By Black Agenda Report (BAR) Managing Editor Bruce Dixon. Part 1 of a Series: Why, How, and Enabling the Struggle.
Although many would like to give Barack Obama the benefit of the doubt, his appointments to date have been uniformly disheartening to those expecting serious change.
With the election results a week old, the worst thing we can do now is sit back for too long admiring the new president, his family and ourselves for electing him, and “wait and see what he does.” No new administration waits till being sworn in before deciding and enacting its priorities on war, peace, credit, housing, jobs or heath care. While many are still boasting, roasting, coasting and toasting the election results the business of governing has already begun. So too the business of holding the new administration accountable must begin without delay.
While the orgy of American hagiography and self-congratulation over having elected the First Black President shows no sign of peaking a week after the election, greedy Wall Street bankers, the permanent war industry of military contractors and mercenary companies, the predatory lenders, the pharmaceutical and insurance lobbies have the new administration’s public and private ear, its wallet and dominate its inner circle. Their voices are everywhere in the mainstream media, on the lips of White House aides, and Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, warning that an Obama administration will have to “govern from the center”, and “tamp down the expectations” of the Democratic base who imagined they were voting in something like “Change”.
“Tamping Down Expectations” Since 2004
It is not an exaggeration to say that Barack Obama’s career since 2004 has been all about soaring promises to capture ardent voters followed by lowering standards to please his biggest financial contributors. An early foe of the Iraq war and Patriot Act during his US Senate campaign, Obama voted to continue one and pass the other once in office. Obama’s pledge to withdraw from Iraq has more loopholes by now than swiss cheese. His promise to filibuster warrantless eavesdropping and immunity for telecom lawbreakers morphed into a vote for both, and his campaign trail promise to pursue Dr. King’s unfinished quest for economic justice flipped into lobbying the congress in support of the multi-trillion dollar no-strings-attached Wall Street bailout.
The first appointments of the new regime are truly disturbing. Illinois congressman, Rahm Emanuel, the new White House chief of staff is a certifiable Democratic neocon who helped strongarm NAFTA, welfare reform and the Telecom Act of 1996 though congress for Bill Clinton. He served on the board of Freddie Mac while it was busy inflating the housing bubble, and was an early and unrepentant advocate of invading Iraq and bombing Iran. As head of the DCCC, responsible for recruiting and funding 2006 Democratic congressional candidates, Emanuel used corporate contributions to try to knock more than a twenty antiwar Democrats out of primary races in favor of pro-war Democrats. Confronted with choices between pro-war Democrats and pro-war Republicans, voters rejected most of Emanuel’s picks, costing Democrats as many as ten Congressional seats.
Larry Summers, early front-runner to succeed Bush Treasury secretary Henry Paulson, was happy to be Enron’s eyes and ears at Treasury, according to a handwritten note to his pal Ken Lay you can find at OpenLeft.com. Summers famously remarked that third world countries were “underpolluted”. His solution to this “problem” is encouraging them to sell their share of “rights” to poison the planet’s oceans and air to wealthy western corporations through a system like the present futures and commodities exchanges. Both the outgoing Bush and the incoming Obama administrations are enthusiastic advocates of this “market-based” approach. So much for a Change We Can Breathe In.
Wild-eyed but unrealistic optimists insist that hacks like Summers and Emanuel are just the smartest guys around, and their policies are not Obama’s anyhow. But that fails the laugh test. There are plenty of smart political operators, and many equally brilliant economists who have called the mess right all along and would relish the chance to begin setting it right. Economists like Paul Krugman, Michael Hudson, or Joseph Stiglitz, for instance. You don’t hire smart people for the new administration to do the opposite of what they built their careers doing. It defies common sense to expect anything else. Larry Summers will be looking out for his old friends and colleagues. Rahm Emanuel will be kneecapping advocates of single payer health care, opponents of the war, teachers, union members and anyone left of that rightward moving target they call “the center”.
In a note titled “How to Treat A President Elect” David Swanson put his finger on why the worst thing we can do now is sit back and pray for president-elect Obama, to leave him alone and wait to see what he does. It’s time to remind him in no uncertain terms why he was elected.
“There is no such thing as giving a democratic president a chance by leaving him alone. Precisely the way you give him a chance is by lobbying him to do what you want to see done. Anything else is an insult to him and to ourselves.
During the past eight years, we could have built the most powerful citizens’ movements ever seen and never influenced our government’s policy in the slightest. A powerful movement for peace and justice was simply ignored. Now suddenly we have a government that might listen, and now is the moment in which we should go silent? What sort of an awful antidemocratic sense of timing is that?
