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Obama in Plunderland: Down the Corporate Rabbit Hole

4:00 pm in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

The president’s new choices for Commerce secretary and FCC chair underscore how far down the rabbit hole his populist conceits have tumbled. Yet the Obama rhetoric about standing up for working people against “special interests” is as profuse as ever. Would you care for a spot of Kool-Aid at the Mad Hatter’s tea party?

Of course the Republican economic program is worse, and President Romney’s policies would have been even more corporate-driven. That doesn’t in the slightest make acceptable what Obama is doing. His latest high-level appointments — boosting corporate power and shafting the public — are despicable.

To nominate Penny Pritzker for secretary of Commerce is to throw in the towel for any pretense of integrity that could pass a laugh test. Pritzker is “a longtime political supporter and heavyweight fundraiser,” the Chicago Tribune reported with notable understatement last week, adding: “She is on the board of Hyatt Hotels Corp., which was founded by her family and has had rocky relations with labor unions, and she could face questions about the failure of a bank partly owned by her family. With a personal fortune estimated at $1.85 billion, Pritzker is listed by Forbes magazine among the 300 wealthiest Americans.”

A more blunt assessment came from journalist Dennis Bernstein: “Her pioneering sub-prime operations, out of Superior Bank in Chicago, specifically targeted poor and working class people of color across the country. She ended up crashing Superior for a billion-dollar cost to taxpayers, and creating a personal tragedy for the 1,400 people who lost their savings when the bank failed.” Pritzker, whose family controls Hyatt Regency Hotels, has a vile anti-union record.

Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker? What’s next? Labor Secretary Donald Trump? SEC Chairman Bernie Madoff?

The choice of Penny Pritzker to run the Commerce Department is a matched set with the simultaneous pick of Tom Wheeler — another mega-fundraiser for candidate Obama — to chair the Federal Communications Commission.

With crucial decisions on the near horizon at the FCC, the president’s nomination of Wheeler has dire implications for the future of the Internet, digital communications and democracy. For analysis, my colleagues at the Institute for Public Accuracy turned to the progressive former FCC commissioner Nicholas Johnson, who called the choice “bizarre.”

“There is no single independent regulatory commission that comes close to the impact of the FCC on every American’s life,” Johnson said. “That’s why Congress, in creating it, characterized its mission as serving ‘the public interest’ — an expression used throughout the Act.”

But with countless billions of dollars at stake, the corporate fix was in. As Johnson pointed out, “Wheeler’s background is as a trade association representative for companies appearing before the Commission, a lobbyist in Congress for other FCC customers, and a venture capitalist investing in and profiting from others whose requests he’ll have to pass on. He has no record, of which I am aware, of challenging corporate abuse of power on behalf of consumers and the poor.”

But wait. There’s more. “Nor does Wheeler’s membership on the president’s Intelligence Advisory Board bode well for those who believe Americans’ Fourth Amendment privacy rights should be getting at least as much attention as the government’s perceived need to engage in even more secret snooping.”

To urge senators to reject the nominations of Pritzker and Wheeler, click here.

Meanwhile, at the Securities and Exchange Commission, Obama’s recent appointment of Wall Street insider Mary Jo White as SEC chair is playing out in predictable fashion. Days ago, in an editorial, the New York Times faulted her role in an SEC decision on regulating the huge derivatives market: “Last week, in her first commission vote, Ms. White led the commissioners in approving a proposal that, if finalized, could leave investors and taxpayers exposed to the ravages of reckless bank trading.”

We need to ask ourselves how the forces of corporate capitalism have gained so much power over government, to the extreme detriment of people who aren’t rich. Humpty Dumpty’s brief dialectical exchange with Alice is on point:

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” Alice replied, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” Humpty Dumpty responded, “which is to be master — that’s all.”

Denunciations and protests against the dominant power structure are essential. And insufficient. For the body politic and the potential of democracy, accommodating to the Democratic Party leadership is a deathly prescription. So is failure to fight for electoral power by challenging that leadership, fielding genuinely progressive candidates and organizing to win.

