Norman Solomon: Dear progressives

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A Letter I Wish Progressive Groups Would Send to Their Members

By Norman Solomon

Norman Solomon is co-founder of RootsAction.org and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. He co-chairs the Healthcare Not Warfare campaign organized by Progressive Democrats of America. His books include "War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death." He writes the Political Culture 2013 column. b3

Dear Progressives,

With President Obama’s second term underway and huge decisions looming on Capitol Hill, consider this statement from Howard Zinn: “When a social movement adopts the compromises of legislators, it has forgotten its role, which is to push and challenge the politicians, not to fall in meekly behind them.”

With so much at stake, we can’t afford to forget our role. For starters, it must include public clarity.

Let’s face it: despite often nice-sounding rhetoric from the president, this administration has continued with a wide range of policies antithetical to progressive values.

Corporate power, climate change and perpetual war are running amok while civil liberties and economic fairness take a beating. President Obama has even put Social Security and Medicare on the table for cuts.

Last fall, the vast majority of progressives voted for Obama to prevent the presidency from going to a Republican Party replete with racism, misogyny, anti-gay bigotry and xenophobia. Defeating the right wing was cause for celebration. And now is the time to fight for genuine progressive policies.

But let’s be real about our current situation. Obama has led the Democratic Party -- including, at the end of the legislative day, almost every Democrat on Capitol Hill -- deeper into an abyss of corporate-driven austerity, huge military outlays, normalization of civil-liberties abuses and absence of significant action on climate change. Leverage from the Oval Office is acting as a brake on many -- in Congress and in progressive constituency groups -- who would prefer to be moving legislation in a progressive direction.

Hopefully we’ve learned by now that progressive oratory is no substitute for progressive policies. The soaring rhetoric in Obama’s inaugural address this week offered inspiring words about a compassionate society where everyone is respected and we look out for each other. Unfortunately and routinely, the president’s lofty words have allowed him to slide by many progressives despite policies that often amount to a modern version of “social liberalism, fiscal conservatism.”

The New York Times headline over its front-page coverage, “Obama Offers a Liberal Vision in Inaugural Address,” served up the current presidential recipe: a spoonful of rhetorical sugar to help the worsening austerity go down. But no amount of verbal sweetness can make up for assorted policies aligned with Wall Street and the wealthy at the expense of the rest of us.

“At their inaugurals,” independent journalist I.F. Stone noted long ago, our presidents “make us the dupes of our hopes.”

Unlike four years ago, Obama has a presidential record -- and its contrasts with Monday’s oratorical performance are stark. A president seeking minimally fair economic policies, for instance, would not compound the disaster of four years of Timothy Geithner as Secretary of the Treasury by replacing him with Jack Lew -- arguably even more of a corporate flack.

On foreign policy, it was notably disingenuous for Obama to proclaim in his second inaugural speech that “enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war” -- minutes after completing a first term when his administration launched more than 20,000 air strikes, sharply escalated the use of weaponized drones and did so much else to make war perpetual.

Meanwhile, the media hype on the inaugural speech’s passage about climate change has lacked any indication that the White House is ready to push for steps commensurate with the magnitude of the real climate crisis.

The founder of the Sustainable Energy and Economy Network, Daphne Wysham, points out that the inaugural words “will be meaningless unless a) the Obama administration rejects the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline; b) Obama selects a new EPA administrator who is willing to take action under the Clean Air Act to rein in CO2 emissions from all sources; c) he stops pushing for dangerous energy development deep offshore in the Gulf, in the Arctic and via continued fracking for oil and gas; d) he pursues a renewable energy standard for the entire country; and e) he directs our publicly financed development banks and export credit agencies to get out of fossil fuels entirely.”

The leadership we need is certainly not coming from the White House or Congress. “A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus,” Martin Luther King Jr. observed. The leadership we need has to come, first and foremost, from us.

Some members of Congress -- maybe dozens -- have shown commitment to a progressive agenda, and a larger number claim a progressive mantle. In any event, their role is not our role. They adhere to dotted lines that we should cross. They engage in Hill-speak euphemisms that we should bypass. Routinely, they decline to directly confront wrong-headed Obama administration policies. And we must confront those policies.

If certain members of Congress resent being pushed by progressives to challenge the White House, they lack an appreciation for the crucial potential of grassroots social movements. On the other hand, those in Congress who “get” progressive social change will appreciate our efforts to push them and their colleagues to stand progressive ground.

