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Glenn Greenwald: Bush/Cheney Approach to Civil Liberties Has Been Continued & Embraced by Obama [VIDEO]

3:31 pm in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

The Socialism Conference was held in Chicago, IL, over the weekend. On Saturday, July 3, Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald delivered a speech on civil liberties in the age of President Obama.

I attended the conference and recorded Greenwald’s speech. Throughout the next couple of days, I will be posting video of his speech and, eventually, a full transcript of it will be made available.

In this first part, Greenwald discusses how it has become conventional wisdom that Obama has continued many of the Bush Administration policies, which were once regarded as policies that shredded the Constitution, but now in Democratic circles it is considered to be “Democratic consensus.”

He describes how one year ago it was “controversial” and “provocative” to utter observations that President Obama had virtually continued “the entirety of the Bush/Cheney approach to the war on civil liberties and terrorism.” It was something people found “repellent.” But, now, it has become “so obvious” and “self-evidently true.”

That it has become so blatantly obvious means one no longer has to spend time proving the existence of continuity between the two administrations, Greenwald argues.

One of Greenwald’s most salient points is made as he highlights how the Bush-following American right has had to acknowledge Bush policies have continued under Obama and thus admit he has been strong and courageous on national security.

“The reason why I find it interesting that even the right wing is willing to acknowledge these policies have continued under the Obama presidency is for decades the Republicans have gained really potently on a political level from accusing Democrats of being weak on national security or soft on terrorism in the age of terror,” Greenwald suggests.

He adds:

Now, weak on national security in American political parlance doesn’t mean that somebody shies away from acts of strength and courage. And similarly, strength and national courage doesn’t mean that one acts strongly or engages in acts of courage. It means the opposite. What strength and national security means is a willingness to send other people’s children off to war to risk their lives to kill large numbers of civilians in foreign countries.

Greenwald cites Jack Goldsmith, former National Security Agency head under former President George W. Bush, Michael Hayden, and former Vice President Dick Cheney as proof that one of Obama’s greatest achievements among the political and ruling elite in America is that he has made what was once controversial, and seen as right wing radicalism, part of a bipartisan political consensus. And, by making this part of a consensus, Greenwald argues, debate is effectively ended; the policies are no longer objectionable to the political class in Washington.

Finally, Greenwald notes liberal professors and leaders of liberal groups like the ACLU have noted the continuity and expressed their disgust and outrage at the fact that the assault on civil liberties has continued and in some cases escalated under President Obama.

Discussion of civil liberties and the Obama administration’s assault has been largely absent from conversations. At liberal conferences, discussion has been pushed to the margins.

Netroots Nation had one panel, “What the Government Wants to Know About You,” that looked at some of the policies expanding under Obama. There was little talk about Guantanamo and lack of accountability for torture. Liberal organizers focused on the right wing attack on the middle class, avoiding outright condemnation of the bipartisan support that President Obama has created on national security (although Kaili Joy Gray of Daily Kos did ask White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer why Guantanamo hasn’t been closed).

In October, the liberal Campaign for America’s Future that holds a “Take Back America” conference each year is rebranding their conference, “Take Back the American Dream.” Led by Van Jones, there will likely be minimal conversation on civil liberties or national security policy, as the focus will involve a much more politically safe discussion on jobs and unemployment.

A key difference between those who attend Netroots and “Take Back America” conferences and those who attend Socialism conferences is the fact that those in attendance seldom consist of people with radical views, which in American history have been openly condemned and in many cases left people with those views open to government smearing and prosecution. Those with socialist views understand what many liberals take for granted, why civil liberties must be protected.

How can one fight a right wing assault on what Democratic Party operatives term the middle class if one’s civil liberties or rights under the constitution have been entirely stripped away or rendered meaningless, especially in cases when one is challenging power?

There’s a Twitter town hall tomorrow at 2 pm ET. This is an opportunity to undermine liberal organization leaderships’ efforts to make nice with the Obama Administration and overlook the Administration’s ever-expanding assault on civil liberties by doubling down on Bush Administration “war on terror” policies.

Purify the Tweet stream for #AskObama with lots of questions and remarks on the continuity between the Bush and Obama Administrations.

*Go here for Part 2 of Glenn Greenwald’s speech.

Update on Bradley Manning from His Lawyer

5:00 pm in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

(photo: Abode of Chaos)

A couple days ago I did a post on the support contingents for Bradley Manning, the accused whistleblower to WikiLeaks, which participated in the LGBT pride parades that took place in the United States during the weekend. I was asked how Manning was doing but had no update. Now, Manning’s lawyer David Coombs has posted an update on Manning.

From his blog:

It has been a little over two months since PFC Manning was moved from Quantico to the Joint Regional Corrections Facility (JRCF) at Fort Leavenworth.  Since being moved to the JRCF, PFC Manning’s overall mood and demeanor has greatly improved.  PFC Manning is able to maintain regular contact with his defense team.  He receives weekly written updates, phone calls and visits from defense counsel.  In addition, he receives regular visits from family.  Finally, PFC Manning also receives hundreds of letters from supporters every week.  He wishes to extend his sincere appreciation to those who have taken the time to send along their thoughts and well-wishes.

