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August 15th, 2008
12:29 PM ET

Progressives in the Obama Moment

Robert L. Borosage & Katrina vanden Heuvel
The Nation

 
Electric. When Barack Obama receives the Democratic presidential nomination before 75,000 people in Denver's Mile High Stadium on the forty-fifth anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, new possibilities will be born. A historic candidacy, a new generation in motion, a nation yearning for change. Even the cynics running the McCain campaign might be touched, if they weren't so busy savaging Obama as a vain celebrity not up to the task of leading a nation.

No one should be blinded by the lights. It will take hard work to turn the nomination into victory in a campaign that has already turned ugly. Moreover, even if victorious, Obama will inherit the calamitous conditions wrought by conservative failures–a sinking economy, unsustainable occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan, accelerating climate change, Gilded Age inequality, a broken healthcare system and much more.

Obama will also be limited by the constricted consensus of an establishment not yet able to contemplate the changes needed to set this country right again. To be successful, his presidency will have to be bolder and more radical than now imagined.

A historic candidate, the forbidding conditions and the constricted consensus make it vital that progressives think clearly and act independently in forging a strategy over the next months. The following is a contribution to a rich and ongoing discussion. We invite others to join it at thenation.com in the weeks to come.

A Sea-Change Election

The Obama nomination sets the stage for a sea-change election, one that could not only elect a Democratic President and increased reform majorities in both houses of Congress but also mark a clear turn from the conservative ideas that have dominated our politics for three
decades.

In recent weeks, the media–primed by a Republican strategy contrasting
Obama's purported doublespeak with McCain's alleged Straight Talk–have
focused on Obama's compromises and backsliding. Much of the alleged
retrenchment has been exaggerated. Some of it–like his fold on the FISA
wiretap bill, mixed signals on trade, the compromise on offshore
drilling–has been clear and deplorable. Many on the left were dismayed
as the Obama campaign trotted out advisers from a Democratic bench that
had championed the toxic Rubinomics brew of corporate trade and
financial deregulation.

These concerns should not distract us from the central reality: this
election features a stark ideological contrast. Although marketed as a
trustworthy maverick, McCain accurately describes himself as a "foot
soldier in the Reagan revolution" and attests that "on the transcendent
issues, the most important issues of our day, I've been totally in
agreement and support of President Bush." He is committed to the full
Bush catastrophe: continued war in Iraq, more tax cuts for the
wealthiest, more corporate trade deals, more deregulation, more
hostility toward labor, more conservative social policies and
reactionary judges. Indeed, he's Bush on steroids. McCain seeks not only
to privatize Social Security but also to unravel employer-based
healthcare, leaving people to negotiate alone with insurance companies
liberated from regulation. His bellicose posturing on Iran and Iraq is
as disastrous as his pledge of impossibly deep cuts in domestic
programs. He embraces the corporate economic and trade agenda that has
so devastated the American middle class. If he is defeated, it will mark
the end of the Reagan era.

Obama clearly offers a change of course. His victory in itself will
require overcoming the racial fears that have so long divided this
country. He carries a reform agenda–largely driven by
progressives–into the election: an end to the occupation of Iraq, using
the money squandered there to rebuild America; affordable healthcare for
all, paid for by raising taxes on the wealthy; a concerted drive for
energy independence, generating jobs while investing in renewable energy
and conservation. He is committed to empowering labor, to holding
corporations and banks more accountable and to challenging our trade
policies. A social liberal, his judicial appointees will keep the right
from consolidating its hold on the federal judiciary. Obama may not be a
"movement" progressive in the way that Reagan was a "movement"
conservative, and he may have disappointed activists with his recent
compromises, but make no mistake: his election will open a new era of
reform, the scope of which will depend–as Obama often says–on
independent progressive mobilization to keep the pressure on and
overcome entrenched interests.

