The following is a lengthy, freewheeling interview with historian Darcy G. Richardson, who is challenging President Obama in several Democratic primaries. The interview was conducted recently by Brandon, a precocious 14-year-old, eighth grade student from Illinois. Brandon’s interview is reprinted here in its entirety.
1. First off, what made you want to run for President in this election?
Well, I was sincerely hoping that a better-known Democrat would enter the fray, a candidate of some national stature. My personal preference would have been former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, whose talents are largely being wasted in academia. We need him in Washington. I also believe that Rep. Dennis Kucinich would have been an articulate spokesman for the progressive values that so many Democrats hold near and dear, or possibly economist Jeffrey D. Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University.
Sachs, who is often one of the few sane voices in a world seemingly gone mad, would have been an ideal candidate. He has a terrific grasp of the issues and understands that our current economic woes have more to do with the under-taxation of wealthy individuals and corporations than runaway government spending. He also understands that the road to economic recovery won’t be found in austerity measures — the kind of draconian budget cuts being advocated by the carnival barkers in the GOP — but rather in increased public investments in our crumbling infrastructure, job training, education, energy and other areas.
I was also hoping Ralph Nader would come up with a slate of a half-dozen or so candidates, public policy experts on the economy, the environment, labor, consumer rights, etc., but Nader’s plan failed to materialize. Beyond that, I think there were several others who also could have mounted credible challenges to President Obama in the primaries, including Jerry Brown, the one-time philosopher prince of American politics, and former Colorado Senator Gary Hart, both of whom are in their early to mid seventies. Even Mike Gravel, who’s now an octogenarian but still as feisty as ever, would have been acceptable. I really didn’t want to run, but when nobody stepped forward to file in the first-in-nation New Hampshire primary, I reluctantly decided to give a whirl.
To be perfectly honest, the media coverage up to this point is about what we expected. I like to joke that my candidacy is one of the best kept secrets in America. Seriously, we never anticipated participating in any debates with President Obama. It would be foolish of him to debate any of his primary challengers. We’re nobody, as voiceless as the rest of the 99%.
Well, President Obama will almost certainly be the Democratic nominee. I have absolutely no chance of defeating him in the primaries. In fact, one will probably need a magnifying glass to read my vote totals, as was the case in New Hampshire last week. The whole point of my candidacy is to give disaffected Democrats an opportunity to register a protest against the President, to gently nudge him to the left. President Obama, whom I believe is a good and decent man, lamentably squandered the first two years of his presidency by governing from the middle.
No, not at all. It would help, I think, if he actually understood what those issues were. I mean, the fact that President Obama initially appointed Larry Summers as chairman of his White House Economic Council, should have given everybody pause. Summers, who pocketed some $5.2 million as the managing director of one of the world’s largest hedge funds in the year prior to becoming Obama’s chief economic adviser in January 2009 — and that doesn’t include another $2.7 million he received in speaking fees from the same Wall Street firms that received bailout funds from U.S. taxpayers — is probably more responsible for the country’s current economic mess than any other individual.
I respectfully disagree with the premise of your question. President Obama’s original $787 billion stimulus package wasn’t a failure. The problem is that it simply wasn’t large enough given the severity of the economic crisis that he inherited. There’s little question that the 2009 stimulus program saved hundreds of thousands of public sectors jobs, but much more was needed to stimulate our ailing economy. More should have been done to stimulate the private sector, especially medium-size and small businesses, the backbone of the U.S. economy.
I have to laugh every time I hear a Republican complain about the President’s 2009 stimulus package, particularly considering how many Republican governors and GOP-controlled state legislatures used some of that stimulus money to balance their own budgets without having to raise taxes, cut jobs or scale back existing programs.
Nothing. Instead of placing the blame for this severe economic downtown squarely on the Lords of Finance on Wall Street where it clearly belongs, the Republicans have found a convenient scapegoat in the estimated 11-20 million illegal aliens living in the United States. This is nothing new. As a nation, we’ve often — and shamefully — turned on our own inhabitants during periods of profound economic crisis.