The Bradley Manning Support Network adds, “Let’s keep Bradley’s mood up as he approaches a pre-trial hearing this summer by continuing to send him letters of support. Mr. Coombs’ blog has more information regarding the rules around mail and Bradley’s address.”

*

Additionally, here are a few items worth noting:

-London Pride on July 2nd – Bradley Manning supporters will be out marching.

-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s remarks on Manning from a recent Vanity Fair feature story: Logan Price draws attention to her remarks in a post here at myFDL. (His post is also published on the Bradley Manning Support Network website.)

Clinton said:

“Hillary told staff that she could not fathom how an army private, Bradley Manning, with psychological problems and a drag-queen boyfriend could single-handedly cause the United States unprecedented embarrassment just by labeling massive downloads as Lady Gaga songs.”

Crabby Go Lightly takes down this idea that Manning has “psychological problems.”

For the most part, the American LGBT community has been silent on Manning’s case while LGBT communities throughout the world have taken an interest in his case. It’d be great if these inflammatory comments led more LGBT people to take interest and come to his defense. That’s not because they have an obligation since Manning is gay but because Manning has kind of become this example for the military that can be used to argue gay people shouldn’t be allowed in the military. Plus…

-Lt. Choi Continues to Speak Out for ManningHowever, as this collection of tweets shows, he has been taking flack for it.

Supporters of Bradley Manning have really appreciated the fact that Choi is now an outspoken ally of Manning, who is proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with him.

In recent days, he’s said things like, “Bradley Manning is not a hero because he is gay. He is a hero because he rejected war crimes” and “If treason is the exposure of truth to end an unjust war, I could only hope to be such a ‘traitor.’” He’s also debunked the myth that “WikiLeaks did not endanger our troops; cultural illiteracy, false pretenses and war crimes did. They still do.”

Choi has done what people should do on and offline: challenge people on Manning.

There are numerous misconceptions. For example, @ThatGirlRuns tweets, “You might have noticed that nothing has been achieved by his dumb actions. We already knew the war was unjust,” and, “There is no way Manning knew every detail of what was in the documents he leaked.”

First of all, he is alleged to have released information to WikiLeaks. He has not been convicted yet (except in the court of public opinion by Commander-in-Chief Barack Obama).

If Manning did release the information, he helped contribute to the toppling of a dictatorship in Tunisia. Tweeting one’s penis is a “dumb action.” Releasing information that can liberate a country? Is that really dumb?

And, it wasn’t Manning’s duty as a whistleblower to filter the information and decide what to release. That was the job of the media organizations and possibly WikiLeaks. Contrary to the widespread myth, a document dump did not occur. The New York Times, The Guardian and Der Spiegel all collaborated and released stories on cables they wanted to cover. Since the beginning of “Cablegate,” WikiLeaks has been using media organizations as filters to provide context and get the maximum impact out of the information contained in the US State Embassy cables. (Plus, if you believe what Manning allegedly said in his now infamous chat with hacker Adrian Lamo, who ultimately turned him into authorities, he likely read more cables than many think he did if he leaked the information to WikiLeaks.

Why make such a fuss about all this? The cumulation of all this misunderstanding and nonsense on Manning has an effect. We who are interested and care should read up on what really happened. We should confront people in public and online who don’t really know what happened. And, we should put into context the war on WikiLeaks and Bradley Manning and show Americans what the cost of not standing up for Manning or WikiLeaks might be.

A number of people may have made up their mind that he is a traitor. However, many Americans don’t know the case of Manning all that well and reflexively parrot what they’ve heard on the news or in a PBS or CNN special. We can connect with them and perhaps shift their understanding.

The “Liberal” Netroots: An Army Beholden to Democrats or an Independent Political Force to Be Reckoned With?

10:31 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

Here at Firedoglake, one blogger, one_outer, has struck a chord with his post on Netroots Nation 2011. And, since I attended as a Democracy for America scholar (and thank DFA immensely for their support), I would like to add more to the discussion by republishing what I wrote about a year ago on Netroots Nation 2010.

First off, here is one_outer’s post, “Beyond Netroots Nation: The Progressive Blogosphere vs. the Democratic Establishment.” One_outer suggested the conference was one presented by organizers as a choice to adhere to “deeply cherished principles and our understandable concern in accidentally empowering an insane and openly fascist Republican Party over a corrupt, ideologically conservative, and fully propagandized Democratic Party” or not. As one_outer ticked off the many aspects of the conference that were perturbing, one_outer concluded with a question that could serve as a call to action: “Will progressives now take the chance to jump ship, chart a new course in keeping with our independent spirit, or will be be subsumed by scare tactics and stern talking to’s?”

As mentioned above, reading this post reminds me of the thoughts I had as Netroots Nation began last year. I was particularly concerned about the sponsorship of the conference by the Democratic National Committee. I recognized that the sponsorship may not be a problem if one focused on the individual people coming together and worked to connect and have conversations with them. But, I noted then the Democrats had gradually become more and more the party of “no” to progressives.

