Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Ralph Nader & Cornel West: Nobody But Obama, but not just yet

Oct 1, 2011
Jesse Lessinger

A lot of people are getting fed up with the Obama administration. As well they should be. But it's not for the reasons the Right criticizes Obama.

Most people aren't angry because he's an out-of-control big-government, big-spending socialist. It's exactly the opposite. They're angry because, in the nearly three years of his first term, Obama has not passed any meaningful reform to help the millions of ordinary working people who can barely keep their heads above the rising floods of an enduring economic crisis. Instead we've had a pro-big business, war president whose policies have been indistinguishable from those of the Bush presidency.

Here's what a typical Republican agenda might look like: massive bank bailouts but no significant financial regulation, let alone the prosecution of massive criminal activity on Wall St, health care reform that amounts to a giant handout to the for-profit insurance and pharmaceutical industry, tax cuts for the rich, corporatized education reform, big oil destroying the environment and getting away with it, on-going wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the bombing of Libya, and support for brutal dictators. But this Republican agenda is precisely what we've had under Obama for the last 3 years.

The last straw for many was the debt deal made in August, which will include over $2 trillion in devastating cuts to needed social services. At every turn Obama seems to be bending over backwards to accommodate to the lunatic right-wing Republican opposition in Congress. For his 2008 supporters, Obama's administration has left nothing but a bitter taste in their mouths, while they stew in their growing anger, frustration, bewilderment, disappointment, and a sense of betrayal.

Shifting the Debate
Some on the left have called for a primary challenge to Obama in 2008. Now it appears that there are plans underway to do just that. Ralph Nader and Cornell West recently unveiled a plan calling for six progressive primary challengers each taking up a key issue that Obama has failed to address. The idea is to "rigorously debate his policies stands." Given the lack of criticism from the left in the mainstream media and tremendous pressure from the right, it's not surprising that the liberal left would look to the primaries to try to shift the debate.

There is a burning need for a real challenge to Obama from the left but will a primary debate work? Certainly, a Democratic primary with six challengers each taking up a progressive issue could force Obama to answer these criticisms and take a different tone. But, this could actually help Obama re-establish his liberal credentials in the eyes of progressives many of whom are rapidly losing faith if they haven't lost it altogether.

An energized base is what Obama desperately needs to be re-elected given the overwhelming disappointment. In 2010, the Republicans swept into office in Congress and state governments not because of a voter shift from Democrat to Republican but because so many voters who came out in 2008 inspired by the Obama campaign simply stayed at home on election day two years later.

But once Obama is elected as the Democratic Party presidential candidate, and if he wins a second term how will these primary challengers, and the Left, hope to hold Obama accountable to any of the promises he may make in the 2012 election campaign? They haven't been able to for the last three years. So once he's got your vote why should he listen? The only section of society that has his ear is big business, which is the main funder of Obama. Obama is already on track for a record fund-raising campaign, his biggest donors coming from Wall Street and giant corporations.

Lawrence O'Donnell, former Democratic Chief of Staff on the Senate Finance Committee, summed it all up: "If you don't show them that you are capable of not voting for them, they don't have to listen to you. I promise you that. I worked within the Democratic Party. I didn't listen or have to listen to anything on the left… because the left had nowhere to go."

Once these primary challengers lose the primaries will they go on to run a left independent challenge to Obama in the general election? They should. Otherwise they will reinforce the message that the Left is unwilling to stand up for its principles, and can once again be taken for granted by the Democrats. The only way to really pressure the Democrats from the Left is to break with them and begin to build, from the bottom up, a genuinely independent electoral challenge that poses a real threat.

A New Voice
It's time for a new voice in this country to be heard loud and clear speaking for the millions of working people that are desperately trying to make ends meet. A voice that is completely independent of the corrupt corporate money. A voice that is not shackled by the official channels of the Democratic Party which has only served to capture the hopes and frustration of millions of people to then ultimately weaken, dampen, redirect, water-down, and kill off any real voice of dissent or change.

Unions spend millions of dollars in elections supporting Democrats who cuddle them with friendly words but then turn around and support big-business anti-work and anti-union policies. A psychologist would probably describe this as irrational behavior. A social worker might call it an abusive relationship. And there's only one solution for that: get out! It's time to learn the lesson and break the chains of the two-party system and utilize the huge resources of the labor movement and run independent working-class candidates. This could be a first step towards building a new political party for working people and youth.

Some people have objected to this on the grounds that independent candidates can "spoil" elections, by splitting the left vote and allowing Republicans to win. This is nothing but left-wing fear-mongering. It's the same trick as used by Republicans when they try to whip up their conservative base by calling Obama a socialist. We should be just as afraid of Democrats as Republicans. In some ways Democrats can be more dangerous than Republicans because although they both have a pro-corporate agenda, the Democrats lull people to sleep as they carry it out. It's BOTH parties of big business that spoil the elections.