Don’t Vent, Organize — And “Primary” a Democrat Near You

1:31 pm in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

Progressives often wonder why so many Republican lawmakers stick to their avowed principles while so many Democratic lawmakers abandon theirs. We can grasp some answers by assessing the current nationwide drive called “Primary My Congressman” — a case study of how right-wing forces gain ground in electoral terrain where progressives fear to tread.

A Democrat Donkey

Time for some fresh blood?

Sponsored by Club for Growth Action, the “Primary My Congressman” effort aims to replace “moderate Republicans” with “economic conservatives” — in other words, GOP hardliners even more devoted to boosting corporate power and dismantling the public sector. “In districts that are heavily Republican,” the group says, “there are literally dozens of missed opportunities to elect real fiscal conservatives to Congress — not more ‘moderates’ who will compromise with Democrats. . .”

Such threats of serious primary challenges often cause the targeted incumbents to quickly veer rightward, or they may never get through the next Republican primary.

Progressive activists and organizations could launch similar primary challenges, but — to the delight of the Democratic Party establishment — they rarely do. Why not?

Here are some key reasons:

* Undue deference to elected Democrats.

Members of Congress and other elected officials deserve only the respect they earn. All too often, for example, plenty of Congressional Progressive Caucus members represent the interests of the establishment to progressives rather than the other way around.

* Treating election campaigns more like impulse items than work that requires long-term planning and grassroots follow-through.

The same progressives who’ve spent years planning, launching and sustaining a wide range of community projects are apt to jump into election campaigns with scant lead time. Progressives need to build electoral capacity for the long haul, implementing well-planned strategic campaigns with candidates who come out of social movements and have a plausible chance to win on behalf of those movements.

* Assuming that millions of dollars are necessary to win.

Yes, successful campaigns require effective fundraising — but money is often a less significant obstacle than a shortage of commitment and willingness to do painstaking grassroots organizing.

* Self-marginalization by ignoring elections.

Some on the left prefer to stay out of electoral contests while focusing on the next protest demonstration — thus leaving the electoral field to battles between corporate Democrats and Republicans. One sure result: a progressive won’t win.

* Self-marginalization with third-party efforts in partisan races.

In congressional races, Green Party and other progressive third-party candidates have a zero record of success in our lifetimes. In other races with party affiliations also on the ballot (such as governor and state legislature), victories have been almost nonexistent. In such races, the corporate-military complex is not in the slightest threatened by third-party candidates, who rarely get higher than a low single-digit percentage of the vote. In nonpartisan races, by contrast, there are examples of successful and uplifting campaigns by third-party candidates, as with Green Party member Gayle McLaughlin, the mayor of Richmond, California.

By changing just a few words in the Club for Growth’s “Primary My Congressman” manifesto, progressives have a road map for electoral progress: In districts that are heavily Democratic, there are literally dozens of missed opportunities to elect real progressives to Congress — not more of those who go along with the Obama White House as it keeps compromising with Republicans.

Anyone serious about getting genuine progressives elected to Congress next year should be engaged in developing campaigns now. To avoid the impulse-item syndrome, that means identifying key races where progressives have a real chance to win, while remaining mindful that election campaigns should be subsets of social movements and not the other way around.

If there’s a defining issue that now separates the Obama party leadership from social decency, it is the president’s push to cut Social Security benefits. Less ballyhooed but also crucial is his push to cut Medicare benefits and the ever-present danger of cuts to already woefully-underfunded Medicaid. Meanwhile, Democratic leaders are unwilling to seriously cut the enormous military budget.

Any incumbent Democrat who is not serving progressive interests should be weighed as a possible primary target. And the most fruitful primary challenges are beckoning in heavily Democratic districts where there are many progressive voters and incumbents aren’t measuring up.

By that standard, the Congress members who may be vulnerable to a primary challenge include the 44 who tout their membership in the Progressive Caucus but have refused to sign the letter (initiated by Congressmen Alan Grayson and Mark Takano) promising not to vote to cut Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid benefits.