Now, after being present at Netroots Nation 2011 and witnessing the reaction of some progressives or liberals to the “What to Do When the President is Just Not That Into You?” and Dan Pfeiffer’s conversation with DailyKos’ Kaili Joy Gray, I think some progressives have become the people of “no” to fellow progressives.

A sizeable segment of the “netroots” is servile to the president and does not find it comfortable to challenge or criticize the president. They see criticism as sabotage and not part of holding his feet to the fire.

They cheer loudly when people like former Sen. Russ Feingold or Howard Dean say we need to hold Obama’s feet to the fire. They stand up on their feet when Van Jones (whom the Obama Administration threw under the bus) declares we need to “liberate our president” from himself but, when they see people who are essentially doing what could be characterized as “holding Obama’s feet to the fire,” they work to shut down those people. And, in some cases, they write blogs and try to turn opinion against individuals or groups in a way that could turn those individuals or groups into pariahs for even daring to offer viewpoints against the Administration.

Where do those who want progressives to be managers of democracy instead of citizens of the United States who have a right to dissent think we are to get momentum or energy if they are working to silence or stifle criticism? Because, it is exactly the criticism and pressure from the far left and left-liberals that counterbalances the most vocal and reactionary conservatives. It is their voices that tugs the center to a place where Obama can have cover to make the type of policy decisions on issues that we would be more likely to support—if Obama and his administration had the guts to make such decisions.

I enjoyed the conference. I walked way with several good video interviews that I will be sharing over the next few fays. But, the conference did lead me to further realize that we do have to decide which side we  are on.

We have to understand that Obama works for the very interests, which destroy and disembowel the social fabric of American communities. We have to realize that on issues of civil liberties, the law & technology there is power being granted to the few who govern to control the many. And, we have to decide whether we want to work with power or to influence power.

Working side by side may be next to impossible anymore. We have to remain a separate entity and not form coalitions with agencies or agents of government if we expect to win real change. Leaders running for political office may be able to offer great assistance but they should not be chief sponsors we rely on to get closer to our goals.

It is stunning but perhaps unsurprising that one year later most of what I wrote on Netroots Nation 2010 could be copied and pasted into an article and titled something that had to do with Netroots Nation 2011. That’s why I invite you to look back, reflect on this post. And then, I encourage you to keep commenting on one_outer’s insights to keep this conversation going on how to continue to build momentum in the face of a Democratic Party content and dead set on undermining advancements for social justice, liberty and equality.

***

Published to OpEdNews on July 19, 2010

Each year, for the past five years, members of what has become known as the “netroots” [a term that almost exclusively means progressives, liberals or Democrats that regularly blog and organize on the Internet] have come together for an annual convention known as Netroots Nation to participate in a forum for progressive activists and candidates to strengthen communities online and grow the progressive movement. It has attempted to inspire action and help those in attendance grow new ideas to affect change.

As the “netroots” prepare to meet in Las Vegas to once again discuss what they could be doing (and have been doing) to “amplify” their “progressive voice” by using “technology to influence the public debate,” one wonders if this convention will have any potential long-term value at all to movements in this country desiring more change from the Obama Administration.

David Lightman of McClatchy Newspapers aptly presents the dilemma the “netroots” currently face, “Activists in the liberal blogosphere face a crossroads: They had tremendous success in 2008 helping to turn voter anger into votes for Democrats, but persuading Congress and the White House to adopt their agenda is much harder.”

Lightman adds during the convention “members will quiz House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., among others, about why Washington doesn’t move more quickly to end the Afghanistan war or give more help to the millions who are out of work” and the “netroots” will likely be told ” (a) Washington works in complex, deliberate ways, and one should be happy to achieve 80 percent of one’s goals, and (b) since Democrats took control of Washington 18 months ago, they’ve won the enactment of historic legislation on health care, economic stimulus and financial regulation — no small achievements.”

Lightman’s preview of Netroots Nation indicates the convention will be another Democratic exercise in the lowering of progressives’ expectations of what is possible in terms of change in this country. There’s also indication that the focus will not be on Democrats at all. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), who reassures readers in the McClatchy article that the party is in “no danger of being a captive of the left” believes in unifying “this year’s congressional candidates behind an anti-Republican message: that if the GOP were in charge, things would be much worse.” The DCCC is a sponsor of Netroots Nation.

Rep. Van Hollen appeared on “Meet the Press” on Sunday. Here’s a glimpse at the story the Democratic Party will likely be promoting as it seeks to ensure Americans will vote for them in November:

REP. VAN HOLLEN: Well, what you’re, what you’re hearing is–as, as Bob said, look, we know that we have a long way to go on the economy. People are still hurting, that’s absolutely clear. But we also know what the American people know, which is the day George Bush lost–left office, we were losing 700,000 jobs a month. And during the full eight years of the Bush administration we lost private sector jobs. We are now beginning to climb out. And what we are saying is yes, let’s focus on the policies, because why in the world would we want to go back to the same economic agenda that created that mess, that, that lost jobs for eight years? And I think the challenge that our colleagues have here, Pete and John, is to say to the American people, how do you expect to do the same thing and get a different result? I mean, that, that’s Einstein’s definition of insanity, right? [emphasis added]

 

Such a message hinges upon whether or not the financial reform legislation can be viewed as shifting the country away from the same economic agenda that created this mess. Robert Reich, who was the Secretary of Labor under President Clinton and is a fairly outspoken progressive voice, asserts, “Congress has labored mightily to produce a mountain of legislation that can be called financial reform, but it has produced a molehill relative to the wreckage Wall Street wreaked upon the nation.”

