Center-Right Socialism

Who was not moved by the sight of hundreds of thousands of people of all colors gathered in Chicago’s Grant Park to cheer Barack Obama’s election as the 44th president of the United States?

Obama needed to win by a big enough margin that the Republicans couldn’t steal the election again, and he did it with a campaign that harnessed the populist power of the Internet and an indefatigable army of young volunteers. Now the corporate pundits are trying to limit the damage Obama can do if he follows through on his promises.

Before the election John McCain and his right-wing allies were saying that Obama was a “socialist” with plans to soak the rich and “redistribute wealth.” But after the election, the right’s revisionists denied that Obama’s impressive victory gave him any sort of mandate to enact socialist reforms or redistribute wealth. They claimed that the US remains a center-right nation.

As progressive writer David Sirota notes, the “center-right nation” phrase is being parroted with the propagandistic discipline of Cuba’s Ministry of Information.

In June 2007 Media Matters and Campaign for America’s Future documented how the conventional wisdom that Americans are overwhelmingly conservative is fundamentally false. In fact, decades of public opinion data from nonpartisan sources show the majority of Americans hold progressive positions on a broad range of issues.

Among the findings:

• The role of government: 69% of Americans believed the government “should care for those who can’t care for themselves”; twice as many people (43% vs. 20%) wanted “government to provide many more services even if it means an increase in spending” as want government to provide fewer services “in order to reduce spending.”

• The economy: 77% of Americans thought Congress should increase the minimum wage; 66% believed “upper-income people” pay too little in taxes; 53% felt the Bush administration’s tax cuts have failed because they have increased the deficit and caused cuts in government programs.

• Environment: 75% of Americans would be willing to pay more for electricity if it were generated by renewable sources to help reduce global warming; 79% wanted higher emissions standard for automobiles.

• Energy: 52% of Americans believed “the best way for the US to reduce its reliance on foreign oil” is to “have the government invest in alternative energy sources”; 68% of the public thought US energy policy is better solved by conservation than production.

• Health care: 69% of Americans think it is the responsibility of the federal government to make sure all Americans have access to health coverage; 76% find access to health care more important than maintaining the Bush tax cuts; three in five would be willing to have their own taxes increased to achieve universal coverage.

If anything, the electorate is more supportive of government intervention to address the Bush recession this year than it was last year.

In truth, Obama is not a socialist and he doesn’t propose to redistribute wealth. He is likely to pursue a centrist course not much different from what Hillary Clinton would have charted. But the voters who put Obama in the White House would support him if he would move follow his progressive instincts.

Campaign for America’s Future noted that the Democrats who beat incumbent Republicans on Nov. 4 tended to support bold progressive economic positions to address the Bush recession. Twenty-six out of the 29 Democratic candidates who won seats previously held by Republicans in the House and Senate supported progressive reforms on health care, trade, energy, workers’ rights, taxes and protecting Social Security. Only three of the winning Democrats chose to run on more conservative platforms. But the progressive candidates’ victories represent a swing to the left of 42 votes in the House and 10 in the Senate, reflecting a clear mandate for progressive change to repair the damage done by 28 years of neocon economic policies that started under Ronald Reagan and culminated in the six years of misrule under Bush and the Republican Congress.

Positions that proved popular at the polls include:

• Health care: Progressive candidates supported universal health care (usually “quality, affordable health care for all”).

• Trade: Progressive candidates supported “fair” rather than “free” trade, and oppose NAFTA-style agreements.

• Energy: Progressive candidates favored ending US dependence on foreign oil primarily by creating and expanding new and clean energy production (rather than “drill, baby, drill”).

• Workers Rights: Progressive candidates favored the Employee Free Choice Act.

• Taxes: Progressive candidates favored an income tax cut for the middle-class and an income tax increase on the very top income earners.

• Social Security: Progressive candidates opposed private accounts as part of any Social Security reform.

Progressives cannot let up. The campaign now turns to pushing Democrats to enact the progressive agenda that they ran on and that the voters support. Democrats have two years to show that they can pass bills that will help working people.

They cannot expect help from the Republican minority. House Minority Leader John Boehnert (R-Ohio) called Obama a “chicken s**t” in remarks to Ohio college students before the election. The day after the election, he wrote his House GOP colleagues urging them to reject Obama’s invitation to bipartisan cooperation.

Senate Republicans also will use every procedural tool at hand to block progressive bills, as they did in the 110th Congress. Sen. John Kyl (R-Ariz.), the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, warned that he would filibuster liberal nominees to the Supreme Court, complaining that Obama “believes in justices that have empathy.”

Democrats should stop allowing the “gentleman’s filibuster” that lets Republicans simply signal that they intend to filibuster a bill, forcing a cloture motion that requires a “supermajority” of 60 votes to proceed. The GOP abused that process in the last Congress, forcing 134 cloture votes. That more than doubled the previous record of 61 cloture votes in 2001-02. If senators want to filibuster in the next Congress, let them stand and speak as long as they are able, but 41 senators should not routinely block the business of the Senate.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., broke from the Democratic Party after he lost the primary in 2006, but he pledged to support the Democratic presidential nominee and he won the general election as an independent. Then he spoke at the Republican National Committee. While campaigning for John McCain, he questioned Obama’s patriotism and suggested he might be a Marxist. Obama has sent word that he is willing to let bygones be bygones and he wants Lieberman to remain in the Democratic caucus.

We think Senate Democrats at least should remove Lieberman from the chair of Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, where he refused to probe the Bush administration. If the Dems want to let him caucus with them and perhaps let him lead a committee where he actually supports progressive policies, that’s their business. Otherwise, let the Republicans have him and wonder when he will betray them.

Also, leadership of the House and Senate should send word to Obama that they intend to restore the separation of powers—and it really isn’t up to the president how the Senate Democratic caucus organizes. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, December 1, 2008

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