A Progressive Primary to Push for Jobs and End the Wars

It's bad enough that we lost progressive champions like Russ Feingold,
and that the leadership and committees of the House will be taken over
by advocates of domestic austerity and endless war. In addition, the
airwaves and print media will now be filled with pundits saying that
the lesson of the election is that Obama must move to the right and
cut the budget, except the military. But the worst thing we must now
face is that the 2010 election is likely a preview of 2012, unless at
least one of two things happen: decisive federal action to boost
economic growth and employment, now much more difficult to achieve
than before, and some dramatic new element is introduced into our
national politics that changes the character of national debate.

Jonathan Chait pointed
out last week
that based on the state of the economy, historical
trends predicted a Democratic loss of more than 40 seats, enough for
Republicans to take the House. In other words, on average, based on
historical trends, the fate of the election was sealed when the Obama
Administration proposed and Congress enacted an economic stimulus
package that was much too small to counter the fall in domestic demand
resulting from the collapse of the housing bubble. Everything else
that happened in the election has to be judged according to the
baseline expectation of the Democrats losing at least 40 seats -
enough to lose the House - due to the failure to restore economic
growth and employment with a sufficient stimulus to counteract the
fall in private economic demand.

Paul Wiseman of APnoted
this week
that "a growth rate of 5 percent or higher is needed to
put a major dent in the nation's 9.6 percent unemployment rate," but
that isn't likely based on current trends: "Macroeconomic Advisers
doesn't expect the labor market to recover all the lost jobs until at
least 2013. Other economists say it could be 2018 or longer."

If 2012 is going to be different than 2010, there has to be dramatic
action, and the record of the last two years, combined with the
election result, suggests skepticism that the impetus for such
dramatic action will come from Washington.

It could be tremendously helpful if there were a well-run Democratic
primary for the Presidential nomination in 2012. I will explain what I
mean by a well-run primary and what I think such a primary could do.

First, a well-run primary has to meaningfully address the conventional
wisdom among many Democrats - not just among Democratic leaders, but
among the base - that a Democratic primary contesting a sitting
Democratic President is likely to be destructive. When you suggest the idea of a 2012 primary,
many people immediately point to the precedent of 1980, when Ted
Kennedy ran against President Carter. Many Democrats blamed Kennedy
for contributing to Carter's defeat. As a causation story, one could
argue that this overstates the effect of Kennedy's campaign, but in an
important way it doesn't matter: a person who wants to build
progressive power doesn't suggest things that are only slightly
destructive. The central goal of a progressive primary has to be to
build progressive power, and it has to make a convincing case that it
is doing so; otherwise, it is a mistake.

Consequently, a key organizing principle of a progressive primary has
to be something that many may find at first counterintuitive: it must
not be directed against President Obama.

Instead, the primary thrust of a progressive primary should be the
need for decisive federal action to boost economic growth and

Secondary thrusts should include: opposition to domestic economic
austerity measures, including any cuts in Social Security benefits
such as raising the normal retirement age; an attack on the degree of
control of our democracy by corporations, including the need for a
fundamental reform of campaign finance; a direct focus on building the
infrastructure of progressive power at the base, including voter
registration and education, building the membership of organizations
that do progressive electoral work, and the organizing of more workers
into labor unions; ending the wars, bringing our troops home, and
cutting the military budget.

In our current media environment, it's extremely difficult for
progressive voices to break through into the center of national debate
and remain there. A progressive primary has a good shot of breaking
through. If you think back to the last time that progressive voices
had a sustained presence on a range of issues at the national
microphone, it was the 2008 Democratic Presidential Primary. That
primary put the Employee Free Choice Act on center stage; that primary
changed the national conversation about NAFTA and trade policy; that
primary helped bring about the agreement for a timetable for military
withdrawal from Iraq; that primary changed the national conversation
about US policy towards Iran away from the threat of war. In our
electoral cycle, a Democratic presidential primary is generally the
apex of progressive influence.

A well-run progressive primary will register many people to vote. In
the two years between general elections, a lot of people move,
particularly a lot of young people. In states without same-day
registration, this can be a significant barrier to participation. A
person who registers to vote in a primary is probably someone you
don't need to register for the general election. A progressive primary
will build the base of progressive organizations and increase the
attachment of progressive voters to the political process. Note that
this wouldn't necessarily require progressive organizations to make a
candidate endorsement; it would only require them to take seriously
the idea of a presidential primary as an organizing, education and
mobilization opportunity: a 50-state Town Hall for Democrats.

A progressive primary will keep the need for federal action to boost
domestic economic demand and create jobs at the center of national

A progressive primary will act as a counterweight to the Washington
voices who want to cut Social Security benefits, including by raising
the retirement age.

A progressive primary will act as a counterweight to the Washington
voices who want to extend the US military occupations of Afghanistan
and Iraq, and to gin up confrontation with Iran. In particular, a
progressive primary will counter efforts to make meaningless the
drawdown of forces that President Obama promised next summer, and will
increase the pressure for real negotiations in Afghanistan to end the
war. A progressive primary will counter those in Washington who want
to reopen the status of forces agreement with Iraq so that US forces
can remain there after the end of 2011.

A progressive primary will shine a national spotlight on local
campaigns for economic justice, like Michael Moore's TV show TV
used to do, because those will be campaign stops, like in
the 1988 Jesse Jackson campaign: picket lines, lockouts, factory
closings, hazardous waste dumps. A progressive primary will shine a
spotlight on the need for labor law reform, to restore to private
sector workers the effective right to organize that they were promised
by the National Labor Relations Act.

A national progressive primary will encourage progressive candidates
to run for Congress. It will boost their campaigns by adding attention
and volunteers. Most progressives don't know who Bill Halter is, even
though labor unions, MoveOn and other progressive Democratic
organizations campaigned hard for him, and he campaigned on a platform
of being more pro-Obama than his pro-corporate incumbent Democratic
opponent. A national primary will drive attention and participation to
these races.

Finally, a progressive primary will put demands for fundamental
campaign finance reform on the table for national discussion, in a way
that Washington is likely incapable of doing without massive and
sustained outside pressure.

A recent film by Francis Megahy, "The Best
Government Money Can Buy
," sounds the alarm about corporate
control of Washington through the current system of campaign finance
and lobbying by the suppliers of campaign finance, as well as the bind
that reform of the system ultimately has to be enacted by incumbents
that have been produced by the current system. The results of the
Congressional election have, of course, made Washington worse in this

Megahy's film makes a convincing case that we need a sustained
movement from outside of Washington to combat corporate control in
order to reform the system. And a logical inference to draw from the
film is that this movement needs to constantly tie the need for reform
to the direct and major economic and political harms that that present
election finance system is causing to working families.

The film documents, for example, how the current campaign finance and
lobbying system has produced effects like $30 billion in tax breaks
for oil and gas companies, a law barring Medicare from using its
market power to negotiate lower prices for prescription drugs, and a
law prohibiting the import of cheaper prescription drugs from Canada.

If you're concerned about corporate control in Washington, get this
, and use it as a tool for education and organizing. .

And think seriously about whether a national progressive primary could
help spawn an effective movement for fundamental reform, including,
crucially, decisive federal action to drive down unemployment. Talk to
your friends and colleagues about it. If we create a groundswell, we
create the conditions in which an appropriate candidate will step

The Best Government Money Can Buy
from Cinema Libre
on Vimeo.

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