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Democrats Must Unite to Stop Republicans from Making 2010 "The Year the Empire Strikes Back"

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I am probably part of what someone might call the "professional left." For the last four decades I've worked professionally for progressive causes and candidates -- both as a leader of progressive organizations and as a political consultant.

I do, in fact, believe that America would be far better off with Medicare for All -- a single payer health insurance system -- than it is at the mercy of private insurance companies. And that's true even though we made great progress reining in those insurance companies with the historic health reform bill that passed Congress this year and finally makes health care a right for all Americans.

I believe that the American economy would benefit if we broke up the big Wall Street banks -- even though the Wall Street reform bill will prevent much of the reckless behavior that collapsed our economy and cost eight million Americans their jobs two years ago.

Anyway, I'm sure that Glenn Beck and Andrew Breitbart think I'm part of the "professional left." And my experience as part of the "professional left" leads me to draw five critical lessons from the current political moment.

1). An Historic Opportunity for Change.

The election of Barack Obama -- coupled with Democratic control of the House and Senate -- provided the first serious opportunity for progressive change in forty years. Bill Clinton made real strides on many fronts during the 1990's, but America was still gripped by the dominant conservative ideology that massively limited his opportunity to make real structural change.

All of that changed after eight years of corporate, right wing excess -- during which George Bush had practically unfettered opportunity to put right wing ideology into practice at virtually every level. His tax breaks for the rich, and anti-union policies guaranteed that every dime of economic growth during the period went to the top two percent of the population. His blind faith in the "market" allowed the recklessness of the big Wall Street banks to run wild, and finally run the economy off the road. Not just into a ditch, but into a deep canyon. His Neo-con fantasies had led America into the quagmire of two massively expensive wars.

In November 2008 the ideological winds shifted in America. The progressive forces in America took the offensive.

2). We've won major battles.

For the last twenty months I've worked on the campaign to bring health care to every American and hold the insurance companies accountable -- as well as the campaigns to reform Wall Street, pass the economic stimulus, change America's budget priorities, reform our broken immigration system, create a clean energy future, change our failed foreign policy toward Cuba, and to pass financial aid to pay for teachers, firefighters and other civil servants.

Every one of these battles involved a massive struggle with hugely powerful corporate economic interests that wanted to stop change dead in its tracks. In every case, the Republicans lined up in lock step with the big Wall Street banks, insurance companies and Big Oil.

But we've won major battles. In fact, Progressives have won more territory in the last twenty months than in most of the preceding forty years.

Health care reform transforms one sixth of the American economy. It makes health care a right. It prevents insurance companies from discriminating against millions of Americans because of "pre-existing" conditions. And, by the way, it makes Members of Congress participate in the same system they set up for everyone else. We haven't done enough yet. We need a public option - the ability for everyone to buy into Medicare so they have options other than private insurance companies that have raised rates three times faster than wages and gorged themselves with profits. But we have come a long way.

In the battle for Wall Street reform, the bill got stronger as it moved through the legislative process. That's because we have political high ground that made the opponents of change feel like General Custer at Little Big Horn. There is still much to be done, but the bill's passage signaled a massive change in the relationship of Wall Street to Congress. For decades, the "Masters of the Universe" had their way with American government. No longer.

The passage of the economic stimulus -- and the recent aid to state and local governments -- prevented the Great Recession from turning into the Great Depression. The Obama budget completely transformed the priorities of Government. And of course Congress has passed a string of progressive initiatives like the Lilly Ledbetter Act that guaranteed equal pay for women.

We've stemmed the tide of rightwing jurists that were flowing onto the Supreme Court and -- had John McCain won election - would have shifted American law to the right for a generation.

At the end of this month, President Obama will end America's combat role in Iraq.


3. They don't roll over and play dead.

But many progressives are disappointed in the pace of change.

I've seen these battles up close and personal. I can tell you that the other side didn't just give up when Obama took the oath of office. They used every tool at their disposal to stall, weaken and defeat progress. They didn't do it because they were stupid or didn't understand what was best for the country. They did it to protect their own vested interests -- their ability to make money from the rest of us.

