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2008-11-10

The Nation’s Katrina vanden Heuvel on Obama’s First 100 Days, and His First Foreign Policy Challenge from Russia

Guests

Katrina Vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of The Nation magazine, which endorsed Obama’s candidacy. Her latest editorial is The First 100 Days , outlining some key progressive steps the new administration should take to realize its promise for change.

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President-elect Obama is meeting with President Bush today at the White House to discuss the transition of power. We look ahead to the first 100 days of the Obama presidency with Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation magazine. A longtime analyst on US-Russia relations, vanden Heuvel also talks about Russia’s vow to deploy missiles if Obama proceeds with the Bush administration’s widely discredited “missile defense” program in eastern Europe. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: As President-elect Obama prepares to meet with President Bush today, all eyes are on his early policy proposals that could define the tone of the next four years. Many of the progressive groups that helped mobilize voters and bring Obama into power are beginning to propose concrete suggestions for how the coming administration could initiate the process of change. Members of his transition team said Sunday they are compiling a list of actions that President-elect Obama could take to overturn many of President Bush’s executive orders.

John Podesta, the head of Obama’s transition team, told Fox News that restricting oil and gas drilling and reviewing limits on stem cell research would be among the new priorities. Appearing on CBS News on Sunday, Obama’s Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said aid to the automobile industry and a new economic stimulus plan would also be important.

AMY GOODMAN: Katrina vanden Heuvel is editor and publisher of The Nation magazine, which endorsed Obama’s candidacy. She has just published an editorial called "[The First 100 Days]," outlining some key progressive steps the new administration should take to realize its mandate for change.

Welcome to Democracy Now!

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: Thank you, Amy. Thank you, Juan.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what should President-elect or President Obama do?

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: Well, what’s interesting is that over the last few months, in fact, teams of Obama advisers have been reviewing what they could do and what you could do with a stroke of a pen, but also efforts that will take more coalition-building and work inside-outside or work over this next period. I think one thing coming off of your report, Amy and Juan, is stop the looting of the American people with this bailout and stop the bleeding; restructure a bailout for the real economy, real people; extension of unemployment benefits; aid to the cities and states, beleaguered cities and states. And then there are things he’s going to do supporting the funding of embryonic stem cell research, repealing the global gag rule, ensuring that women around the world have real reproductive rights. There will be a whole series of moves to dismantle the imperial presidency and roll back executive power, which has been such an unfettered behemoth monster in this administration, and then other things like allowing California to move ahead and restrict greenhouse emissions of cars and trucks. So you have high and low, war and peace, the economy on the ground, but all things that I think will make a difference if there is independent mobilization to build on in the condition of people’s lives, which is so important.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, but before the hundred days, there are about eighty days in this transition period —-

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: I know.

JUAN GONZALEZ: —- since the election, and the issue not only of the appointments that he makes, but also of the statements that he makes about what the Bush administration is doing in its final days, for instance, an Iraq agreement —-

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: Yes, absolutely.

JUAN GONZALEZ: —- or also the bailout itself. We just got the report of the AIG increase. Do you think that he should be, in one way or another, making statements or sort of suggest that — because some of these things can’t wait.

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: Well, here — I think that he does need to be critical, and as he begins to frame, that he will be dismantling some of these things. But, I mean, I have this book here, FDR: The First Hundred Days. Let’s not forget, I mean, the inauguration in 1933, at a very dire, grim moment in our country’s history, was in March. Between March and June, you had sixteen pieces of legislation in this frenzied burst of energy. FDR did not work with Hoover. I don’t think Obama should get involved in this transition with Bush.

And to that effect, I hope, and I think we should be critical, if there are appointments we think are counter to some of the moves toward a better economic bailout, or, for example, there is discussion of keeping on Bill Gates [sic.]. I mean, I think this is contradictory in many ways to some of the best things Obama said on the campaign trail, for example, negotiating with no preconditions. I thought his statement on Iran —-

AMY GOODMAN: Bob Gates. Robert Gates.

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: Robert Gates, I’m sorry.

AMY GOODMAN: Maybe he’ll bring Bill Gates into the administration.

