On Friday I read in the New York Times that President Obama would be happy to cut $200 billion out of Medicare in order to inflict pain on his Democratic base, part of an imagined tradeoff in which the two parties inflict pain on their imagined bases in order to reduce the deficit without imposing sensible taxes on billionaires or shrinking military spending to sane levels. Also on Friday I got an Email from True Majority asking me to celebrate Obama's defense of Medicare.
We've progressed from "I feel your pain" to "I inflict your pain," and we're being told to like it.
"President Obama: If you stand up to the Republican hostage-takers and protect Medicare," it says on MoveOn.org's website, "we will have your back." Or, of course, even if you don't do that, President Obama, even if the whole idea of it is based on myths about who is on whose side, MoveOn and most other online groups that don't have the back of the Republican Party will have yours. That's the way this game works. Except that it hasn't been working.
True Majority's traditional focus was on reducing military spending, but during the early Obama years it celebrated particular weapons cuts, masking overall increases. MoveOn used to organize anti-war rallies, albeit only in Republican congressional districts, as long as the president was a Republican and the Democrats tolerated it. Now, you'll have a hard time finding any of our wars' existence acknowledged on MoveOn's website, which is dominated by opposition to the Tea Party.
Even in the bad old days of a Republican president, True Majority had to be pushed hard by its members to oppose wars, and MoveOn conducted a poll of its members asking if they preferred Nancy Pelosi's plan to keep the wars going or President Bush's, and then used the inevitable result to dishonestly claim that its members preferred Pelosi's plan to Congresswoman Barbara Lee's proposal to actually end a war.
All of the Democratic Party groups turned against single-payer healthcare when instructed to do so, just as they can be counted on to steer clear, cave in, and avoid a fight on any issue the Democratic Party is on the wrong side of, which is of course just about all of them.
I'm not suggesting we devote our energies primarily to criticizing those who are gently nudging in the general right direction. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with opposing Tea Party lunatics. I'm suggesting that we need to understand what's happening in order to create something better that is desperately needed and could alter our entire public discourse.
What if we had an online organizing force that answered only to concerns of peace, civil liberties, and social and economic justice? What if this new movement opposed Wall Street bailouts regardless of partisan positions? What if it opposed wars no matter who was commander in chief?
When it came to electoral politics, all the same choices would remain. Voters could still choose to back the best candidates or the lesser evil compromises. Legislators could still choose to vote down imperfect bills or negotiate the best deals they could pass. But the left edge of the acceptable range of policy positions would cease its rapid slide rightward. Elected officials of all parties would know that no betrayals of popular progressive positions were going to be free.
A new online movement at http://rootsaction.org is rapidly growing and holds just this vision of independent progressive activism and communication. In this moment when the President and the Secretary of State have reportedly condoned the possible killing of unarmed American activists on a legitimate humanitarian mission, as opposed to a "humanitarian" war, don't hold your breath for Democratic Party subservient groups to speak out. But do count on RootsAction to be on top of the issue:
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton,
You have urged our fellow citizens not to participate in an unarmed nonviolent humanitarian mission to Gaza by sea.
But have you urged Israel not to interfere with ships in international waters?
Have you urged Israel not to harm unarmed activists engaged in an actual humanitarian mission, the very thing your government pretends its wars are?
Have you urged Israel to lift the illegal and murderous blockade of Gaza?
We encourage you to take these steps to ensure the safety of Americans on board The Audacity of Hope sailing for Gaza in the Freedom Flotilla. And we encourage you to pressure Israel in the way that only a nation providing Israel with billions of dollars worth of weapons every year can, by threatening to cut them off.
We look forward to your response.
When President Obama shut down any possibility of the U.S. Department of Justice prosecuting top U.S. officials for war crimes, Spanish courts took up the burden, until the White House leaned too heavily on the Spanish government. Pushing back was RootsAction, which organized events at Spanish embassies and consulates to thank and encourage Spain:
When presidents launch illegal wars, RootsAction doesn't stop to ask which party the president belongs to:
The U.S. Constitution placed the power to make war in the hands of elected representatives in Congress. The founders feared giving war powers to an individual. Their decision leaves us, the people, to compel our Senators and Representatives to accept their responsibility.
RootsAction is not accepting the slow de-escalation in Afghanistan:
The majority of Americans want the war in Afghanistan ended. President Obama promised a "significant" withdrawal this July. But what he announced on Wednesday amounted to withdrawing about 1 percent of U.S. personnel in July (10,000 withdrawn over six months from a total of 200,000 troops and contractors). A White House spokesperson told a conference call of reporters on Wednesday that public opinion plays no role in such decisions.
Can public opinion play any role in Congressional decisions? Obama cannot keep so many troops in Afghanistan so long if Congress refuses to pay for it. In recent weeks, the House has twice passed measures barring the use of funds for U.S. warmaking in Libya. Now before both houses is the 2012 "Defense Appropriations" bill which would dump over $100 billion into wars including Afghanistan.
Enough is enough, and Obama's "drawdown" is not enough!
Ask Congress to deny war funding.
RootsAction is pressuring the President (and with him the media and our society) to adjust his outlook in fundamental ways:
President Barack Obama, holding the previous record (in 2008) for campaign funding from Wall Street, is out to set a new mark in 2012. With unemployment, foreclosures, and health expenses shattering the lives of millions, Obama is pursuing cuts to human services and massive spending on wars. How will that win an election? Perhaps by raising enough Wall Street funding to purchase every advertisement on every television network.
Sign an open letter to the President right now that tells him we'll be thinking for ourselves, and reminds him that our government was formed in the name of We the People, not We the Wall Street.
When you click on a RootsAction alert (click on any headline in this article), the letter that you end up sending to Congress or the President or whatever target is involved reads like the alert you were Emailed, not some watered-down version that misses the point. In this, too, RootsAction is unique.
RootsAction is even seeking to keep the power of impeachment alive in our Constitution:
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has been very busy accepting gifts from organizations that file briefs before the court, attending political fundraisers, ruling on suits in which he or his wife have a conflict of interest, and hiding income. No wonder he hasn't had time to ask a question from the bench in five years. Ask your U.S. Representative to move to impeach him.
These progressive leaders have strongly endorsed the launch of RootsAction:
* Jim Hightower, publisher and author
* Naomi Klein, author of Shock Doctrine, columnist
* Cornel West, Princeton professor and author
* Daniel Ellsberg, released Vietnam-era Pentagon Papers, author
* Barbara Ehrenreich, author Nickel and Dimed, activist
* Glenn Greenwald, civil rights attorney and blogger
* Bill Fletcher Jr., labor and racial justice leader
* Laura Flanders, GritTV host
* Former U.S. Senator James Abourezk
* Coleen Rowley, former FBI agent and whistleblower
You can join and ask all of your friends to join. It's free. You don't get more than one or two Emails per week. And it will bring our public discussion up to the level of our public. See you there: http://rootsaction.org
David Swanson is the author of "War Is A Lie."