When we’re mere supplicants to members of Congress, the doors that open on Capitol Hill won’t lead very much of anywhere. Superficial “access” has scant impact. The kind of empowered access we need will come from mobilizing grassroots power.

We need to show that we’ll back up members of Congress who are intrepid for our values -- and we can defeat others, including self-described “progressives,” who aren’t. Building electoral muscle should be part of building a progressive movement.

We’re in this for the long haul, but we’re not willing to mimic the verbiage or echo the silences from members of Congress who fail to challenge egregious realities of this administration’s policies. As Howard Zinn said, our role is to challenge, not fall in line.

Norman Solomon is co-founder of RootsAction.org and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy.  He co-chairs the Healthcare Not Warfare campaign organized by Progressive Democrats of America. His books include "War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death." He writes the Political Culture 2013 column. b3

 

  


   

 


 
 

  

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Comments

who, if he were still alive, would see through this lesser evilism message.

Sorry to be so negative, but the game is fixed--D or R. Obama put off the Keystone XL decision until after the election so it wouldn't be a campaign issue. Look for its approval in the near future. Isn't that why Lisa Jackson stepped down?

At September, 2011's big rally outside the White House led by 350.org, speakers who were going to criticize Obama by name were disinvited, most notably Ralph Nader.

I have been hearing the same tired rhetoric against the left bolting from the Democratic Party my entire adult life. The last "progressive" Democratic presidential candidate with broad support (almost a movement, in fact) was Jesse Jackson in 1988. What did we get for him staying true to the party and not starting a third, leftist party--Bush beating Dukakis.

Just think where we might had been had he taken his support and started a party geared towards the interests of the working class, oppressed minorities, and labor. Look where we are now. Still stuck in the deep doo doo, looking to progressive democrats for their leadership in a corporate funded and controlled party.

Those looking to reform the Democratic Party from the inside and somehow turn it into a real alternative to military/corporate rule are fulfilling Albert Einstein's definition of insanity: "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 24, 2013 @ 10:09 pm

hypothetical musing about what "might have been" is little more than warm conjecture. As many under-represented and under-priviliged Americans as there are, they are not enough of them to win a nationwide election on a platform of taking from those who are successful.

Dukakis was a lame candidiate, in the mold of Gore, Kerry and other losers that the Dem's have nominated in the last 25 years or so. But he still represented the best chance of winning back power and perhaps would have except that the nation was still giddy with the Reagan hegemony.

Twenty years later, the US was just about ready for a (half) black President who wasn't too liberal. Jesse couldn't win now, let along then.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 25, 2013 @ 3:21 pm

as you try to view politics only through the narrow prism of election contests, more similar to sporting events than anything else. Of course, Jesse Jackson couldn't have won the presidency in 1988, but that wasn't the point of my nostalgic hope for him to have bolted the Democrats to build a national party independent from corporate/military interests.

I do agree that my conjecture is just that. I used the example because that campaign was the last presidential campaign with broad grassroots energy outside the confinement of allowable debate. An opportunity missed.

Unfortunately, most people live by the adage, "If you can't beat them, join them," rather than the more optimistic and empowering, "If you can't beat them, try harder or try something different."

I know into which camp you fall with your constant defeatist, conformist, exploitation-accomodating posts.

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 25, 2013 @ 3:36 pm

a fringe, minority viewpoint that has no critical mass or electoral validity regardless of any individual politicians.

America has the two parties it deserves - one centrist and one ot the right - because that is what it's people want. Your lament for a different system is really a lament to live in another, very different nation.

And if my views were as un-american as yours, I would surely leave, rather than stay and endlessly whine
.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 25, 2013 @ 5:10 pm

speech become "un-American?" It's easy to regurgitate the propaganda fed to you by the opinion makers paid by the ruling elites, isn't it? You excel at it.

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 25, 2013 @ 5:34 pm

I was merely pointing out that what you think and say here does not resonate with the vast majority of Americans, who comprehensively reject a leftist ideology.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 26, 2013 @ 9:16 am

Presidents always move to the center
Progressive ideas are not popular
All politicians lie
"Purity progressives" can't compromise
Nader lost the election for Gore
Progressives have situational ethics
Progressives ignore pressing problems to promote pet projects.
Progressives want to tell everyone else how to run their lives
Progressives call anybody a troll who doesnt' agree with them
Anybody who thinks the police must have proper civilian oversight is a "cop hater."
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Big Troll Lie #2
Progressives are in the minority; average person has no connection with progressive goals.

