Monday, May 25, 2009

No Wimps

Among President Obama’s greatest gifts is his capacity to make opponents appear petty, self-involved and immature.

Americans are not particularly impressed with the petulant Republicans, who are gaining little traction with their snide rejection of Obama’s bold agenda. That notion is reinforced by the President’s gracious and earnest offers to his opponents to work with him to solve the nation’s problems.

It’s critically important that Obama supporters understand this, particularly at a time when the President faces growing criticism from his left as he compromises - as he inevitably will - on financial, military, energy and health care issues.

There is already a developing narrative among some progressives that Obama hasn’t and won’t “take on” the Pentagon, the banks and other elites.

I want to urge my friends on the left to be very careful going forward.
We are in the rare position of holding the moral high-ground. We have an articulate, attractive and popular President who shares our values. We do not want to squander this advantage by wining and fussing.

There is a tendency on the left to act out when we don’t get our way. Stop it! Our opponents are watching and waiting for these fissures to appear, hoping they can brand us as cry babies and wimps.

There are, in fact, legitimate arguments from the left on such issues as single payer health reform, swift withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, bank nationalization, torture prosecution and the like.

While left wing thought-leaders and activists should make their case clearly and forcefully, they must hold off on the chatter about this president “betraying his values.”

We have a president with stature, a proud and noble patriot who projects compassion and strength. His success is our success. He needs articulate and mature supporters who can stand up for his principles and his policies.

Let the other side moan and kvetch, get snarky and sarcastic. It’s our job right now to close ranks, reach across religious, ideological, racial, ethnic and party lines and help Obama unite our country and, in the process, marginalize divisive right-wing elements which in the past exerted powerful influence over our national debate and policies.


  1. Right on. This is timely, too. There is tremendous excitement in the air with intelligent direction for our country. We have the high ground!

  2. Of course there will be "compromises" and deals, that's the nature of politics in a representative republic. By which I mean, the oligarchy of a few hundred (thousand?) rich white corporation executives who really govern the country only respond and give up bits of their power (e.g. in the form of Social Security, Wagner Act, Civil Rights Act) when pressure from the left and below mounts to a point where the oligarchy fears an even bigger loss of power. Whether or not Obama "shares our values," he is now the representative of the oligarchy (see his recent references to his role as "commander in chief"). A more favorable spin: he is the liaison between the oligarchy and the rest of us. If he’s to move the oligarchy to the best possible compromises, then he must have some leverage in the form of pressure from the left to counteract the relentless, never-ending and utterly shameless pressure from the oligarchy and its creatures: GOP, Chamber of Commerce, mainstream media, military-industrial complex and right-wing religion. As a long-time union negotiator I know that the shape and quality of a deal, the "compromise" you end up with in a negotiation, is crucially dependent on three factors: how much leverage you can bring to bear, where you start out (opening offer) and the skill and talent of your bargaining committee. In that order. If we assume that Obama’s negotiating for us with the oligarchy, I’m very concerned that demobilizing pressure from the left and starting the bidding too low (e.g., his decision that single-payer health care is off the table) fatally weakens our bargaining position. Franklin D saved capitalism from itself (at least for 50 years or so) because he had massive and mounting pressure from the left (C.P., Popular Front, Huey Long et al) and from below (workers in the streets, sit-downs, workers dying at River Rouge) with which to scare/threaten the "economic royalists" (a ballsier name for the oligarchy than any Obama has dared utter) into conceding some of their power. (Part 1)

  3. LBJ used the bloody shirt of a dead president and the marchers and lunch counter heroes of Selma, Birmingham and Ole Miss (and he used the National Guard) to begin the final stages of the destruction of the slave power 100 years after Appomattox. LBJ chose to ignore the pressure from his left and from below on another matter, the late unpleasantness in Vietnam. Anyone remember how that worked out for him (and us) (and several million Vietnamese, Cambodians and Laotians)? Our duty as progressives who choose to continue to engage with the Democratic Party as a potential vehicle for genuine democratic reform is twofold: first, to work during the primaries to ensure the nomination of the most-progressive candidate who is also electorally viable in the general election; and second, if that person is elected, to keep the pressure on him/her to counteract the unrelenting pressure we know will come from the economic royalists. If we fail to follow through on the second job, we assure ourselves of bad policy (NAFTA, Don't Ask/Don't Tell, DOMA, destruction of welfare, escalation of the "war on drugs," "deregulation" of the broadcast and financial sectors; all happened during the two "successful" Clinton terms), and perhaps even worse we get a hollowing-out of the Democratic Party's progressive wing, as the muscles we might have used to pressure Clinton atrophied and we hid behind our relief that the right-wingers hadn't won the elections of '92 or '96. Leadership means one must lead -- Obama must lead us to a better place on the big issues. If he’s going to negotiate a better deal -- dare we call it a "Newer Deal?" -- he needs to work with his "members" (us) to generate leverage he can use at the bargaining table, not spurn us or tell us to keep quiet and trust him to go into the room alone sop he can come out with a deal and tell us "it's the best we can get under the circumstances" (how many union members & staff reading this feel the bile rising in their throats?). Support, yes; uncritical support, hell no. (Part 2)