We looked into the future and the problem is us

Last year at this time, tens of millions had high hopes for 2009. Americans had just elected the first African American president, whose campaign message, "Change We Can Believe In," heralded a new direction for the country - more decent, more peaceful, more just.

A year later, many of those hopes are still unfulfilled. The "Change We Can Believe In" has not yet materialized for many. How do we explain the slow pace of change? For many progressive and left people the answer, the problem, is Barack Obama.

I understand," writes Naomi Klein in a recent article, "all the arguments about not promising what he can't deliver, about the dysfunction of the U.S. Senate, about the art of the possible. But spare me the lecture about how little power poor Obama has. No president since FDR has been handed as many opportunities to transform the U.S. into something that doesn't threaten the stability of life on this planet. He has refused to use each and every one of them."

And after citing the stimulus package, the auto bailouts, the bank bailouts, and the Copenhagan climate change conference, she concludes, "There are very few U.S.presidents who have squandered as many once-in-a-generation opportunities as Barack Obama."

Harsh talk and militant to boot, but the salient question is: is it a good analysis? Is it class-based? Does it capture the complexity of the process of change? Does it really understand the parameters of the possible at this moment? Does it give the broader movement a political lead going forward? I say no! In saying so I can almost hear some readers screaming that am I letting the president off the hook. To a degree I am.

I'm not into the "great leader" theory of history. The president is a change agent and a powerful one at that. He can facilitate or impede change, but he is not the only one nor does he possess a magic wand. He doesn't govern in a vacuum, as Klein in the end suggests.

On the playing field of politics, we find other change makers as well as change resisters, all of whom figure into the equation of social change.

To begin, right-wing extremism is very much alive. Though no longer dominant, it still possesses enormous power, stubbornly resists even the smallest reform measures, and is intent on making the country literally ungovernable.

Then there is the Congress. While the Democrats have a majority, in neither the Senate nor the House is it a progressive majority. Hopefully that will change in the elections coming up this fall.

To this we have to add the "big dog" - corporate capital. Its organizing principle is to either resist or contain the process of progressive and radical change. Its leverage stems from its domination of the economic, political and cultural institutional forms of our society. Of course this fact doesn't prevent a broad people's movement from rolling back corporate power and making progressive ideas the common wisdom of tens of millions (people's needs first) in each of these social domains.

Finally, organized movements for progress and organized reactionary movements, to the degree that they mobilize sections of the American people, are actors in the political process.

Thus, singularly focusing on the president narrows down our field of vision. It conceals - hiding the whole complex of forces advocating and resisting change - more than it reveals. It tells us little about the parameters of the possible and what we need to do, strategically, tactically and programmatically, to stretch them. It only leads to frustration or worse yet, amplifying the chorus of abuse directed at the country's first African American president.

It also lets us - the left, progressives, the broader movement - off the hook. To no small degree, criticism of Obama can easily become a substitute for a close examination of our inadequacies and inability to activate and mobilize the movement that elected him last fall. Wouldn't we be well served to look into the mirror?

Let's face it. Today's popular insurgency doesn't have anywhere near the intensity of the insurgencies of the 1930s or 1960s - insurgencies that were many-layered, many-sided and sustained. They were both organized and spontaneous and possessed leaders who had great strategic and tactical depth - Martin Luther King Jr., for example.

Obama won't be a progressive and transformative president (a potential he has, in my opinion) until a much bigger mass progressive insurgency and movement, both organized and spontaneous, permeates the land and leaves its unmistakable imprint on the nation's politics, economics and culture. Given the forces opposing progressive change, including within the Obama administration, such a movement and insurgency is absolutely necessary.

Moreover, it's hard to envision this happening in the absence of communist, socialist and left currents that are active, growing, cooperating and possessing a much greater political depth than they have demonstrated so far.


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  • Look here Bruce Bostick. What do you have to be upset about? You are getting just what you voted for.

    Posted by ultra-lefty, 01/19/2010 11:35am (6 years ago)

  • I agree with Bruce Bostick 100%.

    If we can do with jobs what we have done with healthcare we will be in a very good position.

    It might take another little tax on workers to implement President Obama's gree economy/green jobs program.

    Combined with the tax increases to pay off the stimulus funding, the health tax and a small tax, possibly on unemployment compensation, this isn't that big a cut in wages for most working people.

    Any of these taxes on workers are wage cuts but it could be a lot worse.

    Most of us agree that Obama is a very good man. He is just like Martin Luther King. A great leader of the democratic people's movement.

    Trumka and Gerard are getting us some pretty darn good deals out of this Administration.

