Tikkun's Michael Lerner offers 10 guidelines for reviving a progressive vision. Key, he says, is recognizing what the election was and was not.
"It wasn't the progressive agenda that got defeated. It was the
corporate-military accommodation of the Democrats and Obama who couldn't
address popular outrage, not only at the economic problem, but at the
way we had been manipulated in 2008; and the humiliation many felt at
having allowed themselves to hope that someone in politics would fight
for what they said they would fight for."
Lerner's 10 Commandments:
1. Don't let the media frame this as a defeat of progressives.
Had Obama embraced and fought for a progressive agenda, even if he had
passed none of it, he would have entered the 2010 elections as the
champion of the huge idealism of the American people that was elicited
in 2008 and which would have led the Democrats to an electoral sweep in
2010. Being seen as fighting for the needs of ordinary people -- never
letting anyone forget for a moment that he had inherited the mess that
Republican and pro-corporate Democrats had created, positioning himself
as the champion of those who resented the Wall Street and corporate
interests -- his popularity would have grown; he could have won a much
bigger victory for the Democrats in 2010, and that would have allowed
him to actually legislate the policies of a progressive vision.
Had Obama refused to give more money to the banks and Wall Street
unless equal or greater amounts were allocated for a visionary New
Deal-style program for jobs and a freeze on mortgage foreclosures; had
the Democrats refused to fund the escalation of war in Afghanistan; had
they advocated for "Medicare for Everyone" instead of passing a plan
that forced 30 million people to buy health care, but puts no serious
restraints on the costs that insurance companies or pharmaceutical can
charge; had Obama fought courageously for a carbon tax and ended the
bargain taxes for the wealthy; had the Democrats insisted on stopping
the harassment of immigrants; had the Obama Administration called for a
national effort to overturn Citizens United, such as the ESRA -- Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Had Obama set up public forums at which his supporters could give him
public feedback and used the web creatively to allow his supporters to
weigh in, and had Obama consistently spoken honestly to Americans about
the constraints he was facing and who was putting pressure on him to do
what -- there would have been no electoral defeat. It wasn't the
progressive agenda that got defeated, it was the corporate-military
accommodation of the Democrats and Obama who couldn't address popular
outrage, not only at the economic problem, but at the way we had been
manipulated in 2008; and the humiliation many felt at having allowed
themselves to hope that someone in politics would fight for what they
said they would fight for.
2. Challenge the elitism in the Left. Whenever
you hear someone saying that it is the stupidity or reactionary nature
of Americans that led to this defeat, remind them of why, absent any
other voice that they would encounter expressing their outrage, it was
rational for Americans to be attracted to the right-wing voices that
were expressing that outrage (albeit with programs that will actually
make things worse). When Americans thought they had a chance at
progressive change, they voted for it in 2008 -- so they are neither
stupid nor reactionary.
3. Challenge the religo-phobia in the Left. As
long as the progressive world seems to be aligned with those who think
that anyone who believes in God must be either stupid or at a lower
stage of psychological development, we will get nowhere with an American
public sincerely committed to a spiritual worldview. Allow yourself to
explore the various spiritual progressive communities and movements that
4. Do not demean those who disagree with us. Act
as though every person, no matter what their politics, is created in the
image of God or deserves fundamental respect, and only challenge their
ideas and policies, but without attributing bad motives to them. And do
not demean your own leaders -- stop the back-biting and competition that
so often drives the most creative thinkers and activists out of the
movement! Make the progressive world focus more on taking care of each
other in its meetings and public events.
5. Take time every day to rejoice in the grandeur and awesome mystery of the universe
-- and remember that the world is filled with loving people who would
be there with us if they knew that we took love as seriously as we take
6. Build a unified political movement that calls for A New Bottom Line in American society
so that instead of judging institutions, legislation or policies
rational or productive only to the extent that they maximize money and
power, they are judged by how much they maximize love and caring,
kindness and generosity, ethical and ecological behavior and awareness,
and the extent to which they tend to encourage us to be more caring
toward each other and the earth and more able to respond to the universe
with awe, wonder and radical amazement at the grandeur of being and
consciousness and to experience true gratitude at being alive.
SCROLL TO CONTINUE WITH CONTENT
Never Miss a Beat.
Get our best delivered to your inbox.
7. Build within the Democratic Party an opposition to the
corporate-oriented leaders of that party, from Steny Hoyer and Nancy
Pelosi to Diane Feinstein and Charles Schumner. Create a
spiritual progressive caucus in every city. Run candidates in the
primaries against that leadership -- follow the example of the Tea Party
in their effort to move the Republican party to the Right.
8. Build outside the Democratic Party a separate political
party that talks about love, kindness, generosity, and The Caring
Society -- Caring for Each Other and Caring for the Earth. Let
that party be based on the notion of A New Bottom Line as expressed in
Commandment Six. Let this party talk explicitly about building a world
that supports love and generosity! Stop speaking the language of the
bureaucrats and the technical manipulators -- start speaking the
language of the heart. End the time in which Democrats believe that
progressives have "no place to go" and hence will support their
corporate-oriented candidates no matter how far they are from
If the Greens are able to transform themselves to a party that puts
love and caring and the language of the heart at the forefront of its
public identification, rather than a primarily technocratic,
issues-debating, hard-nosed "realistic" from the left,
policy-but-not-love-generating social force, then it could be this. But
at the moment it is not, and it may be easier to create something new
than to reform the inner workings and political culture of the Greens,
9. Create a United Progressive Fund so that all the
different progressive organizations stop competing with each other for
funding and instead allocate according to how many people belong to any
given progressive organization.
10. Don't be realistic! The powers that be in the
media, politics and economics define "realism." The most important
changes in our country have come about because people were willing to
fight for what everyone supposedly knew to be "unrealistic" (e.g. ending
segregation, ending ten thousand years of unchallenged male supremacy
and sexism, legitimating gay and lesbian lives, building an
environmental movement, and the list goes on).
Realism is idolatry -- believing in God is believing that there is
some Force in the Universe (some of us call it God) that makes possible
the transformation from "that which is" to "that which could and should
be." Support a Global Marshall Plan to once and for all end global
poverty, hunger, homelessness, insufficient education or health care --
and pay for it through a Tobin tax on all international financial
transactions of over $1 million. End the domination of money in politics
and challenge the irresponsible environmental policies of corporations
-- through the ESRA -- the Environmental and Social Responsibility
Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Follow these ten commandments and the progressive forces will finally be
able to reshape this country before it is too late. If you wish to help
us do this, please join and help create a local chapter of the Network
of Spiritual Progressives here.
But if you like these ideas but don't want to work inside our
organization, then bring these ideas into whatever organization you are
already part of and insist that they debate these ideas, align with us
in our campaign for the ESRA and for our proposed Global Marshall Plan,
and insist that they develop the kind of broad strategy we are
Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun magazine, a Jewish and Interfaith Critique of Politics, Culture and Society; chair of the Network of Spiritual Progressives, and rabbi of Beyt Tikkun Synagogue.