An Ally in the White House?

With the presidential election two weeks away and momentum seeming to flow in only one direction — toward Barack Obama — the Democratic nominee’s progressive supporters are worried.

Not worried about whether Obama will live up to the hopes that millions of people have placed in him. Instead, they’re worried about the possibility that McCain could make a comeback. And so they’re pulling out all stops to convince anyone who might be wavering to vote for Obama.

What has unfolded is a two-pronged approach. On the one hand, minimize or ignore Obama’s gestures or actions that fly in the face of progressive values. On the other, accentuate the differences between him and McCain, no matter how small they might be on particular issues.

A good example of the former was the reaction of Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) to the recent Wall Street bailout bill and Obama’s support for it.

To its credit, PDA opposed the legislation as a “sellout to greedy fat cats,” as PDA National Director Tim Carpenter called it in an October 2 press release. Carpenter pointed out that Senate changes to the bill (what he called “lipstick”) and renaming it a “rescue plan” didn’t change its essence as a “blank check bailout.”

Yet two days later, Congress passed that blank-check bailout. The administration’s efforts to round up support got a boost from Obama, who campaigned for the bill and persuaded leading members of the Congressional Black Caucus to switch from “no” to “yes.”

In many ways, Obama and the congressional Democratic leadership led the way to the bill’s passage. And what did PDA say about that? Nothing. Its next official press release, dated October 10, quoted Carpenter as saying, “We’re stepping up our efforts during these closing weeks to elect Obama and a more progressive Congress. We’ve already started. New-voter registration coordinator Bruce Taub and a team of Massachusetts volunteers just returned from a four-day trip to Pennsylvania.”

Given that PDA and other progressive Democrats are invested in an Obama win and substantial Democratic coattails, it’s unlikely they would have taken the opportunity to denounce Obama or the Democrats.

But then, that’s not their modus operandi anyway. Progressives for Obama initiator Tom Hayden even explained: “I have no problem with Barack Obama supporting the bailout package as long as it keeps him on track to the presidency. He needs to be critical, to offer amendments, and to promise to return to the crisis the day after November 4.”

Groups like PDA and Progressives for Obama pose themselves as a sort of conscience of the Democratic Party. They uphold values like single-payer health care and immediate withdrawal from Iraq that mainstream Democrats won’t support.

And when the mainstream Democrats cross them — to accept Obama’s lousy “individual mandate” health plan or vote to continue the occupation of Iraq — progressives express disappointment, while noting how many votes they received for their liberal alternative proposal. Then they move on to getting out the vote for Democrats, including those who just sold them out.

This is the way “progressive” politics oriented on the Democratic Party is played — because when all is said and done, it is no more than liberal gloss on the politics of the “lesser of two evils.”

A good example of how this works was Hayden’s response to Nation writer Robert Dreyfuss, when Dreyfuss criticized Obama’s hawkish posture on foreign policy. It’s a good representation of the second prong described above: magnify the differences between the Democrats and Republicans.

Reviewing the first McCain-Obama debate, Dreyfuss wrote:

If, God forbid, foreign policy had to be the deciding factor in choosing between Barack Obama and John McCain, then last night’s terrible showing by Obama would make me a Ralph Nader voter in a heartbeat. Obama’s performance was nothing short of pathetic, and only Democratic-leaning analysts and voters with blinders on could suggest that Obama won the debate. More important, he utterly blew a chance to draw a stark contrast with John McCain on America’s approach to the world.

Responding to his “respected friend” on the Progressives for Obama blog, Hayden criticized Dreyfuss for concentrating on all the places where McCain and Obama agreed (at least eight, by my count) rather than the crucial “Iraq difference.”

As Hayden wrote, “Obama’s pledge to withdraw combat troops in 16 months, while not the ‘out now’ demand of the anti-war movement, is generally supported by most Americans and most Iraqis, and leaves Bush-McCain isolated in their opposition to deadlines.”

Thus, a vote for Obama will be, according to Hayden, a “peace mandate.” As Hayden continued:

Belittling the Iraq difference reflects a much greater omission, ignoring the gaping differences between the two candidates with 36 days until the election. On the basis of what he’s written, Dreyfuss ignores this context.

It is as if frustration with Obama is greater than anything some people on the left can feel towards McCain. I feel their pain, but let me offer this formula: no candidate will move further left than their base demands and public opinion allows.