Also, should we be so certain that the Republican’s are following “Einstein’s definition of insanity”? What they are doing may not be working out for certain sections of the American population, but it is most certainly, politically, paying off. As a tactic, crafting a debate on issues that ranges from what the Tea Party is not willing to accept to what the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Wall Street and other private interests fear will infringe on their precious free enterprise system today has effectively defanged every piece of legislation that has come up for debate in Congress.

Representatives like Rep. Van Hollen ignore the tactic that the Obama Administration has practiced, the courting of Republican votes for legislation the party will continue to oppose no matter what concessions the Administration grants them.

The Administration has decided Republican voices are more important than any liberal or progressive voices in the Senate or House that might be making demands.Instead of seeking to silence the conservative echo chamber that effectively skewers any progressive agenda items that could potentially be put on the table, the Administration has gone out of their way to assure and reassure Republicans that they can move the debate in their direction.

Progressives, on the other hand, have learned that they will incur the wrath of those in the Administration like the brawny and rugged Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and other Obama advisers if they dare to oppose the Administration’s attempts to sterilize legislation on behalf of the corporations they are attempting to regulate.

Given the record of scorn displayed toward progressives who organize with their own agenda in mind (e.g. Emanuel calling liberals “fucking stupid” as they ran ads against Democrats opposing the public option), it’s no surprise that progressive voices would be reluctant to tug the conversation in their direction. Instead of incurring the fire of the Obama Administration, many probably would rather focus on the reactionary Tea Party faction growing within the Republican Party and simply tackle that instead of the failures of the Democratic Party during Obama’s first two years in office. Unfortunately, this ignores the reality that Democrats have failed to rebuff the growing rancor of anti-government sentiment in the GOP and offer an alternative message; in fact, that Tea Party message is effectively dragging the Democrats toward supporting a political agenda more conducive to a vastly unregulated free market system that Democrats admit has gotten us into the mess we are in today.

Democrats have gradually become more and more the party of “no” to progressives. Their admission of running on a message that is anti-Republican is an indication that their campaign strategy for these elections will also be a strategy of “no.” How is this any different than what Republicans have been doing as they claim Democrats are the party of “no”?

What we have in this country is a political establishment discourse that has devolved into discussions from Democrats on why the population should reject Republicans and a discussion from Republicans on why the population should reject Democrats. It does not allow for real talk on the issues any more than a domestic dispute between a husband and wife allows for real discussion on who was responsible for escalating the situation and why there was yelling and screaming in the first place.

To some extent, both parties are right: neither offer an agenda for a future that will go to the root of the problems this country faces and take on the private and powerful interests that are further entrenching these problems in the fabric of American society.

This failure produces a “trickle-down” effect that has a detrimental impact on the “netroots.” Articles and postings like Eric Alterman’s recent essay are published and proclaim that America cannot have a progressive presidency right now. They debilitate, demoralize and produce comments demonstrating an acquiescence to this meme.

The “netroots” will meet and focus on primaries and electing better Democrats, using blogs, Twitter and other social networking technologies to turn “red states” “blue”, how to improve online organizing, the current state of progressive media, etc. There is no doubt that many will take home some valuable knowledge and insight they did not have before they attended. And most likely they will network with other people who are part of the “netroots” community and gain the opportunity to be more effective at what they do. However, this is an event receiving sponsorship from the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC) and the Democratic National Committee (DNC), which contribute to the maintenance and polishing of the Democratic Party’s image.

There would be nothing wrong with these committees supporting this event if wedding this event to those committees did not automatically limit the scope of debate at a time when the dimensions of discussion in politics need to be expanded.

Only in America do political activists (especially ones who call themselves progressives) limit their visions for change to what can be passed legislatively this year or the next. Only in America do those committed to organizing consistently coach themselves to accept terms for organizing that will not alienate the very politicians who have contributed to the situations organizers seek to address.

An event that organizes those who are the most vocal section of society has great potential. But, the dominance of politically-safe sessions (in the aftermath of the Citizens United v. FEC decision, no abolish corporate personhood now workshop), the absence of any sessions on reforming the broken electoral system, and the lack of discussions around the very few differences between Republicans and Democrats and what to do about that reality warrants skepticism.

If the “netroots” leave ready to do more to defend Obama and Democrats from Republicans, this convention will have massively failed. But, if they leave ready to advance small-d democratic policies and items that often appear on proposed progressive agendas, if they leave committed to creating space in the public sphere for real progressive organizing to take place, there is a chance that this event will not have just been an opportunity for Democrats to revitalize support for their increasingly stale politics in this country.

Deafening Liberal Silence as the Senate Moves to Extend the Patriot Act

7:52 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

The United States Senate came one step closer to extending provisions of the PATRIOT Act, as only eight senators stood up and called for the provisions to be reformed or not extended. The provisions, slated to expire on Friday, now must pass in a final vote later in the week.

