Progressive Independence

Michael Kwiatkowski

Michael Kwiatkowski
Ohio, United States of America
May 18
I'm a Green Party member in Ohio, and active on several blogs that include my own. This year I am helping to spread the word about Green and other Third Party candidates for public office.

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OCTOBER 20, 2010 1:26PM

If You're Going to Dump Obama, Here's Some Advice

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After reading the entries by metamars, Jeff Roby, and others calling for a "Dump Obama" movement, and after reading the questions put to me in those threads, I decided to analyze what these guys are trying to do and come up with some advice for how to grow a "Dump Obama" crowd into a cohesive, well-organized, nationwide movement. Although I am not going to be overly polite or kind in my assessment, please bear in mind that I am writing what's about to follow in order to help. If we're going to do this, and I agree wholeheartedly that we should, then we can't afford to half-ass it. We haven't the time or the resources to waste. So in that vein, here is my analysis followed by advice on how we can improve this method of organizing.

 The common theme of both Jeff Roby's and metamars' threads is that we have to have some kind of organized movement to dump Obama, just as there was one to dump Lyndon Johnson in 1968 over his Vietnam war policy. It's easy to see why there is a parallel here — like Johnson before him, Obama is continuing and expanding an increasingly unpopular war that has no legitimate goal and has no hope of being won; pride, more than anything else, is what's keeping the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the bombing of Pakistan, going. The children running the so-called "war on terror" don't want to be the ones blamed for losing a war, no matter who else has to pay the price in blood and treasure.

