Monday, April 23, 2012

Politics as Strategy, and as Self-Expression

Bill Fletcher: My Frustration with the

Left when It Comes to Electoral Politics

By Bill Fletcher
Progressive America Rising via Organizing Upgrade

I was recently asked to participate on a panel regarding the Left and electoral politics. I declined.  For many people this may seem strange since I have been a very strong proponent of the Left looking at electoral politics strategically.  Well, that is all true but I have encountered a problem and maybe you can help me resolve it.

Most Left “debates” on electoral politics take a very predictable route.  It looks something like this:

Electoral politics will not bring about socialism and freedom. The Democrats have consistently sold us out. They are the party of the rich. The Republicans and the Democrats are two wings of the same evil bird of prey. We need an alternative. Therefore, either:

Abstain from electoral politics and wait till the masses, in their millions rise up against capitalism, or… Create a pure, anti-corporate (if not anti-capitalist) third party right now and start running in elections even if we do not have a snow-ball’s chance in hell of winning.

What I have found striking about this line of thought, and the so-called debates that unfold around it, is that they are actually un-political and lack any sort of concrete analysis.

Let’s be clear so that we do not have a needless exchange.  Electoral politics under democratic capitalism will not result in our freedom.  Second, the Democrats are not the party of the working class.  So, now that we have that out of the way, what do we do?

Electoral politics is a field of struggle.  It is an arena.  On that arena, however, we on the Left can do two things: participate in the struggle for popular power and raise issues that have the possibility of gaining greater attention.  Much of the Left focuses on the latter and ignores the former.  Many who focus on the struggle for power, however, abdicate being Left altogether.  Therein exists the challenge.

Given the undemocratic nature of the US electoral system, a concrete analysis of the USA (rather than other countries) means that we have to grapple with what it means that in most elections independent, third party candidacies fail and are viewed as spoilers.  There are certainly historical exceptions, but those exceptions prove the general rule.  This means that a concrete examination of US electoral politics must focus on the notion that a third party movement on the Left will more than likely result from an “insurrection” within the Democratic Party and a major section of its base (with the character of such an “insurrection” being more of a united front rather than a pure, Left challenge).  This is to be counterposed with the idea that such a party arises out of nothing, or to put it in its best case, out of generalized popular discontent.

So, if we on the Left really want to discuss electoral politics we must examine a concrete question: what do we do in the USA given the nature of the electoral system? If your answer is to simply raise the red flag of radicalism to see who salutes, with all due respect, you are not serious about politics; you are stuck in the world of pure ideology.

The larger challenge for the Left in electoral politics is conducting the fight, in and through our mass organizations, for the recognition of the need for an independent, progressive program that represents the interests of the downtrodden and the dispossessed.  We should not start with organization in the abstract, but with program.  We then need to figure out under what conditions we run people within Democratic Party primaries and under what circumstances we run independently.  Always, I should add, recognizing that this is a fight within the context of democratic capitalism for structural reforms, thereby laying the basis for the longer-term struggle for socialism...

…That is, if we are interested in the fight for power rather than just being ‘correct.’ But, alas, it will mean that we will need to get a bit untidy in the alliances we will need to build.

Show me a ‘purist’ revolution and I will show you a bridge that you can buy for almost nothing.


Saturday, April 21, 2012

Why Republicans Must Be Defeated

New Curbs on Voter Registration Could Hurt Obama and Undermine Democracy

By Deborah Charles
Progressive America Rising via Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - New state laws designed to fight voter fraud could reduce the number of Americans signing up to vote in this year's presidential election by hundreds of thousands, a potential problem for President Barack Obama's re-election bid.

Voting laws passed by Republican-led legislatures in a dozen states during the past year have sharply restricted voter-registration drives that typically target young, low-income, African-American and Hispanic voters - groups that have backed the Democratic president by wide margins.

A further 16 states are considering bills that would end voter registration on election days, impose a range of limits on groups that register voters and make it more difficult for people to sign up, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School.

The new laws - many of which include measures requiring voters to show a photo ID at the polls - could carve into Obama's potential support in Florida, Ohio and a few other politically divided states likely to be crucial in the November 6 election, analysts say.

The analysts note that massive registration drives in 2008 helped put millions of people aged 18 to 29 on voting rolls, and that age group - which makes up roughly one-quarter of the U.S. electorate - helped propel Obama to victory, voting 2-to-1 for him.

Rock the Vote, a nationwide organization that mobilizes young voters, said the new laws would make it more difficult for the group to educate people on how to sign up to vote.

"The types of laws have varied, but state by state they've added up to the fact that it's going to be harder for young people to get registered and vote in this election cycle," said Heather Smith, president of Rock the Vote.

"We have a very busy year ahead of us, and a very important one," she added. "What a shame if we can't continue to engage this generation in the political process because these laws have made it harder."


Rock the Vote, which registered a record 2.25 million young voters in 2008, has set a considerably lower target this year: 1.5 million. The group says the drop is because of the new laws as well as the fact that unlike 2008, this election year has had a competitive primary contest only among Republicans.

The League of Women Voters also could sign up fewer voters this year, partly because it has joined Rock the Vote in suspending voter registration drives in Florida as the groups challenge that state's new restrictions in court.

Another factor expected to drive down voter registration totals this year: the absence of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN, which registered more than 1 million mostly low-income voters in 2008.

Thousands of those registrations were for people who did not exist, submitted by ACORN-hired workers who were paid based on how many names they registered to vote.

The scandal helped lead to the demise of ACORN and inspire some of the anti-fraud laws affecting registration drives this year.

The episode involving ACORN, which folded in 2010 after it lost federal funding, showed a need for the new anti-fraud laws, said Brian Darling, a senior fellow for government studies at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Like other conservatives, Darling rejected the notion that Republican-led legislatures had passed the laws to try to prevent certain groups from voting.

"There have been problems of voters being registered who weren't real voters," Darling said. "Just look at the ACORN scandal."

The new laws have led to a flurry of lawsuits across the country.


The new anti-fraud election laws vary from state to state, but Florida's has received much attention largely because the state will be crucial in determining the winner of the November 6 presidential election.

Last May, Florida Governor Rick Scott, a Republican, signed a law that imposes tough new restrictions on third-party groups if they do not turn in voter registration forms quickly.

State legislators in Florida - the state at the center of the disputed 2000 presidential election won by Republican George W. Bush - said the law was aimed at preventing fraud and adding credibility to elections.

But the groups that try to register voters say the law - which requires the groups to register with the state and turn in voter forms within 48 hours of obtaining them or face at least $5,000 in fines - are onerous and discriminatory.

The law also cuts the number of days for early voting and no longer allows voting on the Sunday before Election Day. Some activists said that unfairly targeted blacks and Hispanics, who went to the polls in large numbers the Sunday before Election Day in 2008 through programs called "Pews to the Polls" and "Souls to the Polls.

In Ohio, another crucial state in the election, the Obama campaign has asked supporters to rally against a proposal to curtail early voting, arguing weekend polling hours allow many workers more of a chance to vote.


Other states' voting laws complicate things for groups seeking to register voters.

In Wisconsin, new laws require licensing for anyone who registers someone else to vote, and the rules for licensing vary in the state's 1,800 municipalities.

That could mean a volunteer for a voting drive in a school district would have to take a course and get licensed in a dozen different municipalities in that one school district, said Jeannette Senecal, director of elections for the League of Women Voters.

Senecal called Florida's law the most "extreme" of the new regulations. She said the impact was already being felt across the state, with about 81,000 fewer voters registered this year than at the same time in 2008.

"Since they're making it more difficult for organizations like ourselves to participate in the process," Senecal said, "it does cut back on the amount of opportunity that we have to register these unregistered voters."

Senior Obama campaign officials would not comment. But in some states, the campaign began its own voter registration efforts earlier than it did in 2008, to try to make up for the impact of the new laws.

The Heritage Foundation's Darling said Democrats and voter registration groups were overplaying the impact of the new laws.

"Voter registration drives are great and all that, but it's not the end-all and be-all of voting," he said. "If (people are)going to vote, they should take the initiative to go register themselves."

(Additional reporting by Eric Johnson in Chicago; Editing by David Lindsey and Peter Cooney)


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Anti-Austerity: The Progressive Majority Option

A Budget to Rebuild America:

Now Elect a Congress to Pass It.

Editorial, The Nation

April 4, 2012 - Representative Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney kept relatively straight faces as they used their first campaign swing together, on the eve of the primary in Ryan’s home state of Wisconsin, to celebrate the “courage” of their austerity budget. That was no small task, as there is nothing more comic than “corporations are people, my friend” conservatives suggesting that it requires fortitude to propose tax cuts for the rich and a restructuring of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security that would steer trillions toward insurance firms and Wall Street speculators.

What’s truly comic, though, is the notion that Ryan’s plan is intended to cut the debt. He admits, albeit quietly, that under his scheme it would take decades to get the government’s fiscal house in order. But that’s not the point. If a Romney/­Ryan administration (yes, Ryan now says he would consider accepting a place on the GOP ticket) were to enact the House Budget Committee chair’s plan, it would make the wealthy much wealthier while dramatically expanding the “shared sacrifice” of working Americans, the elderly and the disabled. President Obama aptly described it as “nothing but thinly veiled social Darwinism.”