The best elected official in a democracy is one who listens to the changing opinion of constituents. The worst is the principled superior creature who scorns polls and prefers not to be called or faxed or Emailed or visited because he knows better than you what’s good for you, and he can get more done if you leave him alone. We have to decide which kind of president we want to have come January.
The campaign to elect the president is over. The campaign to make the president DO what he was elected FOR is underway.
How We Can Do It: Basic Principles
There isn’t any one way to do this, but there are some basic principles. We can never let our respect for high office, our admiration of his family and education, or reverence for the those that preceded him trump the urgency of our demands for peace, justice and democracy. No president or president-elect speaks from a burning bush, and nobody who works for a president is named Moses.
We should want to see an Obama presidency succeed, but that success is defined by how well he serves our interests, not his own and certainly not how he serves those who engineered the state of permanent war and economic depression we find ourselves in today. The constitution names the president “commander-in-chief of the army and navy and militia of the several states”. Civilians don’t have a commander-in-chief and don’t need one. Power may come from the top down, but authority and legitimacy flow only from the bottom up. A president either works for us, or he is as illegitimate as the disgraced Bush-Cheney regime.
It’s not enough to send the Obama transition team your suggestions on its web site, since only the administration knows who is sending them what, and you never meet or exchange information with anyone else who sends in suggestions. Very little of the organizing done for the Obama campaign will be useful in the coming period. Only the Obama campaign, and now the Obama administration possesses the email and phone lists. Organizers who don’t work for the administration but who want it to serve the people, unless they have obtained and copied those lists, will be working from scratch.
It’s time to call meetings and make demands. It’s time organize group visits to your members of Congress. It’s time to raise expectations, not lower them, to build and crank up the phone banks and email lists with messages to pressure the new administration to do what it was elected to do and not disappoint its base, as has happened so many times before.
Here’s an issue to start with — making it possible for people to fight in their own communities to raise their own incomes. The administration should make its top priority passage of the Employee Free Choice Act in the first month of the new Congress.
How the Obama Administration can Enable Its Allies and Build a Permanent Movement For Economic Justice: Passing The Employee Free Choice Act
The biggest thing the Obama administration can do to succeed in its first month, to boost the incomes and secure the economic well-being of millions of US families is to speedily pass the Employee Free Choice Act. Under the Reagan, Clinton and Bush regimes, the right of Americans in a workplace to organize a union, even to think out loud about a union, has almost disappeared. Working people have no leverage against employers, who, according to Labor Department stats, fired someone every ten minutes in 2005 for suspected union activity. Right now, that’s illegal, but the fines are so light that employers wantonly violate the law and willingly pay the fine rather than allow workers to organize.
Swift and early passage of the Employee Free Choice Act will empower families to fight their own fights for economic parity on more equal ground than we have seen in a generation. While the productivity of American workers has nearly tripled over the last thirty years, wages have remained, when adjusted for inflation, flat. All the profits of increased productivity have flowed upward to the bosses. US executives often make 400 to 1000 times the wage of their workers, as opposed to only 40 to 100 times as much in Germany or Japan, which are still out-competing the US anyway.
If the Employee Free Choice Act is passed early, an Obama administration will create thousands of local organizing opportunities and thousands of institutional allies to help hold it on the course of peace and economic justice it was elected to take. If you want to see an Obama presidency succeed on the terms of the voters who elected it, the thing to do this week is sign the petition and join the one million others who want to lift up not just the fortunes of Wall Street, but those of ordinary families.
Visit the site of American Rights At Work and Learn more about the difference unions make in access to health care and education and democratic rights in the workplace. Forward the information, the videos and the petition to everyone on your list. Blog it and put the “one million strong” ad and the videos on your own web site, if you have one. And yes, call and email the Obama Transition Team. Organize something, or join something already organized to pressure the new administration to keep its promises. If you want change, be the change.
Every week for the next several weeks BAR will print a new suggestion or two on how you can help the Obama administration make good on the promise of “Hope” and “Change” that swept it into office. Whether it intends to, or not.
Note: We reproduce below an interesting comment thread from the original post at Black Agenda Report.
NOTEWORTHY OPINIONS // Nov 13, 2008 at 11:09 am
Campaign insiders haven’t much to show
written by cripes , November 12, 2008
Considering the long list of policy reversals, bad votes and terrible appointments we are getting from Obama’s “change” administration, I am not persuaded that progressive campaign insiders can even be heard by the real insiders. No. Obama, like democrats before him, has taken the support of minorities, workers and the left generally for granted, making empty promises, and moving to the right.