A good starting point to consider launching a primary challenge in your area would be to look at those 44 members of Congress who continue to refuse to make such a promise, leaving themselves wiggle room to vote for cuts in three crucial programs of the social compact. To see the list of those self-described “progressives,” click here. (Meanwhile, wherever you live, you can let your Congress member and senators know what you think of proposals for such cuts by clicking here.)

It’s fair to say those 44 members of Congress are among the many Democratic incumbents showing themselves to be more afraid of the Obama White House and the Democratic Party hierarchy than they are of voters in their own districts. Progressives in and around those districts need to do less venting and more organizing.

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Time to Bell the Obama Cat

12:15 pm in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

The story goes that some mice became very upset about the cat in the house and convened an emergency meeting. They finally came up with the idea of tying a bell around the cat’s neck, so the dangerous feline could no longer catch victims unawares. The plan gained a lot of enthusiastic praise, until one mouse piped up with a question that preceded a long silence: “Who’s going to bell the cat?

In recent days, the big cat in the White House has provoked denunciations from groups that have rarely crossed him. They’re upset about his decision to push for cuts in Social Security benefits. “Progressive outrage has reached a boiling point,” the online juggernaut MoveOn declared a few days ago.

Obama’s move to cut Social Security is certainly outrageous, and it’s encouraging that a wide range of progressive groups are steamed at Obama as never before. But this kind of outrage should have reached a “boiling point” a long time ago. The administration’s undermining of civil liberties, scant action on climate change, huge escalation of war in Afghanistan, expansion of drone warfare, austerity policies serving Wall Street and shafting Main Street, vast deference to corporate power. . . The list is long and chilling.

For progressives, there’s not a lot to be gained by venting against Obama without working to implement a plausible strategy for ousting corporate war Democrats from state power.

So is the evasive record of many groups that are now denouncing Obama’s plan to cut Social Security. Mostly, their leaders griped in private and made nice with the Obama White House in public.

Yet imagine if those groups had polarized with President Obama in 2009 on even a couple of key issues. Such progressive independence would have shown the public that there is indeed a left in this country — that the left has principles and stands up for them — and that Obama, far from being on the left, is in the center. Such principled clarity would have undermined the right-wing attacks on Obama as a radical, socialist, etc. — and from the beginning could have gotten some victories out of Obama, instead of waiting more than four years to take him on.

Whether or not Obama’s vicious assault on Social Security is successful, it has already jolted an unprecedented number of longtime supporters. It should be the last straw, suffused with illumination.

That past is prologue. We need to ask: Do such groups now have it in them to stop pretending that each of the Obama administration’s various awful policies is some kind of anomaly?

From this spring onward, a wide range of progressive groups should be prepared to work together to effectively renounce Obama’s leadership.

We need to invigorate political options other than accepting the likes of President Obama — or embracing self-marginalization.

For progressives, there’s not a lot to be gained by venting against Obama without working to implement a plausible strategy for ousting corporate war Democrats from state power. Nor is there a useful path for third parties like the Green Party in races for Congress and other partisan contests; those campaigns rarely end up with more than a tiny percentage of the vote, and the impacts are very small.

This spring, there’s a lot of work beckoning for progressives who mean business about gaining electoral power for social movements; who have no intention of eliding the grim realities of the Obama presidency; who are more than fed up with false pretenses that Obama is some kind of ally of progressives; who recognize that Obama has served his last major useful purpose for progressives by blocking a Romney-Ryan regime from entering the White House; who are willing to be here now, in this historical moment, to organize against and polarize with the Obama administration in basic terms; and who, looking ahead, grasp the tragic folly of leaving the electoral field to battles between right-wing Republicans and Democrats willing to go along with the kind of destructive mess that President Obama has been serving up.

A vital next step is staring us in the face: get to work now to develop and launch grassroots progressive campaigns for next year’s primaries that can defeat members of Congress who talk the talk but fail to walk the walk of challenging Obama’s austerity agenda.

Who are those congressional incumbents who call themselves “progressive” but refuse to take a clear stand against slashing Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits? I have a little list. Well, actually it’s not so little.

