You are browsing the archive for Obama.

Is MoveOn Less Progressive Than the New York Times Editorial Board?

1:41 am in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

The New York Times is hardly a progressive newspaper — but when it comes to the surveillance state and ongoing militarism of the Obama White House, the establishment’s “paper of record” puts MoveOn.org to shame.

Outside the NY Times Tower

How the Grey Lady be more progressive than MoveOn.

And so, the same day that the Times editorialized to excoriate President Obama for his latest betrayal of civil liberties, MoveOn sent out a huge email blast sucking up to Obama.

The Times was blunt in its Saturday editorial: “By the time President Obama gave his news conference on Friday, there was really only one course to take on surveillance policy from an ethical, moral, constitutional and even political point of view. And that was to embrace the recommendations of his handpicked panel on government spying — and bills pending in Congress — to end the obvious excesses. He could have started by suspending the constitutionally questionable (and evidently pointless) collection of data on every phone call and email that Americans make.”

But, the newspaper added: “He did not do any of that.”

As the Times editorial went on to say, “any actions that Mr. Obama may announce next month would certainly not be adequate. Congress has to rewrite the relevant passage in the Patriot Act that George W. Bush and then Mr. Obama claimed — in secret — as the justification for the data vacuuming.”

Let’s reiterate that the Times is far from a progressive outlet. It serves as a highly important megaphone for key sectors of corporate/political elites. Voicing the newspaper’s official stance, its editorials are often deferential to spin and half-truths from favored political figures. And much of the paper’s news coverage feeds off the kind of newspeak that spews out of the Executive Branch and Congress.

But on crucial matters of foreign policy, militarism and surveillance, the contrast between Times editorials and MoveOn is stunning. The “progressive” netroots organization has rarely managed to clear a low bar of independence from reprehensible Obama policies.

Instead, millions of people on MoveOn’s list are continually deluged with emails pretending that Republicans are the only major problem in Washington — while nearly always ignoring Obama administration policies that are antithetical to basic progressive values.

And so, on the same day the New York Times was ripping into Obama’s latest affront to civil liberties and privacy rights, MoveOn was sending out a mass email that began by quoting from Obama’s 2008 convention acceptance speech — as though his five-year record as president still makes him an apt source of inspiration: “The change we need doesn’t come from Washington. Change comes to Washington.”

After five years, MoveOn seems not to have noticed what the New York Times editorial board has often pointed out: that some of the change Obama has brought to Washington has not been in a progressive direction. As the Times put it in a follow-up editorial Sunday, at his latest news conference Obama “insisted that there was no evidence that the phone surveillance program was being abused — a truly disturbing assessment given all the revelations since June.”

As usual, the MoveOn email did not include a single word of criticism, much less challenge, of Obama. Instead, the email blamed Congress for all the political obstacles to needed “change.”

This is typical. Year after year of the Obama presidency, MoveOn has been routinely silent on such crucial matters as U.S. drone and cruise missile strikes across borders, war in Afghanistan, assaults on press freedom and whistleblowers, and methodical undermining of precious civil liberties.

The intertwined warfare state and surveillance state have little to fear from MoveOn. And that’s tragic.

Read the rest of this entry →

King: I Have a Dream. Obama: I Have a Drone.

5:25 am in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

A simple twist of fate has set President Obama’s second Inaugural Address for January 21, the same day as the Martin Luther King Jr. national holiday.

Obama made no mention of King during the Inauguration four years ago — but since then, in word and deed, the president has done much to distinguish himself from the man who said “I have a dream.”

After his speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in August 1963, King went on to take great risks as a passionate advocate for peace.

After his Inaugural speech in January 2009, Obama has pursued policies that epitomize King’s grim warning in 1967: “When scientific power outruns moral power, we end up with guided missiles and misguided men.”

But Obama has not ignored King’s anti-war legacy. On the contrary, the president has gone out of his way to distort and belittle it.

In his eleventh month as president — while escalating the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan, a process that tripled the American troop levels there — Obama traveled to Oslo to accept the Nobel Peace Prize. In his speech, he cast aspersions on the peace advocacy of another Nobel Peace laureate: Martin Luther King Jr.

The president struck a respectful tone as he whetted the rhetorical knife before twisting. “I know there’s nothing weak — nothing passive — nothing naive — in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King,” he said, just before swiftly implying that those two advocates of nonviolent direct action were, in fact, passive and naive. “I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people,” Obama added.

Moments later, he was straining to justify American warfare: past, present, future. “To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism — it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason,” Obama said. “I raise this point, I begin with this point because in many countries there is a deep ambivalence about military action today, no matter what the cause. And at times, this is joined by a reflexive suspicion of America, the world’s sole military superpower.”

Then came the jingo pitch: “Whatever mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this: The United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms.”

Crowing about the moral virtues of making war while accepting a peace prize might seem a bit odd, but Obama’s rhetoric was in sync with a key dictum from Orwell: “Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.”

