Friday, August 22, 2008

Altering Obama's 'Centrist Dynamic'

Now That We’re
Behind, Turn

Things Around

By Tom Hayden
Progressives for Obama

The only good thing about downward spiral of the Obama campaign is that’s happened so quickly, which means there is a window of time to turn the race around.

It will depend on independent outsiders – progressives for Obama – able to change the dynamic within the centrist Obama campaign. An encouraging example this week was the video by Robert Greenwald’s Brave New Films on “McCain’s Mansions”. When it was disseminated across the internet, the mainstream media turned it into a question for McCain, who stumbled badly. Then the Obama campaign jumped all over McCain as an out-of-touch elitist.

That’s the model. Accepting the fact that this is a centrist campaign, the boundaries of the center must be altered through pressure. If the anti-war movement is not strong enough, if the fair trade movement is not strong enough, the center will drift towards the right. We have to carry the fight to McCain and the Republicans, leave our comfortable enclaves for the arena of persuasion, and gamble on that Obama can do the rest.

Show me a nominee, however, whose convention goal is to prove that he is a patriotic American, and I will show you a defeat in the making. Show me a candidate who calls his opponent an American war hero, and I will show you a candidate who is conceding the central qualities look for in a president.

All summer Obama has offended his most ardent supporters, and lost countless others, while spending too much time ingratiating himself with people who will never vote for him in November.

The result, according to the Zogby poll, is telling: McCain surged ahead by five points this week, a gain of fifteen percent. Obama suffered a reversal of nearly 20 points in his favorable/unfavorable ratio. The primary reason, Zogby, said is that Obama flip-floppng move to the center was perceived by his supporters as a move to the center.

The magic is tarnished.

No vice presidential nominee will bring it all back.

No mass rally in Denver will bring it all back.

The strength of the Obama campaign lies in its volunteer power and ability to mobilize both high turnout and new voters by the millions. Motivated by ideals and energy, they can be lost to disappointment like leaves off a tree. It appears that many of them withdrew support, at least for the moment, by Obama’s FISA vote, according to Zogby.

Only the renewal of a progressive spirit and platform can bring those voters back, and equally important, raise their volunteer energy. The next phase requires two separate prongs, outside and inside, and two messages, one that renders McCain unacceptable and another which draws Obama towards progressive stances that will help him win the election.

Progressives need to make crystal clear that Obama’s move to the center looks too much like a move to the right. It’s a good move to come out in favor of small Main Street businesses, for example, but not a good move to reverse a promise to filibuster FISA.

More important at the moment, progressives have to shake off their obsessions with Obama’s imperfection, and turn to the main challenge during the next 70 days, defeating John McCain, the Trojan horse for neo-conservative and Republican recovery.

The most important step that can be taken now is an independent progressive insurgency from the Netroots, YouTube, MoveOn, and the broad peace, justice, women’s, and gay/lesbian environmental movements, to the energizing of 527 independent committees to educate and identify voters by door-knocking, paid radio and television ads, funded with millions of dollars by unions and wealthy Democratic donors.

For his own campaign reform reasons, Obama has cast something of a pall on independent expenditures, leading to a drying up of funds for those committees and the channeling of most contributions to the campaign itself. At one point last year, for example, there was hope that tens of millions of dollars would flow to anti-Iraq organizing. In August, 2007, $12 million was invested in anti-war work in Republican districts, but the hope for permanent funding dried up shortly afterwards. Now the anti-war movement is mounting a “Million Doors for Peace” door-knocking campaign in September, a promising effort which will carry the anti-war message and build up a massive voter list. But it lacks the funding needed to maximize its scale before November.

An independent campaign would be best positioned to criticize McCain for his war-whooping support of the Iraq invasion since 2002, the three trillion war in war costs that could have been spent on health care and education, and the mega-profits won by the oil corporations as a result of the war. Obama’s narrower task is to build public confidence in his foreign policy experience by strengthening by arguing for a timetable while chiding Bush and McCain for dragging their feet on deadlines.

Obama should not retreat one more inch on Iraq, the principle issue that won him the Democratic primary against Hillary Clinton. No one, including Obama, should be fooled by the long-standing White House plan to pacify American voters with a peace promise at election time. Obama and the Democrats should take credit for this turn of events, and show Obama and Bush as offering a false promise.

Obama should tie his anti-war stance to our economic crisis, not follow the advice of those who prefer to forget Iraq and focus only on the economy. It is far better that Obama blend Iraq to the economic crisis by talking about an Iraq recession. If war costs are cut in half in 2009, that alone would mean $70 billion for public works and health care. If wartime tax loopholes for the rich were closed, instead of following Bush’s mad path of waging war while lowering taxes, that could bring in another $70 billion or more. If the US simply stopped burning oil in Iraq to drill for more oil to burn at home, our energy policies would be moving in the right direction.

There are several other issues where an inside/outside strategy can work:

- on energy, the priority should be on conservation and renewables first, and only then will a new president and Congress be able to assess the actual need for fossil fuels and plan accordingly. People freezing in their homes under rising gas prices need weatherization, not offshore drilling. Only an energized and funded environmental movement can be trusted to make the case against the oil agenda while Obama twists in the center over drilling.
- On labor, the need for populist themes stands out. Labor and its citizen-action allies can campaign for greater democracy and safety in the workplace, tax loophole closures and the protection of Social Security, all measures dependent on a President Obama’s signature though not his passionate daily support on the campaign trail.
- On women’s rights, while Obama appears “thoughtful” over the moral dilemmas, only a powerful women’s movement can attack McCain for wanting to criminalize abortion and cater to the extremist anti-abortion movement.
- On the Supreme Court, while Obama muses over “balance” and “reason”, only independent social movements can make the clarion case that McCain has promised to stack the courts with more like the current right-wing majority.
- On foreign policy in general, progressives need to make the case for a greater commitment to Latin America as well as the Latino community here at home. The greatest democratic currents flowing in the world today are in Latin America. But the grinding poverty – 40 percent are born poor – causes the immigration crisis in which Latino migrants are exploited as cheap labor and economically as scapegoats for our economic problems. Bush and Cheney support “democracy” under American occupation and free-trade agreements in the Middle East and countries bordering Russia. They are cool at best, and hostile at worst, towards Latin America’s democratic revolutions because the region is opposed to the one-sided policies of the WTO, NAFTA, CAFTA, and the FTAA. Progressives and Obama have an opportunity to cement a coalition of the middle class, working class and the poor around protecting jobs here against sweatshops, and by promoting the best of FDR’s “good neighbor policy” towards Latin America.

These are only sketchy suggestions, but the point the way along sometimes parallel, sometimes overlapping, but never antagonistic paths for the progressive movement and the Obama campaign for victory in November and a more unified progressive agenda beyond.

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