In any case, Brian Moore was relatively new to socialism and the Socialist Party USA when he ran in 2008, so the campaign certainly had plenty of challenges beyond what the typical third-party candidate normally faces. He was learning as he went along, and I’m proud of the effort he made. It was a difficult undertaking.
Late in the campaign, Brian announced his prospective Cabinet — a fascinating administration that would have included, among others, Chicago physician Quentin Young, a longtime advocate for single-payer health care in the United States, as Secretary of Health & Human Services. He also intended to ask Ramsey Clark to head the Justice Department, a position the aging radical lawyer held during LBJ’s presidency. If memory serves me correctly, Brian also wanted to create a new Cabinet-level position and hoped to name a Vermont Socialist as the country’s first Secretary of Culture & Arts. That would’ve been pretty cool.
While admittedly there have been times when I actually miss Bill Clinton, especially when I think about the relative prosperity and the 22 million jobs created during his eight
years in office, the answer is probably Franklin D. Roosevelt. Despite revisionist claims to the contrary — you know, the free-market fundamentalists who’ve essentially created a cottage industry in casting aspersions on the New Deal, ludicrously arguing, in some cases, that FDR’s policies actually prolonged the Great Depression — Roosevelt, with the Socialist Party’s Norman M. Thomas persistently pressuring him from the Left, deserves enormous credit for pulling the country out of its economic misery.
Monetary policy also had a lot to do with the recovery and for that we should thank Roosevelt for surrounding himself with some pretty capable people, not the least of whom was Marriner Eccles, a Mormon banker from Utah who discovered Keynesian economics before Maynard Keynes himself. Roosevelt appointed Eccles chairman of the Federal Reserve in 1934 — a post he held until 1948. The free-marketeers, of course, rarely mention the important role the policies pursued by Eccles played in our nation’s recovery.
In addition to a growing number of progressive Democrats, including activist Aldous C. Tyler of Madison, Wisconsin, and union organizer Alan Maki of Minnesota, as well as a couple of local officeholders in Pennsylvania and North Carolina, I’ve also had a few Greens across the country offer their support. The Green Party, of course, has an excellent presidential candidate of its own, incidentally, in Jill Stein, a physician and longtime progressive activist from Massachusetts. While speaking for America’s better self, Jill’s candidacy is likely to cause more than a few sleepless nights in the White House this fall.
My supporters also include a former state chair of the California-based Peace & Freedom Party and even a young Philadelpha-area activist involved in Rocky Anderson’s fledgling Justice Party. I’m also hearing from quite a few college students and some of the Occupy folks —our last best hope for the kind of country we thought our children would enjoy. The Occupy Wall Street movement realizes that it’s later than we think. We should be joining with them and supporting them unconditionally. We also recently picked up the endorsement of the New Progressive Alliance (NPA), an organization formed last year that hopes to create a permanent progressive movement in American politics. They’re a pretty decent group.
Well, we sort of know what the alternative is, at least on the Democratic side — four more years of the same. I guess it comes down to whether or not Democrats want another
four years of endless capitulation, caving into the Republicans time and again on the economy, energy, the environment and civil liberties. If disillusioned Democrats want to send President Obama a message, I’ve been suggesting that they can vote for me or they can vote for themselves.
It’s becoming increasingly clear that the American people have lost faith in all of our institutions. The American people are hurting, and they’re hurting badly. According to the U.S. Census, nearly half of the citizens in this country — 146.4 million, including more than 49 million who fall below the poverty level — are considered low-income. That’s a disgrace.
What was it that Tracy Chapman said? “Don’t you know, they’re talkin’ bout a revolution. It sounds like a whisper. Don’t you know. They’re talkin’ about a revolution. It sounds like a whisper.”