We came inches from getting a public option -- or a Medicare buy-in -- as part of health reform. It was stopped when the insurance lobby told their guy in the Senate, Joe Lieberman, that he was not to, under any circumstances, be the 60th vote for such a proposal.

It is now patently obvious that we need a much larger stimulus to jumpstart the economic recovery. Why didn't we get one? Because Republican Senator Susan Collins demanded that a huge chunk of the stimulus funds be diverted to fix the "Alternative Minimum Tax" (that had no stimulative effect at all) as the price of her 60th vote.

Congress made no progress passing desperately needed Comprehensive Immigration Reform because of adamant opposition from Republicans who wanted to use the issue to stoke fear and turnout in their base.

The factor limiting the ground taken by progressive forces in the last 20 months was not the reluctance of the White House or the Democratic Leadership in the House or Senate. It was the complete intransigence of the Republicans, their unflinching alliance with the economic vested interests intent on stopping change.

The fact is that if we want to expand and consolidate this period of progressive change we have to break the back of unified Republican opposition to change. And it would help enormously if, at the beginning of the next session of Congress, a Democratic majority changes its rules to end the filibuster and the undemocratic requirement that virtually any bill receives 60 votes in the Senate.

4). The Republicans want to make 2010 the year the Empire Strikes Back.

But the Republicans and corporate special interests have other ideas. Their plan is to play upon Americas frustration with the lack of jobs and speed of economic recovery and make 2010 the year that the Empire Strikes Back.

Never mind that they caused the economic catastrophe that Democrats have been forced to clean up for the last year and a half. They want us to give them back the keys to the economy. In fact they say out loud that they will continue the same reckless policies that caused the calamity -- and worse. They even want to revive the failed Bush proposal to cut guaranteed Social Security benefits and privatize Social Security -- to abolish Medicare and replace it with vouchers for private insurance. They want to repeal Wall Street reform and return to the bad old days when insurance companies could tell someone who's had cancer they no longer qualify for health insurance.

They desperately want to shut down this historic opportunity for progressive change.

5). It's up to us to unite and stop them.

They used to say that the thing that is most likely to end war and conflict between the nations of the world would be an existential threat from a group of aliens from outer space.

The same must be true for Democrats and Progressives. Time to give up the bickering, the infighting, the name calling -- and unite to prevent the Empire from striking back.

No more aspersions about the "professional left." No more talk about how the Obama White House sold out this or that issue or cause.

For those who are so inclined there will be plenty of time for all that once again after November 2nd. Right now our job is to make sure that Republicans do not become a majority in either House of Congress, for that is certain to bring serious progressive change to screeching halt.

And it's up to every one of us.

Everyone who believes in the vision of hope and change that powered the Obama victory in 2008 has to get off the couch and report for duty - to the political front lines.

To fend off this attack, we have to take the political offensive. And there are lots of opportunities.

We need to show up at Republican town meetings and demand to know why they are proposing to abolish Medicare and replace it with vouchers for private insurance.

We need to go door to door to explain to voters what it would mean to the prospects of middle class incomes if the corporations and the Republican allies once again take charge of Congress.

We need to tell every potential Democratic voter that we won't get off their porch until they vote November 2nd.

Latino voters need to go to the polls to show Congress that those who continue to disrespect the community will no longer be allowed to serve in positions of public trust.

Join the campaign of your local Congressional or Senate candidate.

Sign up to be part of the DNC's www.accountabilityproject.com, which is aimed at holding Republican Members of Congress accountable for their votes against working people - like the virtually unanimous Republican vote to fire hundreds of thousands of teachers, firefighters and police officers.

We can't allow big corporations and their Republican partners to end the historic opportunity to make progressive change.

And we know one thing for sure. If we unite, if we mobilize, we can win. We know we can, because we have.

Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist, and author of the recent book: "Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win," available on Amazon.com.