24 February 2011

Keeping Progressive Pressure on Obama and the Democrats

The other night I watched an interview of Howard Fineman by Lawrence O'Donnell on the subject of why the president seemed to have absented himself from showing support for the demonstrations against the obvious... and now apparently failing... Republican conspiracy to conduct a coordinated campaign to eviscerate public employee unions in as many states as possible.

Fineman gave a nuanced, or one might say, neatly evasive, defense of the president in purely political terms. He wants to show support for small business. He wants to signal that he's not insensitive to the need to make "adjustments" in public spending, etc. From the president, nothing about why the president doesn't reiterate what Progressives everywhere in America are saying: the Right is trying to squeeze the middle class to shrink government to address fiscal shortfalls that have nothing to do with the middle class. The fiscal problems were purely caused by revenue shortfalls directly resulting from the Wall Street Financial Collapse. Nothing about how the only truly Progressive response to escalating debt is not to take money away from the middle class (which is counterproductive and likely to actually shrink revenue in the longer term), but to make the very wealthy and the profits of banks and Wall Street (as well as Big Oil and Big Pharma) produce more revenue. Certainly nothing about cutting military expenditures significantly, even though the Cold War is long over but military expenditures are nearly double what they were in 2000. How can this failure to speak out on these key issues be called, by any definition, Progressive?

OK, there is a huge roadblock in the way, in the form of the Republican House, many Republican state governments (think redistricting), and an alarmingly Right Wing judiciary. But you don't negotiate by conceding in advance, and you don't create a constituency for change by not talking about it, not advocating it, not doing everything you can to move the hearts and minds of America in the right direction. 

We Progressives need to apply pressure to the White House, in the streets if necessary, and also to pressure particularly the Senate, not to give in to the Republicans, not to adopt their frames and paradigms, not to accept their "solutions." That way lies disaster. We must devote our energies to creating a powerful opposition movement that will take back the instruments of power, through nonviolent political action and then at the ballot box, as soon as possible. We need to work towards achieving our goals, not try to minimize the impact of conceding to theirs. We should be doing absolutely everything we can, and demand our party's politicians do everything they can, to block the Rightist agenda, including most budget cuts.

I see none of this from this President. We must pressure him, pressure Democrats everywhere, and create and widely disseminate alternative messages to convince as many people as possible in this country that the change that was promised has yet to be delivered, but that we can't give up. We need to demand change, and keep demanding it till we get it.

Think I'm exaggerating? I keep hearing about how great Obama's legislative agenda was in  the first 2 years. Yes, there was some progress, but look at what was promised and compare it not to the limited achievements, but what's being talked about now.

From Dismantling the Empire by Chalmers Johnson:
During his campaign, Barack Obama promised to close our extrajudicial detention camp at Guantanamo Bay; restore legally sanctioned practices, particularly within the Department of Justice; provide nearly all citizens with health insurance and other life support systems that are routine in most advanced industrial democracies; take global warming seriously; and implement a number of laws that were being honored only in the breach, including those protecting personal privacy. Obama's proposed reform program was massive, long overdue, and popularly welcomed.
It's leadership and tenacity that make promised reform come true. On this promised agenda, you just can't conclude either that Obama has been a success overall so far, or that he is even continuing to advocate much of this reform. Therefore, we progressives must keep the pressure on and keep this reform agenda front and center. 

But that's not enough. Because even this promised agenda falls far short of what we as a nation need and we as a people must demand from our government. The very next passage from Johnson's book:
Conspicuously absent from this lengthy agenda, however, was one significant factor of American life. Only those of us who had long watched this area noted Obama's silence and were alarmed for what it suggested about his ... presidency. The omission concerned the massive apparatus that enables what I have called our global "empire of bases" to exist and function. In the campaign, he said little about the armed forces (other than that he would like to expand the Army and Marines), the military-industrial complex, the Pentagon's failure to account properly for the vast sums it spends, the growing clandestine role of our proliferating intelligence services, or the subcontracting of extremely sensitive national security tasks to the private sector.
Now I'm not politically naive, although I've been accused of that. I realize that couching a reform agenda in these terms would be all but impossible to use as a basis to win large numbers of voters to a more Progressive agenda. But I, echoing hundreds of thousands of Progressives, have talked about what we do need to say, and communicate, to counter the Rightist world view and move America in the right direction on all these issues. About investment in the future, redirecting our economy towards renewable energy and free and fair trade regimes to bring production back online as an economic engine, protecting the middle class programs, reforming taxation to begin to reverse the trend to growing income inequality, etc. But none of this will be possible if we do not also convince the people that we must scale back empire and focus our energies on the economy that creates good jobs for our own citizens at home. This is the true progressive agenda, which it's very clear our President is not pursuing, and not working to create the conditions for its emergence.

So, pressure, pressure, pressure. We must do our own communicating. Like the demonstrators in Wisconsin. We must keep demanding of our government, especially our own party, since the Republicans are entirely the enemy on these issues, that they support these policies, not Right Wing or Right Wing light policies.

On Wisconsin! United we stand, and we must make clear our demands, never giving up, never settling for defeat.

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