Monday, June 16, 2008

Look at the Whole Message

Is Obama correct on every issue or every appointment? Of course not, but we should not lose sight of the essence of his campaign. Re-read his speech in Philly on race for one of the most profound insights on race, class, and unity that any person, let alone a major politician, has ever uttered.

Literally every paragraph has some gem but look at this one:

“This time, we want to talk about the shuttered mills that once provided a decent life for men and women of every race, and the homes for sale that once belonged to Americans from every religion, every region, and every walk of life. This time, we want to talk about the fact that the real problem is not that someone who doesn't look like you might take your job; it's that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit.”

The attack on Obama is going to be swift and hard and one part of the attack will be to tell us that he or his policies are “flawed.” To me, this sounds like company propaganda telling me how the union isn’t really working for us – when they’d really like no union at all. These diversions are for a reason – to keep people from seeing the essence of his campaign: ending divisions that blind people from recognizing their common interests, or, as Obama said in his speech, divisions that distract attention from “the real culprits of the middle class squeeze - a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many.”

Friday, June 13, 2008

By a hair

Thursday's US Supreme Court ruling that prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba have constitutional rights (habeas corpus rights) to challenge their confinement before a judge in US courts was a major defeat for the Bush administration. It was also a notable victory for those struggling to end these shameful torture practices - not to mention shut down Guantanamo and other "chambers of horror" once and for all.

The narrowness of the vote (5-4), however, is a sober reminder of the tenuousness of democratic rights in the hands of this deeply divided court and underscores once again the crucial importance of the presidential elections. The next president will almost surely name a replacement for one or more retiring justices on the present court.

Furthermore, the most likely retirees are justices that have consistently challenged the legalities of the policies of the Bush administration, while the least likely are justices (Scalia, Thomas, Roberts and Alito) that have stridently supported them. In fact, all of the latter plan to be fixtures on the court for a long time to come.

If the math is simple, the dangers are frightening. One more conservative judge on the Supreme Court bench will lock in for an indefinite period a majority grouping on the court that will eagerly give legal sanction to authoritarian rule - fascist-like rule, I believe, is not too strong a word. No rights or legal precedents won in the course of centuries of unremitting struggle will be safe.

Here is another reason, and a big one at that, why the outcome of the presidential elections counts a lot. And yet, I am not convinced that millions of Americans have completely grasped this undeniable fact. Yes, the court's makeup is a concern for many, but is it a dire concern?

I don't think so. Does this bother me? Of course it does, but this is no time to panic. We have over 1500 days to make the case that who sits on the courts matters and that the next president's nominee(s) to the court will have far reaching consequences for our country's future.

Labor and the elections

The unity and independence that is developing in the labor movement around the 2008 elections is something to behold. And it’s not only the left that is noticing these new developments.

Look what they are crying about in the corporate rightwing blogosphere. The National Journal Magazine in their June 14th online edition sounds the alarm: “As pundits forecast a greater Democratic majority in Congress and a White House up for grabs, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is launching a multimillion-dollar "Workforce Freedom Initiative" to fight an anticipated resurgence of organized labor.”

They note that their worst fear is the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) and it’s improved chances if Barack Obama is elected with new Democratic majorities in Congress. After also citing their fears of pending and enacted state laws that “restrict employers from countering union organizing drives,” they go on to sound the alarm on union backed efforts at reregulation and renewed efforts to protect workers pensions and health and safety.

Then they add,
“The latest initiative is on top of the chamber's (Chamber of Commerce’s) work with the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, a combined effort of many national and state business and conservative groups which has also recently launched an eight-figure campaign against the Employee Free Choice Act in key states. That effort includes polling and television advertising.”

What They Really Fear

While the EFCA is their most visible target, the “resurgence of organized labor” is what they really fear. What makes them crazy is that labor, in large part, is driving the agenda for the 2008 elections, on healthcare, on pro-corporate, anti-labor trade deals, on the economic melt down, and even on the war – linking it to the economy and supporting veterans with real benefits.

Corporate and rightwing interests can plainly see that labor is building a broad united front against their candidate, John McCain, and they don’t like it. Especially that labor is doing it in union halls and central labor council offices, on their own turf and independent of the Democratic party. And while the viable candidates are mostly in the Democratic party, labor is no longer just giving money to candidates, but rather spending money in their own efforts including creating an “army of shopstewards” to work in their workplaces and neighborhoods. These efforts create a lasting independent apparatus for labor that can continue to push a labor political agenda far beyond the elections. That scares the National Journal Magazine and Chamber of Commerce crowd s**tless!

Expected passage of the EFCA will only accelerate the “resurgence” of labor geometrically. The folks on the other side of the class barricades also know history. They know that the last labor and people’s upsurge of this magnitude in our country led to the victory of industrial unionism, the CIO and the New Deal. They have reason to be scared.

Also posted to the Labor UpFront Blog

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Change in the air

I read with interest a recent article by Tom Hayden that appeared on Common Dreams. It compares the political possibilities of the 1968 and 2008 elections, mentions the transformative potential of Bobby Kennedy and Barack Obama ( having finished a new book on Bobby Kennedy's presidential campaign a few days ago made me appreciate Hayden's observations all the more), notes the remarkable entry of youth and the African American people on each occasion, and reveals a political imagination that correctly allows for contingency and novelty in the political process.

Hayden also writes that it makes no sense for progressive and left minded people to allow moss to grow underneath our feet in this election season. Who can disagree?

In fact, sitting out the elections in my view gives up the battle before it is joined and fails to appreciate the incredible opportunities that this election offers to throw our country onto a progressive and peaceful trajectory. It also privileges form over content in so far as it gives faint praise or no praise at all to the mass upsurge and struggle that erupted over the past five months because they happened within the shell of the Democratic Party and the two party election system.

If I had any quarrel with Hayden (and quarrel is not the right word) it would be that he doesn't mention the broadly based electoral people's movement that began gathering in the primaries and will gain in size and strength this summer and fall. Young people and African Americans are at the core of this movement as he mentions, but its core also includes labor (we didn't see it full power in the primaries, but that will change now that Obama is the nominee), other nationally and racially oppressed people, women (their entry into the primary process was remarkable as well) and seniors - not to mention social movements of all kinds.

In a blog yesterday I said that the social forces and movements marching into this year's election in opposition to McCain and the rest of the Republican right will be broader in their reach than anything witnessed in US history. I still believe that, but I would go a step further. I would argue that this loose, but broad people's coalition has the potential to defeat McCain and gang in a landslide and shape the post election agenda.

On another note, this evening I plan to set the elections aside and instead plant myself in front of a TV set and watch game three of the NBA finals. Growing up in New England, I have to say, "Go Boston, Beat LA."

Monday, June 9, 2008

A New Era

It's been a long struggle, but victory over the right wing political zealots whose tight grip on our government is well into its third decade (even during the Clinton years political initiative remained in the hands of the right) is clearly do-able in the fall elections - and by a landslide. This is not a new thought. Actually last fall I said that this year's election offers a unique opportunity to the American people to bring down the curtain on one era of right wing domination and to lift up the curtain on another era in which the struggle for a people's agenda would be on new and much more favorable ground.

Months later, I have no reason to change my thinking. In fact, I am more convinced that right wing extremism rests on even shakier ground.

On the one hand, Republican presidential nominee John McCain is off to a rocky start. He is weighed down by his association with the Bush administration and its policies, nearly all of which he still embraces. On the other hand, not only did Barck Obama win the presidential nomination a week ago, a historic first that should be celebrated by people across the political spectrum, but also Hillary Clinton, after some hesitation, extended her full support to Mr. Obama in a speech that was both profound and inspiring.

In doing so, she did her part to close the fissures in the Democratic Party (many of which were her own campaign's doing) and give, as did Obama's unprecedented victory, fresh momentum to the formation of the broadest people's election coalition ever seen in our nation's history. To find something similar, we would have to go back to the 1936 elections. During those elections, a broadly based coalition embedded in the labor movement sprung up to re-elect in a landslide Roosevelt and his supporters in Congress. That victory was instrumental in consolidating and continuing the New Deal.

This fall we could see a political realignment on this scale, and then some. And it would be none too soon. The long night of right wing rule has taken its toll in so many ways. The people of our country yearn for a just and united country at peace with its neighbors across the planet. Enough is enough!