Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Conflict Over Afghan War Sharpens Among Dems

A Bold Sen. Feingold
Could Lead the Way
Out of Afghanistan

By Tom Hayden
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

Sept. 21, 2009 - The United States Senate is our version of a house of lords, where time slows down in the name of a "deliberative process" even when the world seems on fire to the ordinary eye.

And so the other day, with concern about Afghanistan rising, with American troops dying at record rates, with the U.S.-supported Kabul regime in tatters, it was typical of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to declare that "the thing I'm going to do and recommend to my caucus is let's just take it easy. I'm going to wait until the president makes up his mind as to what he thinks should be done."

Then there is Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold. By everyday standards, he is a cautious person, calling for a "flexible timetable" for American troop withdrawals but also for "continued strikes on Taliban and al-Qaida leaders." Sounds like an uncertain trumpet. But in the culture of the Senate, Feingold is considered downright hyperactive, often accused of being a loner who doesn't play well with the senior oligarchs.

The truth is that Feingold has learned to play the Senate game when it comes to new proposals. Like chess, when a single senator moves, other senators follow or readjust. That's what is happening. Not a single senator had spoken out against the war until Feingold said in an Aug. 24 interview in Appleton that the U.S. should consider a flexible timetable.

Feingold amplified his views in a Sept. 17 interview I held with him, asserting that he will vote against any troop escalation, "unless I hear some very different arguments than what I've already heard." He also will vote against the coming defense authorization bill if it "follows down this misguided path." He said he might offer amendments to the bill, perhaps on the timetable.

Feingold's timetable proposal triggered a stampede, or at least a crawl, to the microphones. Sen. Carl Levin said an increase of U.S. troops should be delayed for one year, proposing a buildup of Afghan troops instead. Sen. John Kerry said he was rethinking Afghanistan. So did senators Dianne Feinstein, Barbara Boxer, Robert Casey, Sherrod Brown and Bernie Sanders. Speaker Nancy Pelosi opined that votes for another year of war might not be there in the House.

That was a pretty fast response for a senator the critics describe as isolated. The label is perhaps the price Feingold pays for being prematurely right.

We have been here before. In 2005, Feingold was the first senator to propose a specific withdrawal deadline of one-year from Iraq. I wrote at the time that his suggestion, while too modest, was a "brave departure from the ice house of the Senate." By 2006, Feingold was joined by 13 senators on his withdrawal proposal and had prompted a proposal from Levin for a more gradual phased withdrawal. By July 2007, Reid had joined the entire Democratic Senate bloc in supporting an amendment to phase out the U.S. occupation.

Feingold now stands in a Democratic tradition that includes Sens. Eugene McCarthy, George McGovern and Robert F. Kennedy, all the way back to Wisconsin's Sen. Robert LaFollette. The major difference is that those recent Democratic candidates were running for president in the wake of a passionate "dump Johnson" movement, whereas the challenge for Feingold and other Democrats today is to dump the Afghanistan war without dumping President Barack Obama and the party's congressional majorities.

Military leaders and Republicans are sure to weigh in that they see "light at the end of the tunnel." Feingold has tried to armor himself with the argument that America is becoming weaker in the war against al-Qaida as long as it occupies Afghanistan. As for firing drones into Pakistan, he told me, "We will always reserve the right to act in the national security interests of the American people including targeting al-Qaida and Taliban leadership." Civilian casualties, he argues, can best be avoided "if we reduce our military footprint in that country."

The conflict is intensifying. Seventy percent of Democrats oppose the war. Wisconsin Rep. David Obey, the House appropriations chair, has given the president one year to show progress or face funding cuts. The Pentagon and national security hawks argue that there must be 18 to 24 months of "hard fighting" followed by 10 to 12 years of continued nation-building. At the present rate, that means 1,100 more American soldiers will die in Afghanistan by the end of 2011, as Obama faces re-election. More than 700 died during the Bush presidency. Although budget figures are foggy, Afghanistan is likely to become another $1 trillion war over a two-term Obama presidency.

That's why the Democrats already are facing a voter mandate, similar to those in 2006 and 2008, to somehow end the war and turn to more urgent priorities on the home front.

