Monday, September 7, 2009

Labor Day, Obama, and the Battle for Democracy

by Norman Markowitz

Yesterday was labor day, and labor day parades went on through the country. We are nearly eight months into the Obama administration, and the most reactionary sectors of our society, the cultural and social 'isolationists" and solipsists for whom "America" is their own both their own straight-jacketed view of reality and the worst excesses of monopoly capitalism are acting out their frustrations with the encouragement of the rightwing media complex. The President of the United States is making a Labor Day address aimed at school children? So, the well financed pundits of the right and the stay at home reactionaries who seek therapy by calling in their call in shows are aghast. Will he brainwash the students by telling them to stay in school? Will he propagandize them for his health care plan by telling them to avoid sugar and high calorie fried foods in their diet, thus necessitating a bailout of McDonalds and Burger King? Will he suddenly morph into Mao Tse-tung and proclaim a great proletarian cultural revolution, turning millions of school children into "blue guards"(since the Republicans have seized the color red we can't call them red guards) parading against and denouncing their teachers and parents for being feudal and reactionary(which those who take seriously the Republican right pretty much are). Or, worst of all, will Obama emulate Soupy Sales, the early morning children's TV show star of the 1960s, who told the kids to go to the parents wallets and purses, find green pieces of papers, and send them to him(he received tens of thousands of dollars before losing his job)

It's easy to laugh at the right today, just as many German intellectuals in the 1920s found it easy to laugh at the Nazis with their hysterical rantings. But the Nazis as the world was to find out the hard way were not funny in the larger sense, even though the idea of a brown-haired little man with a with a Charlie Chaplin mustache portraying himself as the Superman leader of a "Master Race" of blond blue-eyed warriors was pretty funny. The industrialists, landlords, aristocrats, militarists and imperialists who opposed the liberalization represented by the Weimar Republic found that the Nazis came in handy to fight against more comprehensive liberalization and most of all to fight against the powerful Marxist left in the country with intimidation and violence.

That is why the voices of the "respectable" right, and Republican politicians generally are either smirking at or excusing the organized disruptions at health care forums and the spread of Big Lie propaganda about health care and other worthy of Hitler in Germany or Joe McCarthy in the U.S. People going to these demonstrations with pictures of Obama as Hitler?

So what they say? Bush's enemies compared him to Hitler and had similar picture. It doesn't matter that the sort of picture's and internet portrayals of George W as Adolf were almost always at protest rallies not at public forums and were connected to real policies like the "Patriot Act" the establishment of the Guantanamo prison camp, the Big Lie propaganda around the invasion and occupation of Iraq while those who are portraying an African American president of the U.S. advancing in long overdue and limited domestic reforms and de-emphasizing unilateralism and militarism in both foreign policy and in his general outlook as Hitler are either examples of the fact that we need a large mental health component to national health care reform. Or it can mean that the political marketers of the right have the contempt for their own supporters and the public that advertisers to "low information" often have, i.e, those you are trying to reach don't really know much of anything about what you are trying to sell them, so the wilder the claims about the values of your product and the evils of the competitors product the better. All that matters is you get in there with your information and keep on hammering it whom and shut the competitors out, prevent people from making a rational choice.

What can and should be done now to defeat these tactics. First the Obama administration really does have a major responsibility. President Obama must go directly to the people through the media the way Franklin Roosevelt did and answer these attacks as Roosevelt did brilliantly. He must realize that he job is to defeat the Republican opposition in Congress and their backers in big business, not to win them over, compromise with them, since if he believes seriously that the forces that have launched these vicious campaigns against his administration and him personally are interested in any "compromise" then he is as out of touch with reality as they are.

First Obama might begin as Roosevelt did by acknowledging the country's shortcomings in important areas. Roosevelt once said that in some areas of regulation and social legislation the U.S. was fifty years behind the most advanced countries. Obama might tell the people the significant facts, that the U.S. spends twice as much for health care as other developed countries and has lower life expectancy and other major health care levels then those countries. Unfortunately, Obama is not advocating a comprehensive national health care system like virtually all of those countries have. If he was he could point to countries like France, Sweden, and others and show how health care works much better not worse than here, how people have on an individual basis negligible out of pocket expenses, everyone is covered and the scare propaganda about individuals having to wait for or being denied life saving services can be easily answered.

But, what Obama can do is point to the public option part of his health care proposal as having the most to do with those successful programs. He can make the point that over time, the public option, if people see it working well, will become larger and larger, bringing in more and more people. He can also make the point that the public option, like municipal ownership of power in the early 20th century and most dramatically the TVA in the 1930s reduced the costs that private power companies charged by giving communities and industries an alternative. He can also say directly what millions of his supporters understand. That without the pubic option, the legislation is a shell, and he will not support it, but go to the people in the 2010 elections and campaign for a real national health care system. This will be throwing down the gauntlet to both the Republicans and those Democrats working to defeat public option, and to the insurance companies and the drug companies.

Roosevelt liked to run against his disgraced predecessor Herbert Hoover by contrasting what his administration was doing and would do in the future against what Hoover did. That angered the right and strengthened his administration. He told stories about a wolf who attacked a sheep and when the shepherd drove the wolf away, the wolf denouncing the shepherd for "taking away" his freedom. Over and over again, he took the flag and the concepts of liberty and democracy away from his political enemies by making it clear over and over again that they were using the flag and these concepts to protect their wealth and power against the interests of the people. That is what President Obama can and must do after Labor Day, when the real battle begins, because that is the only way his administration can win. We in the peoples movements must in a more organized fashion challenged both the right and pressure the politicians not to retreat before the right, but the Obama administration must also act to strengthen us, not to see us as a "base" to be appeased with rhetoric, but movements to be represented in both policy and in appointments to government.

The Obama administration needs labor, the broad left, and people's movements, and labor, the broad left and the peoples movements need the administration. The relationship is dialectical as as all relationship. Both can only succeed with the other and both can and must learn and change in relationship to the other.