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: Maybe he’ll bring Bill Gates in, too. And I don’t know, you could have a whole -— but I think it’s going to be a critical period, but it is important that you see his effort to roll back some of the worst. You heard the woman, Irene Stevenson [sic.], the leader of US Amnesty International, the renunciation of torture, the shutting down of Guantanamo, as a first step, ending the military commissions. These are steps that he can speak to as a way of reengaging the world, because I think we all know there is a moral symbolism in this election, but it’s the policies of this country under a Barack Obama administration that will mean very much.

JUAN GONZALEZ: One of my concerns, as I see the names trotted out —-

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: Yeah.

JUAN GONZALEZ: —- as potential cabinet members, for a campaign that promised change, there seem to be a whole lot of Clinton administration people now being suggested or raised as possible cabinet appointees.

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: I share your concern, and I want to say something. Amy and I were at Planned Parenthood last Friday, and Amy said something which I think is very real, which is, we have an establishment consensus in too much of this country. There are people who are part of this ongoing permanent Republican-Democratic administration. I think what is crucial is that Obama leave open the door to people, people, the millions who worked their hearts and souls out to get him elected, and that there be, for example, a parallel economic summit, so that you don’t just have those who were on the stage last Friday, but you have others who represent teachers, miners, people from poor communities around this country, people who haven’t had healthcare in ten years. So I think he needs to open up and understand that he, while communicating with those people on the stage, should also be using this great technology to communicate with those who really are going to be the force which overtakes the dead weight of established power and money.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, what do you make of his first move, which was choosing as his Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel?

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: You know, I have less — I’m more concerned about the Treasury Secretary appointments and as he moves forward. The Chief of Staff can be an empty vessel in many ways, and I think you do see the direction coming from the top down. I think the conventional wisdom on Rahm Emanuel is very silly, the idea that he’s too partisan, and that’s violating Obama’s post-partisan message. I think we’re going to see a lot of talk about pragmatism and post-partisanship. That’s fine. But I think you may see progressive solutions coming out of that, not as bold as we would like. That’s where mobilization comes in. But I’m less concerned about Rahm Emanuel.

I think this party, the leadership of the Democratic Party, has been moved on trade issues, for example, because of the mobilization of those outside it. And one of the steps Obama, as I said in my “First 100 Days,” he should repudiate the Korea, Panama trade treaties and make sure that the trade treaties are truly integrated with labor, human rights, environmental rights — Colombia, Korea, Panama trade agreements. And, Amy, one of the first steps — and this speaks to both a decision of this administration and perhaps reflected in the appointments he makes — the Employee Free Choice Act. I think that is crucial. Labor has gone all-out for Barack Obama. And the mobilization of the corporate business community is ferocious. I mean, within the weeks before Obama was elected, they saw the writing on the wall and the money being amassed already. So that’s a fight that needs to be —-

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what that is.

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: The Employee Free Choice Act, it’s a piece of legislation labor has been fighting for for many years that will allow card checks so that management could not harass labor in their organizing drives, and it would help labor begin, only begin to level the playing field. What is -— the private sector is now eight or nine percent unionized, and government, public sector, 12 percent. So that is a key demand, along with health insurance, so that people in labor are going to continue with what they call an accountability movement in this next hundred days, which is useful, because parallel to what Obama is saying he will do, you need that accountability.

JUAN GONZALEZ: But on the card check provision, the problem is that even if that was able to get through Congress, the issue — unions see it as a way to expand membership rapidly, but the problem is that in many places now, even after you get a union recognized, getting a contract is a whole other issue, so that there needs to be a lot more reform of the NLRB than just the card check issue.

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: You know, I agree, Juan, and I think what we’ve seen — we’ve seen this country ravaged over the last eight years, and also the Democrats under Clinton — and this is part of what we’re seeing, by the way, with the Clinton people coming back into this administration. The conventional wisdom on the Clinton administration is that it was brightness and light. There were some good things done, but we know what was squandered, what was lost. But it’s the last Democratic administration. So we haven’t built the field team we need on our side, except outside, which is valuable. There will be some people inside, but that insider-outsider strategy, it’s a first step — that’s my point, the Employee Free Choice Act. Damage has been done. We are now beginning to undo the damage. And, of course, NLRB changes, many more changes. However, the card check, EFCA, as they call it, does give arbitration rights, which is also valuable.