Feingold could be the Gene McCarthy of our time, though one seeking to end a war to save a presidency, not the other way around. But his inherent caution could leave the anti-war public wanting a bolder leadership. A flexible timetable is a talking point, not a proposal. The further use of Predators is likely to inflame anti-American sentiment to the benefit of insurgents. Why he lumps al-Qaida with the Taliban will need clarification.

The opening for Feingold may lie in the utter collapse of the Kabul government, a Humpty Dumpty that all the king's men will not be able to put back together with any legitimacy. Having failed to produce a credible client in Kabul, it could be time for the U.S. to launch all-party talks, including the Taliban and regional powers, in a diplomatic surge to stabilize Afghanistan. What Feingold needs to define is a face-saving exit strategy to complement his proposal for a troop withdrawal. For now, he only says he is "concerned" and "closely monitoring" the mounting evidence of fraud in Kabul, which could leave the United States without a partner that Americans - not to mention Afghans - can believe in.

[Tom Hayden is the author of 17 books, a former California state senator and a longtime peace activist.]


Monday, September 14, 2009

Public Must Force an End to Afghan War

What is Obama's
Real Plan for

By Tom Hayden

Sept. 14, 2009 - What is Obama's real plan for Afghanistan? Surely he sees all the signs of quagmire that we do. So why is this happening?

The key to Obama is that he often assumbles what he considers "best practices" into new packages he then tries to promote. The other key is that like any President, he wants to avoid the appearance of losing, even if escalating doesn't assure winning. So here is what he is doing:

[1] Repeating the 2007 Iraq surge strategy of Gen. Petraeus. This was designed for political reasons, to lessen the Iraq violence in order to suppress the Iraq issue as the defining one in the presidential elections. As Petraeus said at the time, he wanted to speed up the Iraq clock to slow down the American one. Anti-war critics were caught off balance. The surge "worked" in ways that were under-reported. First, nearly 100,000 Sunni insurgents were put on the American payroll if they agreed not to shoot American troops. Second, the same McChrystal who now commands Afghanistan was in charge of a massive top-secret extra-judicial killing operation that devastated the remaining insurgents and gave a leading US operative "orgasms" [details in Bob Woodward's last book].

[2] Repeating Richard Holbrooke's diplomatic role in the Balkans where he presided over the complicated Dayton all-party talks on Bosnia, which cobbled together a fragile peace of sorts for the next decade. Holbrooke even negotiated with Slobodon Milosovic over pear brandy and in hunting lodges while the US military campaign was tightening against the Serbian leader. Holbrooke has been managing editor of Foreign Policy magazine, and a director of Lehman Bros. and AIG. He is a symbol of so-called "soft power." As Obama's special ambassador to Afghanistan and Pakistan, he has assembled a large team of diplomatic, political, commercial and agricultural advisers who serve as a shadow neo-colonial state ready to assume responsibility for a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan. He famously said last month that it was impossible to define "success" in Afghanistan "but we'll know it when we see it."

In summary, the Obama plan is to use escalating military force to weaken - but probably not defeat - the insurgencies in Afghanistan and Pakistan, largely based among Pashtun tribes. According to the plan, the next 12-18 months are the "critical window" for "demonstrating measurable progress" in disrupting and dismantling al Qaeda "and its allies" in Afghanistan and Pakistan. As the escalation kills and wounds greater numbers of Taliban, the violence will be described as declining, and Holbrooke's soft-power infrastructure will take over the role of nation-building, including standing up a newly-trained police force and army of hundreds of thousands of Afghans. In this plan, US casualties then will decline after the first 18-24 months and a phased withdrawal can proceed, ending in five, ten or 12 years.

The latest version of the plan is contained in the August 10 Pentagon "sensitive but unclassified" report, "United States Government Integrated Civilian-Military Campaign Plan for Support to Afghanistan", by generals Karl Eikenberry [chief of mission in Kabul] and Stanley McChrystal, US commander. Their document is laced throughout with references to "civ-mil" strategies and "civ-mil" units, as if to emphasize the seamless connections between hard power and soft.

