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Howard Zinn on Obama, from Alternet

Excerpt of Liliana Segura's fascinating interview with dear family friend and ultimate power-to-the-people historian, Howard Zinn. Thoughts? 

From Alternet

LS: What do you think about Obama and the fact that he's following the trajectory of the Bush administration with the whole "war on terror"? You endorsed him, right?

Howard Zinn: Endorsed Obama? (Laughs.) Yes -- I endorsed Obama, I wanted him to win. I wanted Bush and Cheney out of there. I wanted change -- and the truth is I didn't have much choice. It was Bush or Obama. I chose Obama. And, in fact, I was hopeful. Not too hopeful, because I know something about American history. I know how much hope has resided in presidents, and I'm aware that presidents are political animals. I'm very much aware that Lincoln was a policitian and Roosevelt was a politician and, in fact, you might say the theme of my work is that we cannot depend on people in the White House. We can depend on people picketing the White House. So my attitude towards Obama has been watchful from the beginning in the sense that, okay, it's good to have Obama in there, I'm glad that he aroused a lot of people getting people involved in politics -- now I hope these people who have been aroused and energized will use that energy to push Obama in a direction different from the one he seems to be going in right now.

LS: What do you think about the comparisons between Obama and Roosevelt that came up following the election?

Howard Zinn: It's interesting, you know, if Langston Hughes were around, we could have a poem, "Waiting on Obama." But the difference is, we shouldn't be waiting on Obama. We should be informing Obama that we expect more from him than he has done so far. Now, he has done some things that have moved in the right direction on domestic policy. In terms of the federal government taking a more aggressive stand in creating jobs, calling for a tax policy that will be directed at taking money from the richest one percent of the population, and easing the tax burden on other people, some of the initiatives he's taken have been good.

But his domestic policies are not bold enough. He is still doing too much through the market system, through private enterprise. For instance, right now he is having a a big conference with people who are giving him advice on the health system. But he has not shown an inclination to do what the public really wants and what is absolutely neeeded, and that is to institute a government-financed health system which will bypass the insurance companies -- the kind of system they have in Canada, and France, Italy, New Zealand. He's not shown the boldness necessary in certain domestic programs, even though as I say, he's moving little bit at a time in the right direction.

The economic situation is so bad. Although it's not as bad as it was in 1932, it's bad enough that it calls for bolder domestic measures. It calls for the government to institute, as Roosevelt did in his first couple years, a huge jobs program. The federal government under Roosevelt gave jobs to six million people; if you did it proporational to population, Obama would be creating a jobs program that would give jobs to ten million peope. He's very far from that. If he were bold enough, he would be instituting a federal arts program -- one of the very best things that came out of the New Deal -- where artists and musicians and writers and poets would be given jobs by the government to do the things they wanted to do. These are people who are bypassed by the market system. Artists struggle and they have to take other meanigless jobs in order to continue to do their art. And that's all, as I said, with his domestic policy.

With his foreign policy, unfortunately, he shows no signs of departing from the traditional militarism of the Democratic and Republican parties. The idea of sending more troops to Afghanistan is disastrous, really absurd. I mean, almost as soon as he came into office he sent missiles into Pakistan. Civilians were killed. The whole tone of foreign policy, adding more soldiers, leaving 50,000 in Iraq even after withdrawing them in 16 months, all of this is very bad. And, therefore, he's going to need a great big push -- protest, really. He's going to need demonstrations and protest and letters and petitions. He's going to have to face the kind of agitation that Roosevelt faced when he came into office.

Full interview 

March 12th, 2009


Comment #1 by Howard Woods on March 12, 2009 - 10:23pm

This was a great post in fact it educated me on a few things I had no clue about. I also feel as you do with regards to Obama he’s a political animal and he needs to take bolder action to end this economic situation today. I am presently out of work for the first time in my adult life and having a hard time finding another job. I am college educated and a hard worker that has always managed to find a new job is years past. We need to do something different then give tax breaks to the rich and connected.

Comment #2 by rebecca on March 13, 2009 - 3:37am

Reply tweets on this post:

@Jahi i like the idea of holding Obama accountable. feeling ok to dissagree/protest decisions he makes. but zinn is just old.boring  jahi his criticisms are cool. but stale. not the right solutions for the whole country / just for his leftist perspective

@Mychal_Smith I don't understand the disdain for old people...old ideas maybe...but not old people

@grantium I for one want to hear Langston Hughes' "Waiting on Obama."

@ Moonchild75 Oh my response is too much for a tweet! Zinn makes some valid points. Change is not the job for Obama its for the people. We are not voicing what we want. We are passive sheeps being lead to slaughter so there will never be change w/this mindset

Comment #3 by rebecca on March 13, 2009 - 3:42am

From FB:

"I agree completely with Zinn that "...He's not shown the boldness necessary in certain domestic programs...therefore, he's going to need a great big push -- protest, really. He's going to need demonstrations and protest and letters and petitions. He's going to have to face the kind of agitation that Roosevelt faced when he came into office."  Thanks for posting this!"

