Sep 29, 2010
Perhaps the November elections will not be as harsh on the Democrats
as the polls predict, but the Dems' behavior in power has decreased
their popularity dramatically.
We know, of course, that the
Democrats did not have a solid majority in Congress, given Rahm
Emanuel's 2006 decision to back the most conservative candidates in the
Democratic primaries in order to win in swing districts and take
Democratic control of the House of Representatives (a decision he made
while serving as chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign
Committee). Democrats in the Senate followed a similar path. As a
result, they won formal control and hence could be blamed for what
ensued, but they did not have the votes to fulfill their promise to the
electorate to cut off funding for the war in Iraq.
primary voters in 2008 enthusiastically supported a presidential
candidate who spent much of the primaries reminding voters that he had
opposed the Iraq war from the start, and who focused in the general
election on conveying that his presidency would be about "change you can
believe in" and telling people that his presidency would empower
people, as implied in his slogan "Yes, we can." Candidate Obama's
success in piling up a significant popular vote majority and an
electoral college landslide-a success that indicated that the racism of
Americans had receded behind their hopefulness about fundamental
change-proved that many Americans yearned for a world of peace, justice,
kindness, generosity, and love.
It's easy to blame the
Republicans for their "Politics of No" and, indeed, given the fact that
de facto Republicans were allowed to run as Democrats and be elected as
such, it might have been impossible for either the Congress or the
president to pass significant new legislation capable of fulfilling the
promise of "change you can believe in."
What the Democrats Could Have Done
Democrats could (and should) have articulated a positive progressive
vision of what was needed, put forward legislative proposals that
embodied that vision, and then fought for those proposals not only in
the halls of Congress but also in their own districts/states.
is never as important to win a legislative agenda as it is to convince
the American people of a worldview. The reason: if you don't win support
for a worldview, the next president of the opposing political party and
a Congress that supports that president can dismantle most of what
you've put in place. But if, as Roosevelt did in the 1930s and Reagan
did in the 1980s, you use your presidency to build support for your
worldview, then you find that even when a president and Congress of a
different party take control (Eisenhower in the 1950s and Clinton in the
1990s), their options are extremely limited because the previous
ideology still has a hold on the consciousness of the American people.
Thus Eisenhower kept intact much of the New Deal legislation, and
Clinton's policies confirmed Reagan's absolute faith in deregulation,
free markets, and the globalization of capital and expansion of the
From the start of his presidency, we urged President
Obama to use the theme of "The Caring Society"-caring for each other and
caring for the earth. And we urged him to insist that he would only
support programs that reflected the values of caring, generosity, social
justice, peace, environmental sustainability, and corporate social
Why "The Caring Society" as the theme? Because
most people in this society feel that the other people and huge economic
and political institutions that surround them care only for themselves.
Thirty years of ruthless self-interest on the part of the wealthy, the
banks, the insurance companies, the health care industry, and the major
corporations have profoundly affected the consciousness (not to mention
the economic security) of most Americans. The insecurities of daily life
in this society (and in all the societies in the world that have
experienced the impact of global capitalism) have driven many to seek
some refuge in strong families, religious fundamentalism, and
ultra-nationalism as a way of finding some corner of their lives within
which the ideals of caring for each other and being part of some larger
community in which "we are all in it together" trump the individualism,
materialism, and exhortation to "look out for number one" that suffuse
daily life, the media, and the economy. A president who would have
explained all this to the American public and then presented policies
and legislation that transparently placed these values above the values
of market-place "rationality" would have precipitated a huge
transformation in the consciousness of American society.
that one other thing that the president could have done: fulfilled his
promise to tell the truth. If the president had announced in his
inaugural address that each week he would be speaking honestly and
revealing what he was up against in trying to bring real change, and
that he would name names of those who were blocking efforts to change,
and then actually followed through on this, that single act of having a
truth-telling president would have changed the whole dynamic of American
Please note that everything we are saying Obama and
the Democrats could have done are things they could have done without
the consent of the Republicans or the right wing of the president's own
What the President Could Have Done Without Congress
In addition to all of that, there are other specific things the president, acting on his own, could have done:
1. Challenged the worship of the free marketplace.
Refused to fund banks and corporations that were failing and instead
proposed to create a national bank offering interest-free loans (as
called for in the Bible) to socially valuable projects. The loans could
go to small business startups or bailouts, to people seeking college and
university educations, and to corporations that increased pay and
benefits for any of their employees making less than the national
3. Required that any business getting government
support or tax breaks demonstrate that it is creating jobs and making
its products far more environmentally sustainable.
