New Year's Resolution: Don't Apologize for Democrats

For the new year, let's resolve: Don't defend Democrats when they
don't deserve defending. And that certainly includes President Obama.

Let's further resolve: Put principles above party and never lose our voice on human rights and social justice.

When we mute ourselves as a Democratic president pursues corporatist or militarist policies, we only encourage such policies.

If it was wrong for Bush to bail out Wall Street with virtually no
controls, then it's wrong for Obama. If indefinite "preventative
detention" was wrong under Bush, then it's wrong under Obama. If military occupation and deepening troop deployments were wrong under Bush, then they're wrong under Obama.

Imagine if McCain had defeated Obama in 2008 and soon tripled the
number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. I have little doubt that
activists would have mobilized major opposition, denouncing the reality
of more U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq combined than even Bush
had deployed.

But as Obama goes about tripling the troops in Afghanistan, with
more U.S. soldiers in war zones that Bush ever had -- and proposes the
biggest military budget in world history -- many activists have lost
their voices.

When Obama's West Point speech on Afghanistan paid lip service to
benchmarks and a timeline (as even Bush learned to do on Iraq), how did
the once independent MoveOn react? Its leaders sent out a muted
petition urging -- benchmarks and a timeline. The email might as well
have been written by Rahm Emanuel in the West Wing.

Taking cues from the Obama White House, liberal groups went quiet
on Wall Street bailouts and bonuses -- thus helping rightwing
teabaggers and corporate-fronts to pose as populist saviors of the
middle class.

By going soft on the White House or Democratic Congressional
leaders, most netroots groups have undermined genuine progressives in
Congress -- on issues from Iraq and Afghanistan to Wall Street and
health care.

Instead of launching their health care reform efforts behind an
easily-explained, cost-effective "Enhanced Medicare for All" bill
co-sponsored by dozens of progressive Congress members, netroots
leaders meekly made a "public option" their starting demand
and pretended not to notice when Rahm Emanuel began signaling last
spring that the White House had no intention of pushing for it.

Predictably, we've ended up with corporate-enrichment legislation
that forcibly delivers tens of millions of customers to big insurers
and big pharma -- with almost no cost controls because of private deals
cut in the White House . In the New York Times before
Christmas, beneath an accurate header "Corporate Glee," a news article
asserted: "The insurance companies were probably among the merriest of
industries last week . . . But the drug companies were certainly
joyful, too." Insurance stocks are soaring on Wall Street.

It's tragically ironic that netroots forces joined Democratic
leaders in killing Medicare for All as an unrealistic starting demand
and now are belatedly urging "kill the bill."

I'm old enough to remember that when Democrats are in majority power
-- controlling both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue -- they are capable of
horrific policies. With Lyndon Johnson in the White House, most
Democrats in Congress went along with Vietnam escalation. And with
President Clinton, some leading Congressional Democrats joined mostly Republicans in backing the anti-worker, anti-environmental NAFTA.

The good news -- during the eras of Vietnam and NAFTA -- is that
large numbers of progressive activists stood fast to their principles
and vocally opposed those wrong-headed Democratic policies. They didn't
follow Democratic leaders over the cliff or pretend that Democratic
presidents are automatically "on our side" or well-intentioned.

And back then we lacked the most awesome tool ever invented for independent grassroots mobilization: the Internet.

The Net has helped unleash a golden age for independent media -- and
for journalists unafraid to challenge leaders of both parties: folks
like Glenn Greenwald, Jeremy Scahill, Arianna Huffington, Matt Taibbi
and Amy Goodman, to name a few.

Thanks to the Internet and independent media, progressive activists
are more fully and more quickly informed about national and global
issues than ever. Yet many activists are poorly represented by national
netroots groups that often function as appendages of the Democratic

While independent progressive media are booming on the Internet, the
largest netroots political-action groups are sorely lacking in

Be it resolved: In 2010, we will not apologize for indefensible
Democratic policies, and we will no longer support netroots groups that
fail to resist such policies.

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