Comment #4 by RavenWolf on March 13, 2009 - 6:31pm

This is one of the reasons I like about you and your blog.
Too bad it is always having to be hit in the pocket book, body bags filled coming back everyday, epidemic to pandemic illnesses, etc....things that become oh so personal...that the "general public" become concerned, question, etc. and then to even have the courage..the nerve.. to speak up/out. Demand.
'They' work for us.That fact seems to be dimmed. Or completely forgotten! We must be vigilant and active!
Waiting has been counterproductive.

Comment #5 by rebecca on March 15, 2009 - 1:06am
I agree with all--and I also think we need to leave Obama alone. It is naive to think he can become POTUS at this moment and push through a bold agenda without making all manner of concessions and playing power ball. At the very least, even the most minimal efforts can be stymied by any move toward extremism; and the very worst, well, I think we can imagine the very worst. This is not going to be a perfect party. It was too broken to begin with. He will do what he can and we will need to engage, yes, but to be defensive and judgmental and expect that the change he speaks of will only be change that feels good to each of us invidually is equally problematic. The complexties of his job and position are tremendous. To underestimate the forces at work is naive and undermining.
Comment #6 by Anonymous on March 15, 2009 - 6:48am

If we want certain policies enacted, we have to participate in the political process. Staying on the sidelines, under the guise of leaving Obama alone, will ensure that the only voices he hears will be those of the corporations and the elite who never leave him alone. They have his attention everyday. Where are all those crowds from last Spring?

I could be wrong, but I sense a tone in your post of "don't mess it up for Obama."

Comment #7 by RavenWolf on March 15, 2009 - 4:18pm

What do you mean by "extremism"?

We cannot afford to leave Barack Obama and the rest..above and below in 'power' alone.
As for me, I am not so naive as to the complexities and 'goings ons' within and surrounding government. ie; corporate bullies and the power elites.
I worked in that arena as an activist..and it is an arena, from the absurdly entertaining to the worst of human behavior.

We must make them, including Barack Obama, accountable for promises and deeds. Otherwise, we will end up in staying in this mess.....or worse.
G.W. and many before him were left alone! For the most part. Look at what that has gotten us.
I'm thinking and feeling here for the WHOLE...Earth and all Life.

If left to them, would there have been a Civil Rights Act? Would the Vietnam 'war' have ended as it did?
Would there be Environmental Acts enacted? And so on.
Not all perfect but it set a base, precedents...and of course these can be turned under in the name of 'National Security'.
That's being done today.

Don't get me wrong. I voted...and voted for Obama with hope but with open eyes.
Having grown children around your age, I am truly concerned for you all, the younger generations and those to come and all Life more than my own.

I hope that it all hasn't gone too far..that the boundaries have been crossed and like a number of 'civilizations', fall into ruins by our own hands...idle or narcissistic hands.


Comment #8 by rebecca on March 15, 2009 - 11:13pm

Sigh. What a mess it all is, no?I agree.

My point is fundamentally that it is too early to bombard Obama with a slew of criticisms that undermine the support he needs to push the bigger items through congress and the house. He hasn't been in power three months, and he's already pushed through more progressive legislation--from lily ledbetter and stem cell research to closing gitmo and restoring health insurance to 11 million children who would have lost it to revoking the gag rule that kept aid from countries that offered abortion services to women, to COMPLETELY reframing the public debate to what the priorities of our nation should be: new green based economy, revamping completey of public school system, making universal health care a reality, regulating wall street, etc. He's also quietly making moves that I think are risky but smart--sending messages to China, for instance, that their prosperity is based on our spending--not just a one way street and therefore, US will have to have more of a position--he sent a pretty clear to message to UK with the Churchill bust--the War on Terror has been, for the most part, a UK US kind of party, and the history of the US/Anglo influences in the Middle East are known. Anyway--I could go on and on, but the point is, the man has ALREADY done an incredible amount, and...on some level people must have a bit of faith--the person we voted for is the same person in office. I believe that. He's just in the middle of it now, and the playing field has changed. It's extreme to revoke our support, to now label him just another politician. Let's wait a few more months, at the very least. And give him props for what he has done. CAn any of us imagine being in his shoes right now? I don't think so--not with a nation to hold together. 

Comment #9 by Anonymous on March 16, 2009 - 1:14am

Re: "We cannot afford to leave Barack Obama and the rest..above and below in 'power' alone."