This administration will need plenty of pressure, and soon. Call it pressure, call it support, I don’t care, but one or two million people on the great mall, and converging on your congresspeoples offices is a start.
The vacation is over
written by michael , November 12, 2008
There’s a great commentary in today’s Bloomberg regarding Obama’s Economic Advisory Board members. It reads like a who’s who of fraudsters and corporate cronies.
Robert Rubin – helped Enron cook its books, got caught cooking his own and committed numerous accouting fouls while at Ford. Guess who’s in D.C., hat in hand, looking for a piece of that TARP bailout?
Anne Mulcahy – While CEO at Xerox, got popped for accounting fraud.
Richard Parsons – Also got popped for accounting fraud. Both Mulcahy and Parsons were directors at Fannie Mae when they were caught breaking accounting rules
So was another member of Obama’s new economic board, former Commerce Secretary William Daley. He’s now a member of the executive committee at JPMorgan Chase & Co., which, like Citigroup, is among the nine large banks that just got $125 billion of Treasury’s bailout budget.
Obama’s economic crew might as well be called the Bailout Bunch. Another slot went to former White House economic adviser Laura Tyson. She’s been a director for about a decade at Morgan Stanley, which in 2004 got slapped for accounting violations by the SEC and a month ago got $10 billion from Treasury.
Then you’ve got Emmanuel – consummate corporate insider. Of all the people Obama could have chosen as his chief of staff, couldn’t he have found someone who wasn’t once on the board of Freddie Mac? Disgusting.
Now, let me tell you what the Obama apologists are going to say in light of this “Status Quo You Can Be Sickened By” reversal. “It’s great that he’s choosing people who know how corrupt and broken the system so they can fix it”, “who better to understand the problem than those with the highest levels of corporate experience”, etc, etc. Poor arguments from even weaker minds.
Many of these guys should be getting subpoenas as material witnesses right about now, not places in Obama’s inner circle. But who better to patch this economy in tatters than the very people responsible for tearing it to shreds? Who better to solve the myriad problems caused by white collar criminality than white collar criminals, most of whom held executive positions at the very companies that sent the economy reeling with “liberal” accounting and experimental derivatives.
The vacation is over, Obama fans. Time to hit him hard like you promised us you would. Enough with the idiotic “give him a chance, eeyore” claptrap. Those of you who voted for the man must now own up to what he’s doing. When you’ve completed those letters brimming with indignation, please post a copy of them here so we can see that you’re not full of shit. We’ll be waiting.
written by Bint Deeb , November 12, 2008
You missed the most relevant negative about Rahm Emanuel — that he is a devoted Israel-first Zionist whose every policy decision has been and will be made on the basis of how it benefits Israel. The point being that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (NOT the Arab-Israeli conflict, as the Zionists like to call it in another attempt to deny national identity to the Palestinians), is not simply a local conflict but is at the center of global instability.
As Jeff Halper, founder of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, recently said the conflict directly affects Americans in at least five ways:
• It isolates the US from major global markets, forcing it to embark on aggressive measures to secure markets rather than peaceful accommodation;
• It thereby diverts the American economy into non-productive production (tanks not roads), making it dependent upon deficit spending which only increases dependency upon foreign financing while diverting resources into the military rather than into education, health and investment;
• Support for the Israeli military costs US taxpayers more than $3 billion annually at a time of deepening recession and crumbling national infrastructure, not to mention the additional $30 billion the Bush administration with support from Emanuel and others, has promised to give Israel over the next 10 years;
• It leads to an American involvement in the world that is mainly military, thus begetting hostility and resistance which produce the threats to security Americans so greatly fear; and
• It ends up threatening American civil liberties by encouraging such legislation as the Patriot Act and by introducing Israeli “counterinsurgency” tactics and weaponry developed in the West Bank and Gaza into American police forces.
Most of the world sees the occupation of Palestine as an American-Israeli occupation and most of the world’s peoples empathize with the Palestinians who represent the plight of all peoples who are struggling against the global system of American power and aggression that prevents them from achieving even the most basic political and economic self sufficiency and self determination.
