There are many debates among progressives now on the true nature of Barack Obama. Did he mean anything he said on the campaign trail? Is he really a progressive? Did he ever mean to challenge the status quo or was he using the word "change" as a campaign gimmick? Is he just a corporatist like most other politicians?
After talking about this with a great many progressives on our show, I've come to some conclusions. These are so self-evident that they will be viewed as obvious in hindsight.
Does he mean well or does he have bad intentions? Come on, don't be ridiculous. Of course, he means well. But in his own mind, George Bush thought he meant well too (for the most part). I'm positive that Obama thinks that he is doing the best he can to bring about as much change as he can within the limits of this system.
Is he a true progressive or a corporatist sell out? Well, that depends on what you mean. Has he wound up helping corporate America tremendously through health care "reform," finance "reform," etc.? Well, Wall Street certainly seems to think so (and so do most progressives). Did he do that because he thought, "I can't wait to help corporate America and screw over the little guy"? No, I'm sure he thought he had to accommodate the powers that be in order to affect any change at all in this system. But the bottom line has been the same, either way - the system has been tweaked but corporate America chugs along with even more government largesse than before.
I'm sure Obama is a progressive that would help the average American if he thought he could. But apparently he thinks he can't. He can only bring them a small amount of change because of what he thinks the system will allow.
You can criticize him for lack of imagination, duplicity during the campaign, lack of spine and political miscalculation. And you might be right about some or all of that, but all of those aren't the essence of Obama. The core of Obama is a man who is a cautious politician. That is what he is at his center. He can't help himself. Asking him to be something else is asking a rock to be a little less hard. He is what he is.
So, what Obama does by his nature is find the middle ground. As an excellent innate politician, he will find the political center of any field and rush to it. That's where elections are won - the center. So, that's why he sounded so progressive during the primaries, because that was the center of the left. And why he sounded like such a reformer during the general election because the great majority of Americans desperately wanted change.
So, what happened to that Obama? The country is the same, so why did Obama drop the progressive reformer angle and go toward the right and corporate America? Because his field changed. He went from campaigning all across the country to being in the middle of Washington, DC. The center of Washington is very different than the center of the country.
The Washington bubble leans far more to the right than the rest of the country (poll after poll indicates this). The corporate media in Washington are pros at protecting the status quo and view people who challenge the system as fringe players. A natural politician would naturally move right to accommodate this new environment. Obama can't help himself. Why does a scorpion sting, why does a horse gallop? Because they were made to. Hoping Obama snaps out of it is hoping against reason and nature.
So, what can we do? Well, showing him data on where the American people actually stand didn't help at all. Nearly a dozen polls showed overwhelming support for the public option across the country. That didn't budge him. There are now polls showing 40% of Democrats are not going to show up in the 2010 elections because they are so disenchanted. It hasn't even made a dent in Obama. The Washington force field is strong.
So, our only hope is to move the island. We have to move his center. If we can move what he perceives to be the center, he will naturally flow to it. In Lost, when they move the island they move across time. In our case, when we move the island we need to move across the political spectrum.
Right now, Obama perceives the center of the country to be somewhere between Dick Cheney and Harry Reid. Do you know where that leaves him? Joe Lieberman. That's why we're in the sorry shape we're in now.
The reality is that Howard Dean is a moderate. Progressives in Vermont were upset with him when he was governor because they thought he was too far right. I just heard from someone who was on a cruise that The Nation organized and that Howard Dean spoke at. The crowd on the cruise nearly booed him when he spoke because they thought he was far too moderate.
If you look at Dean's policies, they are right down the middle of the country. That's part of the reason his 50 state strategy worked so well. But the establishment media hate him. Why? Because he points out when they're doing something wrong - and he winds up being proven right in the end. There's nothing that irritates the establishment more than that.
As things stand, Howard Dean is perceived to be to the left of all of the Democratic senators in Washington (not because he's more liberal than Bernie Sanders or Harry Reid; it's because unlike them, he's willing to fight for his positions (sorry Bernie, at this point, it's true)). That's unconscionable. Washington has shifted so far right that Dean is considered some sort of wild-eyed liberal. We have to move it back if we are to have any hope that Obama will move further left (and much closer to the true center of the country).
So, how do we do this? It's not pretty, but it's necessary. We have to attack Obama relentlessly from the left. Right now he is a giant that is unmoved by anything in his left flank, he keeps looking to his right and ducking and worrying and moving to accommodate them. They are so loud and so visible. It's hard to miss them. We have to make him look left. We have to shake him off his foundation.
Rahm Emanuel gave a wonderfully condescending interview to the Wall Street Journal where he explained that the White House has nothing to worry about from the left. That's exactly what we have to change. Unfortunately, the only way to capture their attention and make them accommodate us rather than Fox News Channel is to hurt them. When we can put on the same kind of pain and pressure on the Obama White House as Fox does, that's when they'll have to move, at least to get out of the way.
You inflict political pain by voting things down. So far progressives have been completely unwilling to do this. They got rolled on healthcare because they had no intention of putting their foot down - and everyone knew it.
The next time Obama pushes a corporate agenda, progressives have to knock him upside the head. Deny him. Or as the kids would say, send his shit. And make a big stink out of it. Draw everyone's attention to how far right Obama is and how out of whack he is with the American people.
If that scares you and you start to worry about damaging a Democratic president, you're never going to win at this game. You're never going to get the policies you want. They don't listen to reason, they listen to power.
Let's get real, we already lost the health care fight. But luckily, something even more important is up next. Financial reform. That's where we know for a fact the American people have our back. We also already know that Obama's Treasury Department is a joke. Tim Geithner has fought reformers in the House every step of the way. It's time to take out a couple of lead pipes and a blow torch and go to work on his ass.
If Obama wants to fill the legislation full of loopholes, he should be called out at every turn. We vote no and we point out in no uncertain terms that Obama is pushing that agenda to help corporate interests so that he can fill Democratic coffers.
This has the advantage of being true. If you don't have the stomach for being this tough on Obama and the Democrats, well then you don't have the stomach for politics. And you will permanently be the Republican's bitches.
If you don't move the island, the rest is futile. You have to shift the ground underneath them. And the only way to do that is to create such a strong and aggressive progressive movement that they cannot help but notice it - and respond to it. Move the center and you'll move Obama. And he'll move the country. There is no other choice.