Perhaps it is a tribute to American and global public opinion, but the military strategy lacks any bloodthirsty references to combat, instead describing goals in sanitized language such as this: "International security forces [aka US troops] in partnership with Afghan security forces reverse security trends especially in Helmand, Kandahar, Khost Paktya and Paktika, facilitating GIRoA [Kabul government] presence at sub-national level."[p.17] the only slip came last week when the generals openly talked of using more "trigger pullers" on the ground and outsourcing more non-combat duties.

Have no doubt, they will kill a lot of Afghans and Pakistanis without press releases. Given unlimited time, troops and funding, it is possible that the US strategy can succeed in suppressing a restless Afghanistan/tribal Pakistan, though at the expense of numerous other American priorities. But with a majority of Americans and 70 percent of Democrats opposed to the war and occupation, with similar anti-war majorities rising in NATO countries, the question is whether the Obama strategy can appear to "succeed" in the short run.

The brief answer is no.

First, the current military surge is resulting in higher American troops losses than at any time since the beginning of the war. At the July-August 2009 rate, another 1,100 American troops will die by the end of 2011, on top of some 700 who were killed on Bush's watch. The American death toll inevitably has to rise before it ever begins to subside, if it even does by the end of Obama's first term. The dispatch of more American troops will increase the American casualty rates in the short term, stirring more questions from the public and Congress.

Similarly, the civilian casualty rates in Afghanistan and Pakistan will still increase in an escalated war, inflaming public opinion, even if the Pentagon's tighter guidelines are actually followed. The latest controversy over air strikes called by German forces shows the impossibility of truly "surgical" strikes, pits most Afghans against the foreign forces, and is having an unsettling effect on the Merkel coalition.

Second, unlike Iraq or the Balkans, the longer the foreign occupation, the more the Afghanistan client state weakens. The same is proving true in Pakistan, where the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas [FATA] and Baluchistan [homeland of Pakistan's Pashtun] show signs of breaking from the grip of the centralized state. The most immediate crisis is the discrediting of the Afghan government in the presidential election on which the entire American strategy depends. The civ-mil strategy paper sets a near-term goal of a "capable, accountable and effective government" in Afghanistan, and states that the "most important component [of the plan]", according to the document, "is a strong partnership with the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan [GIRoA]." But the US government was unable either to [1] fix the recent elections to benefit its client in Kabul, or [2] unable to prevent its own client from engaging in the most blatant of vote-rigging tactics.

We should not be surprised at this catastrophe. The same US government ignored, or was ignorant of, the "Lord of the Flies" behavior rampant among the private security contractors in charge of security at the American embassy in Kabul.

Now the US has dwindling choices. Ahmad Karzhai and his main opponent, Abdullah, are made of the same cloth. Any foreign plan to impose another leadership is sure to be rejected. The entire US plan to combine military and civilian tracks is derailed.

Whoever was responsible for this failed US strategy, from Karzhai to his American consultants at the highest levels, should be forced to resign. President Obama should retreat with his most trusted advisers to his most secluded study to ask who led him to this place, and quietly plan to slip out of the untenable position he is in. When President Kennedy realized that he could not trust his advisers during the Cuban missile crisis, he turned to his brother Bobby to open a second, secret track. Obama needs a Bobby.

The Democratic-led Congress, which is hardly known for a consistent anti-war stance, may be better able to see the quagmire in the making, and begin hearings on an exit strategy if only to avoid political consequences to their self-interests down the road.

The indispensible factor- never consulted by the experts but never ignored by the consultants- is the 70 percent of Democratic voters who, having no stakes in a failed enterprise, are the difference between winning and losing for the Congress and administration in 2010 and 2012. The public is the only force capable of making Congress step back from the brink.


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

First Blood: GOP vs. Van Jones & Team Obama

Graphic: Fascist 'Anti-Fascist' Poster

The Afrikaner Party
Draws First Blood:
Van Jones, Obama
and the Audacity
of Capitulation

By Tim Wise

September 7, 2009 - Van Jones, special advisor to the President's Council on Environmental Quality, has resigned from the administration. To be honest, he was forced out. Oh, perhaps not directly, but if not, then by the stunning silence of his employer. An employer more concerned about appeasing the right-wing bullies who sought to make Jones a liability for him, than about standing up for a brilliant thinker on both economics and ecological issues, and confronting the conservative talk-show hosts who have libeled and slandered Jones (literally) over the past month.