Provisions slated to expire include: the “roving wiretap provision,” which permits government to obtain intelligence surveillance orders without identifying the person or the facility being tapped (Section 206 of the Act); the “Lone Wolf” provision, which permits intelligence agencies to survey non-US persons not affiliated with a foreign organization (Section 6001 of the Act); and Section 215, which grants government authorization to obtain “any tangible thing” relevant to a terrorism investigation, even if there is no evidence the “thing” pertains to the terrorist or terrorist activity under investigation.

One senator, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who would like to “sunset the entire PATRIOT Act and protect American civil liberties,” delivered a speech on the Senate floor in defense of freedom and privacy in America.

What the PATRIOT Act has done, explained Paul, is “taken away some of the protections of the Fourth Amendment.” Under the Fourth Amendment, the government must “name the person and place to be searched.” Those protections are gone.

No longer does government need to have “probable cause.” As Paul stated, the Act has taken away those rights and made it so if it’s “relevant” or they think the search or seizure is related to the investigation authorities can conduct searches and seizures.

Paul raised the issue of national security letters (NSLs), something that candidate Barack Obama opposed. They allow the FBI to write warrants without review by a judge, Paul stated. This throws off our nation’s system of checks and balances.

“Do we want a government that looks at our records and is finding out what our reading habits are?” asked Paul. “One of the provisions apply to library records. Do you want the government to find out what you’re reading at the library?”

Additionally, Paul asked, “We now have a president that wants to know where you contributed before you do work for the government. Do we want that kind of all-encompassing government that is looking at every record from top to bottom and invading our privacy?”
Read the rest of this entry →

VIDEO: Interview w/ Medea Benjamin on Pushing Hard to Get Peace Message Included in “One Nation” Rally

5:58 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

Medea Benjamin, co-founder of CODE PINK and "fair trade" advocacy group Global Exchange, talks about the One Nation Working Together rally. She explains what it took for the peace movement to be a part of the organizing committee and what she thinks progressives should do to get their demands for peace and justice acted upon. She also addresses how CODE PINK has been singled out by Jon Stewart as a group contributing to insanity in politics.

As Wall Street Support Shifts from Left to Right, Liberal Pundits Respond to Gibbs’ Attack

6:29 pm in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

2796069323_c06d4ea0eb.jpg
Robert Gibbs in studio interview by studio08denver

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs became the spokesperson for Obama Administration contempt toward the left on Tuesday. The display of contempt came in the midst of a nearly 70 percent shift in Wall Street executive donations from Democratic candidates to Republican candidates ahead of the November mid-term elections.

On Tuesday, The Hill published an interview with Gibbs, who said what Obama has done and is doing would never be "good enough" for the "professional left." Gibbs attacked the left for comparing Obama to George W. Bush, suggested, "these people ought to be drug tested" and said they "wouldn’t be satisfied if Dennis Kucinich was president." He also said they would only "be satisfied when [America has] Canadian healthcare and [America has] eliminated the Pentagon."

Gibbs’ remark revealed a lot about what members of the Obama Administration think of the role of debate and citizen participation in government. And, the implicit apology Gibbs made in the aftermath of his "inartful" comments revealed even more about an administration that believes progressives should take marching orders from this administration or else.

"So we should all, me included, stop fighting each other and arguing about our differences on certain policies," he said, and work together "because we’ve come too far to turn back now," Gibbs said after mentioning he watches a lot of cable television, as if to excuse his remark.

While circumstantial, the best evidence for why Gibbs would feel like uttering the aforementioned remarks is the shift of money from Wall Street to Republicans ahead of the election. Obama was the candidate of Wall Street in the 2008 Election garnering nearly $8 million in campaign contributions from securities and investment industries (nearly double what Republican presidential candidate John McCain garnered). The Democrats earned 57 percent of campaign contributions from securities and investment industries.

The situation compels the Obama Administration especially White House press secretary Gibbs to whip the left and the sections that are most listened to by voters into line not only because money from business interests needs to swing back the other way but because disappointed and disillusioned voters will likely stay home, not donate to Democratic Party campaigns, not make phone calls, and refuse to go door-to-door canvassing prior to Election Day if they do not fall in line.  . . . Read the rest of this entry →

The “Liberal” Netroots: An Army Beholden to Democrats or an Independent Political Force to Be Reckoned With?

2:57 pm in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola


Fmr. Pres. Bill Clinton speaks at the 2009 Netroots Nation Convention in Pittsburgh, PA | Flickr Photo by kyleshank

 

 

Each year, for the past five years, members of what has become known as the "netroots" [a term that almost exclusively means progressives, liberals or Democrats that regularly blog and organize on the Internet] have come together for an annual convention known as Netroots Nation to participate in a forum for progressive activists and candidates to strengthen communities online and grow the progressive movement. It has attempted to inspire action and help those in attendance grow new ideas to affect change. 

 

As the "netroots" prepare to meet in Las Vegas to once again discuss what they could be doing (and have been doing) to "amplify" their "progressive voice" by using "technology to influence the public debate," one wonders if this convention will have any potential long-term value at all to movements in this country desiring more change from the Obama Administration.