You're right. Democracy requires active participation, no matter who is in office. I don't agree with the notion that holding a politician accountable is tantamount to "revoking our support." Obama has already shown a tendency to throw some constituencies under the bus in the name of 'bipartisanship.' He bargained away birth control coverage for poor women as well as 200 million in spending cuts for education, in the name of 'bipartisanship.' The Republicans will never support his policies because it's part of their party's ideology to oppose Democratic proposals no matter what.

Politicians respond to whoever mobilizes and makes their demands known. Sitting on the sidelines and having 'faith' is language used to describe the followers of a religious or charismatic figure, not the citizens of a democracy.

Comment #10 by RavenWolf on March 16, 2009 - 1:26am

And I agree much with you, Rebecca.
Obama, in a good way, has surprised me. A polititian who has kept some promises...and in such a short time.

I have been dismayed by some of his decisions...but in all fairness, there may be very positive reasons, with the future in view. I don't know.
I just can't see it at this time.

It's early..too early to make judgement calls. I hope that my posts did come across that way.
Yet my vigilance remains firm.
When Obama spoke of nuclear and "clean" coal for energy....I gasped and wrote to him...or more than likely to his staff.
Neither can ever be.... clean.
There are incredible alternatives for energy not publicized hardly at all but being used. It's oh so possible!

Being not one for economic card falls and the others will too..., it would be prudent to get our own house in order and solid and so be far more able to help others and be credible.
i prefer to see us as all wearing the same shoes, get the picture.
Obama can't do it alone..hold it all together as you put it....he has so much said so.

The faith I have is called change. That will always be. Now what they will be and the directions changes will take us? It's up to us collectively, in solidarity...some we can do nothing about. Nature is change.
We can only do..and do our best.

Thank you for your thoughts and posting the interview! And allowing free speech on your blog LOL!
Having read and posted on some blogs, I have found the few read that some censor when not in total agreement or not including some bowing to the writer of the blog.

Comment #11 by RavenWolf on March 16, 2009 - 1:30am

OOPS! On judgement calls... I meant that i hope my posts did NOT come across that way!

Comment #12 by RavenWolf on March 16, 2009 - 1:33am

To 'Anonymous'.....You are so right on!

Comment #13 by rebecca on March 16, 2009 - 3:14am
You're all beautiful! Great discussion. We'll need more like these--just as much heart, just as much commitment to do better for more people, just as much faith that it is possible.
Comment #14 by rebecca on March 16, 2009 - 9:01am
Comment #15 by Green Dress Shoes on April 26, 2010 - 7:54am

Worth reading. I am going to read the full interview. Thanx for nice overview.

Comment #16 by New Balance Women's Shoes on May 17, 2010 - 5:11am

This is one of the reasons I like about you and your blog.

Comment #17 by Vanity Fair Bras on May 18, 2010 - 11:57pm

I meant that i hope my posts did NOT come across that way!

Comment #18 by Maternity Clothing on May 20, 2010 - 8:20am

Thank you for your thoughts and posting the interview! And allowing free speech on your blog LOL!

Comment #19 by hermes leather bags on July 9, 2010 - 8:44am

Worth reading. I am going to read the full interview. Thanx for nice overview

Comment #20 by Money converter on October 16, 2010 - 11:02pm

obama is the man , that's all what i can say

Comment #21 by Interactive Intelligence on January 11, 2011 - 9:02pm

Way to go Howard Zinn. That's my kinda' guy. Finally someone who is less concerned with politics and affiliations, and more concerned with the actions. If more people would view politics with the same lenses that Howard does, I'd be willing to bet that we could get a lot more accomplished as a country. Great interview.

Comment #22 by Nike Chaussure on April 21, 2011 - 3:16am

I'd be willing to bet that we could get a lot more accomplished as a country.

Comment #23 by Costa Calma Beach Resort on June 5, 2011 - 8:30am

I am going to read the full interview too. Thanx for nice overview.

Comment #24 by old car on July 19, 2011 - 3:45pm

I have enjoyed reading the candid interview of Howard Zinn on Obama. I appreciate the hope and expectations expressed in the post about Obama. Interestingly, it is immaterial whether he succeeds in his assigned position or not. However, till now his performance has left us much to desire.

Comment #25 by portland mortgage on August 14, 2011 - 8:22pm

It is enjoyable reading his views about the personality everyone looks forward to bring change in every field and end the American stereotype. Though he is yet to prove what the people are expecting from him, let us hope for the better.

Comment #26 by Countertops Pittsburgh on August 31, 2011 - 11:59pm

I'm all for change,but I have lost hope that it will come through the bi-party system.

Comment #27 by La Mesa on October 5, 2011 - 4:20pm

We want change, but we want things like they were. Just change the tax code so that anybody with a 10th grade education can understand it.

Comment #28 by Authorhouse on February 28, 2012 - 1:18am

This is very relevant today. I think everyone's sharing the same sentiment.

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