The right has shown no shame in their relentless pursuit of Jones's political scalp. They have fabricated from whole cloth details of his life, calling him a convicted felon and instigator of the 1992 Los Angeles riots. This, in spite of the fact that he has no criminal record whatsoever and wasn't even in Los Angeles when those riots were happening. His arrest at that time was part of a sweep of dozens of peaceful marchers in San Francisco, involved in a protest at the time of the riots. He was released, charges were dropped, and he was paid damages by the city. This is not what happens to criminals, but rather, innocent people who have done nothing wrong.

Jones should sue the living shit out of Glenn Beck, his employers at Fox News, and every other prominent liar who has repeated the baseless allegations of his criminal record in recent weeks. He should wipe them out, take their money, leave them penniless and begging on the streets, without health care. They would deserve it. Perhaps Beck's AA sponsor or the Mormons who he credits with "saving" his wretched soul can then take care of him and his family. Since surely he wouldn't want the government to lend a hand.

They have twisted other aspects of Jones's past, suggesting his brief stint with a pseudo-Maoist group makes him a secret communist in the heart of government, this despite his more recent break with such groups and philosophies, in favor of a commitment to eco-friendly, sustainable capitalism. They have called him a black nationalist, which he admits to having been for a virtual political minute in his youth, and have suggested he's a "truther" (one who believes George W. Bush masterminded the 9/11 attacks as an "inside job"). As for this last charge, their evidence consists of Jones's signature on a petition, which originally called merely for more openness about the pre-9/11 intelligence available to the former administration, but which was later altered to reflect the conspiratorial lunacy of its creators. Jones, and many others who reject the truthers' nonsense, were tricked into signing and were appalled by the final product. But none of this matters to the right. Because after all, none of it was ever the point.

This is not about convicted felons. The right loves convicted felons, as long as their names are Oliver North and G. Gordon Liddy. The former of these (whose convictions were eventually vacated on a technicality) helped direct an illegal war from the Reagan White House, which claimed the lives of tens of thousands of innocent Nicaraguans. And the latter helped plan the Watergate break-in, advocated political assassination during his time in the Nixon White House, and even advised folks on how to kill federal agents several years ago, from his radio show perch ("head shots" he roared). But none of his friends on the right ever suggested that such talk put him beyond the pale, or should result in him being silenced.

This is not about having an arrest record. After all, there are many anti-abortion zealots with arrest records, hauled in and then ultimately released after blocking access to family planning clinics. But Glenn Beck doesn't make them public enemy number one. Nor would he, or any of his political soulmates, seek to prevent such persons from having roles in a future Presidential administration. Indeed, they would likely consider such a record a bonafide qualification for higher office.

This is not about believing in conspiracy theories. Surely not. Beck of all people can hardly condemn anyone for that--even if Jones did subscribe to such things, which he doesn't--for it is he who believes, among other things that Obama is planning on a mandatory civilian defense corps, which will be like Hitler's SS, that Obama "hates white people" and has a "deep seated hatred for white culture," that Obama is pushing health care merely as a way to get reparations for black people, and that he secretly wants to bankrupt the economy to force everyone to work for ACORN. It is Beck who is among the leading voices suggesting that the President's upcoming speech to schoolchildren--in which he will implore them to study hard--is really just an attempt to indoctrinate them into a new version of the Hitler Youth. No, these people love to push nonsensical conspiracy theories. It is their bread and butter. It is all they have, in fact.

