Bonior: Obama's Opportunities Rival FDR's
A former Democratic congressional leader who's on the short list for a cabinet post in the Obama Administration says the president-elect has an opportunity to lead America like no president since Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Obama has a “deep almost spiritual, hopeful message that he's capable of giving,” David Bonior told a Monday crowd of over 100 at the University of Iowa. “It doesn't work when you do it all that time, but he was fabulous on the campaign picking those moments.”
Bonior, a 1967 University of Iowa graduate, served more than two decades as a Michigan congressman and rose to the rank of minority whip, number two in the Democratic leadership. He managed John Edwards' 2008 presidential campaign and has been mentioned as a possible Secretary of Labor.
“He will be a great asset not only to our country but internationally,” Bonior said of the president-elect. “He is the embodiment, literally, personally, of the hopes and dreams of billions of people in the world, and it is a gift that you, the American people, have given the world.”
Bonior did not openly speculate on his own cabinet chances. “I don't know (Obama) hardly at all, we've talked maybe four or five times” at multi-candidate events during primary season, he said. Bonior left Congress, redistricted out of office by a Republican Michigan legislature, in 2002, before Obama was elected to the Senate in 2004.
Still, Bonior's reputation as a labor and economic expert led Obama to include him in a group of economic advisors who met with the president-elect on Friday. “He told us our business was to deal with this immediate crisis,” said Bonior.
Bonior also stressed the importance of helping his home state's auto industry, an issue Obama also raised during a Meeting with outgoing President Bush at the White House. “We've lost over 400,000 good paying auto jobs in the last six years,” said Bonior.
Bonior said the early days of the Obama Administration will be critical for the labor movement, and he hoped the new president and the expanded Democratic majorities in Congress will move forward on the Employee Free Choice Act, which would allow a simple “card check” method of organizing unions. Instead of elections, which Bonior says are stacked in management's favor, workers would be allowed to organize unions simply by signing up.
“It's what they do in every other industrial country in the world,” said Bonior. “The right to organize is a human right.” Bonior said the Senate, which stands at 57 Democrats to 40 Republicans with three races still undecided, may be the holdup. “It will require the power of the presidency, and it may require one or two Republicans, and holding all our Democrats together.”
Bonior said union membership was not only important as a right, it played a key role in the 2008 election. Across every demographic, union members voted more Democratic than non-members. Bonior said this helped Obama rebuild a new version of a Roosevelt coalition, with emerging ethnic groups like Hispanics taking the place of the eastern European groups that Roosevelt relied on. He said the Hispanic vote had swung to the Democrats by 11 percent since the 2004 election, and was a major factor in Obama's wins in Florida, Colorado and New Mexico.
Audience members asked if the Roosevelt comparisons set the bar too high for the next president. “I by no means want to equate what we're going though now with the great depression,” said Bonior, “but there are some parellels and some lessons we would be wise to follow.” Many problems, like inequality of income and an under-regulated stock market damaged by speculation, are similar, he said. The New Deal “was an activist govt that engaged its people and it made a huge difference.”
“There was no safety net, no health care, no food stamps, no housing policy. The country was in deep despair. And what was needed then was bold leaders who could inspire based policy on the premise that govt could and should help its citizens. Roosevelt wasn't interested in baby steps.”
“Boldness is not something we should be shying away from in these troubled times.”