Progressive Obamanists: Where Do You Draw the Line?

Dear "Progressive" Obamanists and/or "Progressives for Obama,"

I have a question for you: at what point could Barack Obama lose you? I’ll return to this question and deepen it a little at the end.

First, some background. 

I am going to guess that at least two of you have seen my recent ZNet piece on Barack Obama’s recent (latest) right-leaning policy statements – what "mainstream" (corporate) media is calling his "shift to the center" from (please) "the left."

Here are some of the things the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times have mentioned to indicate Obama’s (supposed) move to "the center":

* Obama’s apparent embrace of the Supreme Court ruling invalidating a Washington D.C ban on personal handguns and claiming that the Second Constitutional Amendment pertains to private citizens not just organized state "militias."

* his declaration of his belief in the state’s right to kill certain criminals, including child rapists.

* his decision to become the first major party presidential candidate to bypass the public presidential financing system and to reject accompanying spending limits. This violates his earlier pledge to work through the public system and accept those limits.

* His support for a refurbished spy bill that grants retroactive immunity to telephone corporations for collaborating with the White House in the practice of electronic surveillance against American citizens. This violates his earlier pledge to filibuster any surveillance legislation containing such immunity.

* His appointment of the corporate-friendly Wal-Mart apologist and Hamilton Project economist Jason Furman as his economic policy director – something that stands in curious relation to his earlier bashing ("I won’t shop there") of Wal-Mart’s low-wage practices.

* His emphasis on how he’s a supporter of "free trade," something that seems to contradict his campaign-trail criticism of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

* His "tweaking" of his claim that he would meet with Iran’s president (he is adding conditions)

* His embrace of Bush-McCain rhetoric on the supposed Iranian nuclear threat and his related promise to do "anything" to protect the military occupation, apartheid, and nuclear state of Israel from Iran (a nation previously attacked by Israel).

* His call for an "undivided" Israel-run Jerusalem despite the fact that no government on the planet (and not even the Bush administration) supports Israeli’s right to annex that UN-designated international city

* His latest weak statements on "combat troop" withdrawal from Iraq, indicating that an Obama White House would maintain the immoral and illegal U.S. occupation of that country for an indefinite period.

There are some things to add.

* We have learned that News that Obama may well ask Robert Gates, the hard right George W. Bush’s hawkish defense secretary, to stay on into an Obama administration. 
* Two days ago Obama embraced a core aspect of the Republican agenda: privatization of government social service – the peeling off of welfare and other programs to private "faith-based" (religious)  agencies.

And now we have this (half an hour ago from the Associated Press): 

FARGO, N.D. – Democrat Barack Obama opened the door Thursday to altering his plan to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq in 16 months based on what he hears from military commanders during his upcoming trip there.
"I am going to do a thorough assessment when I’m there," he told reporters on the airport tarmac here. "I’m sure I’ll have more information and continue to refine my policy." During his presidential campaign, Obama has gone from the hard-edged, vocal opposition to Iraq that defined his early candidacy to more nuanced rhetoric that calls for a phased-out drawdown of all combat brigades that, at a rate of one or two a month, could last 16 months. He has said that if al-Qaeda builds bases in Iraq, he would keep troops either in the country or the region to carry out "targeted strikes."
Republicans, who have been goading Obama to return to Iraq to see conditions for himself, pounced. "There appears to be no issue that Barack Obama is not willing to reverse himself on for the sake of political expedience," said Alex Conant, a spokesman for the national Republican Party. "Obama’s Iraq problem undermines the central premise of his candidacy and shows him to be a typical politician."

I hate to agree with a Republican, but, hey, Alex Conant has a point. I would  add, however, that there is absolutely nothing new about this latest Iraq policy statement. Obama and his advisers (including the departed Samantha Power) have made it abundantly clear that an Obama White House would in fact be very likely to maintain the occupation for an indefinite period and would certainly adjust the "16 month" campaign pledge in accord with the counsel of military commanders "on the ground." Please see my essay "‘Calibrating’ HOPE in the Effort to ‘Patrol the Commons’: Samantha Power and the Hidden Imperial Reality of Barack Obama." 

If you read my first ZNet essay linked above you know that I don’t buy the notion that general election candidate Obama is moving "to the center" from the left. He’s been a centrist from the beginning of the presidential campaign and indeed (as I will show in a future article) from the start of his political career in Chicago and Illinois during the 1990s.

In my opinion, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman recently wrote something very perceptive about Obama and (above all) many of his supporters. The following three sentences from Krugman’s Times column last Monday go right to the heart of a key and defining aspect of "the Obama phenomenon":

"Progressive activists in particular, overwhelmingly supported Mr. Obama during the Democratic primary even though his policy positions, particularly on health care, were often to the right of his rivals. In effect, they convinced themselves that he was a transformational character behind a centrist façade."

"They may have had it backward" (Paul Krugman, "The Obama Agenda," New York Times, June 30, 2008. p. A23).

Yes, it’s the opposite of what many of you "progressive" Obamanists say: he’s a corporate, imperial, and military centrist in the deceptive rebel’s clothing of a, well. progressive (a word he used a great deal to describe himself before and during the primaries). And now a fair bit of that clothing is coming off as he runs yet further to the right for the general election.

I saw the primary campaign up close and for a long time in pivotal and over-campaigned Iowa: even John Edwards (not just Kucinich) ran to the left of Oballary on both foreign and domestic policy. 

Obama actually ran to Hillary’s right on domestic (thought not foreign) policy —  especially health care —  through the entire primary season.

For what it’s worth, Krugman’s take on Obama finds strong support in my forthcoming book Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics.

All of which brings me to my question, well questions, to progressive Obamanists: :

As a progressive, what are your boundaries in terms of how you will vote and/or contribute your money and/or your time in the 2008 presidential election? Where do you draw the line? At one point(s) could Obama go so far to the center or right that you just couldn’t support him anymore and might think about (1) sitting the election out or (2) voting for Cynthia McKinney or Ralph Nader or some substantively Left progressive candidate? Is there any point you would be willing to identify at which you would say, "okay, that’s it – enough, I cannot be part of this anymore’"? Where do you draw the line? Can Obama just take your support for granted at this point? Does it come with any conditions? If so, could you identify those conditions?

I know some progressive Obama supporters will be offended by these questions but I think they are worth asking and that answers could help positively inform progressive strategy after Obama gets in – as I expect he will.


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