Nor is this about Jones's remarks in a speech, given prior to becoming part of the administration, to the effect that the reason Republicans get things done is that they're willing to be "assholes," while many Democrats, including Obama, aren't. Conservatives don't mind that kind of talk. They loved it when Dick Cheney said go "fuck yourself" to Senator Patrick Leahy in 2004. Not to mention, right-wingers say far more offensive things than that, on a regular basis, but remain in good standing, and are surely never condemned by their fellow reactionaries. What's worse: Jones calling Republicans assholes, or Rush Limbaugh saying that most liberals should be killed, but that we should "leave enough so we can have two on every campus--living fossils--so we will never forget what these people stood for?"**
What's worse, Jones's asshole remark, or Anne Coulter saying, among the many venomous syllable strings that have toppled from her lips, that the only thing Tim McVeigh did wrong was choosing to blow up the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, rather than the New York Times building?

This is not about socialism, as Jones is not a socialist. Oh sure, he's associated with some, and might still be friends with several to this day. And so what? Martin Luther King Jr. associated with socialists and communists because they supported the civil rights struggle and the black freedom movement at a time when the rabid anti-communists were at the forefront of attempts to maintain formal white supremacy. Which is to say that the socialists and the communists were on the right side, and the red-baiters were on the wrong one. Which was also true about the fight for the 40-hour work week, the 8-hour day, the end of child labor, the right of women to vote, and every other advance for freedom and justice in this nation in the past 100 years. But of course, Glenn Beck explained on the radio this past July 4th that he "hates the last 100 years of American history," so I guess we know what side he would have been on in all those battles.

Let's be clear, this is about one thing only: namely, the attempt by the right to exploit white reactionary fears about black militancy. It is the same tactic they tried with Rev. Jeremiah Wright in 2008. They did not confront Wright's narrative--the accuracy of which was far stronger than they would like to admit--nor do they actually grapple with Jones's ideas (it is doubtful that Beck has even read Jones's best-selling book, for instance). Rather, they present a caricature, a bogey man with black skin, an occasional scowl, and an attitude. Angry, confrontational, "uppity," and too close to the President. Which means that Wright=Obama=Jones=Malcolm X. It's a trope the right has banked on for years: using racial memes and symbols to scare Jim and Susie Suburb. Put the face of black anger out there and watch your devotees respond like Pavlov's dog.

It's something I first saw up close and personal in 1992. The woman I was dating at the time was an interior designer and had scored a contract to decorate the VIP lounges at the Houston Astrodome for the GOP National Convention. I viewed it as a great opportunity to do some enemy reconnaissance, so I lurked around the literature tables and took in the imagery beamed from the jumbotrons to the assembled conventioneers. One afternoon, we arrived before the main hall was opened to the delegates, and as I looked up at the screens above the floor, I saw the image that would be there to greet them as they entered a half-hour later: a massive, pixillated image of hip-hop artist Ice-T, whose speed metal band Bodycount had recently gotten in trouble for their song, "Cop Killer." The Republicans wanted their delegates to know who the enemy was. Not just Ice-T, but anyone who listened to his music, anyone who looked like him.

And that is what the attack on Van Jones is about: exploiting white fears and anxieties. Anxieties about a black President, anxieties about a basket-case economy (which they're trying to blame on the black President even though it was well in the crapper before he came along), anxieties about a changing demographic balance in the nation (which animates their fear and anger over immigration), anxieties about a popular culture whose icons look less and less like them as the years go by. And so they play up the militant black guy image, turning a low-level bureaucrat into a "Green Jobs Czar," (the latter of which term they have sought to spin into a communist thing, despite the fact that the Russian Czars were actually the royalist pigs who were thrown out by the Russian left, a small historical detail which doesn't matter to illiterate people of course), and making him the bad guy who's running the Obama administration from behind the scenes.

No, it's not only about race. But if you think it's merely a coincidence that the right has sought to make Jones such an issue--rather than some of the other administration officials they are now threatening to "expose" (two of whom are white)--then you haven't been paying attention to Republican and conservative politics for the past forty years. This is what they do. It's the only language they speak, at least fluently. Which is why when John McCain--to his credit--tried to move away from this method a bit, and refused to push the Jeremiah Wright theme during the general election campaign, so many on the hard-right criticized him. They didn't want him to talk about Bill Ayers: they wanted him to talk about Wright. Even though Ayers was the one with the criminal record and the links to political violence, while Wright was the military veteran and preacher with a storied history of community contributions. Why? Because they knew that Wright would be the better image. To link Obama to a white radical is one thing. But to link him to a black one? Oh, much, much better. This is why, in the instant case, they kept pushing Van Jones's non-existent connection with the Los Angeles riots, and his supposed felony record. Nothing better than a marauding criminal black man to get white fears into the stratosphere.

