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Memo to Progressives for Obama


Unless John McCain has a bombshell of a scandal to drop on Barack Obama at the 11th hour, this election is beginning to look like it’s in the bag for the Democrats. The Republicans will finally be kicked out of the White House and peace and calm will slowly return to Washington.

At least that’s the message reverberating across the progressive landscape these days. One can almost hear a collective sigh of relief. Darth Cheney will be gone. Karl Rove will be forced to recoil, and President Bush can retire in ignorant bliss to his ranch in Crawford.


It is certainly comforting to believe the stars have aligned and progressive values are about to flood the Beltway. Barack Obama has campaigned on “Hope” and “Change” and we all but believe the guy is actually going to deliver on his varied promises.

But believing is what’s caused so many to fall victim to Obama fever. You know the signs: they send you emails from (claiming you’re to blame for Obama’s fictional loss) and hope-filled rants from Norman Solomon. They talk about Obama as if he’s the next messiah, their wardrobe consists of more than two Obama shirts that they’ll wear every day leading up to the election. They have a “Change” sign in their window and one in their front yard. It’s as if they’ve become more or less Obama-zombies, just in time for Halloween.

No question the Obama strategists have accomplished what they set out to do. Just look at all they’ve achieved thus far: antiwar activists have exchanged their slogans for pro-Obama refrains despite the fact that their candidate inflates the alleged threat of Iran, wants to put more troops in Afghanistan and won’t pull out of Iraq anytime soon.

Environmentalists have come out for Obama in large numbers, even though he thinks coal can be clean and nuclear energy can be safe. No big deal that he wants to drill baby drill off our coastal shores. At least the guy believes in global warming.

Or take the civil rights champions who have few qualms about his rabid support for FISA and the PATRIOT Act or social justice activists who aren’t overly concerned that Obama condones the execution of convicts who have never murdered. Economic progressives, who would be the first to say the economic I.V. pumped into the Wall Street bloodline was hastily passed and rips off tax-payers, are the first to defend Obama’s economic platform. No matter he supported the bailout without reservation. No matter his team of economic hit men includes a whole slew of Clintonite neoliberals like Robert Rubin. Obama is still their guy.

All of this wouldn’t bother me much if it weren’t for the overt hypocrisy so many progressives, and a few radicals, are exhibiting with their blind support for Obama. It’s one thing to embrace pragmatic voting and lesser-evilism on the grounds that we don’t really live in a true democracy. It’s quite another to be excited about the prospect of electing a man who doesn’t stand for the issues you do, and is in fact campaigning against them.

What will happen if Obama wins the electorate? Progressive Group Number One seems to believe he’ll magically move left once inaugurated and is only running to the right in order to win the election. That position is a non sequitur and not worthy of real discussion as it’s based on wishful thinking.

Progressive Group Number Two knows Obama is pretty damn conservative but is planning on voting “strategically,” arguing that change comes in baby steps, yet they assure us they’ll apply pressure once Obama’s elected to get the little toddler strolling. A friend, who happens to be a professor at a large university, recently told me that he plans on coercing Obama by pressuring elected members of congress. He’ll be “making a stink” and “scene,” he assured me.

What a relief.

“The forces arrayed against far-reaching progressive change are massive and unrelenting. If an Obama victory is declared next week, those forces will be regrouping in front of our eyes — with right-wing elements looking for backup from corporate and pro-war Democrats,” Norman Solomon recently wrote in an article advising progressives to vote against their interests. “How much leverage these forces exercise on an Obama presidency would heavily depend on the extent to which progressives are willing and able to put up a fight.”

Does Solomon even understand what it means to “put up a fight”? And what’s with the notion that progressives will “apply pressure” once Obama wins? They have no cash and he’s already going to receive most of their votes. What are they going to do to pressure him, poke him in his ribs? Cause a stink by farting through the halls of Congress? Obama may actually listen to us if he thought progressives were considering to vote for a guy like Ralph Nader, which is the point Nader seems to be making by campaigning in swing states this week. Nader knows how to put up a real fight, one not mired in hypotheticals and fear-mongering, so he’s pressuring Obama where it matters most.

Of course, such a direct confrontation to Obama’s backward policies ruffles the slacks of many devout liberals. But that is the point. Progressives are not flush with cash and as we all should know, flashing the almighty buck is usually the best way to grab a politician’s attention. But the only thing we have at our immediate disposal now is votes. These crooks need us to get elected. Obama already has the majority of left-wing support shored up despite his resistance to embrace our concerns. Imagine if he had to earn our votes instead of receiving our support without having to do a thing for it?

So let’s prepare for what’s ahead. Obama may win next Tuesday, but what will happen to the movements that have been sidelined in order to help get the Democrats elected? What will become of the environmental movement after January 20? Will it step up to oppose Obama’s quest for nuclear power and clean coal? Will the antiwar movement work to force Obama to take a softer approach toward Iran? Will they stop the troop increase in Afghanistan?

These are but a few of the questions I’d like progressive supporters of Obama to answer. I’ve yet to hear exactly how they will pressure an Obama administration. In fact, I don’t think they will. George W. Bush will be gone and that will be enough for most. Progressives faced a similar confrontation in 1992 when Bill Clinton took office, but without much of a fight we saw neoliberalism take hold in the form of NAFTA and we endured the Telecommunications Act, Welfare Reform, a forest plan written by the logging industry, the dismantling of Glass-Steagall, the Iraq Liberation Act, and much much more.

What makes the Democrats believe that they even deserve our support now? President Bush has indeed been bad, but his most egregious policies were upheld and supported by the majority of Democrats. They gave Bush the green light to whack Saddam while they controlled the Senate. They supported the PATRIOT Act (Obama voted for its reconfirmation), the War on Terror, Bush’s increased Pentagon budget, a no-strings Wall Street bailout and two awful Supreme Court confirmations. You may also remember that two years ago we ushered Democrats back into office with the belief that they might actually fight Bush on Iraq. Instead we’ve had nothing but complicity, with Democrats time and again supporting increased war funds.

I hope I’m not alone in saying that we deserve more than lofty rhetoric about “action” and “hope.” We deserve a program for real progressive change — the kind Democrats and Barack Obama will not bring as long as we give them our unconditional support.

JOSHUA FRANK is co-editor of Dissident Voice and author of Left Out! How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush (Common Courage Press, 2005), and along with Jeffrey St. Clair, the editor of the brand new book Red State Rebels: Tales of Grassroots Resistance in the Heartland, published by AK Press in July 2008. He can be reached at:







JOSHUA FRANK is managing editor of CounterPunch. His most recent book is Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, co-edited with Jeffrey St. Clair and published by AK Press. He can be reached at You can follow him on Twitter @joshua__frank

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