Monday, July 7, 2008

How the West was Won: Unity and the Presidential Campaign

By Joe Sims
Much attention has been paid of late to Barack Obama's “move to the center” as the presidential campaign enters its general phase. On issue after issue, be it FISA, the death penalty, gun control, fatherhood, and most recently “refining” positions on Iraq, the Democratic nominee seems to be changing his mind. While it remains to be seen if apple pie makes the list, a chorus of wails has arisen accusing Mr. Obama of opportunism, flip flopping, “being a regular politician” and “selling out.”

In response, both detractors and defenders attach themselves to the concept of the political “center” the holy ground on which supposedly US polices are fought and lost or won. Some on the left have correctly pointed to the importance of “left-center” unity as foundation for the contest and the perils of offending those middle of the roaders who will cast the decisive ballots in November. Some blog space was taken up with Joel Wendland's excellent treatment of this subject a few days ago.

What is lost in most of the discussion, however, is that the millions of voters who make up the political center are not the only or even the most important constituency in this election. Left/Center unity alone will not prevail in November. Today there is another form of unity that is even more important: the unity of all the people, left, center, and yes, even right. Wendland made this point well when he said:

“Heck, winning on November 4th means Obama needs bitter gun-toters, radical leftists, evangelicals, tree-huggers, factory workers, IT specialists, janitors, professors, seniors, students, civil libertarians, law and order types, hermits, urbanites, farmers, cops, soldiers, peaceniks, war supporters, and even some Wall Street speculators and Republicans to vote for him and fund his campaign. Does he accomplish it by adopting The Nation's political agenda?”

One could and should however go even further. Winning in November will also require unity across class lines, including, middle, upper-middle, and even ruling class elements. This clearly is implicit in the concept of unity of all the people.

Why unity of the all the people? Because the Bush administration and the ilk that is coming together to support Mr. McCain, represent an extreme danger to all of us. On issue after issue that is abundantly clear. What seems not so clear is the coalition that will be required to defeat them.

Today's news points to the possibility of Obama's winning the far West and important states in the South, areas that for decades have been dominated by the Republican right. Has anyone thought about what it would mean for labor, indigenous, Latino environmental, LGBT and women's rights to break the right-wing hold on these states?

Even Obama's recent “clarifications” on the death penalty and gun control are indicative of what is as stake. Think for a moment about the recent spate of 5-4 Supreme Court decisions. If McCain is elected, just one more right-wing justice will swing the court even further to right, and give reaction the ability to do damage for decades into the future. A different stripe of appointment could make all the difference in the world. It would be small but hugely important measure.

This leads me to the next points. Isn't the Democrat being hopelessly compromised and related to it what is possible in a new administration? Again the first and most important issue is getting the fan clubs of the John Birch society, the White Citizens Council and the Ku Klux Klan out of the White House, Congress and the Supreme Court. Make no mistake: that's what they are. That would be a huge achievement

Secondly, one should have no illusions about what is possible in a new Administration. Yes, single payer health care, an end to war, union organizing rights will be more more possible. However, none of these will be automatic or come without a protracted struggle. The fight will be long and hard. More advanced platforms and demands will be even harder. Will there be measures against big business and the rich? Some will move in that direction, but come on folks Give me a break!

Whether a candidate is personally compromised or objectively shut in or shutdown, depends partly on the individual but even more importantly on the strength of the class and democratic movements that are in play. At this moment this anti-right wing movement for hope, unity and change, is just at its beginning. It will be some time before it will gain the strength, maturity and wisdom necessary. Change is hard. Just look around the world: Brazil, South Africa, India, Italy, etc, all give an idea just how difficult make real change will be. In all of these countries, the working class and organized left forces are much larger and more experienced than here.

Right now let's take the first step and have the maturity to understand that unity of all the people is what's needed. Not happy? Hell, I don't blame you. You got legitimate concerns. Raise them. But don't take your frustrations out on Obama: go out and build a movement that will make what you want to see possible. Otherwise your gonna end up with McCain. Or take it out on me. Let me know what you think.


Harold said...

I think this "unity" that is so much talked about is a pipe-dream. Because as much as we hate the right-wing, there are people in this country (quite a few of them, actually) that embrace the right wing due to its "stance" on issues like national security.

In order to build unity, we need to engage heavily in the war of ideas. We need to abandon hope not only in the two corporate parties, but also in the two party system that dominates American politics and restrains our democracy. How democratic can a system be when we essentially have a choice in November between two indistinguishable candidates, neither of which represent the people or the common good. The one candidate that does represent that (Nader) is forever being marginalized, especially by the CPUSA, which in all honesty should know better. No, Ralph Nader is not a Communist or Socialist - but he has made a long career out of fighting for the people, while McCain and Obama have made careers out of fighting for corporate profits and special interests.

And you know what Joe? We're not happy. We're damn angry. And we should take it out on Obama for putting on a charade of a campaign that we all should know will result only in the stabbing of the people in the back. We've heard the promises before, and we've heard and seen the lies. Let's have the courage and maturity to know when we're being duped and to take up the fight against those that will sell our hopes and dreams for the benefit of the ruling class.

nutmeg socialist said...