This is, it appears, the emerging political agenda of the Republican Party, and certainly its right-wing: a group that has decided, apparently, to go all in as a party of angry white people (and the few folks of color willing to look past their incessant race-baiting). They have circled the wagons, all but given up on reaching out to black and brown voters, and are putting all of their chips on white.
And everything they are saying about Van Jones was what people like them said about civil rights leaders in the 50s and 60s: about Dr. King and Ralph Abernathy, and John Lewis, and Fannie Lou Hamer. They were communists, and revolutionaries, and a danger to the republic. Make no mistake, had they been old enough in those days, Beck and every modern-day movement conservative would have stood with the segregationists, with the bigots, with the mobs who burned the buses carrying freedom riders. They would have stood with the police in Philadelphia, Mississippi, even as they orchestrated the killing of Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Mickey Schwerner. They would have stood with Bull Connor in Birmingham. How do we know? Easy. Because not one prominent conservative spokesperson of that time did the opposite. Not one. That's who they are. And the minute you forget that, the minute you insist on treating them better than they would treat you, the minute you insist on playing by rules that they refuse to as much as acknowledge, all is lost. They do not believe in democracy. They believe in power. White power. They believe in the past. They are Afrikaners, and it's about time we started calling them that.

(**) This quote, which appears in David Neiwert's book The Eliminationists was reported originally in the Denver Post, December 29, 1995.

Tim Wise is the author of four books on race. His latest is Between Barack and a Hard Place: Racism and White Denial in the Age of Obama(City Lights: 2009).


Friday, September 4, 2009

Get Clear and Organized on the Rising Danger

Photo: Armed far rightist at Town Hall event

Don't Wait for
Obama To Take On
the Political Right!

By Bill Fletcher
Executive Editor Black Commentator
September 2, 2009 - Over the last number of months, as the political Right has intensified its vicious campaign against President Obama and some of his reform efforts, there has been increasing frustration in progressive circles with the failure of the Administration to regain its stride and move a counter-offensive. A Washington Post op-ed by Peter Dreier and Marshall Ganz ["We have Hope; Now where's the Audacity", August 30, 2009] summarizes both this frustration but also offers a useful critique. That said, I believe that it is worth offering two additional concerns.

The first is historical. The outrageous activity that we are witnessing on the part of the political Right is not a new phenomenon. The political Right in the USA has demonstrated time and again an ability to engage in brutal, defamatory and highly repressive activity since the formation of this country. Such activity, of course, includes the highly repressive McCarthy Era, but it also includes periods such as the notorious 1919 Red Scare, with the repression of the Left and progressives soon followed by the Sacco & Vanzetti sham trial and execution. The 1930s was not all fun and games, despite the activity of a well organized political Left. Union organizing efforts were regularly attacked, and not just through harsh language. The appearances of employer-sponsored paramilitary outfits like the "Black Legion" were aimed at undermining the efforts by workers at self- organization. And, who can forget the notorious Father Coughlin, the right-wing radio priest?

There is a tendency to overlook these moments in US history, particularly on the part of white activists. There are myths regarding periods of normal bi- partisanship and rational discourse that allegedly contrast with today. While there are differences between today and earlier periods, we should keep in mind that today's political Right stands on the shoulders of their predecessors, having new technology but often conveying very similar messages.

What is it about today's Right? Among other things they are "irrationalists." Just so that there are no misunderstandings, this does not mean that they are simply irrational, which many of them are. Instead, the message that much of the political Right articulate is drawn from an ideology that has no relationship to the truth, scientific investigation, history or critical reasoning. Instead, the appeal is to frustration, anger, resentment, myths and scapegoating. Again, this is not particularly new when one views the history of the political Right in the USA.

