Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Pushing Obama to the Left: the Progressives for Obama letter

By Tom Hayden, Bill Fletcher, Barbara Ehrenreich, and Danny Glover.

Relevant paragraph:

"However, the fact that Barack Obama openly defines himself as a centrist invites the formation of this progressive force within his coalition. Anything less could allow his eventual drift towards the right as the general election approaches. It was the industrial strikes and radical organizers in the 1930s who pushed Roosevelt to support the New Deal. It was the civil rights and student movements that brought about voting rights legislation under Lyndon Johnson and propelled Eugene McCarthy and Bobby Kennedy’s anti-war campaigns. It was the original Earth Day that led Richard Nixon to sign environmental laws. And it will be the Obama movement that makes it necessary and possible to end the war in Iraq, renew our economy with a populist emphasis, and confront the challenge of global warming."

I think it's a laudable undertaking to try to force Obama to be more Progressive in his policies, and the fact that Bill Fletcher and Danny Glover signed it impresses me. Frankly, I respect them more at this point than Hayden and Ehrenreich, with Fletcher being the leader of Freedom Road Socialist Organization and Glover having come out as a true progressive socialist.

There's just one problem, which is fellow progressives. My impression is that most Obama supporters already feel that he's basically as perfect as perfect can be, and that if you question that you're a bad, bad, person who's the progressive version of unpatriotic. Obama will likely win the Presidential nomination, unless there's a last minute rally by Clinton, and there will then be months of time when all manner of things can happen with Obama's position. It can go further to the right, be pushed to the Left, stay the same, or be pushed to the right by a campaign unwilling to progressively defend itself against Republican red baiting. A push to the left could have a great impact, and it's something that once he wins the nomination, either virtually or in Denver, will be much more feasible since the charge that opponents are really just Clinton supporters will no longer be tenable.

But Progressive Obama supporters have so far seemed like push overs, leading me to feel that there's little chance that they'll actually come together to hold Obama's feet to the fire in order to either keep his positions from going further to the right or moving them further to the left. I'd like to be proved wrong on this because it would mean Progressives flexing their muscles and trying to influence things rather than passively sitting by and giving their golden candidate a rubber stamp.


Carl Davidson said...

Your wariness is a little behind the times. We're already doing what we can to keep Obama's feet to the fire, especially on Iraq. Read Hayden's critiques if nothing else. If we just wanted to tail the campaign, we wouldn't have bothered to set up a separate and independent group that could speak its own mind.

A majority needed to elect Obama is necessarily a coalition of the center and the left. Obama himself speaks for the center-left, and never claimed to be anything else. All the more reason for those on the left who want to see him win strength the left voice and pole in the coalition, if nothing else, to counter pressure for rightward drift.

John Madziarczyk said...

You're right. I hadn't been reading things that Hayden has recently written because of general cynicism, but after looking at them he is indeed trying to push people to the left.

John Madziarczyk said...

Second note: although you folks are trying to push Obama and Obama people to the left I really do think that the kind of uncritical adulation of Obama is going to be a real barrier to any movement of that sort.

It's not just people saying 'I like Obama, I like what he stands for, I think he's a good candidate', it's people going beyond that to heaping praise on Obama in quantities that I've never seen or heard of U.S. Presidential candidates receiving, with the possible exception of Ronald Reagan. That is the thing that I feel will be the barrier to what you folks want to do.

Take the ITT List, the blog connected to "In These Times" magazine. In the latest installment the writer there compares Obama's rhetoric on hope to the Pope's message of people not fearing given to the striking workers of Solidarity in Poland.

So he's compared Obama to the Pope, who is considered to be the literal representative of God on earth by pious Catholics.

And what about the guy who posted on DailyKos who received an ever ascending wave of abuse for supporting Hillary that ended with a person posting a comment calling on others to find out the guy's address and phone number and whatever other information that could be found about him, for a threatening intent.

When I put those two incidents together I think of things like Mussolini and the Black Shirts, or the Brown Shirts, people who believed in their Dear Leader so much that they wanted to beat the shit out of people who dissented against him.

That's not normal, certainly not normal for American politics, and is something that would normally be associated with Bush supporters instead of the Left and Progressive Liberals.

Carl Davidson said...

It's called charisma, meaning touched with grace. I think you're underestimating the excitement in the African American community as one of them comes within reach of the White House. A lot of pent-up emotion is bound to bubble up, and it will reach into other sectors, especially youth and others of the oppressed.

I don't think Bush or any on the right has anything like this. In their dreams! In any case, it's a mass phenomenon that none of us has much to do with, and couldn't reverse it if we tried to. As far as Progressives for Obama is concerned, the core of this group remains tough critics even as we defend Obama against the right. There's all sorts of evidence of that, on our site and elsewhere. We're not fresh out of the pumpkin patch, by any means. But the best solution is to help our component of this movement grow and become more effective.
Keep On Keepin' On

Carl Davidson