In other words, it all boils down to the central lesser-evil logic. Obama may not be what we want, but McCain would be so much worse. And just to make sure we got the point, Hayden ended his response to Dreyfuss by calling up that old standby: the Supreme Court. “[W]hen the faith-based right has been promised a Supreme Court majority by McCain-Palin, I think the left should be in full battle mode” instead of, presumably, writing articles criticizing Obama’s shortcomings.

In other parts of the response to Dreyfuss, Hayden proposes that Obama’s hawkishness is just a political strategy intended to “close off any possible attacks from the right or the media on his national security policies and credentials.”

Yet anyone who has been paying attention to Obama’s foreign policy statements over the last two years (as Hayden has) can see that what he’s saying today is pretty much consistent with what he was saying then. If that’s the case, then why pretend that Obama’s hawkishness is just a stratagem, with the implication that the “real” dovish Obama will emerge after he’s safely elected?

Setting aside the objective fact that Obama agreed with McCain on foreign policy far more than he disagreed with him during the debate (which was Dreyfuss’ point), would a vote for Obama really be a mandate for peace? Couldn’t a victorious Obama also say, “The American people have endorsed my calls to launch missile strikes in Pakistan without the consent of the Pakistani government, to base withdrawal from Iraq on ‘facts on the ground,’ to kill Osama bin Laden, to stand up to Russia in Georgia, etc.”?

In other words, couldn’t Obama claim that a vote for him is really a “war mandate”?

Time will tell, but progressives for Obama shouldn’t deceive themselves into believing that they will have a secret ally in the White House.

Lance Selfa writes for the Socialist Worker where this article first appeared. Read other articles by Lance, or visit Lance's website.

9 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozhidar bob balkas said on October 28th, 2008 at 8:36am #

    damn the socalled lesser evil and even greater evil. especially in view, that destruction/killings may actually increase whether a dem or rep gets in.
    u can’t split uncle sam in two. obama may or may not mean more money in some pockets if he gets in, but for a few bucks to vote for the oneparty system is bad for the world and working class in US.
    uncle may give u a few bucks but then export jobs and for each worker pay $5 a day instead paying an amer $8- 20 an hr.
    military, cia, fbi, police, other agents, advisers, warfare cost a lot.
    i do not know how much.
    and i do not know whether supporters for more of that, r donating moneys to uncle from their paychecks.
    they may cry USA,USA, etc, but r not sending their sons/daughters to war zones or supporting it w. money so that soldiers are better equipped to protect selves or to defeat resistors..

  2. steve conn said on October 28th, 2008 at 10:42am #

    Post Election Headlines-
    Obama Bombs on Single Payer Health Care for All. Insurance Companies Win

    Obama Bombs Syria and Pakistan- Wider Wars Predicted

    Obama Bombs on Foreclosures Ban- Corporate Advisers Say Not Enough Money

    Obama Bombs on Workers’ Rights- Lucky to Have a Job, says Obama. No extension of Unemployment Benefits

    Obama Bombs on Tax Breaks- Must Pay Off Corporate Debts First

    Don’t Wait for Obama to Bomb- Vote Ralph Nader 2008 and the Nader Agenda!

  3. Don Hawkins said on October 28th, 2008 at 10:57am #

    Radical idea this redistribution thing no it’s talk and more talk. What has really happened the last 6 months not much. Just more debt sign a paper or push a button turn on the press real hard. We need radical change to start to solve or at least slow some very difficult problems. Most people know what is going on and see and hear just weak moves to solve nothing. That includes the people at the top. We need radical moves by people who want to keep the system the same bit of a problem don’t you think. It doesn’t matter if we use socialism or capitalism or some of each but we have to get started and fast and yes it will take radical thinking to do that. What is going on now is not only boring but just plain stupid weak minded, shocking isn’t it. We try or we don’t that simple. I guess there is a part where we say we are trying but in reality just more talk and the illusion of competence. How much money did these nine banks get and what are the bonuses being paid. Same old stuff different day. We need a new way of thinking.

  4. Jonathan said on October 28th, 2008 at 12:38pm #

    One of the statements that enraged me above all is the following. what absolute codswallop.

    “no candidate will move further left than their base demands and public opinion allows.”

