Obama’s Chokehold on Left Antiwar Activists

The Disillusioned Vacillate

An anti-Obama manifesto of sorts, in the form of a petition, was issued this week, signed by over 150 Left antiwar activists. As I read the first paragraph, eager to sign, my hopes were quickly dashed. It reads:

We the undersigned share with nearly two-thirds of our fellow Americans the conviction that our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq should be ended and that overall military spending should be dramatically reduced. This has been our position for years and will continue to be, and we take it seriously.

So far, so good, even admirable – although some of the signers backed Obama even as he promised more war in 2008. But perhaps disillusionment had finally taken hold. So what is to be done, according to the petitioners? That comes in the next sentence.

We vow not to support President Barack Obama for renomination (emphasis, j.w.) for another term in office, and to actively seek to impede his war policies unless and until he reverses them.

“Renomination”? Many of these very people were calling for George W. Bush’s impeachment for doing what Obama is doing now, although Obama is doing more of it, as the rest of the petition makes clear.

“Renomination”? Does anyone think that the Democratic Party machine will deny Obama the nomination in 2012? And is there even the faintest suggestion here that the petitioners will try to field another candidate, a genuine peace candidate?

“Renomination”? Does that mean that the signatories will vote for Obama once he has been nominated out of fear of the Republican “fascists,” as the Republican opposition, not much different from Obama himself, is so often and so glibly labeled.

As we all know, politicians in general and Obama in particular care not one whit about petitions such as these. They care only about a threat to being elected or re-elected. The time for begging or petitioning Obama to change is long since past. It is time to organize an alternative. If a serious challenge to Obama and indeed to both War Parties is to be mounted, it must begin soon. Unfortunately no such challenge has appeared on the horizon as yet. It certainly does not appear in this petition. Time is running out, and petitions like these can even forestall necessary action by giving people the false sense that they “have done something.”

The manifesto makes it clear that two thirds of Americans are now antiwar. And many of that two-thirds care little for the Democratic Party or for Obama. But the word “renomination” was chosen to keep the locus of antiwar activity within the Democratic Party. That is a losing strategy as we have learned over and over again. Such statements as this petition are not casually penned and their words not lightly chosen.

Would it not be better to reach out to the Right, both Libertarians like Ron and Rand Paul and Justin Raimondo at Antiwar.com and Paleos like Dan McCarthy at The American Conservative or Lew Rockwell or the Future of Freedom Foundation? Some functionary in the White House sub-basement assigned to keep watch on antiwar intellectuals must have breathed a sigh of relief that no mention was made of that. But how can one refuse to develop such alliances with the antiwar Right and others? To fail at that will only lead to a smaller antiwar movement and the probability that Obama’s armies of Empire will continue to grind millions into the dust? Can that be justified morally?

Most of the signatories are principled women and men disgusted with war. But the action against Obama they call for does not match the crimes they cite – it does not even come close. Electoral action, among other forms of activism, is needed, and the considerable prestige attached to some on this list of signatories can help to initiate such action. On the other hand, some among the signers have always come down on the side of the Dems in the end, no matter what they do. Let us hope that the latter are not in the driver’s seat and that this manifesto is but one brief step on a determined and forceful march to field a badly needed alternative in 2012. The hour is late and lives by the score are lost every day at Obama’s hand.

John V. Walsh, @JohnWal97469920, until recently a Professor of Physiology and Neuroscience at the University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School, has written on issues of peace and health care for several independent media. Read other articles by John V..

8 comments on this article so far ...

Comments RSS feed

  1. Samhain3783 said on January 28th, 2011 at 11:31am #

    I think your judgement is a little hasty. If you look at the signatories, you’ll find that a number of them actively oppose using the Democratic party as any sort of vehicle for political change.

    I was an active member of the antiwar movement for many years and I can tell you one unchanging fact about reaching out to the Right: it doesn’t work. The antiwar Right prefers paper protest to actual protest. You can make hundreds of calls, send hundreds of e-mails and schedule dozens of meetings and you might get 1 libertarian to show up. The activist Right’s extreme emphasis on individualism means that the majority of them don’t care about being involved in group organizing/protesting/planning.

  2. bozh said on January 28th, 2011 at 1:05pm #

    i said in early ’08 that voting for obama wld amount to voting for greater evil.
    let’s face one fact: just because the onepercenters or a few families or whoever rules the region and regional, called u.s. and usans, respectively, have not proclaimed what the want, they still want s’mthing.

    and what u.s. wants on our planet can only be concluded or, rather, known, only by what u.s does–never ever what says or doesn’t say.
    bearing in mind that u.s. ruling class wld never ever explicitly state its foreign policy, one, perforce’ must illate it and get ready for it.

    the silent treatment is not directed at chinese, cubans, et al, but directed at the regionals. tnx

  3. Vic Anderson said on January 28th, 2011 at 2:28pm #

    They should not seek and WE SHOULD NOT ACCEPT another Obamanible term as president of US, INDEED!

  4. jvwalshmd said on January 28th, 2011 at 2:45pm #

    To Samhain3783,
    If the signatories have no use for the Dems or Obama, they should have said so.

