Arguing on the sidelines or exerting
power on the playing field?
by Roger Bybee
Much of the progressive media focus relentlessly on Obama’s flaws which are all too real (eg., backtracking on support for single-payer health care, ambiguity on policies that foster outsourcing of jobs, refusing to aggressively puruse tortrutre and other war crimes,etc.)
Still, it’s almost as if progressives are delighted in finally having a relatively liberal head coach that they can argue with, after 16 long years of the triangulator Bill Clinton and then Wall Street’s pet poodle George W. Bush.
But confining ourselves to arguments on the sidelines–while the real action is occurring in Congress and the streets of America–condemns progressives to irrelevance.
Yes, we must continue to hold Obama accountable for appointing the likes of Lawrence Summers and Timothy Geithener and refusing to contemplate nationalizing the banks. However, in contrast to Glenn Greenwald’s thoughtful piece on commondreams.org, I would argue that our paramount challenge as progressives is not so much to distniguish ourselves from Obama as to maximize progressive outcomes from his administration.
To be specific, we can spend our time explaining why Obama should be more progressive, or we can join in expsoing and fighting the conservative Blue Dog Democrats and hard-line Republicans who are standing in the way of every progressive initiative.
The Blue Dog Democrats (as analyzed in a fine Nation article by Chis Hayes) and the ultra-conservative Republicans are slowing down Obama’s progress toward goals which progressives share with him, such as a strong stimulus bill focused on creating high-paying jobs in America.
So it is vital that we not allow ourselves to be preoccupied soleley with sideline disputes with Obama while the Blue Dogs and obstructionist Republicans are systematically pursuing their corporate agenda on the real field of play.
To the extent that FDR’s New Deal failed to achieve all of its objectives, much can be attributed to the inability of FDR and his allies to isolate and eliminate the reactionary "Dixicrats" who protected both corporate interests and Southern apartheid. We should not make the same mistake with the Blue Dogs. We should confront them in every forum we can, revealing both their corporate sponsors and their sellout of working people at a time of extreme crisis.
So I would sress the following:
1)HOUNDING THE BLUE DOGS & GOP
If we want Obama to be more progressive, we need to focus much more of our energies on pressuring the sell-out Blue Dogs and ueber-reactionary Republicans. That means media work to expose their corporate allegiances, and splashy, militant protests in their home districts and home offices by the unemployed and other groups.
We also need to continually dismember their out-dated and hypocritical ideologies of "fiscal conservatism" (which they preach after blowing trillions on tax breaks for the rich and the Iraq War), "free markets" ( how do they imagine the Wall St. meldown possibly occurred?), and "free trade" ( a seal of approval for corporate outsourcing of jobs to low-wage, high-repression nations, opposed by an overwhelming majority of Americnas)
These and other absurd arguments have been repeated endlessly by Republican talking heads, who far out-numbered Democrats and progressives on cable-news programs during the debate on the stimulus bill. Progressives not only must used their own media, but actively fight for air time in mainstream media.
2) INDEPENDENT STREET HEAT
As during the 1930’s, the importance of "street heat"–independent protests that threatened to fracture the Democratic coalition, such as blocking foreclosures, factory takeovers, protests at Merrill Lynch and the Bank of America and other TARP recipients–cannot be over-estimated. (I highly recommend Cloward and Piven’s Poor People’s Movements on this point).
While it is not a complete strategy for social transformation to an economic democracy, it was crucial during the New Deal in obtaining immediate aid (like food and other relief), establishing vital economic rights like unionization, and pressing for the establishment of landmark social programs like Social Security.
Yet we hear very little about contemporary efforts by today’s Left to organize such activities, with the exception of the Republic Windows and Doors takeover in Chicago.
President Obama–as well as the Blue Dogs and GOP troglodytes–must be made to feel the widesapred "Where’s OUR bailout?" sentiment roiling among ordinary Americans.