As of today, after many weeks of progressive lobbying and pleading and petitioning nationwide, 47 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus have refused to sign the letter, initiated by Congressmen Alan Grayson and Mark Takano, pledging to “vote against any and every cut to Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security benefits — including raising the retirement age or cutting the cost of living adjustments that our constituents earned and need.”

After all this time, refusal to sign the Grayson-Takano letter is a big tipoff that those 47 House members are keeping their options open. (To see that list of 47, click here.) They want wiggle room for budget votes on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security benefits. Most of them represent a left-leaning district, and some could be toppled by grassroots progressive campaigns.

By itself, lobbying accomplishes little. Right now, it’s time to threaten members of Congress with defeat unless they vote against all efforts to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits. Click here if you want to send that message directly to your representative and senators.

The best way to sway members of Congress is to endanger their seats if they aren’t willing to do the right thing. In the real world, politics isn’t about playing cat and mouse. It’s about power.

Illustration by Richard Heighway

Three-Quarters of Progressive Caucus Taking a Dive on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid

12:19 pm in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

Rep. Alan Grayson

Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL)

For the social compact of the United States, most of the Congressional Progressive Caucus has gone missing.

While still on the caucus roster, three-quarters of the 70-member caucus seem lost in political smog. Those 54 members of the Progressive Caucus haven’t signed the current letter that makes a vital commitment: “we will vote against any and every cut to Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security benefits — including raising the retirement age or cutting the cost of living adjustments that our constituents earned and need.”

More than 10 days ago, Congressmen Alan Grayson and Mark Takano initiated the forthright letter, circulating it among House colleagues. Addressed to President Obama, the letter has enabled members of Congress to take a historic stand: joining together in a public pledge not to vote for any cuts in Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid.

The Grayson-Takano letter is a breath of fresh progressive air, blowing away the customary fog that hangs over such matters on Capitol Hill.

The Progressive Caucus co-chairs, Raul Grijalva and Keith Ellison, signed the letter. So did Barbara Lee, the caucus whip. But no signer can be found among the five vice chairs of the Progressive Caucus: Judy Chu, David Cicilline, Michael Honda, Sheila Jackson-Lee and Jan Schakowsky. The letter’s current list of signers includes just 16 members of the Progressive Caucus (along with five other House signers who aren’t part of the caucus).

What about the other 54 members of the Progressive Caucus? Their absence from the letter is a clear message to the Obama White House, which has repeatedly declared its desire to cut the Social Security cost of living adjustment as well as Medicare. In effect, those 54 non-signers are signaling: Mr. President, we call ourselves “progressive” but we are unwilling to stick our necks out by challenging you in defense of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid; we want some wiggle room that you can exploit.

In contrast, the House members on the short list of the letter’s signers deserve our praise for taking a clear stand: Brown, Cartwright, Conyers, DeFazio, Ellison, Faleomavaega, Grayson, G. Green, Grijalva, Gutierrez, A. Hastings, Kaptur, Lee, McGovern, Nadler, Napolitano, Nolan, Serrano, Takano, Velazquez and Waters.

If you don’t see the name of your representative in the above paragraph, you might want to have a few words. (For a list of the 54 Progressive Caucus members who haven’t signed the letter, click here.)

It’s one thing — a fairly easy thing — to tell someone else what you hope they’ll do, as 107 House Democrats did recently in a different letter to President Obama: “We write to affirm our vigorous opposition to cutting Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid benefits. . . . We urge you to reject any proposals to cut benefits.”

It’s much more difficult — and far more crucial — for members of Congress to publicly commit themselves not to vote for any cuts in those programs, which are matters of life and death for vast numbers of Americans.

Even a signed pledge to do or not do something, in terms of a floor vote, is no guarantee that a member of Congress will actually follow through. But in a situation like this, the pledge is significant — and even more significant is a refusal to make such a pledge.

As of now, 54 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus have taken a historic dive. We should take note — and not forget who they are.

