- Obama agrees that states banning late term abortions is perfectly reasonable, and that mental health exceptions shouldn't just be about women feeling 'blue'.
- Obama believes that the FISA bill legalizing warrantless wiretapping and granting immunity to telecom firms that engaged in criminal activity was a good compromise.
- Obama wants to expand the size and budget of the Pentagon.
- Obama believes that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard is a terrorist organization.
- Obama believes that promising to rewrite NAFTA was just overheated campaign rhetoric.
- Obama wants to keep residual troops in Iraq to fight terrorism.
Now there are many liberal policies that Obama believes in as well.
- Obama is seeking universal health care.
- Obama is seeking 7 days of paid sick leave all across the country.
- Obama's current position is that he will end the war in Iraq by removing combat troops, and that he will engage Iran in aggressive diplomacy.
- Obama is a strong advocate of net neutrality, universal broadband, and a diversified media structure.
- Obama supports the Employee Free Choice Act and wants a more progressive tax code.
I could list more on both sides of the ledger, but you get the point. He is not a right-winger, but he is not particularly liberal. And that's the kind of government to expect him to bring in 2009.
As a liberal who thinks we are in a crisis moment in our politics, I believe that this kind of government is destined to run into serious troubles, much as this centrist muddle of a Congress has dropped to an approval rating of 9%, worse than the GOP Congress of 2004-2006. You cannot nibble around the edges of our deep systemic problems. There are conservative solutions to our problems, like more drilling, war, a surveillance state and depression, and there are progressive solutions, like an end to the war on terror and the war on drugs, an end to the surveillance state, a move to sustainable food, industry, development, and media systems. Both carry immense amounts of pain, neither is guaranteed to work, both offer a different set of winners and losers, and they each reflect different views of human nature. People try to do the right thing if given the opportunity versus people cannot be trusted and respond only to force and propaganda.
That's the choice, and progressives basically have chosen the former. But notice that tthere is no centrist solution to peak oil or climate change. You can't cut the baby in half, someone is going to have to reduce oil and coal consumption by a lot. Change is coming in a big way; in fact radicalism since 2000 and a broad internet revolution shows that change has been here for quite awhile, though nothing like what we will see.
As a liberal, I believe that if Obama comes in and implements a bunch of muddled centrist policies, proposing tax cuts to deal with poverty and an expanded military and entitlement reform along with a weird convoluted health care reform, he will fail because basic liberal ideas like accountability, oversight, and integrity in leadership will not be embedded into our institutions. The rich have left us with a massive bill in the form of an intractable trade deficit, national debt, and oil addiction, and someone's going to pay it. If it's the public instead of the people who ran up the country's credit cards (take a look at the nation's billionaires), it's going to make a lot of people much angrier than they are right now.
This anger will go somewhere; right now anger is going against Bush, but he's out of the picture come 2009, though we can kick his corpse for a few years or so if Democrats act smartly (which they won't). If Obama's centrist policies fail, and he is considered a big government liberal or progressive, the public will reject liberalism and progressivism, as it has for the last forty years. But this will not be a result of disliking progressive ideas, but as a result of believing that bad centrist ideas are progressive ideas.
So, as liberals who believe in a different vision for America than Obama, it's important that Obama's centrist policy sympathies are blamed for what goes wrong when he takes over and screws up the country worse than it is right now, which we'll notice after our honeymoon of hoorays some time after the transition. We should not want him to make policies in the name of liberalism unless they are actually liberal policies. America tends to get the right answer after trying everything else first, and this period is no different. After trying out a disastrous top-down financialized conservative framework, the DC elites are moving to more centrist top-down period of transition, much as they did after Bush the first. Just as the 2007-2009 Democratic Congress failed utterly in stopping the war in Iraq or setting us on a different energy future, kicking the can to the next President, the next President is going to try to avoid big ideological fights as post-ideological change agent.
