Wednesday, August 19, 2009

White Flags & Blue Dogs Useless vs the Right

Photo: William Greider


By William Greider

The Nation

After his brilliant beginning, the president suddenly looks weak and unreliable. That will be the common interpretation around Washington of the president's abrupt retreat on substantive heathcare reform.

Give Barack Obama a hard shove, they will say, rough him up a bit and he folds. A few weeks back, the president was touting a "public option" health plan as an essential element in reform. Now he says, take it or leave it. Whatever Congress does, he's okay with that The White House quickly added confusion to the outrage by insisting the president didn't really say anything new. He's just being flexible. He still wants what most Democrats want--a government plan that gives people a real escape from the profit-driven clutches of the insurance companies. But serious power players will not be fooled by the nimble spinners. Obama choked. He raised the white flag, even before the fight got underway in Congress.

He hands the insurance industry a huge victory. He rewards the right-wing frothers who have been calling him Adolph Hitler or Dr. Death. He caves to the conservative bias of the major media who insist only bipartisan consensus is acceptable for big reform (a standard they never invoked during the Bush years). Obama is deluded if he thinks this will win him any peace or respect or Republican votes.
Weakness does not lead to consensus in Washington. It leads to more weakness. The Party of No intends to bring him down and will pile on.

Obama has inadvertently demonstrated their strategy of vicious invective seems to be working.

Barack Obama mainly did this to himself. To avoid the accusation of socialized medicine, he intentionally shrouded his objectives in bureaucratic euphemisms like "public option." What the hell does that mean? It doesn't mean anything. The vagueness allowed anyone to fill in the blanks and anxious people did so in apocalyptic ways. The original idea, after all, was making something similar to Medicare available to anyone between childhood and old age who was either shut out by high prices or abused by insurance companies policing the system. This approach--call it Medicare Basic--would in theory give government the greater leverage needed to control the price inflation and reshape the system in positive ways. If you told people "public option" was a Medicare equivalent, the polls would demonstrate the popularity. Instead, that objective is now at risk. The right still calls Obama a covert socialist.

There is a more cynical interpretation of Obama's flexibility. He is coming out right about where he wanted to be. Forget the good talk, it is said, this president never really intended to do deep reform that truly alters the industrial power structure dominating our dysfunctional healthcare system. He just wanted minimalist reforms he could sell as "victory." Not until years later would people figure out that nothing fundamental had been changed.

In this scenario, Obama has always been more comfortable with the center-right forces within the Democratic party--Senator Max Baucus and the Blue Dogs--and the Clintonistas of DLC lineage who now fill his administration. His real political challenge was to string along the liberals with reassuring talk until they were stuck with lousy choices-- either go along with this popular president's pale version of reform or take him on and risk ruining his presidency. This sounds a lot like the choices Democrats faced during the Clinton years.

Candidate Obama said it was "time to turn the page." We are still waiting to see what he meant.

I do not subscribe to the manipulative, deceptive portrait (not yet), but you can find lots of supporting evidence in Obama's behavior. His response to the financial crisis demonstrates a clear desire to restore Wall Street power, not to change it. His war strategy in Afghanistan looks like the familiar trap of open-ended counterinsurgency. The trap may soon close on him when the generals announce their need for more troops. Will this president dare to say no? Obama negotiated a truly ugly deal with the pharmaceutical industry--a promise not to use government bargaining power to bring down drug prices. His lieutenants still yearn to demonstrate "fiscal responsibility' by taxing the health-care benefits of union members or whacking Social Security.

In other words, this is really a decisive test for the Democratic party and its main constituencies. Will they go along with the president or push back and reject his misdirections? The burden will fall mainly on Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the House majority. They will be under intense pressure from the White House to stay "on message" with the president. Organized labor seems to be breaking out of the go-along passivity. Richard L. Trumka, soon to be president of the AFL-CIO, promises to blackball Blue Dogs or anyone else who double-crosses the working people who faithfully financed their election campaigns.

Taking the high road will be hard and divisive. But maybe this is at last the season when Democrats reveal which side they are on.

[© 2009 The Nation William Greider is national affairs correspondent for The Nation. He is author of "Secrets of the Temple: How the Federal Reserve Runs the Country" and, most recently, "Come Home, America: The Rise and Fall (and Redeeming Promise) of Our Country."]


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

When 'Socialism' Isn't Really About Socialism

Red-Baiting and Racism:
Socialism as the
New Black Bogeyman

By Tim Wise
Progressives for Obama

August 10, 2009 - Throughout the first six months of his administration, President Obama--perhaps one of the most politically cautious leaders in contemporary history--has been routinely portrayed as a radical by his opponents on the far-right. In particular, persons who have apparently never actually studied Marxism (or if they did, managed to somehow find therein support for such things as bailing out banks and elite corporations) contend that Obama is indeed a socialist.

Reducing all government action other than warmaking to part of a larger socialist conspiracy, the right contends that health care reform is socialist, capping greenhouse gas emissions is socialist, even providing incentives for driving fuel efficient cars is socialist. That the right insists upon Obama's radical-left credentials, even as they push an Obama=Hitler meme (something they apparently think is fair, since, after all the Nazis were National Socialists, albeit the kind who routinely murdered the genuine article) only speaks to the special brand of crazy currently in vogue among the nation's reactionary forces.

As real socialists laugh at these clumsily made broadsides, and as scholars of actual socialist theory try and explain the absurdity of the analogies being drawn by conservative commentators, a key point seems to have been missed, and it is this point that best explains what the red-baiting is actually about.

It is not, and please make note of it, about socialism. Or capitalism. Or economics at all, per se.

After all, President Bush was among the most profligate government spenders in recent memory, yet few ever referred to him in terms as derisive as those being hurled at Obama. Even when President Clinton proposed health care reform, those who opposed his efforts, though vociferous in their critique, rarely trotted out the dreaded s-word as part of their arsenal. They prattled on about "big government," yes, but not socialism as such. Likewise, when Ronald Reagan helped craft the huge FICA tax hike in 1983, in a bipartisan attempt to save Social Security, few stalwart conservatives thought to call America's cowboy-in-chief a closet communist. And many of the loudest voices at the recent town hall meetings--so many of which have been commandeered by angry minions ginned up by talk radio--are elderly folk whose own health care is government-provided, and whose first homes were purchased several decades ago with FHA and VA loans, underwritten by the government, for that matter. Many of them no doubt reaped the benefits of the GI Bill, either directly or indirectly through their own parents.

It is not, in other words, a simple belief in smaller government or lower taxes that animates the near-hysterical cries from the right about wanting "their country back," from those who have presumably hijacked it: you know, those known lefties like Tim Geithner and Rahm Emanuel. No, what differentiates Obama from any of the other big spenders who have previously occupied the White House is principally one thing--his color. And it is his color that makes the bandying about of the "socialist" label especially effective and dangerous as a linguistic trope. Indeed, I would suggest that at the present moment, socialism is little more than racist code for the longstanding white fear that black folks will steal from them, and covet everything they have. The fact that the fear may now be of a black president, and not just some random black burglar hardly changes the fact that it is fear nonetheless: a deep, abiding suspicion that African American folk can't wait to take whitey's stuff, as payback, as reparations, as a way to balance the historic scales of injustice that have so long tilted in our favor. In short, the current round of red-baiting is based on implicit (and perhaps even explicit) appeals to white racial resentment. It is Mau-Mauing in the truest sense of the term, and especially since Obama's father was from the former colonial Kenya! Unless this is understood, left-progressive responses to the tactic will likely fall flat. After all, pointing out the absurdity of calling Obama a socialist, given his real policy agenda, will mean little if the people issuing the charge were never using the term in the literal sense, but rather, as a symbol for something else entirely.