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A Letter I Wish Progressive Groups Would Send to Their Members

2:47 pm in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

Dear Progressives,

With President Obama’s second term underway and huge decisions looming on Capitol Hill, consider this statement from Howard Zinn: “When a social movement adopts the compromises of legislators, it has forgotten its role, which is to push and challenge the politicians, not to fall in meekly behind them.”

With so much at stake, we can’t afford to forget our role. For starters, it must include public clarity.

Let’s face it: despite often nice-sounding rhetoric from the president, this administration has continued with a wide range of policies antithetical to progressive values.

Corporate power, climate change and perpetual war are running amok while civil liberties and economic fairness take a beating. President Obama has even put Social Security and Medicare on the table for cuts.

Last fall, the vast majority of progressives voted for Obama to prevent the presidency from going to a Republican Party replete with racism, misogyny, anti-gay bigotry and xenophobia. Defeating the right wing was cause for celebration. And now is the time to fight for genuine progressive policies.

But let’s be real about our current situation. Obama has led the Democratic Party — including, at the end of the legislative day, almost every Democrat on Capitol Hill — deeper into an abyss of corporate-driven austerity, huge military outlays, normalization of civil-liberties abuses and absence of significant action on climate change. Leverage from the Oval Office is acting as a brake on many — in Congress and in progressive constituency groups — who would prefer to be moving legislation in a progressive direction.

Hopefully we’ve learned by now that progressive oratory is no substitute for progressive policies. The soaring rhetoric in Obama’s inaugural address this week offered inspiring words about a compassionate society where everyone is respected and we look out for each other. Unfortunately and routinely, the president’s lofty words have allowed him to slide by many progressives despite policies that often amount to a modern version of “social liberalism, fiscal conservatism.”

The New York Times headline over its front-page coverage, “Obama Offers a Liberal Vision in Inaugural Address,” served up the current presidential recipe: a spoonful of rhetorical sugar to help the worsening austerity go down. But no amount of verbal sweetness can make up for assorted policies aligned with Wall Street and the wealthy at the expense of the rest of us.

“At their inaugurals,” independent journalist I.F. Stone noted long ago, our presidents “make us the dupes of our hopes.”

Unlike four years ago, Obama has a presidential record — and its contrasts with Monday’s oratorical performance are stark. A president seeking minimally fair economic policies, for instance, would not compound the disaster of four years of Timothy Geithner as Secretary of the Treasury by replacing him with Jack Lew — arguably even more of a corporate flack.

On foreign policy, it was notably disingenuous for Obama to proclaim in his second inaugural speech that “enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war” — minutes after completing a first term when his administration launched more than 20,000 air strikes, sharply escalated the use of weaponized drones and did so much else to make war perpetual.

Meanwhile, the media hype on the inaugural speech’s passage about climate change has lacked any indication that the White House is ready to push for steps commensurate with the magnitude of the real climate crisis.

The founder of the Sustainable Energy and Economy Network, Daphne Wysham, points out that the inaugural words “will be meaningless unless a) the Obama administration rejects the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline; b) Obama selects a new EPA administrator who is willing to take action under the Clean Air Act to rein in CO2 emissions from all sources; c) he stops pushing for dangerous energy development deep offshore in the Gulf, in the Arctic and via continued fracking for oil and gas; d) he pursues a renewable energy standard for the entire country; and e) he directs our publicly financed development banks and export credit agencies to get out of fossil fuels entirely.”

The leadership we need is certainly not coming from the White House or Congress. “A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus,” Martin Luther King Jr. observed. The leadership we need has to come, first and foremost, from us.

Some members of Congress — maybe dozens — have shown commitment to a progressive agenda, and a larger number claim a progressive mantle. In any event, their role is not our role. They adhere to dotted lines that we should cross. They engage in Hill-speak euphemisms that we should bypass. Routinely, they decline to directly confront wrong-headed Obama administration policies. And we must confront those policies.

If certain members of Congress resent being pushed by progressives to challenge the White House, they lack an appreciation for the crucial potential of grassroots social movements. On the other hand, those in Congress who “get” progressive social change will appreciate our efforts to push them and their colleagues to stand progressive ground.