    It should rather read ‘no candidate will move further left than their corporate minders demand and elite interests allow’

  5. Giorgio said on October 28th, 2008 at 1:48pm #

    Ron Paul has repeatedly said that in the past democrat prezs started wars and rep prez had often the task to end them. Would this mulatto with Zionist leniencies and Aryan aspirations be the exception? What a joke!
    My gut feeling is that, after the elections and the economy worsens, the next prez, whoever puppet dumbass of the two will be, will start a war with Iran using it as a diversion from the economic shambles and whipping up the fear hysteria of Americans, blaming it all on those Islamic “‘Worshippers of Death”, as arch-Zionist Alan M. Dershowitz calls them, and “before they export their sick and dangerous culture of death to American shores”.
    Thus the outcry and the economic depression blamed squarely on those ISLAMIC DEATH WORSHIPPERS !!!

  6. bozhidar bob balkas said on October 28th, 2008 at 2:07pm #

    yes, jonathan
    it’s not public; ie, working people which steers obama ot US. thnx

  7. Don Hawkins said on October 28th, 2008 at 3:18pm #

    With Time Short, Bush Pushes EPA to Relax Power-Plant Rule
    Monday 27 October 2008

    by: Renee Schoof, McClatchy Newspapers

    President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney at a press conference at the Department of Energy. (Photo: AFP / Getty Images)
    Washington – At the Bush administration’s direction, the Environmental Protection Agency is working on a new rule that would weaken pollution regulations for power plants, allowing them to increase emissions without adding controls.
    EPA officials have been working on a fast track to meet a Saturday deadline, but many of them are arguing against changing the rule, said former EPA attorney John Walke and an EPA career official who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because the official wasn’t authorized to make statements.
    They said that the EPA was expected to decide in November on another eleventh-hour rule that would allow more power plants to be built near national parks and wilderness areas.
    Power companies have sought the rule about power plant emissions for many years, and it was part of Vice President Dick Cheney’s 2001 energy plan. Rules finalized more than 60 days before the administration leaves office are harder for the next administration to undo.
    The EPA is under no obligation to reveal internal deliberations, so in many cases the public never knows what objections may have been raised.

    The White House wouldn’t comment on its views about changing the rule, Kristen Hellmer, a spokeswoman for the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality, said Monday.

    Walke charged in a comment to the EPA that the rule would amount to a “parting gift to the utility industry.”

    The rule change applies to old plants that are expanded or upgraded to prolong their lives. The changes can make them more efficient but not as clean as they’d be with modern pollution controls.

    The emissions bring smog, acid rain and particulates. The Bush administration argues that carbon dioxide, which power plants also emit, shouldn’t be regulated under the Clean Air Act.

    It should rather read ‘no candidate will move further left than their corporate minders demand and elite interests allow’

    Now let me add move right or left No no no move into survial mode on this path in just a few more years but how do we stop this kind of thinking, how?

  8. Don Hawkins said on October 28th, 2008 at 4:14pm #

    “From where Winston stood it was just possible to read, picked out on its white face in elegant lettering, the three slogans of the Party:

    “Never again will you be capable of ordinary human feeling. Everything will be dead inside you. Never again will you be capable of love, or friendship, or joy of living, or laughter, or curiosity, or courage, or integrity. You will be hollow. We shall squeeze you empty and then we shall fill you with ourselves.”

    “The ideal set up by the Party was something huge, terrible, and glittering—a world of steel and concrete, of monstrous machines and terrifying weapons—a nation of warriors and fanatics, marching forward in perfect unity, all thinking the same thoughts and shouting the same slogans, perpetually working, fighting, triumphing, persecuting—three hundred million people all with the same face.”

    “He gazed up at the enormous face. Forty years it had taken him to learn what kind of smile was hidden beneath the dark moustache. O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast! Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.”

    IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.” This could never happen at least in the United States well yes I have two jobs to just stay even and my wife works and I think McCain is the man usa usa usa drill baby drill and maybe we will stay in Iraq 100 years and Iran is next. No this could never happen in the grearest nation in the World. Big brother this Orwell guy must have been smoking something. Ignorance is strength everbody knows that’s not true just plain dumb. Oh wheel of fortune just came on the TV got to run.

  9. Rich Griffin said on October 29th, 2008 at 8:57am #

    I’ve simply been so angry at Obama supporters. I understand that emotional responses are trumping rational responses where Obama is concerned. Obama supporters, when asked, never know his actual positions, will tell me that I’m wrong when I tell them how he has voted and what he has pledged to do. When I ask them what they are willing to support or not support they clearly want Ralph Nader or perhaps Cynthia McKinney but they are so brainwashed by the “D” after Obama’s name. My only hope is that perhaps more and more people – in time – will become so disillusioned, so disgusted, they will leave both major parties once and for all. Meanwhile, I’m sad and so upset with family members, etc. Obama is a disaster. It’s all so sad.