Ryan’s agenda is better understood as the latest variation on GOP schemes to redistribute wealth upward. But there’s a new willingness among a growing number of Democrats—perhaps spurred by the spirit of Occupy Wall Street and the 99 percent movements—to counter the austerity lie. President Obama’s budg­et, which like the Ryan plan is more an election-year manifesto than a fiscal outline, is a step in the right direction, with proposed tax hikes for the wealthy, respect for entitlement programs and a gentle embrace of new stimulus spending. But the best proposals have been put forth by the Congressional Progressive Caucus and Senator Tom Harkin.

Both the CPC’s “Budget for All”  and Harkin’s “Rebuild America Act” recognize that the logical starting point in balancing budgets is to ask the wealthiest to pay their share. To that end, the CPC budget ends tax cuts for the top 2 percent; creates new brackets for millionaires and billionaires (including adopting the Buffett Rule); eliminates preferential treatment for capital gains and dividends; abolishes welfare for oil, gas and coal companies; and eliminates loopholes that allow businesses to dodge taxes. Both proposals suggest a financial transactions tax not just to raise revenues but to clamp down on Wall Street speculation.

This approach is a nonstarter with Congressional Republicans and also with too many Democrats, perhaps in part because the corporate media have mostly ignored the progressive alternatives. But numerous surveys show that Americans prefer taxing the rich over cutting Social Security and Medicare. They also support investment in infrastructure and job creation. That should be a lesson for Democrats this election year: the winning alternative to Romney/Ryan austerity is not kinder, gentler Democratic austerity. As AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka says, it’s smart economics and smart politics to demand that “shared sacrifice start at the top—with Wall Street and the wealthiest Americans.” 

In this election season, progressives must highlight the stark differences between Ryan’s budget and the alternatives offered by the CPC and Harkin. We must not merely reject the false promises and cruel calculations of Romney/Ryan austerity. We must elect a Congress that demands accountability, taxes fairly, defends the safety net and spends to rebuild America.


Saturday, April 7, 2012

Rightwing ‘Socialism’: A GOP plan signed by Obama

GOP Version of the ‘Pottery Barn Rule’:

‘We break it, we blame you ... and call you a Nazi.’

By Tina Dupuy
Fall River Herald News

Calling ObamaCare “socialized medicine” truly lowers the standards on what could be considered socialized medicine. It’s like calling paved roads “government overreach”; a stop light a “government takeover of your commute”; or a neighborhood with speed bumps “a road to communism.” The law is really some regulations to help consumers buy private insurance coupled with a small fee if consumers decide not to buy said insurance.

Is it perfect? No. Could it be improved? Absolutely. However, ObamaCare is the opposite of socialism — it’s a market solution.

The right-wing got a “free” market solution to health care. That was their cause — personal responsibility their mantra — now it’s law. They got an entire reform bill incentivizing citizens to buy into private for-profit insurance plans. This is the Republican vision for America: Less government more profits for giant corporations. This core of the Affordable Care Act was an idea floated by President Nixon in 1974, touted by the Heritage Foundation in 1989, introduced by Newt Gingrich in 1993 and implemented by Mitt Romney in 2005. And now? Now it’s a big festering albatross around Obama’s neck.

As former presidential candidate Michele Bachmann said in front of the Supreme Court last week, “We have not waved the white flag of surrender on socialized medicine!”

So the decades-old Republican big idea finally gets Democratic presidential ink and now, if you ask a Republican, it’s an unconstitutional government takeover of health care Stalin would have loved. Mitt Romney wants to repeal ObamaCare and replace it with RomneyCare. Essentially repealing the Affordable Care Act with the Affordable Care Act. Leave it to a Republican frontrunner to vow their first act as president will be to waste time with redundancies while lamenting how ineffective government can be.

Now that health care reform has reached the Supreme Court, we will have a ruling on the law in late June. Will it be overturned fully or partially or upheld? It’s anyone’s guess.

Regardless of the outcome, personal responsibility in health care is a Republican pet idea they’ve strapped to the roof of the car.

It makes the case that their ideas should never be law because if partisanship beckons, they’ll rally against them and call any Democrats who signed the bill, Hitler.

Imagine if Obama signed the most recent Paul Ryan Budget plan — a blueprint to cut taxes further for the wealthy and further increase the debt by not taking in enough revenues. If Obama embraced it, Republicans would storm the Capitol calling it a tax hike and a Maoist plot with Wall Street. People in tri-corner hats with signs reading, “Don’t raise my taxes!” and “Stop government takeover of business!” would swarm The Mall. The erosion of Medicare would make Republicans faint on the House floor. “It’s a tenet of Marxism to kill grandma!” They’d gasp.