 

David Lightman of McClatchy Newspapers aptly presents the dilemma the "netroots" currently face, "Activists in the liberal blogosphere face a crossroads: They had tremendous success in 2008 helping to turn voter anger into votes for Democrats, but persuading Congress and the White House to adopt their agenda is much harder."

 

Lightman adds during the convention "members will quiz House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., among others, about why Washington doesn’t move more quickly to end the Afghanistan war or give more help to the millions who are out of work" and the "netroots" will likely be told " (a) Washington works in complex, deliberate ways, and one should be happy to achieve 80 percent of one’s goals, and (b) since Democrats took control of Washington 18 months ago, they’ve won the enactment of historic legislation on health care, economic stimulus and financial regulation — no small achievements."

 

Lightman’s preview of Netroots Nation indicates the convention will be another Democratic exercise in the lowering of progressives’ expectations of what is possible in terms of change in this country. There’s also indication that the focus will not be on Democrats at all. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), who reassures readers in the McClatchy article that the party is in "no danger of being a captive of the left" believes in unifying "this year’s congressional candidates behind an anti-Republican message: that if the GOP were in charge, things would be much worse." The DCCC is a sponsor of Netroots Nation.

 

Rep. Van Hollen appeared on "Meet the Press" on Sunday. Here’s a glimpse at the story the Democratic Party will likely be promoting as it seeks to ensure Americans will vote for them in November:

REP. VAN HOLLEN: Well, what you’re, what you’re hearing is–as, as Bob said, look, we know that we have a long way to go on the economy. People are still hurting, that’s absolutely clear. But we also know what the American people know, which is the day George Bush lost–left office, we were losing 700,000 jobs a month. And during the full eight years of the Bush administration we lost private sector jobs. We are now beginning to climb out. And what we are saying is yes, let’s focus on the policies, because why in the world would we want to go back to the same economic agenda that created that mess, that, that lost jobs for eight years? And I think the challenge that our colleagues have here, Pete and John, is to say to the American people, how do you expect to do the same thing and get a different result? I mean, that, that’s Einstein’s definition of insanity, right? [emphasis added]

 

Such a message hinges upon whether or not the financial reform legislation can be viewed as shifting the country away from the same economic agenda that created this mess. Robert Reich, who was the Secretary of Labor under President Clinton and is a fairly outspoken progressive voice, asserts, "Congress has labored mightily to produce a mountain of legislation that can be called financial reform, but it has produced a molehill relative to the wreckage Wall Street wreaked upon the nation."

 

Also, should we be so certain that the Republican’s are following "Einstein’s definition of insanity"? What they are doing may not be working out for certain sections of the American population, but it is most certainly, politically, paying off. As a tactic, crafting a debate on issues that ranges from what the Tea Party is not willing to accept to what the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Wall Street and other private interests fear will infringe on their precious free enterprise system today has effectively defanged every piece of legislation that has come up for debate in Congress.

 

Representatives like Rep. Van Hollen ignore the tactic that the Obama Administration has practiced, the courting of Republican votes for legislation the party will continue to oppose no matter what concessions the Administration grants them.

 

The Administration has decided Republican voices are more important than any liberal or progressive voices in the Senate or House that might be making demands.Instead of seeking to silence the conservative echo chamber that effectively skewers any progressive agenda items that could potentially be put on the table, the Administration has gone out of their way to assure and reassure Republicans that they can move the debate in their direction.

 

Progressives, on the other hand, have learned that they will incur the wrath of those in the Administration like the brawny and rugged Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and other Obama advisers if they dare to oppose the Administration’s attempts to sterilize legislation on behalf of the corporations they are attempting to regulate. 

 

Given the record of scorn displayed toward progressives who organize with their own agenda in mind (e.g. Emanuel calling liberals "fucking stupid" as they ran ads against Democrats opposing the public option), it’s no surprise that progressive voices would be reluctant to tug the conversation in their direction. Instead of incurring the fire of the Obama Administration, many probably would rather focus on the reactionary Tea Party faction growing within the Republican Party and simply tackle that instead of the failures of the Democratic Party during Obama’s first two years in office. Unfortunately, this ignores the reality that Democrats have failed to rebuff the growing rancor of anti-government sentiment in the GOP and offer an alternative message; in fact, that Tea Party message is effectively dragging the Democrats toward supporting a political agenda more conducive to a vastly unregulated free market system that Democrats admit has gotten us into the mess we are in today.

 

Democrats have gradually become more and more the party of "no" to progressives. Their admission of running on a message that is anti-Republican is an indication that their campaign strategy for these elections will also be a strategy of "no." How is this any different than what Republicans have been doing as they claim Democrats are the party of "no"? 

 

What we have in this country is a political establishment discourse that has devolved into discussions from Democrats on why the population should reject Republicans and a discussion from Republicans on why the population should reject Democrats. It does not allow for real talk on the issues any more than a domestic dispute between a husband and wife allows for real discussion on who was responsible for escalating the situation and why there was yelling and screaming in the first place.

 

To some extent, both parties are right: neither offer an agenda for a future that will go to the root of the problems this country faces and take on the private and powerful interests that are further entrenching these problems in the fabric of American society. 