What we are seeing, however, is an attempt to overturn the entire history of the 20th century by the political Right. A few years ago, a right-wing commentator suggested that government needed to be reduced to the size and role that it occupied at the time of President McKinley (circa, Spanish-American War, 1898). Such a suggestion, as outrageous as it sounds, is only the tip of the ice-berg. What the political Right, and particularly the right-wing populists, aims to accomplish is not only to narrow the scope and role of government, but to beat back the various advances by progressive social movements. In this sense it is almost misleading to refer to them as "conservatives," a term that generally suggests going slow. Rather the right-wing populists, including but not limited to crypto-fascists, wish to turn back the clock totally, albeit with slick language and suggestions of race neutrality, only to cover a far more devious set of objectives.

The second point or concern is that the Obama administration has been very slow to respond to the intensity of the campaign being carried out by the political Right. Part of this may be a reflection of underestimating the nature of this right-wing, white backlash against his election (and all that it represented). Part of this may also be a reflection of the fact that his is an effort to reform neo-liberal capitalism not, at least at this point, to challenge neo-liberalism (even in the name of defending capitalism!). Thus, combined with Obama's personality to begin negotiations from the middle and to seek bi- partisanship, he and his administration have been quite reluctant to go on the warpath against the irrationalist Right.

Commentators on the progressive side of the aisle have been pointing to the fact that something needs to be done in the face of this right/white backlash. The assumption is that we must lay out a set of tactics for President Obama to choose from such that he can take the lead. I would suggest an alternative course.

In the wake of death of Senator Ted Kennedy I found myself thinking about the relationship of the Civil Rights Movement to President John Kennedy. Using the logic of many of today's progressives, the focal point of the Civil Rights Movement would have been appeals to President Kennedy. That was, in fact, exactly what the Civil Rights Movement did NOT do. The Civil Rights Movement had a set of objectives, with the idea of outlawing Jim Crow segregation at the center. Demands were placed upon President Kennedy, but the movement did not wait for Kennedy to act. Instead, they created an environment in which he had to act.

This is a critical lesson today. Progressive forces should not be waiting for President Obama to act. Many people realize this implicitly, such as those who continue to demand Medicare for all, despite the fact that President Obama removed that from the table. Yet in the face of the irrationalist Right, progressives must mobilize on different fronts. We see evidence that this is happening, but we need to up the tempo. The developing campaign against the inflammatory right- wing pundit Glenn Beck is a case in point. Pressuring his sponsors to drop him is of incredible importance, yet we must go further. Progressives must debunk, in the public arena, everything that comes out of his mouth. We must put him on the defensive such that regular, everyday people question his sanity and not just the accuracy of his remarks.

In the face of the disruptions of the healthcare town halls, there could have been greater progressive mobilization. While it was great that Congressman Barney Frank took on some of the idiots, progressives needed to be inside and outside these town halls, not only holding signs but blocking attempts at disruption. Frankly, if we have the numbers, the irrationalist Right will shrink, but they will not shrink simply because we plead for rational debate. They are not interested in rational debate; they are interested in destabilizing the Obama administration and blocking any efforts at progressive change.

The other day I had a discussion with a progressive individual who attended one of those town hall meetings. He noted that otherwise reasonable people seemed quite willing to believe completely irrational and illogical assertions from the political Right. In periods of crisis, such a phenomenon arises from the deep, sort of along the lines of a red tide coming ashore. Regular people are looking for answers, and they tend to look for answers that correspond to the belief system which has shaped them. This is what makes the language and message of the right-wing populists so tempting.

Beating the Right cannot rely on Obama. It necessitates a level of self-reliance among progressives that focuses on identifying the nature of the crisis; moving real struggles for significant structural reforms, struggles that involve regular people rather than lobbying campaigns; and efforts to expose and crush the political Right. The Right must be understood at a mass level for what they are, harbingers of hell. That will only happen when progressives offer genuine alternatives and mechanisms for achieving them.

BlackCommentator.com Executive Editor, Bill Fletcher, Jr., is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum and co-author of, Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path toward Social Justice (University of California Press), which examines the crisis of organized labor in the USA.


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