Thursday, February 26, 2009

"Bloggers and Unions Join Forces to Push Dems Left"

From the NYTimes:
Organizers of the new group, called Accountability Now, said their intention was to enable Mr. Obama to seek more liberal policies without fear of losing support from the more conservative members of his party serving in Congress. But they did not rule out occasional friction with Mr. Obama, as well.

“We’re going to be about targeting incumbents to make space for Obama to be more progressive,” said Glenn Greenwald, a blogger on the online magazine Salon who is part of the effort.
Unsurprisingly, this new PAC "Accountability Now" has grown out of the efforts of, DailyKos and SEIU. The logic of their intervention seems to be this: if money and energy is invested in 'progressive' challenges to centrist Democratic-incumbents in primary elections, then more 'progressive' Democrats will hold office. As this goal nears completion, Obama will have "more space" to operate in so that he can assertively follow the 'progressive' policies he would, in the absence of intra-party centrist opposition, be pursuing right now. In other words:
"By empowering the grassroots, Accountability Now will help create the political space needed to enable President Obama to make good on the many progressive policies he campaigned on - such as getting out of Iraq, ensuring access to affordable health care for every man, woman and child, restoring our constitutional liberties and ending torture.”
First of all, the contention that Obama campaigned on "getting out of Iraq" and "universal health care" is false. His Iraq redeployment plan (which keeps at least 50,000 troops in Iraq) was virtually indistinguishable from McCain's and we mustn't forget that Obama has pledged to escalate the war in Afghanistan and has already begun a fresh wave of bombings in Pakistan. Furthermore, Obama's 'health plan' is light years away from the kind of reform we need, that is to say, it is far from anything like Single-Payer. Rather, his plan strengthens the for-profit catastrophe we have now by injecting public dollars into private insurance corporations rather than doing away with for-profit insurance altogether.

Thus we see right off the bat that Accountability Now assumes as a founding premise of its mission that Obama is 'truly a progressive at heart' and that the only thing preventing his 'progressive' inner nature from coming to fruition is obstruction from his own party's establishment.

Such a development is, in some minimal sense, a welcomed alternative to Right-wing pressure groups like the Club for Growth and the Democratic Leadership Council. Nonetheless, there are several fundamental difficulties with this strategy.

1.The idea that Obama has underlying 'progressive' propensities is disconfirmed by all of the available evidence. From his policy proposals as in the Democratic primaries, to his voting record, to his public statements, to his speeches, to his advisers, to his campaign contributors, to his choices for cabinet posts, Obama has consistently proven himself to be a mainstream Democrat. Objectively, we have literally no reason to believe that the 'underlying progressive' thesis is true. But more importantly, the entire strategy of banking on an elected official's "conscience" or "inner political tendencies" is preposterous. History is littered with examples of center-Left candidacies promising robust Left reform who, despite their 'progressive' credentials, were part and parcel to the enactment of swaths of neoliberal/conservative policies (for example, see Nelson Mandela, Lula di Sivla, Tony Blair and the entire record of the center-Left Prodi government in Italy during the 90s).

2. The idea that Accountability Now "hasn't ruled out friction with Obama" is laughable. In what universe would 'ruling it out' be a real possibility?! It's almost as though maintaining critical distance from the President is something to be avoided if possible; a strategy of last resort. But how else does AN suppose that the strategy (itself rather suspect) of 'pushing the Democrats Leftward" is to be accomplished? By asking Obama nicely and bringing him a few more 'progressive' congressional members? Furthermore, how do they plan on creating such last-resort friction? By challenging congressional seats held by 'centrists' and replacing them with 'progressives' in the mold of businessman Ned Lamont?

3. Electioneering within the Democratic Party is a hopeless way to push them Left. This is why: consider the 'progressives' already in the party and the role they play within the current apparatus. Take the Progressive Caucus, for example. They are largely marginalized, have little voice, and have virtually no effect on the big descisions about who to nominate for President, etc. More often than not (check their voting records if you don't believe me) they cave into mainstream party opinion or are whipped into line. Are they critical? Hardly. When have you heard Maxine Waters or John Conyers publicly deriding Obama's opposition to single-payer? Obama and the mainstream Democratic establishment spend more time paying attention to whether the Republicans are happy than they do considering the 'progressive' elements in their own party. The most infamous example is Kucinich, who ran in 2004 as an anti-war, single-payer candidate.... only to give a wholly uncritcial endorsement of pro-war anti-healthcare John Kerry months later. The bottom-line is that any effective 'pressure group' intent on pushing the Democrats Leftward must keep independence from the party apparatus. Accountability Now basically has it written into their mission statement that they are going to vote Democrat come hell or high water. They haven't threatened the Democratic Party writ-large with losing votes. On the contrary, these groups (DailyKos,, etc) are militantly, dogmatically opposed to third party challenges from the Left. That is to say, they are vehemently against any serious attempt to threaten to take votes from the Democrats. How much pressure can they reasonably hope to put on the Democrats if they've tatooed on their foreheads at the onset "I WILL ALWAYS VOTE DEMOCRAT"?

4. Getting people elected should not be the primary mode of pressuring the Democrats. Now I don't mean to say that electing more 'progressive' candidates has no effect. Instead I'm arguing that, absent any extra-electoral organizing and mobilization, such elections mean very little. The Civil Rights Act did not pass simply by means of an electoral strategy aimed at 'getting the right people elected'. It was a broad-based, extra-electoral social movement that altered the landscape of possible political change and made the passage of the legal reforms in the Act a pressing demand upon those in power. We will never see single-payer in this country as the result of a campaign intent merely to elect 'the right people'.

This is an old strategy. Michael Harrington and the group surrounding Democratic Socialists of America and magazines like "Dissent" have held views of this nature for decades. (Incidentally, I dont know for sure, but it wouldn't surprise me if red-baiting accounts for the absence of DSA's public presence in this effort...) But it seems to me that if the strategy is the "pressure group" model, then the best way to proceed would be to play one's cards closer to the chest and create a legitimate threat to limit votes and dollars going to the Democratic Party. Moreover there must be critical space and independence from the Party apparatus for any such strategy to succeed.

It continually amazes me the lengths liberals will go to preserve their fantastical apotheosis of Obama. How many times will his actions betray their projections for them to wake up? I'm fine with commending the 'good' things that Obama has done and plans to do, especially when we understand 'good' relative to what a moronic reactionary like John McCain would be doing right now. Nonetheless, any cap or foreclosure of critical scrutiny of Obama is nothing other than a conservative suppression of attempts to think beyond the prescribed limits of 'what is possible' or 'politically feasible'. Despite recent developments, it seems like self-proclaimed 'progressives' should be among the first to champion this belief.

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