 

This failure produces a "trickle-down" effect that has a detrimental impact on the "netroots." Articles and postings like Eric Alterman’s recent essay are published and proclaim that America cannot have a progressive presidency right now. They debilitate, demoralize and produce comments demonstrating an acquiescence to this meme.

 

The "netroots" will meet and focus on primaries and electing better Democrats, using blogs, Twitter and other social networking technologies to turn "red states" "blue", how to improve online organizing, the current state of progressive media, etc. There is no doubt that many will take home some valuable knowledge and insight they did not have before they attended. And most likely they will network with other people who are part of the "netroots" community and gain the opportunity to be more effective at what they do. However, this is an event receiving sponsorship from the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC) and the Democratic National Committee (DNC), which contribute to the maintenance and polishing of the Democratic Party’s image.

 

There would be nothing wrong with these committees supporting this event if wedding this event to those committees did not automatically limit the scope of debate at a time when the dimensions of discussion in politics need to be expanded.

 

Only in America do political activists (especially ones who call themselves progressives) limit their visions for change to what can be passed legislatively this year or the next. Only in America do those committed to organizing consistently coach themselves to accept terms for organizing that will not alienate the very politicians who have contributed to the situations organizers seek to address.

 

An event that organizes those who are the most vocal section of society has great potential. But, the dominance of politically-safe sessions (in the aftermath of the Citizens United v. FEC decision, no abolish corporate personhood now workshop), the absence of any sessions on reforming the broken electoral system, and the lack of discussions around the very few differences between Republicans and Democrats and what to do about that reality warrants skepticism.

 

If the "netroots" leave ready to do more to defend Obama and Democrats from Republicans, this convention will have massively failed. But, if they leave ready to advance small-d democratic policies and items that often appear on proposed progressive agendas, if they leave committed to creating space in the public sphere for real progressive organizing to take place, there is a chance that this event will not have just been an opportunity for Democrats to revitalize support for their increasingly stale politics in this country.

When Will We Take Responsibility for the Obama Presidency’s Failings?

9:57 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

Holding Ourselves Responsible for Electing Obama

Another cycle of conversation on the bitter disappointment that is the Obama presidency appears to be taking place once again among liberals or progressives. Writers for prominent progressive media like The Nation and leaders in prominent progressive organizations like Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) are expressing their discontent and offering suggestions to dismayed Americans who had hoped change would actually come from the Obama Administration.

Eric Alterman of The Nation published an article recently calling the Obama presidency "a big disappointment." Katrina vanden Heuvel, also of The Nation, suggested that people aren’t just disappointed in Obama but really wonder where this country is headed. And, Norman Solomon, on the executive board of Progressive Democrats of America, recently told Real News’ Paul Jay, "The Obama Administration is more and more moving towards policies that many who worked to elect Obama have worked to oppose in recent years."

The emerging consensus, which has been present over the past year and a half as more and more progressives confess frustration with President Obama, is that the presidency has taken a turn away from progressivism, a turn that many didn’t expect or hoped would not occur. There are a few progressive minds who are being asked what to do next that appear willing to admit they held their nose and voted for a centrist Democrat, but an overwhelming amount continue to cling to their history of delusions and maintain Obama could have been progressive.

The consensus also religiously clings to the reality that Republicans are becoming increasingly dangerous for the country and hold that reality up as an excuse for why Obama has "failed" progressives tremendously. To them, the power of the minority has made it near impossible for any progressive agenda, any major social reforms to get through. This would be a valid argument if plenty of evidence of Democratic Party leaders allowing or quite often colluding with the toxic talk and agenda of the Republican Party did not exist.

Not extending unemployment benefits and not raising more of a fuss as Republicans obstruct the renewal of these jobless benefits, appointing Petraeus to replace McChrystal in Afghanistan and continuing a war in a country often regarded as "the graveyard of empires," maintaining a permanent troop presence in Iraq, contributing to culture which led to the BP oil disaster by indicating renewed support for offshore drilling one month before the disaster, keeping the option of a national public-financed healthcare system off the table as Republicans cried foul about a socialist takeover of healthcare and talked death panels, refusal to advance the minor reform that labor unions have desired, the Employee Free Choice Act (pretty much the only real demand they have had for Obama), the continued use of rendition, believing the truth will endanger soldiers and lead to increased deaths and instability in the Middle East and refusing to investigate torture or release photos of the abuse that soldiers inflicted on detainees— These are just some of the victories Republicans have won from Obama. These are just some of the many examples of continuity that Republicans have enjoyed.

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Obama on Inauguration Day

Progressives have gradually woken up from their hope-induced coma and begun to realize more and more the folly that they have been engaging in. They had been dithering on what to do as social movements stumbled (e.g. the antiwar movement, which Cindy Sheehan has tried to re-ignite without much success). That’s why more and more editorial writers and more and more leaders and organizers are being critical.

The questions must be asked: What level of responsibility should progressives take for the fact that they were swept up in Hope-a-Palooza ’08? How much are progressive writers, media makers, organizers, and leaders to blame for the current impact the Obama presidency has had on society, if any?

