What A Difference Ten Days Make

Isaiah J. Poole

Consider how far we’ve come since January 20.

On Thursday, the Senate followed the House in passing a reauthorization of a child health insurance bill that will mean 4 million more children will have access to health insurance. When the Congress passed similar legislation last year, then-President Bush vetoed the legislation—twice. This time, President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law next week.

Increasing the number of working-class families who have health insurance for their children is just one of the significant victories progressives can lay claim to in just the first 10 days of the Obama administration.

Struggles over the the administration’s economic recovery package, and the brutal snubbing Obama received from House Republicans in spite of what most progressives think were ill-advised compromises, have threatened to overshadow the sea-change that is unfolding inside the Beltway. It’s wrong to let that happen. Instead, the change should be celebrated, defended and established as a foundation for the bolder policy steps that this administration must take in the days ahead.

The positives so far are sweeping:

  • An executive order that commits the United States to closing the international shame that is Guantanamo Bay, and that will finally mean that Guantanamo detainees will receive legal due process—and that the United States has returned to respecting the rule of law.
  • An executive order, and a clear statement from Obama’s attorney general-designate Eric Holder, that reject the Bush administration’s policy on torture.
  • Repeal of the Bush administration order that banned funding to international family planning organizations that supported legal abortions, which means that vital women’s health services to poor countries will begin flowing again.
  • President Obama’s signing on Thursday of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which will finally allow victims of wage discrimination a fair chance in the courts to get the justice due them. Ledbetter, who lost a conservative Supreme Court ruling that she could not pursue a wage discrimination claim because of an impractical statute of limitations, was able to witness the White House signing.
  • A memorandum that allows California and several other states to impose tough auto-emissions standards, a move that a New York Times analysis suggests is the first step in a relationship with state governments of “progressive federalism.”
  • Obama’s interview with the Al-Arabiya television network, in which he pledged a relationship of mutual respect with the Arab world, backed with the reminder that he has direct Muslim familial ties. The interview has immediately opened possibilities for diplomatic progress with the Arab world on a host of issues.
  • Obama’s visit to the Pentagon this week to make clear his intention to follow through on his campaign promise of a safe and responsible withdrawal from Iraq and a refocusing of resources on repairing the Bush administration’s disastrous handling of the fight against al-Qaida in Afghanistan.

Then there is the economic recovery bill that dominated the news this week, a bill that my colleague Bernie Horn calls “the biggest and boldest progressive legislation in 40 years,” even with its concessions to business interests and conservative whiners. This bill makes a significant down payment toward addressing both the short- and long-term challenges of rebuilding the economy and assuring that prosperity is more broadly spread than it was under President Bush.

Yes, Obama administration proposals have had to be nudged in a more progressive direction by allies in Congress and by activist groups, and that will continue to be the case. But let’s also appreciate how much change is already beginning to happen. Conservatives are certainly noticing, and if we are not careful to guard and build upon the victories that we are winning, it will not take long for us to be dragged back into much darker times.

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