When we’re mere supplicants to members of Congress, the doors that open on Capitol Hill won’t lead very much of anywhere. Superficial “access” has scant impact. The kind of empowered access we need will come from mobilizing grassroots power.

We need to show that we’ll back up members of Congress who are intrepid for our values — and we can defeat others, including self-described “progressives,” who aren’t. Building electoral muscle should be part of building a progressive movement.

We’re in this for the long haul, but we’re not willing to mimic the verbiage or echo the silences from members of Congress who fail to challenge egregious realities of this administration’s policies. As Howard Zinn said, our role is to challenge, not fall in line.

The Progressive Caucus: Enabling Obama’s Rightward Moves?

11:41 pm in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

Progressive Caucus

With 76 members, the Congressional Progressive Caucus is the largest within the Democratic Party

The failure of the Congressional Progressive Caucus to stand up to President Obama on many vital matters of principle is one of the most important – and least mentioned – political dynamics of this era.

As the largest caucus of Democrats on Capitol Hill, the Progressive Caucus has heavyweight size but flyweight punch.

During the last four years, its decisive footwork has been so submissive to the White House that you can almost hear the laughter from the West Wing when the Progressive Caucus vows to stand firm.

A sad pattern of folding in the final round has continued. When historic votes come to the House floor, party functionaries are able to whip the Progressive Caucus into compliance. The endgame ends with the vast majority of the caucus members doing what Obama wants.

That’s what happened on the first day of this year, when the “bipartisan” fiscal deal came down. Widely denounced by progressive analysts, the bill passed on the House floor by a margin of 44 votes – with the Progressive Caucus providing the margin. Out of 75 caucus members, only seven voted against it.

Over the years, we’ve seen that President Obama is willing – even satisfied – to be rolled by Republican leaders on Capitol Hill. But that’s just part of the problem. We should also come to terms with the reality that the Progressive Caucus is routinely rolled by the president.

A two-step prototype hit the ground running in September 2009 when Progressive Caucus co-chairs sent a public letter to Obama on behalf of the caucus – pledging to vote against any healthcare bill “without a robust public option.” Six months later, on the House floor, every member of the Progressive Caucus wilted under pressure and voted for a healthcare bill with no public option at all.

Since then, similar dynamics have persisted, with many Progressive Caucus members making fine statements of vigorous resolve – only to succumb on the House floor under intense pressure from the Obama administration.

We need Progressive Caucus members who are progressives first and loyal Democrats second, not the other way around. When the party hierarchy cracks the whip, they should strive to halt the rightward drift of congressional legislation, not add to it.

In the new session of Congress, the Progressive Caucus – with 72 members – retains major potential. It often puts out solid position papers like the recent Budget for All. And its leadership includes some of the sharpest progressive blades in the House. Congressmen Keith Ellison and Raul Grijalva just won re-election as caucus co-chairs, and Congresswoman Barbara Lee just became the caucus whip.

Still, none of the more than half-dozen Progressive Caucus leaders were among the seven caucus members who voted against the New Year’s Day fiscal deal – and more serious capitulation may soon be on the near horizon.

Early this month, right after the fiscal deal, the Progressive Caucus put its best foot forward by issuing a “Progressive Principles for the Next Deal” statement that vowed to “protect” Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security benefits. But those programs will be in jeopardy before spring in tandem with votes on “sequestration” and raising the debt ceiling.

The results are likely to be very grim unless members of the Progressive Caucus are truly prepared – this time – to stand their progressive ground. Without an attitude adjustment, they’re on track to help the president betray Social Security and other essential parts of the social compact.

On a vast array of profound issues – ranging from climate change and civil liberties to drone strikes, perpetual war and a huge military budget – some individual progressives in Congress introduce outstanding bills and make excellent statements. But when the chips are down and minority leader Nancy Pelosi offloads presidential weight onto House Democrats, the Progressive Caucus rarely shows backbone with cohesive action.

