Should progressives beware? Has Barack Obama suckered them into supporting a President who will really govern from the "center-right"? The short answer is no.
Since November 4th there has been growing protestation from right wing intellectuals that America is really a "center-right" nation and that Obama's victory does not indicate that the electorate has rejected the "center-right" value frame that has defined American politics for the last thirty years.
This line of argument has now extended to the contention that while Obama may have won the nomination and election with the strong support from the left of the Democratic Party, he really intends to govern from the "center-right." Even the New York Times ran a front page analysis last Saturday concluding that Obama's recent cabinet choices, "suggest that Mr. Obama is planning to govern from the center-right of his party, surrounding himself with pragmatists rather than ideologues."
Both of these arguments are complete baloney.
* Right wing pundits can comfort themselves with the fantasy that America is a "center-right" nation but it just ain't so. In fact, all of the polls show that the November election represented a complete repudiation of right wing Bush-Cheney top-down economics and their Neo-Con foreign policy. Over 80% of voters indicated they wanted fundamental change. The polling shows massive majorities in favor of policies that would guarantee health care for all. It shows overwhelming support for policies that give tax relief to middle income Americans and increase taxes on the wealthy. Polls show complete rejection of Neo-Con notions about "preemptive" war and unilateralism. And Americans strongly favor bold government action to stimulate the economy - not the failed laissez faire economics that have lead to the current economic meltdown.
* The fact is that normal people have supported policies like health care for all and bottom up economics for decades. They've known for years that economic policies that have lowered their incomes and siphoned off all of our growth to the top 2% were not in their interest. Now the market collapse, potential bankruptcy of the country's biggest firms, and obvious failure of Neo-Con foreign policy have finally forced even the country's punditry and intellectual opinion leadership to wake up and smell the coffee.
* Not only have "center-right" policies proven themselves a complete failure, their intellectual and moral basis has collapsed. How many more bail outs does someone need before he stops believing that the unfettered "free market" will always lead the "private sector" (meaning those who control giant corporations and Wall Street Bankers) to act in the public interest. How many times can corporate CEO's emerge from their private jets with tin cups in Washington before people begin to question the "center-right's" claim that the private sector is inherently more efficient that the public sector. Let's face it, it's getting pretty tough to justify why Wall Street's "masters of the universe" deserve to be paid hundreds of millions of dollars while middle class incomes tank; or why a CEO should make more money before lunch on the first day of the year than his minimum wage worker makes all year long.
* Obama ran a campaign that clearly and unequivocally described priorities that will turn American in a fundamentally progressive direction. His cabinet picks indicate that he will surround himself with people who have experience and can competently manage the government. They also indicate his absolute commitment to unifying the country to make change. But they do not in any way diminish the fact that America is demanding -- and Obama intends to enact -- a sweeping progressive program the likes of which we have not seen since the New Deal.
* Political consultant, activist and author Mike Lux will publish a book early next year that surveys the history of progressive change in American history. He concludes that progressive changes happen in big batches. Change doesn't happen incrementally. I think of it as the "Drain-O" theory of history. At key points in history the pressure for democratizing, progressive change overwhelms the forces of the status quo. Then, as the pipes are suddenly cleaned out, massive numbers of progressive changes can finally flow. America is about to experience one of those periods. How much we can accomplish, and how long this period lasts will depend on many factors that we don't yet know -- and one that we do. It will depend heavily on our success in continuing to mobilize the millions of Americans who elected Barack Obama into a movement to enact his program.
* Finally, writers and pundits who focus on Obama's Cabinet picks to show he will govern from the "center right" need to have a look at history. Like Obama, Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln all installed people in their cabinets who they believed to be effective managers who could deliver. They all had their share of outsiders and progressives, but many were old Washington hands. Yet all of these Presidents faced historic challenges that demanded and enabled them to make fundamental change. And all of them were guided by progressive values that were sharply different from those of Bush, Cheney, and Delay. Obama shares and articulates those values more than any political leader since Robert Kennedy died forty years ago.
Barack Obama will not govern from the "center right", but he will govern from the "center". That's not because he is "moving to the center". It's because the center of American politics has changed. It has moved where the American people are. It once again resides in the traditional progressive center that has defined America's promise since Thomas Jefferson penned its founding document over 200 years ago.
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.
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