As this is written, an election Obama should win handily is locked in a
virtual tie. Both the Obama and McCain campaigns treat the race as a
referendum on Obama, with the former focused on getting Americans
comfortable with trusting a young African-American with an unusual name,
and the Rove minions in the McCain campaign intent on stoking the fears
that enabled them to assemble a white majority party in the past.

Obama's campaign will not succeed without the independent efforts of
progressive activists. One central task is winning support among wary
white blue-collar workers, the core target of the Rovian poison. This
will require persuasion as well as mobilization; the work of the
AFL-CIO, Change to Win, Working America, religious groups and others
with a base in these communities in swing states will be of critical
importance.

Progressives generally–and independent media and the blogosphere
specifically–can contribute by reminding voters there's a clear choice
in this election, with McCain representing the same old, same old. While
exposing McCain's doubletalk, his Bush-redux agenda and the money and
interests behind the scurrilous right-wing independent expenditure
campaigns, progressives can also help build support for reform. The new
Health Care for America Now coalition, for example, has the resources to
expose McCain's healthcare folly, thereby building a mandate for
universal coverage. The antiwar movement should be challenging McCain's
saber-rattling on Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan, helping to strengthen US
support for a change in course. With gas prices at the center of
American concerns, the environmental alliance around jobs and energy can
consolidate support for a concerted drive toward energy independence,
while challenging absurd claims that we can drill our way out of the
crisis.

Read the full story...

soundoff (63 Responses)
  1. wdr

    Paris,

    So, I take it that, McCain is the leader you feel we need? Get a grip. I just don't understand how you Republicans think? President Bush and his administration has taken the American people on a ride to hell! We now have a chance to turn this thing around, and all you Republicans do is blast negative comments at a "fresh face and ideas" Presidential Candidate. Let me ask you Republicans one question: Of all the money this administration has pocketed at our expense, how much of it has been shared with you all? Bottomline is, none! You complain at the gas pumps, the grocery store, the doctors/hospital, the housing market, low wages, rising prices, just like all other American citizens. However, as we can now see, you people (Republicans) have no rhyme or reason as to how you come-up with your decisions to support someone who's platform offers nothing different from what we are getting now. Finally, maybe, just maybe, Paris, you can share with us, what it is that McCain offer that's any different from what you have now? Oh, and don't forget, that had he really wanted to make a difference on the lives of the American people, he's had over 22 years to do it! Now, it's too late! Let's get some "Fresh Blood and Fresh Ideas" to take us forward into the 21st century!!

    August 18, 2008 at 9:23 am |
  2. Robert Hermanson

    In reading these comments, I am amazed that there are so many
    angry, emotional people out there. It's scarry that they will be using
    their incompancy when they vote. Hopefully, their hateful attitudes
    ill keep them at home instead of voting

    August 18, 2008 at 6:44 am |
  3. Kanaka Hawaii

    You really can't fault McCain and the Rove-Republicans for doing their jobs, that is divide and conquer. How else are they going to ascend?
    If Senator Obama wants to win he'll have to extend his hand across the Great Divide (aka Congress) and invite an Eagle Scout to join him.

    August 18, 2008 at 5:31 am |
  4. Rosie

    What a sad day we live in when we, who are suppose to be setting an example for the world, as a beacon light of hope, have become so caught up in our own way of doing things, until we no longer recognize a man who takes his christian principles serious, and will not tarnish them by catering to the will of the people.
    We, as a Country, have become so accustom to candidates who play on our emotions, until we can no longer relate to one who speak to us as being equal in reasoning power.
    For many decades we have voted, into office, those who talked tough, made tough promises, and displayed aggressive behavior, but where are we, as a Country, today?
    We are in a war we should not be in: on the verge of a recession, and our Country is in the pawn shop. But yet we continue to be deceived by those who talk tough; make tough promises, and display aggressive behavior.
    Obama's toughness is not in aggressive action but a strong faith. His ability to back up what he says, can not be done by tough talk; tough promises, nor a display of aggressive behavior, but a strong and unyielding faith in the God in whom he believe. For according to his faith, so shall it be done during his administration. Have we forgot that God lives, and is true to his Word?

