Saturday, January 01, 2011

A Progressive Strategy for 2011-2012 that Does Not Require Capitulation or Self-Destruction?

Wassily Kandinsky, Suave Ascension (1934)

A Progressive Strategy for 2011-2012 that Does Not Require Capitulation or Self-Destruction?

By Richard Power

Can we develop a progressive strategy for 2011-2012 that does not demand either self-righteous self-destruction or capitulation to the corporatist faction?

Here are some insights and ideas.

The Harsh Truth

It is of vital importance to embrace the truth, however harsh.

The fa├žade is crumbling. And as more and more people realize that they have been used and robbed, we will move swiftly from Huxley’s “Brave New World” to Orwell’s “1984.” The public, at some point, will have to face some very unpleasant truths ... The state has devolved from a capitalist democracy to neo-feudalism. Chris Hedges, 2011: A Brave New Dystopia, TruthDig, 12-27-10

Pivoting on the axis of this revelation, take a look backward and then forward.

Half-Empty is Half-Full

The philosophical question of whether the glass is half-full or half-empty is rather silly from a mystical perspective. It is typically framed as an either/or question; but the truth is that half-empty means half-full.

Medea Benjamin, co-founder of Code Pink, is no "happy-clappy liberal." She has put herself on the line over and over again throughout the darkest years of the Aughts. So her insights into the full spectrum reality of 2010 are worthy of note.

Benjamin's list of “More Than Ten Good Things to Celebrate in a Bad Year” includes the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, the election of Dilma Rouseff as President of Brazil, the appointment of Elizabeth Warren as “consumer czar,” the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiabao, the Wikileaks revelations “exposing the inner machinations of U.S. foreign policy,” the repeal of “Don't Ask, Don’t Tell,” the dramatic reduction of U.S. troop levels in Iraq, the passing of the health care bill, the Senate ratification of the New START between Russia and the USA, the end of the Hummer (28 hybrid models on market today, at least 12 electric cars planned for 2011), the announcement of U.S. support of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Indigenous People, the announcement that the Obama administration (in a policy reversal after the BP oil disaster) will not allow offshore oil drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico or off the Atlantic coast for at least seven more years, the banning of foreign private security contractors by the Iraqi and Afghan governments, the rise of public debate about the “failed Marijuana Prohibition” (despite the defeat of Prop. 19 in California), and the dramatic restructuring of the government-supported student loan program. See Medea Benjamin, More Than Ten Good Things to Celebrate in a Bad Year, Common Dreams, 12-28-10

What is striking in this poignant list is that eight of the fifteen “Good Things” would not have occurred if McCain-Palin had been elected. Neither Benjamin nor I are apologists for this administration. But the truth is the truth. The cup is both half empty and half full. We could be much worse off; and likely will be, if a) POTUS and his inner circle continue their migration to the right, and b) in reaction the progressive movement fractures and turns on itself. (For further perspective on the glass half-full dimension of our current predicament, see 111th Congress Was Most Productive Session Since ‘At Least’ The 1960s Think Progress, 12-23-10 and Sotomayor, Kagan shift Supreme Court Debates to the Left, L.A. Times, 12-26-10)

Should a thirsty person knock over a glass that is half-full out of anger that it is half-empty? Why not sip slowly and maneuver until you can gain control of the tap?

The Trap

Yes, what we had all hoped would come from Obama’s victory in 2008 has proven to be, as Eric Alterman observes, impossible. (See Eric Alterman, Kabuki Democracy: Why a Progressive Presidency Is Impossible, for Now, The Nation, 7-7-10)

But that's not the worst of it. POTUS is actually NOT a progressive; at least not at this point in his political career. He is governing as a centrist; arguably he is actually center-right. He may have banned the word “triangulation” from his White House; but it is his style of governance. POTUS is not the leader of the progressive movement, and should not be treated as such. He has no interest in the role. He has chosen to be the deal-maker-in-chief, not the reformer-in-chief.

The extension of the Bush tax cuts, and POTUS’ incredibly cynical statements about the sell-out being some kind of job-creating measure are an abomination. Those “happy-clappy liberals” (Stephanie Miller’s turn of phrase) who justify this abomination because the package included extended unemployment benefits, etc., and also cleared the way for passage of the DADT repeal and the New START treaty, are misguided and misguiding.

But those progressives who want to “primary Obama” in 2012 are just as misguided and misguiding. Oh, the clamor for it has died down some since a handful of successes at the final days of the 111th Congress. But it may well return, and justifiably so, as the new Congress opens, and POTUS flirts with “fixing” Social Security (and other corporatist-pandering nonsense).

Nevertheless, moving against him in the primaries is a trap. Howard Dean knows this. (See Howard Dean: Obama primary challenge would be ‘a bad thing for the country’) Bernie Sanders knows this. (See 'Ain't gonna do it,' Bernie Sanders says of a potential White House run in 2012, The Hill, 12-27-10) Dennis Kucinich knows this. (See A 2012 Democratic presidential primary with Dennis Kucinich? 'His answer is no', Cleveland Plain Dealer, 12-8-10)

Why do some progressives want to primary Obama? Because he has given the corporatists so much of what they want from watered-down health care reform to largely cosmetic financial reform to sell-out on Net Neutrality. But the bitter truth is that if progressives were to challenge Obama in the primaries, in any meaningful way, then progressives would be responsible for giving the corporatists the rest of what they want. The zombie legion formerly known as the Republican Party would re-take the White House, and probably the Senate too. And in the process, the progressive movement would be seriously fractured. The African-American community would not abandon POTUS, nor should it be expected too. Progressive voices would be marginalized, and consigned to a sort of caged free speech zone in the body politic; progressive issues would be lost for a decade.