But things really are different now — with the collapse of Wall Street and the coming disaster in the economy and real people’s real lives, the Bush ideology is finished. It’s ix-nay on the Pax Americana. The US is no longer in a position to throw its weight around and all those countries that we pooped all over are making friends and moving forward; US militarism is a failed tactic. The thing that Obama must do is accommodate – accommodate the sick of war, pro-peace majority that elected him and accommodate the Muslim world that the US government has shat upon from a great height, literally and metaphorically, for the last umpteen years. And that means ending the still illegal Israeli occupation of Palestine. That’s the only way to restore the US standing in the world so what happens to the Palestinians takes on a global significance.
The appointment of uber Zionist Rahm Emanuel to Obama’s top insider position does not bode well. It’s change no one can believe in.
How Can We Hold the Obama Administration Accountable?
written by M. Olatunji Tchiguka , November 12, 2008
Noam Chomsky said that our task is to create a situation where popular organizations can make demands. And I agree. So the question becomes, how can we make demands and hold the Obama administration accountable when we, first, haven’t demanded anything; second, when we don’t have the constituency; third, when we are so disorganized; and fourth, when we don’t have the economic resources? Are we able to acquire $150 million dollars in a month like Obama did in September?
And what are you prepared to do if Obama doesn’t keep his promises? Engage in mass protest? Are you going to give your votes to a progressive third party candidate? Will you vote Republican? What are you going to do? What are you willing to do?
What are your Plan B and C?
written by not-a-customer , November 13, 2008
one major problem is that the lowest common denominator of the campaign is Obama himself. Most people act as if everyone in the Obama camp were a secret progressive, but this is manifestly not true. I know rabid zionists, people who advocate the war on terror and hope that Obama will bomb Pakistan, as well as people who are not certain about universal health care, because they don’t want someone else to get health care off their money (whereas it’s presumably ok to give that money to the bailout) — all of them voted for Obama. Their common cause was simple: get the disastrous Bush team out of power. Once this was achieved, there was little else they had in common.
Even if an organizer had all the local lists and contacted successfully all the voters, how could we mobilize those people given that they do not even agree on basic matters of Iraq, Palestine or health care?
Organize we must if any resistance to the brutal system ever emerges, that’s certain. But organizing will not come about through the Obama movement — indeed, it must come through opposition to his team and to Obama himself. Otherwise, all this talk is just pitiful.
Obama doesn’t give a F*%ck about what “Progressives” Think
written by Lou , November 13, 2008
And frankly I don’t blame him. Go over to the Paul Street piece and you can get my “advice” for future Democratic Party Candidates, tongue-in-cheek, mind you, but actually right on point. “Progressives” are pussies, prone for bitch-slapping and pimping. They will NEVER bolt the Democratic party because of a lack of courage, or wisdom.
America will NEVER be more “Progressive” than Center/Right, especially in this era of rightwing media consolidation and Democratic Party sellout. Strategically, why should the Dems veer to the left? And to add insult to injury, you are basically wasting your time trying to get the “Average Joe or Jane” to grasp all of this. It’s abundantly clear to me that Black, White, Rich or Poor, Americans are intoxicated with “American Exceptionalism” we can do no wrong and pull ourselves up by our boots, blah blah blah Bullshit.
I don’t bother to even tell family and friends I voted 3rd Party or why, it’s a waste of what precious little time I have on this planet.
I’m reminded of the Twilight Zone episode, “The Shelter” where the doctor barricades himself in the basement bomb shelter he prepared while his friends were giving him shit. Build your bomb shelters and for those who try to break in, make sure you have plenty of firepower to shoot their asses dead.
The reason BO “Might” go down in history alongside GWB is twofold:
1. The depth of his betrayal to “Progressives”, and
2. Military folly regarding Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
BTW, I see Paulson is doing his damnedest to spend that $800B before Jan. 2009? You were told about the “oversight” lies, but you refuse to acknowledge that it.
I’m like Obama, “Fu#cK it.”
agreed with lou
written by not-a-customer , November 13, 2008
One among many problems with the american public discourse is that one must resort to vapid expressions such as “progressive” or “liberal” to communicate with most people. I find those terms awful, but the word “radical” doesn’t resonate in certain ears…hence the term “progressive” in my previous post.
2 Bert Cameron // Nov 13, 2008 at 12:46 pm
It’s clear already—even before inauguration—the center right path Obama is travelling. That’s what passes for change in America? Meantime, the media do not let up with the celebratory orgy, and even many people who should know better, being so relieved that Bush & Co is no more (that may be a fiction) are also joining the party and the hosannas to Obama. It’s ludicrous.
Thank you for putting this important issue squarely in front of the people.