The main problem with likening the "Dump Obama" movement to the "Dump Johnson" movement, however, is that unlike in '68, where the left had George McGovern to run against the incumbent, today we have no one capable or inclined to run a strong primary against Obama. The Democrat Party has moved so far to the right that its leaders will not tolerate any effort by the base or its politicians to run against their chosen candidate from the left. Only fellow right-wingers are allowed. One need only look at the disasters that were the 2004 and 2008 campaigns, where real leftists like Mike Gravel and Dennis Kucinich were excluded early on, to see that there is almost no chance of a liberal even being allowed to speak in debates, much less get included in them. And that's just in an open election in which there is no incumbent to run against. Now that there is a sitting Democrat in the White House, the party leadership will not risk losing that in order to placate its own base, which it despises anyway. Related to the first problem, a secondary but no less powerful reason exists to suggest that there will be no traction given to a "Dump Obama" movement: the corporate-owned media. In 1968, the Fairness Doctrine and other rules were in place to prevent exactly the kind of exclusionary methods the modern media practices today to marginalize and blackball left-wing candidates. Those rules no longer exist, so any Democrat chosen to run against Obama from the left in 2012 is not going to be granted any real media exposure, and what exposure he or she does receive is certain to be almost entirely negative. Even if we were to find a Democrat willing to risk political suicide to challenge Obama in 2012, there will be absolutely no help from the corporate-owned media. Aiding and abetting the corporate-owned media in its efforts to prevent coverage of a Democratic primary challenger from the left will be the mainstream "liberal" blogs, which include Daily Kos, Open Left, and the Seminal, all of which are actively, openly hostile to any and all efforts to use their sites to organize the left into actual political action. These gatekeeper blogs may allow us to complain, but only so far as such complaint is restricted to online griping and does not translate into on-the-streets participation in electoral politics. The reasons for this are many, but chief among them are the fear of losing what credibility they've managed to get from the corporate-owned media. Markos Moulitsas, Chris Bowers, and Jane Hamsher make frequent appearance on the D.C. talk shows, and they're not about to jeopardize their talking head status by acting openly against the media's darlings in the Democrat Party. Likewise, Rachel Maddow, Keith Olbermann, Cenk Uygur, and Ed Schultz are not going to risk their cushy talking head jobs, having been thoroughly reigned in by the corporate bosses, to promote independent activists, our organizing efforts, or our candidates. Last, but not least, is the problem of finding someone to run against Obama in 2012 from the left — and time is not on our side. Obama made his announcement that he would run for the presidency in February 2007, Democrat Party debates began as early as April, and exploratory committees and announcements by other candidates were made as soon as December 2006. If there is anyone seriously considering mounting a primary challenge against Obama from the left in 2012, expect such an announcement to be made before the end of this year, or not at all. The 2012 campaign really does begin on November 3rd, 2010. Our options for Democrat Party candidates to run in a primary against Obama are few. Dennis Kucinich might, but he's run twice already and been given the Nader treatment both times. And at the end of the day, when all the votes are cast and the coronation ceremony over, he will back Obama like a good Democrat is supposed to. And he'll still face a vicious primary from the right simply for the "crime" of running. Again, this has been done to him twice before. So count him out unless you really, really think it'll accomplish anything good. Given these factors, what is left for the American left to do for 2012? There are two options, only one of which has any chance at all of working:
  1. Try like hell to find a truly liberal Democrat willing to risk political suicide by running against Obama in 2012. As I pointed out above, timing is crucial. If we're to find a primary opponent, it has to be done by the end of the year. Identify someone with the record to prove his or her progressive credentials and get that person to run. If we don't accomplish this by the deadline, then there's only one other option, and that's...
  2. Continue building a solid third party organization in every state. This year, thanks to changes in ballot access laws in many states, Greens and other "third" party organizations have been able to get candidates on the ballot in regions where they've had an extremely rough time. Thankfully, voters are fed up with both major political parties and are more receptive to alternatives despite the general media blackout. Jill Stein in Massachusetts, John Gray in Arkansas, LeAlan Jones and Rich Whitney in Illinois, and others have done amazing work to get themselves on the ballot, and in the case of Stein and Whitney, gotten into gubernatorial debates — and Whitney actually won his, according to Illinois Observer (Whitney will appear on MSNBC today at 1:15 PM Central time).
Option #2 is the better one to invest time, energy, and money in no matter how one cuts it. Whitney's performance in the Illinois gubernatorial debate gained him a bigger percentage in the latest Public Policy Poll, and although he still won't win, his margin of votes will undoubtedly send a strong message that Democrats MUST move back to the left and govern from there if they have any hope of winning and keeping power. There are ways to go about doing this that I think are worth pointing out. Metamars asked me in his thread why the Green Party doesn't "embrace a strategy of “Dump Corporate Dems” – Going Green at the State Level, to “make Dems do it” at the Federal level". I can't speak for the Greens on national-level politics, but at the state and local levels, Greens are putting up candidates here in Ohio. Alan Crossman and David Ellison are running for local office in Cuyahoga County, and Cleveland City Councilman Brian Cummins switched to the Green Party recently, giving us a voice in city politics, whereas before, we had none. Dennis Spisak is running for Ohio governor, and we have a member running for state representative. Add to this mix candidates for state-level offices such as Stein and Whitney, and I have to wonder why metamars thinks there's no effort at the state or local levels to run for public office. (Spisak is already an elected school board member, by the way.) Anyway, Bruce Dixon makes a far more eloquent argument for why we need the focus on state- and local-level campaigns than I can, and it's worth reading. So we're already building the foundation for a solid third party organization. There are legitimate issues with the Greens' organizational methods that I think should be addressed, but I'll leave that for a later entry. For now, though, if we're going to be discussing any effort to dump Obama, suffice to say that it's going to have to come from outside the Democrat Party. But just as with any potential Democrat to run against Obama, we have to move quickly to find a candidate for 2012. Cynthia McKinney, Ralph Nader, and maybe a handful of others might be enticed to run again, but whoever we pick will have to have enough name recognition and communicative ability to mount a serious challenge. Do that and there is an outside chance that a "Dump Obama" strategy might work. One last bit of advice for metamars and Jeff Roby. In reading their arguments on the details of what a "Dump Obama" movement should look like, how it is organized, and who ultimately should run it, I'm seeing some disturbing trends in logic that make me think this effort is doomed from the start unless serious reconsideration is done. Jeff seems to think that an organized movement can be grown independently of him, which might be true, but in creating any movement, there have to be leaders willing and able to step up to the plate. Movements do not organize themselves, and without strong, capable leadership, they tend to fall apart rather quickly and achieve little. So it is important to identify leaders and get them into positions where they can organize the disparate left-wing groups into a cohesive unit. And any movement worth growing is a movement that has to have a viable strategy for achieving its goals. Metamars seems to think a broader "Dump Corporate Democrats" strategy might enjoy more support from the more specifically-focused Obama-dump movement, and that does indeed have its merits; the problems within the Democrat Party do not rise and fall with the political fortunes of a single politician, rather, they are institutional. Those problems cannot be adequately addressed by focusing only on dumping Obama — some other DLCer will simply step up and take the leadership position. (Corporate Democrats are nothing if not a dime a dozen.) At the same time, however, efforts to organize a conquer-from-within strategy have failed largely because there is no greater effort to organize a strong third party that can take enough votes in elections to move Democrats to the left. What efforts are made are being thwarted, at least online, by a refusal on the part of prominent bloggers to aid them. Indeed, such efforts are more often than not reacted to with open hostility and efforts to silence any attempt at serious online organizing by third party supporters — Rayne's comment in metamars' thread is but the latest example, but Jason Rosenbaum and other owner-moderators have enthusiastically added their voices to the "Silence Progressives" movement now being carried out by corporate-owned Democrats. Without an outside alternative, we're not going to convince anyone to dump anybody or anything. So it's foolish to make a "Dump the Corporate Democrats" movement. The institution is too far gone to even try to salvage. Organizing around a solid third party as the strategic tool of an overall Progressive Movement is the better way to go.  

That's my analysis. To sum up, if there's to be any "Dump [Insert Name Here]" movement, you need leaders, candidates, and outside-the-Democrat-Party organizing. Anything less is a waste of time, and we don't have much of it. 

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Here's the thing. Democrats were kicked out because they don't want expansive government. Hence Americans are more likely to vote for conservatives. Does the Tea Party Movement ring a bell?