What we have witnessed so far is surrender in stages – a chronic confluence of conformity and undue party loyalty, with brave talk from caucus members habitually followed by contrary votes on the floor of the House of Representatives. From the grassroots, progressives must mobilize to pressure every member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus to let them know we will hold them accountable.

Photo by Talk Radio News Service under Creative Commons license

Right-Wing Republicans vs. Corporate Democrats vs. Progressive Populists

1:35 am in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

At this bleak political moment, gaining congressional power for progressives might seem like pie in the sky. More and more desperate efforts are underway to stave off a Republican takeover of Congress. But the necessity of trying to prevent right-wing rule on Capitol Hill should not obscure the need to win more seats for genuine progressives.

Ever since early last year, the Obama administration has chipped away at the Democratic Party’s base — undermining its capacity to mobilize for the midterm election — while sometimes courting Republican leaders to the point of absurdity. Consider this news account from the New York Times a few days ago: “Though liberal and labor groups have been agitating for public works spending, Mr. Obama and his advisers are emphasizing business tax cuts in hopes of drawing Republican support — or, failing that, to show that Republicans are so determined to thwart Mr. Obama that they will oppose even ideas that they and most business groups, like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, advocate.”

Huh?

Or consider the Washington Post report Thursday on “Obama’s proposal for $180 billion in fresh infrastructure spending and business tax breaks.” The newspaper explained that “his plan would make permanent a corporate tax credit for research and allow companies to deduct from their taxes this year and next the entire cost of whatever they spend in new investments — ideas pulled directly from GOP playbooks.”

Progressives need to fight back — today, tomorrow and every day. The electoral struggle is just one part of what’s needed to build effective social movements, but it’s an important part. And that effort should include primary battles to elect real progressives to Congress.

One such election is coming up Tuesday in Rhode Island, where progressive populist David Segal is running against corporate Democratic insiders to fill the seat of retiring Congressman Patrick Kennedy. For many years, Segal has been organizing to challenge banks and other corporate behemoths on behalf of working people and the poor. Although he’s been in the state legislature for four years and on the Providence City Council before that, Segal isn’t a politician nearly so much as a committed activist whose work has won him wide support from labor unions and many other progressive organizations in the current campaign.

“It’s a slap in the face to American workers that our current trade agreements give corporations incentives to lay off U.S. workers and move jobs abroad where they can pay their workers sub-poverty wages and wreak havoc on the environment,” David Segal said on Labor Day. “These job losses aren’t an accident or the result of a force of nature: they are the direct result of the obscene power that corporations wield over our government. Corporations and the extremely wealthy spend tens of millions of dollars each year to ensure that our trade agreements guarantee their profits, even if it’s at the expense of millions of our working families.”

Of course Segal is being heavily outspent by the corporate opposition. He’s a distinct underdog, but — whatever the Sept. 14 election results — the work behind his campaign is an inspiring model for grassroots, volunteer-driven approaches to fighting for electoral power.

More broadly, progressive populism is essential in the quest for economic and social justice — a vast worldview away from the “populism” flaunted by Tea Bag boosters and the like.

“It’s necessary to restate the solid principles of populism and reassert its true spirit, because both are now being severely perverted by corporate manipulators and a careless media establishment,” Jim Hightower wrote early this summer. “To these debasers of the language, any politicos or pundits who tap into any level of popular anger (toward Barack Obama, liberals, the IRS, poor people, unions, gays, immigrants, Hollywood, community organizers, environmentalists et al.) get a peel-off ‘populist’ label slapped onto their lapels — even when their populist pose is funded by and operates as a front for one or another corporate interest. That’s not populism, it’s rank hucksterism — disguising plutocrats as champions of the people.”

Hightower’s assessment is true today, and it will be true the morning after Election Day: “Now is the time for progressives to reassert their populist beliefs and bona fides, for we’re living in a teachable moment in which it’s possible to reach most Americans with an aggressive and positive approach to achieving a higher level of economic and political democracy.”

There’s a viable — and essential — alternative to right-wing Republicans and corporate Democrats. Real progressive populism is grounded in humane values, solidarity, caring and organizing. We can put up a fight. And we can win.