Fact: Progressive ideas are broadly popular among the American people, who poll in agreement with them and generally vote for candidates who campaign on such platforms only to then reneg on their promises after taking office when the allure of lobbiest campaign cash often becomes irresistable.

Reactionary lying trolls claim that Progressive ideas are not popular to cover for the fact that the political system is broken; just like claiming that American presidents "always move to the center" when they *always* move *right*.

Posted by lillipublicans on Jan. 26, 2013 @ 9:29 am

and endlessy whine like you do on this website.

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 25, 2013 @ 5:53 pm

who, if he were still alive, would see through this lesser evilism message.

Sorry to be so negative, but the game is fixed--D or R. Obama put off the Keystone XL decision until after the election so it wouldn't be a campaign issue. Look for its approval in the near future. Isn't that why Lisa Jackson stepped down?

At September, 2011's big rally outside the White House led by 350.org, speakers who were going to criticize Obama by name were disinvited, most notably Ralph Nader.

I have been hearing the same tired rhetoric against the left bolting from the Democratic Party my entire adult life. The last "progressive" Democratic presidential candidate with broad support (almost a movement, in fact) was Jesse Jackson in 1988. What did we get for him staying true to the party and not starting a third, leftist party--Bush beating Dukakis.

Just think where we might had been had he taken his support and started a party geared towards the interests of the working class, oppressed minorities, and labor. Look where we are now. Still stuck in the deep doo doo, looking to progressive democrats for their leadership in a corporate funded and controlled party.

Those looking to reform the Democratic Party from the inside and somehow turn it into a real alternative to military/corporate rule are fulfilling Albert Einstein's definition of insanity: "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 24, 2013 @ 10:11 pm

Now, I'm not saying you don't properly feel the way you do -- and the way you put forward a concept for an alternate reality diverging back in the days of the Rainbow Push coalition sure is appealing -- but I don't think the writer was making any argument against a third party.

In fact, I think the main take-away from the piece is that we shouldn't abandon our own sense of reality to accommodate a political "reality" which is only loosely based on the real thing.

Posted by lillipublicans on Jan. 24, 2013 @ 11:06 pm

grassroots support for social change. However, the focus of these efforts is to influence Democrats to be more "progressive" under the umbrella of the Progressive Democrats of America.

Transforming the Democratic Party into a true working class, labor oriented political party may be a worthy goal, but history has shown it to be impossible under a corporate controlled duopoly.

This country needs a third, fourth, fifth, sixth party to accurately reflect the interests and beliefs of its residents. Of course, the political structure resists such change and diversity. But the yearning of people is there. Look at Occupy which attracted a mass following outside of traditional candidate-oriented electoral politics and clearly resisted co-optation by the Democratic Party and their so-called left-wing represented by organizations like Moveon.org.

No change will come without struggle and the support of the grassroots, but that movement will only move forward outside of the confines of the traditional two-party candidate-oriented electoral politics first system.

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 25, 2013 @ 7:53 am

The Democrats repeatedly applied RoundUp to their grassroots while the Republicans have been fertilizing theirs.

The main barrier is the political hack parade that goes to the mat to defend the Democrats. The way that the hack parade does this is to pick wedge issues like gun control or abortion or identity politics in a way that plays Americans against one another on relatively unimportant issues so that the big ticket items--our descent into serfdom and debt peonage and stealing our money to fund a perpetual war machine--remain unaddressed.

Everyone wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die.

Posted by marcos on Jan. 25, 2013 @ 8:11 am

You've certainly wasted plenty of column inches on that non-issue.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 26, 2013 @ 12:39 pm

Yes, it was an unimportant non-issue that did not warrant anyone's attention.

Posted by marcos on Jan. 26, 2013 @ 1:07 pm

Which is why their supervisor took up the issue, much to the ridicule of much of the "progressive intelligentsia" who tend to fall back on ridicule when they know their positions don't have much popular support anyway. They ridiculed Newsom and he ran circles around them for years and look - Tim's still ridiculing him!

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Jan. 26, 2013 @ 1:28 pm

neighborhood to tell the good people of the Castro what they SHOULD want, rather than what in fact they actually do want.

What would we do without interfering interlopers telling us how we should think?

Posted by Guest on Jan. 26, 2013 @ 1:48 pm

Despite the fact that even in the Castro, a majority clearly wanted that law passed?

Not that you care about what the majority want anyway, like most ideologs.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 26, 2013 @ 1:34 pm

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but I agree with the majority!

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