An independent voice could actually bring real pressure to bear on the ruling establishment regardless of who is in office if it gives a voice to the idea of building a mass social movement from below. Let's not forget that under Nixon, workplace safety laws were passed, the environmental protection agency was set up, abortion rights were won, the Vietnam War came to an end, the large-scale integration of public schools in the South took place, and Nixon even proposed a far-reaching universal healthcare plan. This had nothing to do with Nixon, or parties or primaries, and everything to do with the mass movements of labor, the civil rights movement, women's liberation and antiwar movements forcing the hand of government to make concessions.

The fact that there is serious consideration given to running primary challenges is a reflection of the deepening division between the corporate Democratic Party leadership and its progressive base. The 2008 elections showed that millions of ordinary working people and youth are prepared to devote their time and energy to work for someone that they believe in. The anger and energy is there and it's time we tap into that and build a mass movement and an independent political alternative that actually fights for a real change.

Responding to the growing discontent in the Democratic Party base, after making the rotten debt deal, Obama immediately shifted to talking about jobs. With much stronger rhetoric than before, Obama suddenly started to make a bold appeal to pass his job bill. But after agreeing to over $2 trillion in cuts, the idea that spending a few hundred billion on jobs will have much of an effect is hard to swallow. Given the high level of unemployed, this bill, even if it passed would hardly make a dent (for more details see this article by Dennis Prater on the American Jobs Act).

Further ramping up his populist rhetoric, Obama is now talking about raising taxes on the rich and calling for a 'Buffet Rule', referring to billionaire Warren Buffet's idea that he should be taxed at least at the same rate as his secretary. Yes, it is long overdue that we make these thieves on Wall Street pay for their own crisis. But why hasn't Obama been saying this for the last three years? Why didn't he raise taxes on the super-wealthy in the first two years when the Democrats had the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives? Why did he extend the Bush tax cuts for the rich before the Republicans had a majority? It was part of his 2008 electoral campaign. Now, with his 2012 campaign ramping up, does he think we are stupid enough to believe it a second time.

Commentators in the corporate media are looking at this new tone and rhetoric from Obama and asking if Obama is finally getting with the left program. Is he starting to "shake up Washington" like he said he would? We have to say: "No." We're entering an election year filled with a flood of corporate money and all the empty promises you can eat. Not everyone will be fooled this time around, but fear of right-wing Republicans may push millions to go to the polls, hold their nose and begrudgingly vote for Obama. Many may even gain new hope in Obama as he develops a bold new tone in an attempt to bring the ghost of 2008 Obama back from the dead.

It is possible, however, that some measures like small tax increases on the rich, spending on jobs and the extension of unemployment may pass. But this is not because Obama suddenly has seen the light.. The Democrats have not changed from being the graveyard for social movements. In fact, making left populist promises before elections is how the Democrats have always stolen away our vote.

The real reason for an increased emphasis on jobs is because the ruling establishment is getting worried about the state of the economy which is steadily spiraling towards another recession of potentially disastrous proportions.

In the last 18 months, big business has been focused on cutbacks and layoffs to keep profits up by making working people pay for the crisis. But these cuts only aggravate the crisis at a time when working people have less money in their pockets to spend. Facing another economic meltdown, the ruling elite may shift even more towards a policy of trying to partially prop up consumer spending.

Crisis of Capitalism
But this will never solve the underlying problems of capitalism. They can never fully prop up consumer demand without cutting into their profits or raising government debt (which they want us to ultimately pay for not them). As long as profit is king and is the main driving force of our economy (i.e. capitalism) any small reform today will be undermined tomorrow by the insatiable appetite for maximizing profit and the stubborn defense of the power and privilege which comes along with that wealth. Neither corporate party has any solution to this crisis because they are stuck defending a broken system.

Only a socialist solution, which takes profit out of the system and places the economy in the hands of working people and the public, can bring an end to our economic woes. Only once we have a real democratic say in running our economy and our government, can we build a society which guarantees jobs, education, healthcare, housing and a higher quality of life for all.

So when 2012 comes around, don't believe the hype. Don't get sucked into a dead-end campaign. There is hope. The Egyptian people showed us the real power lies in the hands of ordinary working people and youth when we stand up for ourselves, in our millions, and fight for a better deal. Let's mobilize that power and organize it into building our own anti-corporate pro-worker political party. Let's build the movement for real change. Join the socialists today and be a part of creating a new voice in this country which says: We have had enough! We're taking this fight into the streets! Protest! Occupy! Educate! Organize! We are the 99%!

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