call me that – call me Barack. I think that “Mr. President” stuff is a throwback to Royal pomp. We should get beyond that…




Barb: Okay, sorry, Mr., er, Barack. To get started – I would like to understand your plans and hopes now, but also where you and the country have been over these past two years, and where you are now going. Can you start by telling us your broad goals as they were when you took office, two years ago?


Barack: Sure, Barb, I can summarize my aims as they were then…




Barb: Good, let’s consider it a historical record. After the summary we can address recent changes. How about we start with health care?


Barack: It was my feeling when I took office that a society that doesn’t provide health care for all citizens is dysfunctional. I mean, what would you say about a family that took care of some sick members, but told others, too bad, make do?


And if everyone in a family wanted to take care of all members, except an old curmudgeon granddaddy who said screw those who can’t pay, clearly that old fuddy duddy’s perverse opinion would be ignored, right?


So, by analogy, I felt we should treat all citizens like members of a diverse family, with everyone entitled to health care. And I felt if we raised the moral tone of the country, the curmudgeons opposing universal health care would be ignored.


I also knew health costs were climbing so fast the financial crisis we recently endured would be minor compared to the distributional crisis that would ensue if we left the health system in its prior condition. So I intended to ensure full coverage, but at a cost within our social means, by having everyone together take on the responsibility.


I intended to increase the number of caregivers, reduce their incomes to a sensible level, and in particular, put a low lid on pharmaceutical companies, health care facilities, or other involved firms profiting off disease.


I thought we should have vastly more clinics, too, because how else would people, and especially the poor, have easy access to timely and excellent care.


And, I have to say, I also always wondered, what the hell is the purpose of the incredible pressure that is put on interns? What logic justifies the debilitating hours they are forced to work? I thought that was no way to provide health care, much less to train capable, sensitive doctors, and you know, Michelle in her hospital work, had similar impressions, but I didn’t know what we might do about it.




Barb: What about employment?


Barack: My view about jobs was why should someone who wants to work not be able to? Why should one person be working full time, or even very long hours at multiple jobs, and others not working at all? Why not share however much work needs doing more equally, to everyone’s gain?


I also thought if someone doesn’t have the literacy or other training needed to do work, that would be a fair reason for their not having a job except that almost always a training or knowledge deficit isn’t a revelation about the job applicant, but about a society that denied a capable person of the learning he or she should have had. So I felt that we should redress educational denials rather than penalize their victims with unemployment.