The Blog of the Frances Perkins Center

Mark Green: Who will be Obama’s “Frances Perkins”?

In Political world on January 13, 2009 at 2:51 pm

Mark Green has published an article in The Nation that lists an ambitious but doable series of ten goals for the first term of the Obama presidency. They are: (1) Reduce poverty one-third by 2016; (2) Enhance democracy to stop special-interest vetoes; (3) Get economic growth rates back to at least 3 percent; (4) Move to a clean, green low-carbon economy; (5) Reduce the costs–and expand the coverage–of healthcare; (6) Elevate science over politics in federal decision-making; (7) Restore the rule of law and human rights as American values; (8) Educate children better for the global economy; (9) Fight terrorism by working more cooperatively with allies; (10) Reduce nuclear proliferation.

These are all worthy goals but what caught my eye was Green’s mention of Frances Perkins:

No president can go much farther than his constituency wants. Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin put it well in The American Prospect: “When you look at the periods of social change, in each instance the president used leadership not only to get the public involved in understanding what the problems were but to create a fervent desire to address these problems in a meaningful way.” Recall here the oft-told story how Labor Secretary Frances Perkins was urging a sympathetic FDR to adopt labor reforms, and the politician-in-chief replied: Fine. Now make me do it.

Perhaps we all should be Obama’s “Frances Perkins.” Our voices together can help “create a fervent desire to address these problems in a meaningful way.”

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