Just remember, when George W. Bush took office the budget was set to be balanced in a few short years. Social security was actually its namesake — secure. And then he went uber-GOP-with-a-mandate — didn’t pay for any of the wars he started — just showered seniors with unpaid-for Medicare Part D and sent everyone in the country a rebate check. And when this “free market capitalism” failed? He bailed out the banks and the auto industry with taxpayer money, famously saying he “abandoned free market principles to save the free market system.”

Now? Now the Republicans blame the deficit, the debt, the recession, the bailouts and (wait for it) the wars on the Democrat in the Oval Office.

It’s a take on the Pottery Barn rule, “You break it, you buy it.” The Republican version: “We break it, we blame you ... and call you a Nazi.”


Thursday, April 5, 2012

Health Care Campaign and the Supreme Court

Don’t Count on Single-Payer

Comeback Without a Fight

Young Democratic Socialists

April 4, 2012 - If the Supreme Court strikes down the Affordable Care Act (ACA), don’t worry: President Obama will push for a single-payer healthcare system. That’s the liberal spin on what could be a national embarrassment for the former constitutional law professor whose signature legislative achievement could be wiped out in June.

Again and again and again and again liberal pundits tell us that the Democrats will snap out of their centrist slumber if the Supreme Court strikes down the ACA. They’ll be radicalized and have no other choice but to turn to single-payer, so they say.

In “How Obamacare’s Rejection Would Lead to Single Payer,” Josh Barro writes: “SCOTUS striking down the law would also be likely to radicalize Democrats on the health issue… Rejection of Obamacare would likely lead to support for more radical policies among the liberal base and Democratic officeholders. They’ll be mad, and they’ll want to fight back.”

And “…with a bit of political jujitsu,” says Robert Reich, “the President could turn any such defeat into a victory for a single-payer healthcare system – Medicare for all.”

If only. But this line of thinking simply doesn’t fit President Obama’s history of consistently caving to the right for fear of being labeled a far-left socialist. In 2008 the Republicans wouldn’t bite on the public option. So, despite having a Democratic majority in the House and Senate, he moved to the right and supported the individual mandate (something he vehemently opposed before the 2008 election) and still didn’t get one Republican vote.

Those of us supporting a single-payer system must not be fooled by this argument. Winning national single-payer healthcare, no matter what the Supreme Court rules this summer, will be a battle fought tooth and nail against the for-profit health insurance corporations, the American Medical Association, and Big Pharma. It won’t simply be handed to us by President Obama or the Democratic party.

Same goes with the Employee Free Choice Act (dead), or closing Guantanamo (still open), or nixing the Keystone XL pipeline (we’ll build half of it), or ending the war in Iraq (18,000 troops still on the ground).

President Obama is a center-right leader, and we shouldn’t expect anything else.

Historical experience shows that a political defeat for the Obama administration won’t herald a radical shift to the left on healthcare policy. After Clinton lost his health reform battle (not even getting his bill out of committee in 1994) did he take a strong stance on single-payer–even though the single-payer bill in the House at that time had more co-sponsors than his own bill did? No. Instead, all we got was the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), which only covers about half of American children (Geyman, 226). A positive step, to be sure, but far short of an embrace of single-payer.

The overall message here is “do nothing.” Obama’s got this. Just get out and vote for him in November and everything will be fine. Don’t get mad at him and certainly don’t stay home on Election Day.

Don’t fall for it.

The Supreme Court’s decision won’t radicalize the Democrats or the President. Single-payer won’t be their only option. If the ACA goes down Obama will most likely drop the healthcare issue altogether or, less likely, rebrand the public option.

When liberal pundits say Medicare-for-all, they mean Medicare for all to buy–AKA a public option to compete in the market with private insurance. We know the public option won’t reduce costs or be universal or be equitable. Health Care for America Now, the $40 million health reform group, that supposedly backed a public option, and openly campaigned against single-payer, won’t come around so easily either. They’re busy trying to save face by backing Democrats and defending the individual mandate.

We want a truly universal single-payer healthcare system in which everyone in the US, undocumented immigrants included, have access to comprehensive coverage. A system with full women’s health benefits included. A system without copays or deductibles. Without for-profit hospitals, and without private insurance in the mix. As we know too well, the Democrats are quick to use women’s and immigrants’ health as a bargaining chip. We must not allow that.

It’s our job to continue to remind Congress and the President that there is an alternative to the status-quo. It will take a lot more marching, educating, and protesting before they hear us.

So we better keep organizing.

Jeff Muckensturm is on the national staff of Healthcare-NOW!, a national network of single-payer advocates and organizations. Find out more about the single-payer movement at or follow Healthcare-NOW! on Facebook and Twitter.


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