Occupy Obama

Top-flight columnist Chris Hedges and journalist Amy Goodman were on the equally excellent Charlie Rose show October 24. Hedges and Goodman were on PBS to provide a decidedly not mainstream media take on the Occupy Wall Street movement. Both counted among the Obama Administration’s most vociferous and eloquent critics, the Truth Dig columnist and Democracy Now! anchor were asked by Rose their thoughts on the President’s place in the building movement. The short answer, from their point of view, is that President Obama serves the movement as a symbol for everything wrong with government. The man roundly marked as a Marxist dictator leading a socialist world revolution, President Obama has now officially become a symbol of Wall Street to most of the political left.

Typically, statements and sentiments like those expressed by Hedges, Goodman, Hamsher, and others get under my skin. I have, on this site as well as in the various social networks, been dismissed as an “Obama Apologist”. But Amy Goodman’s remarks, taken in concert with the Occupy protesters themselves, give me a ray of hope. I have often taken the position of pragmatism, while the smarter and more established columnists who share my liberal world view have quickly jumped to the notion of a fight on principle. When asked what role President Obama could take, Goodman responded by stating that it was movements, not individuals or traditional parties, that made real change. Curious statement, I thought, given her propensity to blame an individual and traditional party for not making real change.

In a very real way, Amy Goodman is correct; though not about the totality of Obama’s percieved shortcomings. She repeated the manifestly false statements about the President’s deviation from promise with regard to war (he always promised withdrawal from Iraq and a ramp-up in Afghanistan):

As President, I will pursue a tough, smart and principled national security strategy – one that recognizes that we have interests not just in Baghdad, but in Kandahar and Karachi, in Tokyo and London, in Beijing and Berlin. I will focus this strategy on five goals essential to making America safer: ending the war in Iraq responsibly; finishing the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban; securing all nuclear weapons and materials from terrorists and rogue states; achieving true energy security; and rebuilding our alliances to meet the challenges of the 21st century.-Barack Obama, July 15, 2008 (New York Times)

Guantanamo Bay, as per usual, is held up as a concrete failure, despite the refusal of Congress to allocate the funds necessary to finish the closing of the facility. Ms. Goodman and Mr. Hedges also continue to hold the President to account for a perceived failure on health care reform. They do so at the expense of any reasoned acknowledgement of political realities during the first half of his first term. Facts; like there never, at any point, being enough votes to pass single payer in the House. Facts; like there never, at any point, being enough votes to bring to Senate floor action the weak public option seen in the House bill. To be sure, President Obama had, and has, his shortcomings; I pointed many of them out in this article from January of 2009 (worth a read for those who think I am a simple apologist).

But as Amy Goodman states; it takes a movement to make real change. Barack Obama was, as she and Mr. Hedges pointed out, elected by a movement. That movement however, had no staying power. A half dozen Blue Dog senators, and several dozen Blue Dog representatives, were very keen on keeping their jobs in 2010 and 2012. They decided very early that no amount of real conflict would fit neatly in their plans, and they acted accordingly. While passionate intellectual liberals savaged President Obama over the last 2 plus years, the cowards in the House and Senate who voted (finally) for weakened bills before running for the hills got away without a scratch. It was, apparently, Barack Obama’s doing that three dozen so-called Democrats refused to vote for the reform package unless the funding for abortion that was not in the bill, was taken out of the bill.

It was, apparently, Barack Obama’s fault that Senators Nelson, Baucus, Bayh, Lieberman, Lincoln, and Landrieu all made public statements declaring that they would never accept any form of the public option. It is all well and fine that we talk of movements, stamina, and a peaceful revolution of the young and disenfranchised; two years ago, all we needed to acknowledge was a realistic vote tally. But movements are what we are talking about, and movements, as Ms. Goodman stated, are the vehicles for real change. The Occupy Wall Street movement and the 99% can change this nation through democratic process. They have the power; they have always had the power. All they need do is understand the basic issues, and vote for those who understand the issues in the same way.

The thoroughly artificial beginnings that defined the Tea Party can’t take away the reality of the anger that drives their continued existence; and the Tea Party was able to change the nation in one election. Occupy Wall Street can do more than the Tea Party, because Occupy Wall Street is more than the Tea Party. Those protests that so many in the front-line media seem to like mocking, feature consistently larger crowds expressing a consistently more balanced platform than anything Dick Armey and his PAC could ever imagine. There is enough energy and focus to do what Chris Hedges has long advocated; end the corporate state. But for this to work, Occupy has to do something that has eluded most liberal causes for the last thirty years; it has to stay with it for more than a few months.

While Barack Obama regularly reminded his supporters that it would take years to fix the problems our nation had; many of his supporters wearied of the fight after a few months. Occupy has to prove to the entire nation that it has both reach and stamina. In this system of government, a system where Congress has the power to check the President, Occupy has to elect enough people to Congress to challenge the President. The Rational Middle has laid down the gauntlet via a Facebook page, 99 seats for the 99%, an idea that captures the real need; Occupy Wall Street must become the first organic, self-organizing, and self-sustaining political “party” in U.S. history. It could, in theory, elect folks through either Republican or Democratic primaries, but it must elect folks who share most of the following ideals:

  • Real limits on lobbyist money in Washington
  • An end to corporate person-hood, and its effect on the election process (this affects unions as well as corporations)
  • A fully and regularly audited Fed whose first and primary responsibility is market stability and risk-containment
  • An end to breaks, subsidies, and other corporate welfare for firms who don’t employ locally
  • An acknowledgement that the government of the people should have real influence on the market of the people
  • A commitment to globalization as network-builder rather than revenue-enhancer
  • A commitment to the sustainability of our lifestyle for longer than a few decades; a rejection of 19th Century technology
  • A recommitment to the civil liberties expressed in the 1st and 4th amendments that have taken such a beating
These platform points are, as I have observed, necessary planks for a candidate in the 2012 elections who desires the support of the 99% and Occupy Wall Street. Some of these planks might be disputed by the occupiers, other planks may be added. Make no mistake; Occupy Wall Street can make a difference, it can change the world in a wonderful way. It can challenge the President in the most dramatic fashion. It must, however, do so through the democratic expression of the protests; through the selection of like-minded individuals for Congress. The elections are 1 year away, the countdown has begun. Hire a new Congress, and challenge the President to come on board.
The Rational Middle is listening…