    August 18, 2008 at 1:18 am |
  5. Texas Teacher

    Thank you, Anderson Cooper, I think I just realized that I am a Progressive rather than a Democrat. I could never be a Republican, I'm not rich.

    August 17, 2008 at 11:53 pm |
  6. Trisha

    Will these “holier than thou” Christians face their Maker and claim that they were thinking of unborn fetuses instead of the important issues that face this nation? Or is it truly that most of them are in that upper class wealthy group that does not want any chance of paying the least bit of more taxes.

    I noticed R. Warren laughed when Obama mentioned how much money he makes. Obama obviously hit the nail on the head, but most people will not see that side of the issue. They are not sharp enough to catch the intelligent innuendo that Obama made. They will instead see that Warren is trying to be fair to both sides when what he is really doing is stumping for McCain.

    Too bad, America, it seems everyone is against us and few intelligent enough to see the trees for the forest. Republicans are selling this country down the tubes. McCain will only move ahead with that agenda. Obama is a well educated man who sees where this country is headed if we continue on the path we are on. But people are so afraid of change that they will stay with what is killing them than risk the chance to change things for the better that Obama is offering.

    Thank you, Anderson Cooper, for this article which is a breath of fresh air in the media rush to glorify McCain.

    August 17, 2008 at 11:38 pm |
  7. Trisha

    A refreshing article that is relatively NOT biased against Obama to McCain. I just read the percentage of people favoring Obama is 47% compared to 4!% for McCain on the CNN website. I have not heard one report of this on the news. What I keep hearing is that the candidates are neck and neck in the polls. I was truly stunned when I read the polls for myself.

    Thank you, Anderson Cooper, for being the only news source on CNN that seems to be truly impartial. I know that totally grinds the Right. They are so used to screaming Media Left Bias and getting everyone to start favoring McCain or whomever they are running. If media is not kissing Republican butt.

    I am exhausted with watching what appears to me to be a Media endorsed McCain love fest, which will only bring us at least four more years of the Bush fiasco. I post what are sound arguments to what has been said and they never get posted. And yet I read very poorly thought out attacks that make it to the pages of the CNN political blogs. I'm exhausted with trying to be a voice for honesty and the Obama truths against McCain lies and attacks. Do people including Media truly want four more years of what we have?

    Will these "holier than thou" Christians face their Maker and claim that they were thinking of unborn fetuses instead of the important issues that face this nation? Or is it truly that most of them are in that upper class wealthy group that does not want any chance of paying the least bit of more taxes.

    I noticed R. Warren laughed when Obama mentioned how much money he makes. Obama obviously hit the nail on the head, but most people will not see that side of the issue. They are not sharp enough to catch the intelligent innuendo that Obama made. They will instead see that Warren is trying to be fair to both sides when what he is really doing is stumping for McCain.

    Too bad, America, it seems everyone is against us and few intelligent enough to see the trees for the forest. Republicans are selling this country down the tubes. McCain will only move ahead with that agenda.

    August 17, 2008 at 11:32 pm |
  8. penny from North Carolina

    This is great reading. I hope no one is stupid enough to put an adulterer like Johni McCain in the office of president, we will be fine. Futhermore, he isn't th smartest guy, "oh, we had one of those already". Please, Please not another FOUR MORE LONG YEARS and John McCains "TOO OLD". He did say he is old as dirt.

    August 17, 2008 at 10:23 pm |
  9. CaseyJ - Palm Springs, CA

    Honestly, if many of you would tone it down a little and present more rational commentary, this Independent voter could save a lot of time while tyring to find the meat. It's a real challenge for an average guy (like me) to wade through a political article like this one–there are plenty of nuances and references to make my head spin.