AMY GOODMAN: Katrina vanden Heuvel, I wanted to turn for a moment to the issue of Russia-US relations. You’ve been a longtime analyst on Russia. The reaction of the Obama victory last week from Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

    PRESIDENT DMITRY MEDVEDEV: [translated] The conflict in the Caucasus was used as a pretext for sending NATO warships to the Black Sea and then for the forceful foisting on Europe of America’s anti-missile system, which in turn will entail retaliatory measures by Russia. We do not have problems with the American people. We are not born anti-American. We hope that our partner, the new administration of the United States, will make a choice of fully fledged relations with Russia.

AMY GOODMAN: Russian President Medvedev. Katrina vanden Heuvel?

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: Well, I’m glad you played that clip, Amy, because so much of the corporate mainstream press has played that speech as the new Cold War, Dmitry Medvedev laying down the gauntlet. Well, you heard him say that he is open to a new relationship with this administration.

Part of the disaster of these last years has been the expansion of NATO, moving into — attempts to move it into Georgia and Ukraine, and then this an anti-missile — I hate to call it “anti-missile,” because it’s a technology that doesn’t work against a threat that doesn’t exist, but that’s where they’re drawing a line in this speech. He said — he went on to say, Medvedev, that they will begin to station missiles in Kaliningrad, if the United States proceeds with stationing interceptors and radars in the Czech Republic and Poland. The sadness of it all, as you know, is that this doesn’t provide real security. It’s a technology that isn’t really tested, doesn’t work. And the Czech Republic people, in a referendum, opposed this, opposed this. So it’s kind of, on all fronts, undermining security, undermining democracy, undermining sovereignty, and it’s an on — we need to reset US-Russian relations.

And I think the Obama administration — it’s a problem, because I would argue that our media and our policy class has less debate about US-Russian relations today than it did during the Cold War, meaning that it’s one hand clapping and very few, very few, understand the need to reset US-Russian relations. The Washington Post this past Sunday had the British historian Alistair Horne — they didn’t have an American — speaking about the need to have a new partnership. You showed the piece about Iran. Russia is needed to work with the United States and the Europeans with Iran in combating terrorism and in fighting nuclear proliferation, Amy and Juan, because that remains a very serious problem. Good news is Obama has spoken, as have others, about building a nuclear-free world and abolishing nuclear weapons. So there’s stuff on the table to work toward.

JUAN GONZALEZ: But also, on the recent war between Georgia and Russia, Obama basically bought into the viewpoint that Russia was the aggressor in the conflict there.

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: You know, Juan, first of all, Amy read earlier something very important, which is that international monitors have established what has been known, and the media, especially the Washington Post, has ignored fact, that it was Georgia that launched this war, which is a humanitarian catastrophe, above all. We have to stop and find a way to stop the hyper-militarization.

Obama’s first reaction in mid-August, August 7th, 8th, 9th, was to talk about taking this to the UN. In the vortex of a campaign with McCain playing the national security card as hard as he could, because it was the only one he really had, Obama did move. And I think Obama needs other advisers to speak to him about the need to reset US-Russian relations. But his first instinct was one that showed a sense that you had to engage Russia and not make this into support for Georgia exclusively. I would say that his vice president is someone who has been an ardent advocate of NATO expansion. NATO is an institution that should be dismantled, in my view. We don’t need it in this time. It is primarily a military institution. So I would argue for ending the expansion of NATO, halting this military defense deployment, and I think you could see the possibilities of new US-Russian relations, and the Obama administration would be wise to think hard about that.

AMY GOODMAN: Katrina vanden Heuvel, I want to thank you for being with us.

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Editor and publisher of The Nation magazine, longtime analyst on US-Russian relations. Her latest editorial in The Nation is called "The First 100 Days."

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