    Others, including yours truly and Cindy Sheehan, refused to sign because the statement because it was so pathetically weak – and designed by David Swanson and others to be that way, I am told.

    As for the Right, you are wrong. Look up “ComeHomeAmerica, all one word, on Amazon or “Come Home America.US” to see a book that comes out of a conference last year attended by Right and Left. It marks a new beginning. Or look at the joint interview with Nader and Ron Paul recently on Youtube.

    Here in MA after the election of 2004 we began to picket the office of the failed candidate, the despicable John Kerry, to get him to change his position to an antiwar position. Who showed up week after week – Libertarians and Vets, not the UFPJ types. After all the arrogant Kerry (talk about extreme individualism) was a “liberal” Dem.

    And those Libertarians were just as vociferous in denouncing Bush. So your experience is not universal.
    It sounds like you might be operating from some stereotypes.
    Take a look at the book.
    john v. walsh

  5. Deadbeat said on January 28th, 2011 at 8:43pm #

    John Walsh writes …

    Here in MA after the election of 2004 we began to picket the office of the failed candidate, the despicable John Kerry, to get him to change his position to an antiwar position. Who showed up week after week – Libertarians and Vets, not the UFPJ types. After all the arrogant Kerry (talk about extreme individualism) was a “liberal” Dem.

    It was the “UFPJ” “Left” that both sabotaged and abandoned Nader in 2004 openly and tactically supported John Kerry under the guise of Anybody But Bush. For example, Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky supported the “Safe State” strategy. Neither offered unambiguous support to anti-war candidate Ralph Nader. Medea Benjamin and Ted Glick sabotaged Nader’s bid for the Green Party nomination. And Michael Albert of Z-Magazine called for a demobilization of the anti-war movement.

    These folks are misidentified as the “anti-war left” are really the pseudo-Left whose agenda it is to promote a weak and divided Left, a weak and divided working class and are the front line of defense for Zionism which is why they continually and unfairly malign the Right and cynically use racism while never addressing their own racism and especially Zionism.

    The pseudo-Left are the true enemies of justice and solidarity.

  6. Samhain3783 said on January 28th, 2011 at 10:43pm #

    Mr. Walsh (or Dr. Walsh? I saw the MD),

    Thank you for your reply. It’s rare to get one on here, haha.

    The signatories who view the Democrats as part of the problem are so vocal in their opinions that I would assume they wouldn’t need to state that.

    Given the relative ambiguity of the petition, I can’t really tell whether they thought they were signing a “pro-Dem, anti-war” document or not. On my first read, it seemed like a relatively diluted way of saying that they weren’t going to the mats for Obama if he was still pro-war. After reading your analysis, I have to say I’m conflicted about what the point of the petition is. If David Swanson wrote it, I have no doubt it’s intended to be as vague as possible.

    I’ll order the book. I’m willing to give it a chance. Conferences are good for networking, but they do relatively little in the long run. If it does mark a new beginning of collaboration between Right and Left, I’ll celebrate it. And I’ll be extremely surprised.

    My experience with Libertarians is that you can get a couple to show up to protests, but getting them involved in the actual planning and promotion is impossible. We tried and tried to get them involved. Phone calls, e-mails, meetings, etc. 1 or 2 would show up to events, but they wouldn’t do anything else. It was one of the most frustrating projects in which I was ever involved. Of course, I’m in CA, which is on the opposite side of the country from MA so the situation here may be different. The situation may have changed as well. I had to quit organizing in early 2008 so I’ve been out of the loop for awhile. It just seemed to me that the results we got were not worth the time we spent.

    I agree with you, Mr. Walsh (Dr.?), that we should be calling for the impeachment of Obama. It seems like the main sticking point here might be “the optimist” vs. “the pessimist.”

  7. jvwalshmd said on January 29th, 2011 at 6:13am #

    Last December 12, the Liberty Protection Association (LPA) of MA had its annual Tea Party event. They are a group that began by supporting Ron Paul; it was the Paulists, if I may call them that, by the way, who began the Tea Party right here in MA many years ago before the neocons took it away from them.

    In any event the LPA rented Fanueil Hall for its annual event and 500+ showed up – and paid for tickets. Speakers were brought in from all over the country. It was not a lily white affair nor was it a gathering of geezers. The age distribution was younger and broader than UJP gatherings around here. There were many antiwar speeches and they drew the loudest applause and strongest passion. And the crowd was a bit less Harvard and a bit more UMass when compared to UJP gatherings – less elite, more working class and petite bourgeois. The funds were raised with difficulty to support the event – I know because I went to a board meeting (it was open) after the event. No Koch brothers waiting in the wings. There were a few sour notes among the speakers, mostly older, Catholic folks who looked like they stepped out of the 1950s and they probably did. My point is that this event took a lot of time and effort to organize but organize it they did

    I was welcomed. And I nearly got to speak! We handed out fliers on the Right/Left coalition which were well received. The people and events did not match the stereotypes and I liked them.
    John Walsh

  8. mary said on January 29th, 2011 at 7:47am #

    Actually, it’s Professor Walsh and he knows much about the ways in which we tick.


    I am very impressed that he speaks out against war and admire him greatly for his stand. Not many doctors have the same moral courage.