    I don't know a conservative publication from a liberal one and I don't care. I do know there are people on both sides who I've come to respect on the 360 blogs and I sincerely count on them to challenge my perspective and getting me to think for myself (thanks Mike, Gary, Cindy, etal). It's disheartening and does little to sway me when both sides are throwing barbs and insults (ok, I like to do that too, but it doesn't win friends when you're trying to educate or persuade people to adopt your perspective).

    I remember nancy Pelosi's very first election in California (what happened since then?), but attaching her to the Obama train simply by association (and blaming Obama) is ridiculous. It seems apparent John McCain is simply acting desperate and not himself, saying absolutely anything to get elected.

    No candidate, or president, acts on his own. Haven't we seen enough of this from the Bush Administration to "get it?" The President will become the sum of the talent he surrounds himself with, period. Up until the time we have a new President it's a crap shoot, isn't it?

    For the record, labor is as crooked as big business. If you want to label me, I would be a Democrat with Republican tendencies. That said, there is ONE motivating factor that I am crystal clear about. It's time everyone in this country was treated according to the protections provided by our Constitution and to that end I'm eager to smack conservative biggots across the face by shoving an African American president down their throats. This, from an average "Independent" guy.

    August 17, 2008 at 9:34 pm |
  10. Pat

    Robert and Katrina I commend you on your article but have to say, more would likely have taken the time to read it had you been more concise, None the less, I did, and found it very interesting. It makes up for Cowley's and Schnider's blinder attacks on Obama's performance in the Forum. I think someone should get each of them a pair of 3D Non Glare Glasses. If McCain had done even a quarter as well on the Forum as they suggested I"d be voting for him and that will never happen!

    To all the Obama attackers – if the last eight years haven't changed your mind on the Republican brand of Politics your too far gone for me to even waste my time with a comment. Nothing short of being hit with a lightning rod would be of any use! The Republican Mantra should be, "If you love Misery, War, Recession, Medical Bills, Seniors, Senility,and Bush – McCain is your Man! This message has been approved by Dick Cheney and Karl Rove!

    August 17, 2008 at 7:23 pm |
  11. J--Oklahoma

    Although congress has a Democratic majority, it is VERY slight. In the senate it is none existant since Dem. # 51 is Liberman, not really a democrat at all. I too believe that the present congress has achieved little, but much of this has to do with the fact that both house are still so evenly divided and that there is a repbulican in the white house threatening to veto every other bill.

    The article is bias towards Obama. I am assuming that it was a piece by and to "democratic progressives," hence the title. Overall, CNN has the candidates of both opinions expressed within their multiple shows.

    Everyone should quit being so hateful and focus and how our nation's problems can be solved together as Americans.

    August 17, 2008 at 3:48 pm |
  12. PresidentBoyle

    Boyle: Abortion is a Death Sentence
    Thomas Boyle is the Moderate Democrat Nominee-Wanabe for the Democratic Nomination in August in Denver. Abortion should be treated like a Death Sentence, very sparingly, in a court of law with due process for the unborn rights, Full community support to bring the child to term and expanded adoption procedures. Boyle supports Civil Unions with the statement: 'Why can't two single parent Mothers create a two parent family unit for the benefit of the Children, the Mothers, and the Senior Citizen tax payers who are paying for schools failing, jails filling and an unworkable workforce becuse we are denying a child the two parents it needs to become a productive citizen?' Children do not care where their parents come from just as long as the LOVE is there. From the PresidentBoyle website. Boyle broke the Price of Oil on July 14th with his
    NO STRIKE FIRST Peace Plan Oil dropped like a rock.

    August 17, 2008 at 1:58 pm |
  13. seah ohio

    You Have started the Coronation Ceremony for Obama.

    The General Election Campaign has not officially started yet.

    Yes it will make History, Yes it will be all about Race, Yes it will be all about Him. Yes it will make him a Super Star.

    That may be all well and Good for him.

    It is no good for the Country

    It is no good for the People of the Country

    August 17, 2008 at 11:49 am |
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