While it is uncomfortable and in some respects unreasonable to take to task the people who should be the biggest allies of social movements and, in fact, an ally of this writer (who considers himself to be progressive), the cycle with which progressives have the Left going in is incredibly destructive to the future of this country, the world and in fact the whole of humanity. The strategy and tactics of progressives increasingly look like the definition of insanity–doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different result.

Norman Solomon and Jeff Cohen each appear in two different series produced by Real News on progressives and the Democratic Party. One set particularly addresses the dynamics between progressives and Obama and the other addresses the corporatism of the Democratic Party, which has made it about impossible for real change to occur.

Both offer a further understanding of what the role of progressives is in society. Solomon reminds progressives "the Democratic Party base is appreciably more progressive than those who get elected and that needs to be rectified. Primaries exist for a reason, they’re rarely utilized to the extent they could and should be." Cohen expresses his belief in the idea that progressives can "take over" the Democratic Party "through social action and grassroots politics and money" just like the Republican Party did after the Eisenhower Administration.

Solomon and Cohen display faith in the tying of social movements and independent political action to electoral activity. Fundamentally, there is little wrong with this concept. The best movements understood they had to have a presence in the street and had to have an electoral arm of the struggle. But, all too often, those movements, which had presences in elections, were running on a single issue as a candidate for a smaller party that was not Democrat or Republican, an electoral strategy that Solomon and Cohen do not support.

Given the massive shortcomings of the past four decades, it is time for those who speak for progressives and who purport to know ideas on how to best move forward toward a more egalitarian, more socially responsible and less corporate-controlled country to explain why not just progressives but Americans are to believe that their so-called "inside-outside strategy" can work or should work.

Why should we who have visions of a world that the Democratic Party is not willing to push for, why should we support the efforts of groups like Progressive Democrats of America to keep all concerned, socially-minded and oftentimes left-leaning people in one big tent?

Lance Selfa takes a close look in his book, Democrats: A Critical History, at what groups like PDA and examines whether the left can take over the Democratic Party. He quotes PDA founder Kevin Spidel who told writer William Rivers Pitt, "The most important thing we do is that inside-outside strategy. Pulling together members of the Green Party, the Independent Progressive Politics Network, the hip-hop community, the civil rights community, our allies in Congress, the anti-war community. We are bringing together all the social movements within the Democratic Party under on effective tent, and we will do it better if people can contribute to our cause."

Essentially, Spidel (and I imagine anyone who celebrates the "potential" of PDA) would like all those discontent to not let their discontent create alternatives to working with the Democratic Party. In fact, they would like people to help deter creations of alternatives; PDA did not do anything to denounce or deter the Democratic Party’s funded campaign to force Nader/Camejo off the ballots in the 2004 Election.

The examples of Dennis Kucinich’s campaigns, Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition, writer Upton Sinclair’s 1934 primary victory, and Howard Dean’s eventual demise in 2004 are all bitter indications of the shenanigans and uphill battles candidates have to face as they organize and run as a Democrat. And, with Kucinich, candidates not only are forced out of the race but are tasked with the duty of herding progressives into the center of the Democratic Party and inspiring them to support a much less robust progressive agenda and much more corporate Democrat like current President Obama.

This writer is very cognizant of the dismal state of the Left. There currently exists no surefire way for any progressives, Greens, socialists, communists, Marxists, or whatever label members of key social movements anoint themselves with to win state power. Ballot access laws effectively make it a chore for candidates from parties not Democrat or Republican to run. Media corporations effectively refuse to cover politics that is not Democrat or Republican. And, the people of this country are conditioned to believe politics is only Democrat or Republican and, actually, that’s why so many Americans are angry and upset with the state of this country.

Many recognize how similar the Democratic and Republican Parties are in this country. The characterization is no longer simply that there isn’t a dime’s worth of difference (as Ralph Nader has said) but much deeper. It’s that what Americans are faced with is a corporate party with a left and right wing. Or, it’s that we have a war party that splits off in a left and right direction (or something similar to these characterizations).

What is the answer? Where do we go? How willing are we to raise our expectations?

At forums all over the world like the World Social Forum, at summits organized by movement leaders all over the world and at conferences held here in the United States, there are people willing to make the cogent analyses necessary to understand the objective reality we face as a people. There are scholars and thinkers and concerned citizens and sharp, energetic organizers willing to develop and work to get this country turned around so it is no longer going in the destructive downward spiraling direction that it had been going in for decades.

But, what has to be done so this can translate into the political arena? When do social movements get to grow up and actually run this country? When leaders from social movements get to lead? And, when do we stop using the Democratic Party as a measuring stick for what’s possible in American politics?

I don’t have the answers to the problems this country faces because of the broken electoral system, the control corporations have over politics in this country, the influence that corporatism and it’s fiendish offspring militarism have over the agenda and policies of America, but I do have the unwavering interest in a better future one that my children, their children and their children and so on and so forth should be able to enjoy–a future where generations won’t have to confront the levels of contempt, exploitation and injustice toward humanity that seem to be increasing because of the policies of an elite few who run this country.

One wonders if a future focus is enough to take on the sharp contradictions of society. But, if that doesn’t push us to mature politically and socially, what will?