    We should prepare ourselves for one more little bump in the process of winning jobs. The wages might not be what we would like and a slight tax on the working class might be needed to cover the cost of creating the jobs.

    Those who view this as overall wage cuts are looking at this as if the glass is half empty instead of half full.

    This is our chance to make peace with the centrist forces in the Democratic Party.

    Right on, Bruce!

    Right on, Sam!

    We are moving forward.

    Posted by Kamran Heiss, Junior, 01/19/2010 11:16am (6 years ago)

  • Gary Hicks thank you for your list of achievements in the last year. The people and elected politicians who stand behind these achievements are our allies against the ultra right extremists. And I do believe we can count our allies in the millions.
    As for the self-righteous left who are hell bent on aborting reform in its infancy, ojectively they stand united with the ultra right extremists Republicans whose sole aim is to obstruct and derail any and all efforts to move, however slight, in the direction of social progress.

    Posted by Frank Chapman, 01/17/2010 2:56pm (6 years ago)

  • Thanks for your comments. Truly the problem lies in ourselve.

    Posted by Charlotte Oliver, 01/16/2010 8:26am (6 years ago)

  • I have to agree with Naomi Klein. I too think Obama has squandered away every opportunity in the guise of working with and inc., everyone! How convenient for the minority party that Obama wants to include them in everything. I think he pulled a royal scam on the liberals. Will be glad when we can vote him out and Move-On.

    Posted by Miranda, 01/16/2010 6:05am (6 years ago)

  • Nothing like blaming the victims.

    Posted by Reed, 01/15/2010 7:34pm (6 years ago)

  • It’s a sad day when the leadership of the CPUSA becomes an apologist for the administration and attacks any criticism of President Obama.

    Why did the Commander in Chief send more troops to Afghanistan and more drones to Pakistan? Why are the states financially crippled, the higher education systems falling apart as these trillions are spent on wars and private contractors. Why is Obama pushing the health benefit tax and not the millionaire tax? Why is there still no meaningful Banking/Finance reform? Why has Obama sent the marines to Haiti? The list is endless - the continuation of Bush policy goes on. Why is Sam Webb taking up valuable PW space on such a defense?

    For inspiration and real analysis I read the fighting words of many of the world’s communist parties. They have a Marxist – Leninist viewpoint. They see the true role of imperialism led by the USA. They don’t talk about Obama as transformative or progressive, as does Sam Webb.

    Let’s bring back our independent voice – why are we so attached to the Democratic party? What our country needs now is a clear, strong voice that fights for the working class.

    Posted by SaveOurParty, 01/14/2010 4:08pm (6 years ago)

  • May I continue? I've been a liberal Democrat who for subtle economic theory reasons favors fiscal responsibility (paying the bills) by strongly progressive taxation. Clinton did that and the US economy did very well, Then Bush reversed it and the economy's been in the tank headed for one of those crises that Marx warned about as a consequence of capitalism. When the rich are too rich and the poor are too poor, poor people can't do much shopping and the investments of the rich can't pay off. Then everyone falls in the ditch. But the affluent have a much softer landing and this time were in a position to rip off the rest of the public with bank bailouts. I haven't seen any spokesperson in mainstream media or in Congress outlining this obvious causation. Tax cuts and the resulting federal debt have the effect of damaging US balance of trade and Americans' equity in their own country (think falling property and stock values). The cure for the US economy is a strong dose of leftist tax and spending policy, not deficits but huge tax hikes on upper incomes. The media's afraid to present this solution because it's "class war"---tho the rich has been winning that war for 30 years because the left is afraid to stand up because the solution sounds too...leftist. I was thinking that if leftists are so hard to find among Democrats, maybe there are a few remaining among CPUSA members.

    Posted by John, 01/14/2010 12:36pm (6 years ago)

  • I disagree. Obama and his staff took single-payer off the table, putting Democrats in the spot of starting to negotiate down from some sort of public-option plan. And Obama declined to use the bully pulpit of his office to speak out for effective reform and against undue corporate influence early on---and thereafter. Let's be a bit quicker on the uptake. It was clear that Repubs weren't going to do anything bipartisan within a couple of months after Obama took office. And it was clear that Obama was avoiding the healthcare fray and thereby losing chances to influence the outcome. I'm disappointed about his handling of financial issues too tho this box is about out of space for details.

    Posted by John, 01/14/2010 12:21pm (6 years ago)

  • The question before us is where does the party go now ?

    Posted by Red Grandad, 01/14/2010 8:09am (6 years ago)

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