05/25/2011 12:05 pm ET

It's like battered spouse syndrome.

You want to leave, but where else do you go?

So you stay and fight. But do you? I mean, how many times do progressives have to be screwed over by the Dems before we mount a campaign (from the outside) to purge the Neanderthals in the party?

Let's see, shall we start counting?

* First there's the so-called "ethics reform" bill that has seen more stripping than one of the D.C. Madam's clients. Instead of keeping the provisions that would establish an independent ethics board, the Dems are holding their noses and pretending -- with a bill that everyone knows has been shot through with more holes than all of Dick Cheney's hunting partners combined.

What about pushing the bills that Dick Durbin and John Tierney have introduced that would establish public funding of elections? When will the Dems stop trying to plug a thousand tiny seive-holes and give us something that works?

* Then there's the bi-partisan trade deal that Congressman Rangel assures us has strong provisions on labor and the environment, even though he won't reveal the actual text of the bill. My question is, if he's right, then why do the Chamber and the Business Roundtable support the bill?

* And of course there's the Iraq supplemental. Enough said about "blank checks" and no timetables for withdrawal, but it's worth repeating that the oil law "benchmark" is still in there, and could be taken out. Otherwise, as Dennis Kucinich explained in an unusual hour-long speech on the floor the other day, the world will have to conclude that "it's all about oil" -- and always was from the start.

Combine that with the trade agreement and the buildup to war with Iran, and then you go and tell Ralph Nader with a straight face how the Dems and Republicans are so much different on the major foreign policy questions.

* Then there's the "gas gouging" bill (H.R. 1252) that the Dems passed yesterday, and which and others are pushing. Actually, it's pretty piddly and a lot more should and could be done before they move on to the next item.

Yes, it's nice that the bill defines "price-gouging" (a term that like "war profiteering" is meaningless by itself), but to what end? Most of the enforcement will be on small gas station owners who are making more money selling coffee and donuts inside their convenience store then they are by selling gas.

The real challenge is to end all the tax breaks and subsidies to the oil companies and impose a windfall profits tax and direct that money to huge increases in the budgets for mass transit and big payments to working families to allow them to afford to buy that hybrid car and other environmentally-friendly stuff. They could start by kicking-up the cost of the companies' public land leases.

We also need to make it illegal for oil companies - particularly refiners - from engaging in unilateral withholding. That practice - which is what Enron did with electricity in California and now the oil companies are doing it today - allows them to drive prices up by withholding their product from the marketplace. The difference is that in this case the feds won't find any evidence of collusive behavior, such as tapes at ExxonMobil traders making fun of "granma f#*!ing Millie." This is a huge loophole in anti-trust law that should be closed. The oil companies make the bulk of their profits on refining.

Perhaps in addition to closing the loophole, the government should build its own refinery, as Steve Pearlstein suggested in yesterday's Washington Post. (Every other country treats oil as a strategic asset, with state ownership of the production).

We face the triple crisis of peak oil (and therefore rising prices), a war for oil (i.e. permanent dependence on foreign oil), and global warming -- all interlinked national security threats. But the party leadership is not linking these together as a much greater threat than the so-called "war on terror" or even talking seriously about the need for a new "Manhattan project" to develop engines that don't require combustion as we now know it, and phase-out carbon-spewing coal plants.

No wonder even Lee Iacocca has been screaming about the lack of real leadership.

* The Wall Street Journal finally reported yesterday that in the U.S. and most everywhere else where the trade agreements and neoliberal economic policies pushed by Democrats like Charlie Rangel have been in effect, inequality has been growing rapidly. Sure, Congress is passing an increase in the minimum wage standard, but that's not a living wage standard, and doesn't address the threats of inequality.

* And what about out-of-control CEO pay? The Dems support another incremental step -- a "say on pay" proposal for shareholders -- which is actually not a bad step because it will give shareholders a say, but evidence from the UK suggests it won't actually curb the rise in pay itself. Nevertheless, we're supposed to pretend.

The question is, when is someone going to start talking about taxing the very rich? During the Eisenhower era, the top rate was 91%.

* Oh, and speaking of war profiteering -- where has that big contract reform package gone? You'd think that the recent embarrassing revelations about the GSA, and the crumbling showcase projects in Iraq would cause someone to try to fix things. Perhaps they're holding that card for a later day, but how does that protect taxpayers or the troops for that matter?

And where are the populist leaders in Congress willing to step up and hold the line on big ideas and bold proposals that begin to define a progressive agenda for well beyond the next couple of years?

If the current leadership gets anything significant accomplished, Bush will likely veto it anyway. So the question is, do progressives want to settle for this kind of timid incrementalism (touted as pragmatic and hard-nosed realism), which will hardly inspire confidence among voters in 2008 -- or do they want to start responding to America's thirst for a new kind of bold leadership that's willing to tackle the nation's pressing problems and force out the elites in the Democratic party whose true constituency is the oiligarchs, the war profiteers, the media moguls, Big Pharma, the hedge fund managers, etc.