To begin with, and this is something often under-appreciated by the white left, to the right and its leadership (if not necessarily its foot-soldiers), the battle between capitalism and communism/socialism has long been seen as a racialized conflict. First, of course, is the generally non-white hue of those who have raised the socialist or communist banner from a position of national leadership. Most such places and persons have been of color: China, Vietnam, North Korea, Cuba, assorted places in Latin America from time to time, or the Caribbean, or in Africa. With the exception of the former Soviet Union and its immediate Eastern European satellites--which are understood as having had state socialism foisted upon them, rather than having it freely chosen through their own revolutions from below--Marxism in practice has been a pretty much exclusively non-white venture.

And even the Russians were seen through racialized lenses by some of America's most vociferous cold warriors. To wit, consider what General Edward Rowney, who would become President Reagan's chief arms negotiator with the Soviets, told Manning Marable in the late 1970s, and which Marable then recounted in his book, The Great Wells of Democracy:

"One day I asked Rowney about the prospects for peace, and he replied that meaningful negotiations with the Russian Communists were impossible. 'The Russians,' Rowney explained, never experienced the Renaissance, or took part in Western civilization or culture. I pressed the point, asking whether his real problem with Russia was its adherence to communism. Rowney snapped, 'Communism has nothing to do with it!' He looked thoughtful for a moment and then said simply, 'The real problem with Russians is that they are Asiatics'."

In the present day, the only remaining socialists in governance on the planet are of color: in places like Cuba or Venezuela, perhaps China (though to a more truncated extent, given their embrace of the market in recent decades) and, on the lunatic Stalinist fringe, North Korea. These are the last remaining standard-bearers, in leadership positions, who would actually use the term socialist to describe themselves. Given the color-coding of socialism in the 21st century, at the level of governance, to use the label to describe President Obama and his administration, has the effect of tying him to these "other" socialists in power. Although he has nearly nothing in common with them politically or in terms of his policy prescriptions, he is a man of color, so the connection is made, mentally, even if it carries no intellectual or factual truth.

Secondly, and even more to the point, we must remember what "socialism" is, especially in the eyes of its critics: it is, to them, a code for redistribution. Of course, some forms of socialism are more redistributive than others, and even late-stage capitalism tends to engage in some forms of very mild redistribution (as with the income tax code). But if you were to ask most who grow apoplectic at the mere mention of the word "socialism" for the first synonym that came to their mind, redistribution is likely the one they would choose. Surely it would be among their top two or three.

Now, given the almost instinctual connection made between socialism and redistribution, imagine what many white folks would naturally assume when told that this man, this black man, this black man with an African daddy, was a socialist. Even if those using the term didn't intend it to push racial buttons (and that is a decidedly large "if"), the fact remains that for many, it would almost certainly prompt any number of racial fears and insecurities: as in, the black guy is going to take from those who work and give to those who don't. And naturally, we all know (or at least our ill-informed prejudices tell us) who's in the first group and who's in the second one. Thus, the joke making the rounds on the internet, and likely in your workplace, about Obama planning on taxing aspirin "because it's white and it works." Or the guy with the sign at the April teabagger rally, which read, Obama's Plan: White Slavery. Or others who have carried overtly racist signs to frame their message: signs suggesting that Obama hopes to provide care for all brown-skinned illegal immigrants, while simultaneously murdering the white elderly, or that cast the President in decidely simian imagery, and refer to him, crudely but clearly as a monkey. Or Glenn Beck's paranoid screed from late July, which sought to link health care reform, and virtually every single piece of Obama's political agenda to some kind of backdoor reparations scheme. This, coupled with Beck's even more unhinged claim to have discovered a communist/black nationalist conspiracy in the administration's Green Jobs Initiative. All because the initiative is headed up by author and activist Van Jones: a guy whose recent book explains how to save capitalism through eco-friendly efforts at development and job creation. So even there, it isn't about socialism, so much as the fact that Jones is black, and was once (for a couple of months) a nationalist, and has a goatee, and looks determined (read:mean) in some of his more contemplative press photos.

Fact is, the longstanding association in white minds between social program spending and racial redistribution has been well-established, by scholars such as Martin Gilens, Kenneth Neubeck, Noel Cazenave, and Jill Quadagno, among others. Indeed, it was only the willingness of past presidents like FDR to all but cut blacks out of income support programs that convinced white lawmakers and the public to sign on to any form of American welfare system in the first place: a willingness that waned as soon as people of color finally gained access to these programs beginning in the 50s and 60s. But even as strong as the social program/black folks association has been in the past, it has, until now, never had a black face to put with the effort. With a man of color in the position of president, it becomes far more convincing to those given to fear black predation already. It isn't just that the government will tax you, white people. It's that the black guy will. And for people like him. At your expense.

Much as the white right blew a gasket at the thought of bailing out homeowners with sub-prime and exploding mortgages a few months back (and if you listened to the rhetoric on the radio it was hard to miss the racial animosity that undergirded much of the conservative hostility to the idea, since they seemed to think only persons of color would be helped by such a plan), they now too often view Obama's moves to more comprehensive health care as simply another way to take from those whites who have "played by the rules" and give to those folks of color who haven't. Even as millions of whites would stand to benefit from health care reform--and all whites, as with people of color would enjoy greater choices with the very public option that has drawn the most fire--the imagery of the recipients has remained black and brown, as with all social programs; and the imagery of the persons who would be taxed for the effort has remained hard-working white folks.

By allowing the right to throw around terms like socialist to describe the President and socialism to describe his incredibly watered-down, generally big business friendly approach to health care, while not recognizing the memetic purpose of such arguments is to ensure that the right will succeed in their demonization campaign. To respond by pointing out how the plan really isn't socialist, or how Obama really isn't a socialist misses the point, which was never, in the end, about economic systems or philosophies: none of which the folks on the right raising the most hell show any signs of understanding anyway. This noise is about race. It is about "othering" a President who is seen as a symbol of white dispossession: dispossession of white hegemony, white entitlement, white expectation, and white power, unquestioned and unchallenged from the darker skinned other. This is what animates the every move of the angry masses, individual exceptions notwithstanding. Unless the left begins pushing back, and insisting that yes, the old days are gone, white hegemony is dead, and deserved its demise, and that we will all be better off for it, the chorus of white backlash will only grow louder. So too will it grow more effective at dividing and conquering the working people who would benefit--all of them--from a new direction.


Monday, August 3, 2009

As Obama's Support Erodes, Right is Resurgent

Will Progressives
Respond to the Attempt
to Overthrow The President?

By Danny Schechter

August 1, 2009 - The tide of public opinion may be turning against the President. Pollsters report growing skepticism about health care reform, and more active hostility on racial matters, thanks to that "uncalibrated" expression of opinion on the arrest of Professor Gates in his own home. That remark turned him, in the eyes of some, from a small b black President into a militant Black Panther, or at least someone who can bashed as such.

These are the new controversial issues with no one right answer, and a noisy debate everywhere, but something else is also going on.

With Democrats fussing among themselves, with Obamacrats forced to rely on corporate media, the right-wing TV and radio stations close ranks behind the most self-righteously-correct ranters having a filed day poking, prodding, pummeling, and peeing into cups of their own resentment, hate and venom.

There is no smear that is beneath them, no inference or insult out of bounds. Lou Dobbs blesses the birthers while that Elmer Gantry of demagoguery, Glenn Beck, meditates on his mountain and pronounces Obama a racist. An Israeli settler refers to our President as "that Arab," and worse.

These are the nattering nabobs of negativity of our times, to resurrect an old canard once aimed at the left. The Yes We Can advocates seem to be taking refuge in the No We Won't center. The next thing you know, the removal of a democratically elected President that worked in Honduras might be attempted here at home.

Some of us are still singing "We Shall Overcome" when our adversaries are chanting "We Shall Overthrow."

If Barack's legitimacy as a citizen won't bring him down, his actions---moderate if not reactionary as they
are--- unites the crazies against him and drives them even more beserk. The contentious Congressman who vowed to "break him," should be taken seriously

This relentless riposte is having an effect on a demoralized and economically challenged population that is not well informed in the first place-except perhaps about Michael Jackson's dubious doctor who may have done the dirty deed. Sensing possible victory-whatever that means--- the Angeroid microfactions that lost the election are now seeking to polarize the public to topple the Administration with an electronic coup d'media. It is all that serious.

Only Jon Stewart seems to be calling them on their game, while at the same time despairing about the obvious missteps and mistakes that the White House is making. They may be a garden outside the Oval Office but there is a minefield inside it.

At the same time, another enemy is mounting a counterattack, perhaps in a more stealth manner, not by what it says, but by what it does The banks are deploying regiments of lobbyists and PR firms to defeat proposed new financial rules and an agency to protect consumers. They are escalating the gouging of the public.

Emboldened by billions in bailout monies, and funds from the Treasury and Federal Reserve, the Bankster are in full loot mode. New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo reports that extravagant bonuses at some banks now outstrip revenues. The financial elite takes our money--and tells us to shove it.

As a new wave of foreclosures threatens, the banks are not willing to modify most mortgages-even those sold fraudulently, because they make more money forcing families out and reselling their homes.

The pace of regulatory reform, meanwhile is a slow-go, with few calls for more radical measures like a moratorium on foreclosures of the kind declared by FDR during the last Depression.

Are you aware that outside of the government, a not for profit called NACA (The Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America) is touring the country mobilizing homeowners to demand financial relief. I was at their original "Save The Deam" event in Washington last summer where members of Congress and officials like FDIC chairman Sheila Bair pledged support, but little happened.

Government help as only reached 200,000 of the more than 12 million families in need. If you are not familiar with this issue or the role of devious mortgage servicers like Litton, owned by Goldman Sachs, see these You Tube videos on the PACFILM Channel: and

According to FEED News, NACA is doing better-even though they are not getting the national publicity they deserve, perhaps because media outlets don't want to send the few staffers they have to the heartland,

"About 50,000 people attended the second Save the Dream event in Chicago. This is a dramatic increase over the 25,000 people who attended NACA's first two Save the Dream events last year in Columbia, SC, and Washington, DC.

"One of the reasons why turnout has increased this year is NACA's use of optimized press releases, blog outreach, and YouTube videos to let people know that the national non-profit community advocacy and homeownership organization offers unprecedented solutions for homeowners caught up in the current mortgage and economic crisis. During the Save the Dream events, borrowers can get mortgages restructured the same day."

If the Obama Administration is to survive an ongoing assault still building steam, it needs a grass roots action-oriented army like the one NACA is building.
They can't just rely on the Netroots activists who prefer emails to organizing. They can't rely on that co-opted in-house DNC arm, Organizing for America either. That is there only to rally support for the White House.

A new movement has to develop outside the Democratic party in the same way that the right acts outside the GOP, and has built a capacity for independent action with echo chambers, message points and personalities.
Their ideas may be backward but their dedication can't be denied.

We can defend Obama's ideals, and also press for more action. As Jeff Cohen reminds us, we have a "president whose instinct is toward conciliation and splitting the difference with big business and the right wing. Sure, Obama was a community organizer once. That was decades ago when Russia was still our mortal enemy, Nelson Mandela was still an official State Department terrorist threat and the White House was still funding Islamist fanatics in Afghanistan. For the last dozen years Obama has been a politician -- and a consummate compromiser at that. Have we failed to notice?"

Can progressives fight a three front war---against the vicious right, against the slippery center, and for a more comprehensive and empowering agenda? Can they finally realize that all politics does not occur in DC, and that being tethered to the denizens on the Hill can be a liability at a time when most political chameleons enjoy so little respect.

Will they ever realize that they have to get into the economic trenches and fight the power of the banks with groups like A New Way Forward? Why is economic justice a priority for so few activists when these issues impact millions?

Knock, Knock, anyone there?

[Mediachannel's News Dissector Danny Schechter investigates the origins of the economic crisis in his new book Plunder: Investigating Our Economic Calamity and the Subprime Scandal (Cosimo Books via Amazon). Comments to ]


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