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Playing Progressive Hardball

By Case Wagenvoord

29 July, 2008

The upside of a desultory presidential campaign in which platitudes and generalities pass for policy statements is that it give rise to hallucinatory episodes in which the mind slips the chains of reality and floats hither and yon in the cosmos of possibilities. What follows is one such hallucinatory experience born of a campaign that has become a wasteland as vast as it is grey; a wasteland into which a creatively bankrupt media vainly tries to inject color

There has been much talk about Obama’s move towards the center since he wrapped up the Democratic nomination. His supporters do their best to put a positive spin on it by dismissing it as a part and parcel of a winning strategy. His groveling before APIAC and his positions on gun control and capital punishment are dismissed as pragmatic political posturing on the same level as kissing babies and wearing Native American headdresses.

There have been other disturbing statements. Sounding like a loyal neocon, Obama recently said, “We have to succeed in taking the fight to the terrorists. Then Obama’s legal advisor, Cass Sunstein argued that Bush officials shouldn’t be prosecuted for their illegal detentions, interrogation and spying programs.

And the spin goes on.

In spite of it all, we want to believe. We cling to the hope that once Obama takes the oath of office; his true progressive nature will spring forth and turn America into a paradise of progressive ideals.

Unfortunately, his FISA vote changed everything. If ever there was an unnecessary “yea” vote that was it. It defies the imagination how Democrats could allow themselves to be bullied by a lame-duck president whose approval ratings are in the pits.

Obama’s yea vote sent a very powerful message: The change he tells us we can believe in consists of nothing more than putting a smiley face on the status quo.

Still, we want to believe. Compared to eight years of a Cheney presidency, Obama is like the breath of fresh air that will that will send the money changers fleeing the halls of our nation’s capital.

Before we get too carried away, we’ve got to put Obama in context. After eight years of Cheney, even America’s favorite cannibal, Dr. Hannibal Lector would look good.

One writer puts Obama in perspective when he writes:

At a time when the American military industrial complex is despised around the world, he [Obama] is a front man out of central casting which will buy it more goodwill and room to maneuver in the first 15 minutes after being sworn in than John McCain could in the next 100 years.

Barack Obama is in short order a far more reassuring prospect for the continued dominance of the financial elite than another four years of neo-conservative rule which in an almost historically unique combination of greed, ill will, incompetence and stupidity have brought the country to the edge of disaster.

The time has come for Progressives to start playing hardball.

The first thing we must do is lose the illusion that we can move the Democratic Party to the left. It isn’t going to happen. The center-right has the money and the influence. They can fund campaigns; we can’t, no matter how much money a candidate raises on the internet. They control the media; we don’t, no matter how many blogs we publish.

The only hope we have to advance the Progressive agenda is to form a solid and disciplined voting bloc.

To do this, we must spike Obama’s run for the presidency.

This is the only way the Democratic Leadership Conference (DLC) will realize that the party will go nowhere without Progressives sitting at the table.

Our thinking must be long term, and we must be willing to accept a temporary setback if it will give us a tactical advantage down the road. Dumping Obama to form a working minority that could impact the national political agenda would be worth it.

There are obvious downsides to a McCain presidency, the most obvious of which is future appointments to the Supreme Court. However, let us not forget that America has a history of surviving corrupt Supreme Courts. We survived the court that gave us the Dred Scott decision, and the court that tried to kill Roosevelt’s New Deal.

The important thing to remember is that the only difference between a McCain and Obama presidencies would be one of style. Obama would make us feel good while he screwed us; McCain wouldn’t.

We had eight years of a Democrat who “felt our pain” while he screwed us. I’m not in the mood for another eight years of the same. If I’m going to be screwed, I prefer it be done by a bastard. At least I know where the son of a bitch is coming from.

The writer Sheldon S. Wolin understands quite well the crisis America is facing. In his book “Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism” he tells us:

Inverted totalitarianism marks a political moment when corporate power finally sheds its identification as a purely economic phenomenon, confined primarily to a domestic domain of “private enterprise” and evolves into a globalizing copartnership with the state: a double transmutation, of corporation and state. The former becomes more political, the latter more market oriented

Its methodology is “the tyranny of efficiency.”

So, what do we do?

Progressives would be wise to throw their support to the Green Party. The party’s platform is a Progressive dream. It calls for a peace dividend, single-payer universal health care, money for education and not for privatized prisons, fair trade and not corporate globalization, a living wage, a rebuilt manufacturing base, and debt relief for the struggling middle class and poor.

In short, the Green Party believes it’s time to tear down our empire and use the money to rebuild America.

Were Progressives to help the party draw twenty to twenty-five percent of the vote, it would be a force to be reckoned with! Were it to achieve a similar percentage in the Congress, it could control the legislative agenda. And it wouldn’t even need party members in Congress, only Democrats who would pledge to caucus with the Greens.

The party has nominated two street fighters for president and vice president: Cynthia McKinney and Rosa Clemente. These candidates bring a unique skill set to the political arena that Progressives have lacked in the past.

As an African-American, McKinney has a long history of resistance. Commenting on the sudden spike is African-American prisoners following the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Wolin writes:

The significance of the African American prison population is political. What is notable about the African American population generally is that it is highly sophisticated politically and by far the one group that throughout the twentieth century kept alive a spirit of resistance and rebelliousness. In that context, criminal justice is as much a strategy of political neutralization as it is a channel of instinctive racism.

Rosa Clemente is a Hispanic out of the South Bronx who has a long history as a community activist.

She also symbolizes a truism that Progressives must accept. If we ever achieve a bottom-up democracy, it will because of the influences that have filtered up from Latin America. They are living what we are only dreaming about. There was born the Bolivarian Revolution, the Sandinistas, liberation theology, Subcomandante Marcos, the Zapatistas and the campesinos.

In other words, it’s time for Progressives to stop preaching and start learning.

We must lose the short-term thinking that goes no further than the current election cycle. We are engaged in a generational struggle and must think in terms of a long-term future.

I have three grandchildren; the oldest is seven. Their children will live into the twenty-second century. Because of this I care passionately about what kind of world they will inhabit, as should anyone with children or grandchildren whose children will live into the twenty-second century.

But, alas, this is all a hallucination born of a brain addled by the toxic stench of bullshit that has turned our air brown.

But, still…

Case Wagenvoord blogs at and welcomes comments at


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