When the next President runs into trouble, he can either turn to the left and we can be there with political support and real solutions, or he can either turn on the left and pretend like his trouble is coming from him not passing enough FISA-like actions. I'd far prefer the former to the latter, but a liberal opposition strategy - as the 'loyal opposition' within the party, makes sense. Obama isn't ours, he never was, and we shouldn't pretend he is or else we are throwing away the opportunity to have real progressive policies enacted sometime over the next few years.
One you absorb this state of affairs, it's a fairly optimistic path forward. All of the work going into getting Obama elected is helping to build the progressive movement and teaching millions of people to get involved, give money, run for office, etc. These people have progressive sympathies and are attaching themselves to important political networks. Some of them paid attention to FISA who were not paying attention in 2006, which is good. The network is just bigger and stronger.
We have a variety of problems in the progressive movement, but several of them are changing quickly. The 50 state strategy has reshaped the party apparatus and grassroots, and the homogenized boomer white leadership structure is changing quite quickly both racially and generationally this cycle. That is exceptionally good. There's a lot of work to do yet, including building much stronger links with elements of the corporate world and a renewed need for strong gender diversification, but at a certain point, the progressive movement will be big enough to regularly influence and even change policy. And then we're going to be able to proactively shape the agenda of all politicians.
So work for Obama, help him get elected, but realize that he doesn't and will never share our values. And we shouldn't try to pretend that he is the progressive we wish he were, since he's a politician, and politicians go where power is. And he's decided that power is not with the liberals. That's fine. But it's important, as people who believe that liberal ideas work, that Obama be understood as who he is, not as who we wish he were. I have tried to broadcast this message over the past few days, but first, I'll make a caveat most of us on this site will recognize.
Caveat: We want to make it very clear that criticism or analysis of Obama is not intended as a repudiation of support for Obama. He's a far superior candidate to McCain, a better person, and will be a much better President. Second, we are not really making an argument that Obama's recent moves will hurt him in this election. They may or they may not. It really doesn't matter what any of us think about his campaign, he's chosen his path, perhaps because he did not think there was a viable progressive alternative or perhaps because he's more of a Jimmy Carter good government Democrat than a liberal populist. Regardless, we don't think this is a sudden swing to the center for him, he has always broadcast his politics as centrist and post-partisan in nature. We don't feel betrayed, because we always took him at his word that he saw incivility and not conservatives as our major political problem. We saw him support Lieberman in 2006, and we listened when he praised Reagan for bringing optimism back to American politics.
We support him, even though we disagree with his political outlook and policy positions.
Over the past few days I've made a number of public statements in various traditional media outlets about the ideological nature of the government we'll see in 2009 to highlight this distinction.
- I headlined the Brave New Films campaign petition drop asking Joe Lieberman to be stripped of his powers within the Democratic caucus come 2009, which includes the Chairmanship of the Government Reform and Homeland Security Committee which he would no doubt use to undermine Obama's attempted withdrawal from IRaq.
- I was quoted in the Washington Post today saying that an Obama victory will be a victory for "centrist government". Last night, I was on Al Jazeera and was asked about what progressives had in common with Barack Obama. My response was "not much", and that he's just a politician and needs to be pushed.
- I visited and grilled Kevin Powell, a primary challenger to corrupt corporate Democrat Ed Towns, to see if he is worth supporting.
What all of these statements have in common is a belief that the 2009-2011 government will not be liberal or progressive, but will by and large be a mixture of the recent FISA bill and the recent Medicare bill. The Democrats will move progressive legislation around the edges, but corporate interests will hold a good amount of power (such as capital gain cuts for entrepreneurial businesses, a venture capitalist dream). Progressives and Ron Paul libertarian types will have a bit more access, but we will still be a largely marginalized group because there just isn't enough power or sophistication within our movement to get much more. Smart organizing campaigns, like the FISA fight, will originate from outside DC, and will lose far more often than they win, but progressive movement actors will continue to get better and stronger and at some point will break through to the mainstream.
So let's keep going in the direction we're headed in. It's working, but it is also going to be a real slog. And it's not worth it to pretend otherwise.