Articulated to the nation the depth of the environmental crisis facing
the world and what steps would be needed to lessen that crisis-including
a tax on carbon emissions and proposing other bold steps to save the
environment, including a ban on offshore drilling and an excess profits
tax on all energy companies.
5. Taught Americans that "homeland
security" is not best secured through a strategy of domination but
rather through a strategy of generosity. He could have proposed a Global
Marshall Plan (www.spiritualprogressives.org/GMP), only sending troops
to Afghanistan to build and not to fight, canceling all drone flights,
and releasing to the public the classified information that was leaked
by WikiLeaks, prosecuting the evildoers instead of the whistle-blowers.
Proposed a constitutional amendment such as the Environmental and
Social Responsibility Amendment (www.spiritualprogressives.org/ESRA)
that functions not only to overturn the Citizens United decision of the
Supreme Court but also to require corporate social responsibility.
Prosecuted all members of the CIA and the Bush administration, and
others who participated in illegal acts of torture or conspiracy to
commit torture, and establish the practice of bringing human rights
group members to serve as monitoring teams for unannounced visits at
every military facility where prisoners are being held around the world
and every U.S. prison.
8. Appointed to judicial positions those
who are unequivocally supportive of a progressive agenda in the same
way that the current Supreme Court majority is unequivocally supportive
of a conservative agenda. The president then could have admitted that
that was what he was doing, and defended the value of having judges and
justices who are empathic to the suffering of ordinary citizens rather
than those who twist the law to serve corporate power. No dishonesty
please-let's fight for a more humane set of values in the judicial
9. Demanded that the media stop responding to the
corporate interests of those who fund them and start responding to the
interests of ordinary Americans. The president could have picked one
example per week of irresponsible media coverage and taught Americans
how that coverage distorts their understanding.
for a universal and free (single-payer) health care plan, and campaigned
for price controls over all pharmaceuticals, rather than for the deeply
flawed plan that passed.
Well, I'm sure you can suggest other things that should be on this list.
But you get the central idea: the point is not to win each battle, but to convince Americans of a different way of thinking.
by abandoning their promises for "change we can believe in," the
Democrats have created an electorate that identifies "liberal" and
"progressive" with "Obama" and consequently doesn't want to hear
anything from liberals or progressives. And most liberals and
progressives are so heartsick at having campaigned for a president who
turned out to pursue policies almost diametrically opposed to what they
had understood him to be promising that they are either in shock,
dismay, disillusionment, or denial. Many feel humiliation at having
believed Obama and are unlikely to spend much energy trying to back the
Democratic Congress that failed to back their ideals.
this, however, is a reason to welcome a victory of the Republicans, who
meanwhile have acted in an extremely irresponsible and immoral way,
blocking anything and everything they could, not because they all
believe every measure deserved to be fought, but because they wanted to
show that Obama could accomplish nothing. Moreover, the Republican
embrace of the racism and "know-nothing-ism" that is part of the ethos
of some in the Tea Party movement, and their own embrace of
anti-immigrant populism while simultaneously being faithful lapdogs to
the wealthy and the powerful corporations, bespeaks a political party
that does not deserve to benefit from the screw-ups and betrayals of the
Democrats. Had the Democrats been willing to put forward their programs
and then force the Republicans to actually carry out their filibusters
for weeks on end on each piece of legislation, Americans would likely
have become fed up, as they were when Gingrich used the filibuster
tactic only to find that grinding the government to a halt created a
pro-Democratic backlash that led to the re-election of President Clinton
What We Can Do Nonetheless
need a new political party that advocates for "The Caring Society," but
we don't have the financial means to create that. In the meantime, we
spiritual progressives need to do the mass educational work at which the
Democrats have failed. That's why we've developed the Global Marshall
Plan, and the focus of this issue of the magazine: the ESRA. Please read
it and become involved with us in these campaigns by joining the
Network of Spiritual Progressives at www.spiritualprogressives.org and
becoming involved with our work to advance these ideas! The education
done on these projects is the best way to create the foundation among
Americans for a future political party based on love and generosity.
© 2023 Tikkun
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