By Carl Davidson
Keep On Keepin' On
Even though it was a call for a center-left coalition of sorts, Harold Meyerson's Jan. 6 Washington Post article, run on Portside, pressed all my hot buttons.
The title alone, with its question-begging blind spot, 'Without a movement, progressives can't aid Obama's agenda,' set me off: there's substantive parts of "Obama's agenda", such as the current Afghan war escalation, that are outright reactionary and not deserving of 'aid' from anyone, least of all progressives. In fact, we need to be mobilizing against them.
Meyerson is probably speaking for more than himself. I'd guess he's fairly typical of a good number of Beltway liberals who have been wringing their hands recently over their inability to get more grassroots passion stirred up and into the streets over a range of measures that are part of the White House agenda.
So when he started describing how FDR enjoyed critical support from a powerful labor movement and a significant left in the Communist and Socialist Parties, and lamenting that Obama lacks something similar, I just shook my head and groaned. Since the end of World War Two, these guys have been doing everything in their power to disparage, dismiss, distrust and otherwise sow disdain for the socialist left. To our credit, we gave tit for tat over the years, and persisted in keeping a relevant left alive, as best as we could, and kept ourselves fully engaged in the building of mass and progressive movements.
There are at least three current mass movements that have been in the streets in the hundreds of thousands since Obama decided to run for president-the campaigns to get out of Iraq and Afghanistan, the health care reform movement demanding 'Medicare for All,' and the huge May Day mobilizations, numbering in the millions, for immigrant and workers' rights.
Obama spoke to all of these concerns, and more, during his campaign. But since he's been in the Oval office, he's given the lead to the 'reform' neoliberal representatives of finance capital, setting aside or opposing, to an unfortunate degree, the interests on Main Street for those of Wall Street.
Has it been all bad? Of course not, but it's been problematic all along the line. The administration delivered an economic stimulus-but it was not large enough. It launched a Green Jobs program-but it was too small, and then it tucked its tail between its legs because of a few rantings from Glenn Beck, and let the best man in the country to implement the measure, Van Jones, be pushed out the door. It proclaimed that the President would sign an Employee Free Choice Act, then backhandedly urged Congress to gut it beforehand and urged labor to set it aside until health care reform was won. And don't even get me started on how far away from "Medicare for All" the current insurance reform measure is.
All of this is very familiar to those of us on the left who have lived in Chicago. It's a political orientation called "unite the center, concede and conciliate with the right, and attack and defeat the progressive left." Its evil genius is none other than Rahm Emanuel, and we know both him and the policy well. His implementation of this approach saw two Congressional seats go to the GOP in 2006 because he picked his own center-right people to defeat stronger progressive Democrats in the primary, then lost to the GOP in the general. Some genius.
But back to the main point. I'm all for a broad left-progressive-liberal-moderate coalition, especially in the 2010 elections. I want us all to work to defeat every Teabagger, every Republican, and where we can put a better rep in place, every Blue Dog. I think that's required to deliver a harsh blow against the GOP and the chauvinist rightwing populism it's feeding.
The biggest obstacle to this is the war in Afghanistan. Hardly any leftists and few progressives are going to get solidly behind the White House until this is ended. If it doesn't, it will be the death of the Obama presidency and everything decent it might want to do. He might not hear that message from the 'reform' neoliberals and 'soft power' and 'long war' counterinsurgency voices he's surrounded himself with, but it's the truth that a great many people beyond the Beltway understand very clearly.
The second biggest obstacle is the corrupting influence of finance capital on nearly every program the country needs. If the liberals want a powerful left-liberal coalition, then pass EFCA so we can quickly double the size of the trade union forces as a counterforce. I'm all for Rachel Maddow using her communication skills, but we also need some tougher organizational clout to defeat the right. If they want a huge progressive movement going into the streets backing this or that Bill, then stop letting the bankers declare the core things we need "off the table." I assure you, people are ready to hit the streets around the jobs crisis. But they want to see tax money spent directly on infrastructure and green energy, and not as 'trickle down' tax credits.
In his conclusion, Meyerson claims "The construction of social movements is always a bit of a mystery." Not really. It requires a cause held to be just by a sizable militant minority. It requires vision and hope among the core leaders, leaders who can defeat cynicism and inspire vision and hope more widely. It requires serious funding from diverse sources. Most of all, it requires organization, on all levels and of all sorts. Even if they appear spontaneous, social movements are organized. If today's liberals want to lend a hand, they'll be more than welcome and their concerns represented-but they should set aside any notions that they'll be able to control serious movements just as they please.
Carl Davidson is webmaster for 'Progressive America Rising,' formerly 'Progressives for Obama'. He is also
a national co-chair of Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism.
If you like this article, make use of the PayPal button at http://carldavidson.blogspot.com