A very bad wizard

In L. Frank Baum’s story, the Wizard of Oz promises Dorothy and her friends, the scarecrow, the tin woodman and the cowardly lion that if they succeed in their quest, he will grant the scarecrow’s wish for a brain, the tin woodman’s wish for a heart, the cowardly lion’s wish for a lion’s courage and Dorothy’s wish for a way back to Kansas.

When they succeed, however, the Wizard is unable to grant their wishes. Instead he gives them other things he says are just as good. The scarecrow gets a college diploma, the tin woodman a flowery valentine card and the cowardly lion a military medal.  Only Dorothy can’t be helped because the way back to Kansas is something real.

President Obama promised his followers that, if they succeeded in putting him in office, he would make an all-out effort to achieve certain goals – a public option for health care as an alternative to private health insurance, a “cramdown” allowing federal bankruptcy judges to reset mortgages, the preservation of Social Security.  But when they achieved their quest, they were given other things that President Obama says are just as good – the Affordable Care Act, the Home Affordable Modification Program, the Deficit Reduction Commission.

In the story, the scarecrow manifested brains, the tin woodman heart and the lion courage in their actions, not as a gift from a wizard.  And Dorothy was able to browbeat the wizard into taking her along in his balloon ride back to our world.

The lesson is that we the people should not depend on the gift of a charismatic political figure.  If we want a full employment economy, if we want to curb the power of Wall Street over the government, if we want affordable health insurance, if we want to stop the erosion of labor rights and the social safety net, we need to create a political force that has to be reckoned with no matter who is in office, as the abolitionists, the suffragettes, the labor movement and the civil rights movement did in earlier eras.

Because President Obama may well be a very good man, but he certainly is a very bad Wizard.

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