If you want to read a sales pitch for voting Democrat that shows a mastery of Gus Hall’s political rhetoric second to none, I heartily recommend Bill Fletcher’s article Enthusiasm?: I Am Not Interested in Things Getting Worse! on the Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) website. The PDA was launched in 2004 by Tim Carpenter, a Dennis Kucinich staffer. Fletcher is an erstwhile radical who has carved out a career in high-level policy jobs, his latest as a “senior scholar” with the Institute of Policy Studies, a left-liberal think-tank with close ties to the Nation Magazine.
After taking a couple of anti-emetic pills, I feel prepared to give Fletcher’s piece a close reading. He starts off by chiding people who forgot that Obama was “not coming into D.C. with a red flag, a pink flag or a purple flag.” Actually, nobody expected anything like that. All they were expecting is action on a number of items that Obama promised his supporters, like EFCA for the trade unions, closing down Guantanamo, and—most importantly—a resolution of the financial crisis. On that last item, Fletcher admits that “President Obama chose to surround himself with advisers who either did not want to appear to believe or in fact did not believe that dramatic structural reforms were necessary in order to address the depth of the economic and environmental crises we face.”
But don’t you dare blame Obama for picking scumbags like Timothy Geithner or Lawrence Summers. The fault, dear pwogwessives, is not in the stars but in ourselves that we are underlings:
Unfortunately, the main problem rests neither with the Obama administration nor the Democrats in Congress. It rests with the failure of the social forces that elected them to keep the pressure on. Too many of us expected results without continuous demand.
Get that? If only we were carrying out our duties to pressure Obama from the left, like the unemployed did during the early days of FDR’s presidency, then we could have gotten a new New Deal. Well, that assumes that we had an incipient FDR in the White House rather than the Herbert Hoover that resides there now. The Nation Magazine, Bill Fletcher and so many other liberals who repeat this argument have conned themselves into believing that sufficient pressure was the key to genuine reform.
On November 15, 2008 the now defunct Air America, a primary outlet in its day for this kind of addled thinking, aired a discussion with a group of Obama supporters when “change” and “hope” were in the air, like the scent of magnolia blossoms. Mark Green—a sleazy NYC politician and president of the radio station–asked people like Katrina Vanden Heuvel, the editor of The Nation and a ubiquitous defender of Obama on cable TV news shows, to hold forth on the great new period opening up. She responded:
I think there are lessons to be drawn, Mark. I think they’re close. And yes, the Nation is one of the few publications which one lived through the first New Deal and did an issue on the 75th anniversary of the New Deal. But I think history shows us that Franklin Delano Roosevelt was compelled to abandon caution because of the great traumas of his day — the Great Depression gave him little choice but to be bold. And it was the great popular social movement of his time, working outside his administration, the unions at that time, that put pressure on FDR to carry out bolder reforms.
Leaving aside the question of exactly how “bold” FDR’s policies were (it is, for example, rather clear that WWII ended the Depression, not public works projects or Keynesian fiscal policy), it should have been obvious to those who had not drunk the kool-aid that we did not have an FDR to put pressure on:
But, like Hoover, Obama has been unable to make his actions live up to his words. Health care is being gummed to death on Capitol Hill. Obama has done nothing to pass “card check” provisions that would facilitate union organization and quietly announced that he would not seek stronger labor and environmental protections in NAFTA. He has capitulated on cap-and-trade in the budget outline and never even bothered to push for an actual carbon tax. Only minuscule portions of the stimulus bill or his budget proposals were dedicated to mass transit, and his indifference to the issue—what must be a major component of any serious effort to go green—was reflected in his appointment of a mediocre Republican time-server, Ray LaHood, as his transportation secretary.
Still worse is Obama’s decision to leave the reordering of the financial world solely to Larry Summers and Timothy Geithner, both of whom played such a major role in deregulating Wall Street and bringing on the disaster in the first place. It’s as if, after winning election in 1932, FDR had brought Andrew Mellon back to the Treasury. Just as Herbert Hoover could not, in the end, break away from the best economic advice of the 1920s, Barack Obama is sticking with the “key men” of the 1990s. The predictable result is that, even as he claims to recognize the interlocking nature of the problems facing us and vows to solve them as a whole, the president is in fact abandoning most of his program, at least for the time being.
That’s from Kevin Baker’s article Barack Hoover Obama: The best and the brightest blow it again that appeared in the June 2009 Harper’s Magazine. Harper’s, a liberal magazine with a history going back to the abolitionist movement like The Nation, is distinguished by its superior grasp of the futility of Democratic Party politics.
After stating that he is not interested in listing “the bad calls or stands with which I disagree”, he repeats the argument that can be found on the CPUSA website:
I am focusing on those on the right attempting to move in, and frankly they are an unsettling bunch. You see, my enthusiasm for voting rests on the fact that I am not interested in people who worship ignorance, intolerance, war and the strengthening of a plutocracy increasing their grip on power and pulling this country any further to the right than it currently is. In other words, the challenge for progressives is two-fold: one, to beat back the irrationalist right; and, two, to move against the right-wing of the Democratic Party and to push for real change.
Of course, this is a position that will remain true as long as electoral politics is defined as a contest between the two major capitalist parties. The Republicans will keep moving to the right and the Democrats will move along with them, except not as precipitously. Essentially, you have had a choice since the Carter presidency between a Republican Party that is more awful day-by-day and a Democratic Party that represents itself as “not as awful”.
Since he is an erstwhile radical who has probably read Karl Marx at some point in his life, you’d think that he’d understand the nature of bourgeois politics. After all, the Democratic Party has been an enemy of social change throughout its history, a function of its class character. Expecting something otherwise is understandable if you are an unsophisticated liberal, like most of us were until we got hit by the lightning bolts from reading Marx.
I would suggest that there is a class explanation for this, to revert to our Marxist heritage that so many seem willing to renounce. In 1914, Lenin was outraged by the social democratic capitulation to war. He understood this as a co-opting of the left by the ruling class through the privileges that accrue from lofty trade union posts, the parliamentary perks afforded to deputies, etc. In our day, we are faced with the same kind of corruption but it comes from somewhat different sources. Outfits like the Institute for Policy Studies, Fletcher’s employer, are funded by the liberal wing of the bourgeoisie. Start-up funding was secured from Sears heir Philip Stern and banker James Warburg.
While the Philip Sterns and James Warburgs of the world are anxious to fund any initiative that will make the system more equitable, they will not tolerate any serious challenge to private property. Finding ex-radicals like Bill Fletcher to serve as policy analysts is a marriage made in heaven. It provides the ex’es with a pleasant and prestigious occupation, while it helps to maintain the ideological consensus that There Is No Alternative to Barack Obama.
I just had some truly frustrating exchanges with Fletcher. He said he didn’t care about my criticisms but thought that people would not take me seriously because I wasn’t accurate about his CV. Since he singled out my reference to him as a policy wonk as an example, I changed that to “high level policy jobs”. In any case, here’s his CV for what its worth:
Bill Fletcher, Jr., is the Chairman of the Board of Directors for the International Labor Rights Forum, Executive Editor of The Black Commentator and founder of the Center for Labor Renewal. A longtime labor, racial justice and international activist, he is the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum, a national non-profit organization organizing, educating and advocating for policies in favor of the peoples of Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America. Fletcher is also a founder of the Black Radical Congress and is a Senior Scholar for the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC.
As if that will compensate for shilling for Barack Obama Hoover.