PAUL JAY: So, one more time. Tom is a political analyst, a historian, a journalist, a columnist for The Guardian, and his recent books, ‘Listen Liberal,’ and before that, the very well-known ‘What’s the Matter with Kansas?’ … If the Clinton years and the Obama years were such a success, why do we have a Trump?
THOMAS FRANK: Oh, man. That’s a big question. … I was one of those people who was very enthusiastic about Barack Obama. And he had a situation, you know, he came into office with an economic situation that really should have … the conditions for making him into a Franklin Roosevelt-style hero; one of the greatest, most beloved political figures of all time. All the raw material was there. The economy had been managed into disaster; managed right over a cliff by the George W. Bush people. Actually, “managed” is the wrong word; the regulatory agencies were asleep at the wheel. They didn’t care what was going on. They were just doing everything they could to allow the banks to hand out liars loans and all the rest of this. All this crazy, crazy stuff had been going on. Here comes Barack Obama. It’s the perfect opportunity. I mean, it’s just like in 1932; very, very similar situation. He has a perfect opportunity to clean up in the way that Franklin Roosevelt did, and to make himself beloved forever.
PAUL JAY: When he was elected, we’d had eight years of the Bush administration, a completely disastrous war, and a crash which-
THOMAS FRANK: And the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal. The Republican Party and, in fact, the conservative philosophy was an incredibly bad odor back then. And when this happened, when Barack Obama — who, remember, was the unlikeliest candidate of them all. First of all, he’s black, which, we never had a black president before. That used to be regarded as something that was impossible, remember? Then there’s all these other factors. He was from a northern state; he had been born in Hawaii. He was outside of the mainstream in a hundred different ways. He’s also unusually smart, this wonderful orator. He had all of these things. He was a total outlier, politically speaking. To me, he seemed perfect. To me, he seemed like this was the exactly — I thought he was Franklin Roosevelt all over again.
PAUL JAY: Well, he had the moment and he controlled Congress.
THOMAS FRANK: Yeah, and controlled Congress. And I still think that had he played his cards right, we’d be well into Hillary Clinton’s term and there’d be another one yet to come, and they’d still be adding achievement after achievement in the way that the New Deal did in the ’30s. It went on until, when did Truman finally leave office? 1953. But that’s not what happened.
PAUL JAY: I remember lots of articles, predictions that the Republican Party might not get elected to the presidency again for generations, the Bush administration was so discredited.
THOMAS FRANK: Yeah. Well, you know, Obama didn’t play the hand that history dealt him. He didn’t play it exactly right, and the Republicans did play the game very, very well. I mean, the Republicans are always — they’re exceptionally good at the political game. And Barack Obama … I mean, we can go down the list of mistakes that he made, which, if you ask me, are all mistakes of not being forceful enough, not going far enough. But after you’d see the guy making three or four of them in a row, you start saying, “Well, maybe he’s not Franklin Roosevelt. Maybe his heart really isn’t into this project.” Read more …