A few things:

1) The unity of left, center and right makes no sense, because your idea that the policies of Bush, McCain, et al are "are an extreme danger to all of us" is fundamentally wrong. The scary thing about the current set in the White House, and about capitalism in general, is that they are in fact very, very good for a small but significant piece of society: precisely those upper-middle and ruling class elements that you urge solidarity with here, and that hold a nearly uncontested monopoly on the means of political change or stasis. This is one of the key reasons why both Bush and capitalism have lasted much longer than any of us could have thought possible.

2)To the extent that support for the GOP wavers in these classes (as it appears to be doing in this election cycle, with Obama's endorsement by Paul Volcker in place and his coffers filled with twice as many Wall Street contributions as McCain's), it is only with a mind that the Democrats can serve their interests more "efficiently" at the present conjuncture. Thus, by urging even temporary, strategic "unity" with these classes, who in any case are not having sudden pangs of conscience about what they've brought the nation to but are simply pursuing the same rational self-interest that led us to this point in the first place, you are indirectly endorsing their attempts to get a more sustaniable grip on power.

3) Given the above, and with the country's political system asymmetrically structured in favor of the ruling elite, whose interests do you think will get a more thorough hearing in an Obama administration? The "center" and "right" that by your own admission will consitute a vast proportion of his electoral base, along with their embedded advantages? Or a perrenially disempowered "left flank" that was characterized by "unity"-driven meekness and pliability during the election, and that advocates a program which those in power and those beholden to them have no incentive to fulfill?(face it, protests don't do jack most of the time, and to the extent that they do, they have to be on a scale that it is far beyond the current means of the American left to realize.)

Note that I'm not saying "never vote for the Democrats." I'm just saying, don't ever suspend relentless criticism of them and those whose interests they really represent, and don't have any illusions that putting the current incarnation of the Democratic Party in power would lead to "real change" as opposed to just a curbing of some of the far right's excesses.

nutmeg socialist said...

Also, it's worth noting that in the examples of Brazil, South Africa, India, and Italy you cite, one of the primary reasons why "change is hard" is because mainstream left organizations themselves either enabled or directly induced the consolidation of neoliberal class rule in those respective countries. Take Brazil - Lula's "left" government is the best friend that unfettered multinational capitalism has ever had: he is held up by the Bush administration and magazines like The Economist as the model for all Latin American countries to follow if they want to be good little brown people and drink the neoliberal kool-aid like America says they should. Or South Africa: the country's degeneration into a ruined fiefdom for a new multiracial class of exploiters didn't happen in spite of the efforts of the organized "left" in the form of the ANC - it happened because of them. The ANC have introduced a degree of impenetrable stratification in South Africa that supporters of apartheid could only dream about, but one that is now primarily along class lines rather than racial ones. And both the Workers Party of Brazil and the ANC in South Africa are theoretically far to the left of the Democrats!

Yes, "change is hard". But by confining the ambit of our struggle to the Democratic Party and the political "mainstream", we unknowingly work to make it impossible. Every resource dedicated to strategic "unity" with the Democrats (as opposed to just holding your nose and voting for them) is a resource not spent on building an independent political force that owes nothing to the ruling classes - we actually help to ossify the position of the country's elites and make the struggle for change that much harder for ourselves in the future.

nutmeg socialist said...

Thank you, Harold. I submitted something like this earlier, but surprise-surprise, they didn't post it. Of course, they're probably not going to post this either, so I'm not sure why I'm even bothering.

Local Friendly Moderator said...

To nutmeg: Your posts are there. You sent them on a busy holiday weekend and your local friendly moderator tries hard to be at the computer work-station 24-7, but isn't always able. Thanks for participating in the discussion.

Anonymous said...

America wants significant change and Obama isn't helping his campaign by running to the right. The most votes are on the center and Left. Obama shouldn't accept the conservative propaganda that America is a Conservative nation or that America has turned to the righ since the sixties. Michael Parenti has written about how the rightward drift in American politics in the last few years is a result not of changes in public opinion but pressure from conservative activists. Obama's move to the right help to legitimize the myth of a Conservative majority and make things worse.


don't forget Cynthia McKinney who has just been named the Green Party Presidential candidate.

Sean Mulligan

Anonymous said...

Polls show that most Americans support changing the course in Iraq, extending health insurance to the uninsured, raising the minn=imum wage, keeping abortion legal and extending recognition to gay and lesbian relationships are all majority positions and a part of The Nation agenda. The best chance Obama has of winning the election is supporting that agenda. As for conservatives, Republicans Julie Nixon and Susan Eisenhower already started supporting obama before he moved to the right. Many conservatives who support Obama such as writer Andrew Bacevich oppose the Iraq War and would be alienated by Obama modifying his opposition to the Iraq War. Most of the conservatives who aren't supporting McCain will support Bob Barr and it isn't worthwhile for Obama to risk alienating the Center and Left to try and get their support.

Sean Mulligan