A better strategy would be to follow the example of the GLBT activists who forced the repeal of DADT by getting in POTUS’ face and staying there until it was done; by organizing and raising funds around their burning issue, and by refusing to be silenced.

A better strategy would be to use the precious time remaining in POTUS’ first term, and hopefully the four years of his second term, to deepen, strengthen and expand progressive grass roots, progressive new media, etc., as well as to refine a 21st Century progressive agenda based on a few simple, powerful ideas, e.g.: corporations are not people, and money is not speech. A movement organized around undoing this egregious wrong, if articulated in common sense terms, could prove transformational.

Here is a short list of progressive issues worth fighting for:

Corporations are not people, and money is not speech.

Lead the world in the reduction of greenhouse gases, dominate the global market in renewable energy and green technology. It is the ultimate job-creation program.

Universal health care is a basic human right.

Social security is not broken. Strengthen it by simply having the wealthy pay the same percent of their income into the fund as the rest of the populace does.

Fix the deficit by repealing the Bush tax cuts, and cutting bloated military spending (nearly as much on military power as every other country in the world combined) and start with ending the foolish military adventures in Iraq AND Afghanistan.

Obama used the progressive movement to help him win the White House; well the progressive movement should use him to buy itself enough time to take over the Democratic Party, and see to it that the corporatist grip is broken.

Meanwhile ...

DADT repeal and START ratification are profound; but even taken together they do not compensate for the U.S. Senate’s failure to action on Climate and Energy.

The Climate Crisis is the greatest threat to national security, economic security, public health and food security, and yet it is the fourth or fifth or sixth issue on most progressives’ lists of priorities. Why? It defies common sense.

Without action on the Climate Crisis, all the good of the DADT repeal and the New START ratification are for naught; and unfortunately, action on the Climate and Renewable Energy is as unlikely as action on universal health care.

In the midst of the media pundit fawning about the passage of New START, no one asked the insightful question that Climate Progress’ Joe Romm asked (and answered): "What did Obama do right on New Start that he didn’t bother to do on climate change? First and foremost, he simply never had a serious public fight. He never made it clear that this was in fact the central national security issue of our time. He never did any serious public messaging on it at all." (Climate Progress, 12-22-10)

Of course, the corporatist “news” media (a.k.a., Infotainmentstan) makes it easy for the political establishment (a.k.a Beltwayistan) and the body politic itself (including most progressives) to continue avoiding the Climate Crisis.

If you are curious about how a real news organization would cover the greatest threat we face, consider Amy Goodman’s framing for a recent Democracy Now segment:

Amy Goodman: Much of the East Coast is still struggling to recover from the massive blizzard that slammed into hundreds of cities and towns from the Carolinas to Maine the day after Christmas. Six states—Massachusetts, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina and Virginia—declared states of emergency. The storm buried cities in more than two feet of snow and unleashed winds of up to 80 miles per hour. Thousands of passengers have been stranded during the busy holiday season with thousands of flights as well as train and bus routes canceled.
It was a grimly fitting end to 2010, which was characterized by extreme weather from start to finish, with earthquakes, heat waves, floods, volcanoes, super typhoons, blizzards, landslides and droughts. In Pakistan, massive flooding submerged one-fifth of the country under water. In Russia, a record heat wave sparked wildfires that left 15,000 people dead. In Niger, first a severe drought threatened widespread famine, then floods left more than 100,000 homeless. In Europe, heavy snow and blizzards threw air traffic into turmoil. Deadly floods and mudslides killed thousands in China, India, Venezuela, Indonesia and many other countries. Meanwhile, preliminary data show that 18 countries broke their records for the hottest day ever. In fact, 2010 may go down as the hottest on record worldwide, this according to the World Meteorological Organization.Amy Goodman Interviews Dr. Paul Epstein, Democracy Now, 12-28-10

And just what is it that we should be doing? The subject of the interview answers with great clarity and simplicity:

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Paul Epstein, in just the minute we have left, what people can do about it?
DR. PAUL EPSTEIN: We can do a lot. We need to move, as we are, towards electric vehicles and stop burning everything. Even ethanol has its health impacts and affects ozone levels in the ground, the ground photochemical smog. But those vehicles need to be plugged in to a cleanly powered smart grid. And we need to move towards the clean grid, the cleanly powered smart grid. And we can move today rapidly towards a smart grid with technologies that optimize use. And then healthy cities programs, with green buildings, rooftop gardens, tree-lined streets, biking lanes, open space, permeable surface, smart growth, public transport, and cities connected by light rail—these can all make our cities healthier, create jobs, stimulate the economy, and help move us and move climate friendly technologies into the global marketplace.

Imagine such language from the bully pulpit of the SOTU, but don’t hold your breath. Just remember those DADT activists, and how they got what they demanded.

Do you know why 350 is the most important number in your life and the lives of everyone you love? Go to for the answer.

Democracy Now: From Snowstorms to Heat Waves, How Global Warming Causes Extreme Weather and Climate Instability

Richard Power's seventh book, Between Shadow and Night: The Singularity in Anticipation of Itself, is now available. Here are links to purchase it from, or from CreateSpace.

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