Nearly every economist, including those from the administration and the Federal Reserve, say that unemployment will not be much reduced before the November elections. In addition the chances of a “double-dip” recession have risen as a new wave of foreclosures, possible trade war with China and other threats emerge. A double-dip would mean unemployment may actually rise again before November’s mid-term congressional elections. If so, the fate of the Obama recovery agenda will be in the hands of grassroots activists as never before, as it contends with ultra-right forces working feverishly to channel popular frustration and outrage toward destructive and harmful actions blocking reform on every front.
Any success by the right wing will of course mean more paralysis, more dysfunction, in Washington. No surprise. Dysfunction of government is their program. The critical health care vote this weekend was really the first, and also very important, salvo of the November battle for the hearts and minds of voters.
In order to be effective, however, candidates vying to direct populism toward constructive ends must have a keen sense of the urgency and grave dangers of paralysis, as well as the opportunities to make significant structural reforms in finance, education, environmental policy, green public works and infrastructure, and de-militarization.
Making dramatic, very visible moves to put people back to work directly, using national service and other public programs, must be given top priority. This signals the important role that candidacies that run to the left of the president will play in moving the debate deeper into reform rather than stepping away from it. At the same time all must be mindful of the need to defeat Republican efforts to split the Obama coalition in showdown votes. Viva Dennis Kucinich!
There is every reason to pray, for example, that every Blue Dog Democrat will have a progressive challenger in the primary season, and turn the powerful populist outrage emerging across the country into 1) a solid Republican setback, and 2) a caution to Obama not to overplay the “bipartisanship” tactic. I hope I am not one who fails to understand that openness to bipartisan compromises is an important political tactic in the U.S. Obviously, bills passed with filibuster-proof majorities have a stronger national mandate than those passed with 51 Senate votes. But in this era, doing nothing is the worst political result of all. Obama’s recent impassioned campaigning on health care, and his (at last) decision to go with 51 votes rather than no health care bill after spending a year of the people’s time on it, is most welcome. It would have happened sooner, if the left had been more united and organized.
Which brings up a big question in my mind: What is it that stands between the U.S. left and its ability to unite on a radical – but eminently practical and responsible – left-democratic agenda, at least in the electoral arena? Further, what prevents such electoral campaigns from aligning themselves with some much-increased militancy, kicking things up a notch? – for example with demonstrations, sit-ins, and well-chosen actions of civil disobedience against the vested interests of banks and insurance companies that are behind much Republican stonewalling, as well as some ultra-right foundations, pouring racist and other less than democratic-minded cocktails throughout the land.
Well, there are those, of course, who view the struggle for expanding democracy under the capitalist system as a pointless endeavor, except for exotic propaganda purposes. There’s not much hope for unity there, but these groups are really quite small, and most do not vote anyway if one can credit what they write.
The remaining challenges to greater left unity seem minor to me. Foreign policy differences, for example are narrower than they have been in decades, across the spectrum of left-democratic politics, and most remaining differences reflect the whipsawing effects of globalization on different sectors of the population.
Take China for example. We could have a big argument between manufacturing workers desperately seeking protection from Chinese competition and those who depend on its low prices for food, shelter and clothing, or those who view conflict with China (which for anti-poverty advocates plays a positive world role) as the onset of a new Cold War, a threat to peace. But few would place these differences in the top five issues. All would agree that decisions and costs of war should be paid for, at least in part, directly, not all put on the credit card (or not even appear in the budget, as under Bush). All agree that imperial adventures must be restrained and the power to declare war returned to Congress. All agree that soldiers and veterans deserve the highest possible care for their service. And that such service should always be directed toward honorable objectives.
Further, all agree enough on vastly expanded public works, health care reform, education reform, on improving workers economic bargaining power, on progressive taxation, on leveraging the positives of a multicultural, multiracial, multi-national national identity – enough to be able to hammer out a more coherent national left electoral agenda. Perhaps that’s asking too much – but regional and local efforts are under way in a number of areas, especially in the hard-hit Midwest and California, and can become much bigger. The situation is dire and the need for united action is felt by all. The key that permits everyone to come to the table and leave with a deal is thinking about moving majorities of working people. There lies unity, and victory. Thinking like Dr. King would be a good moral and ideological guide, right now.