Now that the intoxication of the Obama victory is over (or should be over), one wonders how long it will take the pro-Obama left to wake up to a hangover. For the last few days, news reports should have given them an Excedrin-sized headache. Instead of ushering in a new New Deal, Obama seems to be all about ushering in Bill Clinton’s 3rd term but in this case we are dealing with America’s first real Black president rather than the claim made on Clinton’s behalf by Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson in 2001 that he “took so many initiatives he made us think for a while we had elected the first black president.”
First and foremost, Obama’s selection of Rahm Emanuel is a clear indication that he will promote DLC type politics of the sort that characterized the Clinton-Gore years. While some liberals are surprised by this choice, they should remember that Obama came to Connecticut to back Joseph Lieberman in 2006.
On the economics front, the possible choice of Lawrence Summers as Secretary of the Treasury is just as disgusting. When he was president of Harvard University, Summers became notorious for claiming that women did not succeed in science and math careers because of their genes. He also called African-American professor Cornel West on the carpet and lectured him about how his scholarship was not up to snuff, thus convincing West to find work elsewhere.
But perhaps Summers is being considered for the job because of his experience as chief economist of the World Bank. If so, Obama is obviously insensitive to the rights of his fellow Africans in light of the fact that Summers once proposed exporting pollution to poor African nations stating “the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that”. For all of the talk about Obama being the second coming of Martin Luther King Jr., I doubt that King would have ever had anything to do with the Lawrence Summers of the world.
None of this seems to have made any impact on the “Progressives for Obama” blog, a home to a number of 1960s radicals including former SDS leaders Tom Hayden and Carl Davidson, as well as Bill Fletcher Jr., a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the past president of TransAfrica Forum, and former education director of the AFL-CIO.
Fletcher, who is African-American, is an occasional contributor to Freedom Road Socialist Organization, a group that emerged out of the Maoist “New Communist Movement” described by Max Elbaum in “Revolution in the Air”. Most of the leaders of this movement came out of SDS, including one Bob Avakian.
It is important to understand that the Maoists of the 1960s, while rejecting the “revisionist” CPUSA, grew to accept many of its key ideas, including working in the Democratic Party. Irwin Silber, who is a bit older than the SDS radicals but who wrote for the SDS-aligned Guardian newspaper (the American radical weekly that went out of business some time ago-not to be confused with the British daily), helped to form a New Communist group called Line of March. As its principal spokesman, Silber wrote a series of articles directed to the CPUSA that could only be described as love-hate. He had the seemingly impossible task of convincing the party to return to its revolutionary roots, which is tantamount to asking the Republicans to become the party of Lincoln once again.
My first contact with this milieu occurred shortly after joining Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador in 1981 when I ran into an African-American member of the Communist Workers Party, a number of whose members were shot by the Klan in North Carolina 2 years earlier. Ron had gone to work as an assistant to a Black Democrat in Brooklyn, an act that struck me as rather disjoined from his ultraleft politics at the time. The CWP eventually folded and many of its members simply continued as Democratic Party activists.
Turning to the first of the post-November 4th blog entries at Progressives for Obama, you can find Tom Hayden explaining why Obama’s campaign marks the beginning of a new New Left:
I haven’t heard any of the Obama grass-roots supporters proposing that we expand the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, extend NAFTA or tinker around with global warming. They are our newest best hope for creating the climate and the pressure necessary to achieve social change, and we need to listen, follow and work with them. A new New Left is at hand, and we need to avoid the irony of becoming the Old Left.
Unlike the activists in the New Communist Movement, Hayden went straight from SDS into the Democratic Party without passing go. He ran as a Democratic candidate for Senate in California in 1976 and never looked back. Currently he serves on the board of the Progressive Democrats of America alongside ex-Demogreen Medea Benjamin and a host of other left liberals.
Unfortunately, all those years in the Democratic Party have served to eat out that portion of Hayden’s brain that might have memories of the real New Left. SDS was a genuine radical movement that challenged capitalist injustice across the board, while the people who went out to canvas for Obama had much more in common with the Eugene McCarthy and Bobby Kennedy campaigns of 1968 that were designed to get young people off the streets into safe, acceptable, time-wasting electoral operations.
One day after Hayden’s piece appeared, Fletcher weighed in with a call to lend “critical support” to Obama. One imagines that the need for criticism of any support must have been prompted by the spectacle of the President-elect’s DLC trajectory. Fletcher admits:
With regard to foreign policy, this is extremely complicated and quite troubling. While Obama has emphasized the need for negotiations as a first step in international relations, when confronted by forces to his Right, he has tended to back down and often suggest highly questionable military and crypto-military options in handling crises, e.g., unilateral attacks on Al Qaeda bases in Pakistan. Some people around Obama seem to be advocating a get-tough approach toward Iran, which itself could lead to hostilities.
Fletcher also suggests that “there will more than likely be outreach to Africa, though the character of that outreach is as yet to be determined.” Well, perhaps with Summers as Secretary of the Treasury, we might see toxic radioactive waste being shipped to Africa. After all, there will be a need to deal with such material if Obama’s pro-nuclear appetites are satisfied over the next four years.
Fletcher tries to fill in the details on what “critical support” means:
President Obama will need to be pushed on many areas, including foreign policy; healthcare; housing; jobs; and in general, the need for a pro-people approach to addressing the economic crisis. Taking this approach of critical support means, tactically, pointing out what has NOT been accomplished in the Obama agenda on the one hand, and, on the other, challenging the new Administration when it advances policies that are regressive, e.g., threatening Iran or Cuba and compromising with the insurance companies on healthcare.
One cannot be exactly sure what Fletcher is referring to when it comes to the matter of “compromising with insurance companies on healthcare”. There is not a single post on the Progressives for Obama blog analyzing Obama’s inadequate healthcare proposals or calling for single-payer, a solution adopted by the Nader campaign. I suspect that any criticisms of Obama’s healthcare proposals will be offered hat in hand, as is typical of the pro-Obama left. With a general absence of criticism during his campaign from Hayden and company, one would be hard put to imagine much of it taking place from now on. What you are likely to see is the sort of thing found on Huffington Post and Air America, stale barbs directed at Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin.