Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Being Clear about Obama

By Ben Trott

Nation editor, Katrina Vanden Heuvel in her editor's blog argued, a couple of days back, that progressives need to become as 'clear-eyed, tough and pragmatic' about Obama as he is about them. Drawing a now common parallel with the FDR administration, and the context of social struggle which surrounded it, she argues,
'At 143-years-old (that's the The Nation's age, not mine), we like a little bit of history with our politics. And while Lincoln's way of picking a cabinet frames this transition moment, it's worth remembering another template for governing. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was compelled to become a bolder and, yes, more progressive President (if progressive means ensuring that the actual conditions of peoples lives improve through government acts) as a result of the strategically placed mobilization and pressure of organized movements.'
Drawing on an unnamed 'valued editorial board member', Vanden Heuvel sets out some advice for the progressives.
'1. It will take large scale, organized movements to win transformative change. There is no civil rights legislation without the movement, no New Deal without the unions and the unemployed councils, no end to slavery without the abolitionists. In our era, this will need to play out at two levels: district-by-district and state-by-state organizing to get us to the 218 and sixty votes necessary to pass any major legislation; and the movement energy that can create public will, a new narrative and move the elites in DC to shift from orthodoxy. The energy in the country needs to be converted into real organization.

'2. We need to be able to play inside and outside politics at the same time. I think this will be challenging for those of us schooled in the habits of pure opposition and protest. We need to make an effort to engage the new Administration and Congress constructively, even as we push without apology for solutions at a scale necessary to deliver. This is in the interest of the Democratic Party - which rode the wave of a new coalition of African Americans, Latinos, young people, women, etc - but they have been beaten down by conservative attacks and the natural impulse will be caution and hiding behind desks.

'3. Progressives need to stick up especially forcefully for the most vulnerable parts of the coalition - poor people, immigrants, etc - those who got almost no mention during the election and will be most likely to be left off the bus.'

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