Laboring to denigrate King’s anti-war past while boasting about Uncle Sam’s past (albeit acknowledging “mistakes,” a classic retrospective euphemism for carnage from the vantage point of perpetrators), Obama marshaled his oratory to foreshadow and justify the killing yet to come under his authority.

Two weeks before the start of Obama’s second term, the British daily The Guardian noted that “U.S. use of drones has soared during Obama’s time in office, with the White House authorizing attacks in at least four countries: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. It is estimated that the CIA and the U.S. military have undertaken more than 300 drone strikes and killed about 2,500 people.”

The newspaper reported that a former member of Obama’s “counter-terrorism group” during the 2008 campaign, Michael Boyle, says the White House is now understating the number of civilian deaths due to the drone strikes, with loosened standards for when and where to attack: “The consequences can be seen in the targeting of mosques or funeral processions that kill non-combatants and tear at the social fabric of the regions where they occur. No one really knows the number of deaths caused by drones in these distant, sometimes ungoverned, lands.”

Although Obama criticized the Bush-era “war on terror” several years ago, Boyle points out, President Obama “has been just as ruthless and indifferent to the rule of law as his predecessor.”

Boyle’s assessment — consistent with the conclusions of many other policy analysts — found the Obama administration’s use of drones is “encouraging a new arms race that will empower current and future rivals and lay the foundations for an international system that is increasingly violent.”

In recent weeks, more than 50,000 Americans have signed a petition to Ban Weaponized Drones from the World. The petition says that “weaponized drones are no more acceptable than land mines, cluster bombs or chemical weapons.” It calls for President Obama “to abandon the use of weaponized drones, and to abandon his ‘kill list’ program regardless of the technology employed.”

Count on lofty rhetoric from the Inaugural podium. The spirit of Dr. King will be elsewhere.

New Era for Progressives and Obama

11:01 pm in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

As 2013 gets underway, progressives need to be here now. We’re in a new era of national politics—with different circumstances that call for a major shift in approach.

Last year, the vast majority of progressives supported the Obama campaign to keep a Republican out of the White House. We helped deliver that vital blow to right-wing forces.

But now, President Obama is no longer the alternative to prevent a GOP takeover of the presidency. He goes into his last term as the leader exerting immense leverage that continues to move the Democratic Party—and the frame of political debate—in a rightward and corporate direction.

That’s a predictable result when Democratic leadership makes cutting Social Security doable, puts a bull’s-eye on Medicare, protects the military from major cuts, takes a dive on climate change, reinforces perpetual war in sync with “kill lists” for routine drone attacks across continents, throws habeas corpus and other civil liberties under the bus and promotes far-reaching austerity measures.

With the threat of a President Romney gone and the continuing scarcity of a progressive moral core in the Oval Office, millions of progressives who understood the tactical wisdom of supporting Obama’s re-election should now recognize that the time has come to renounce his leadership.

That leadership has become so corrosive that the House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi, last month declared a cut in Social Security’s cost-of-living allowance would “strengthen” Social Security. This is typical of the doublespeak that continues to accompany a downward spiral—underscoring the great need for progressive insurgencies against what the Obama administration has become.

To build progressive strength, as a practical matter, sooner is much better than later. With the president in his final term, why wait years to challenge the rightward momentum coming from the top of the Democratic Party? There is no better time to proceed with that challenge than right now.

We need to politicize our opposition… based on a moral view of what politics should be and what so many administration policies are not. We’re fighting to overcome an entire corporatist system.

As part of the process, we’ll need to build genuine progressive leadership from the grassroots. An astute motto notes: when the people lead, the leaders will follow.

For those who contend that grassroots action cannot dramatically shift the national discourse, one word of refutation should suffice: Occupy. Such insurgencies are possible—and can scale up with remarkable rapidity, as the Occupy movement showed in late 2011.

But denunciations and protests, while vital, are insufficient. We need stronger progressive institutions imbued with clarity and greater capacity to organize from the base to make the most of this new era—without illusions or counterproductive fixations on Obama as an individual.

Vilifying or lionizing Obama often personalizes politics as “pro” or “anti” Obama. But the useful point is not to personalize our opposition —quite the opposite. We need to politicize it, clearly based on a moral view of what politics should be and what so many administration policies are not. We’re fighting to overcome an entire corporatist system.

Ironically, on the left, Obama’s demonizers and apologists often fall into opposing sides of the same trap: fixating on Obama the person instead of concentrating on a sober political assessment of his presidential actions and inaction.

That governance is not compatible with a progressive agenda. Obama’s political dance steps with Republicans continue to move the country’s frame-of-reference further rightward. As the New York Times reports, the tax deal that President Obama pushed through Congress on Tuesday “would have been a Republican fiscal fantasy” just a few years ago—“a sweeping bill that locks in virtually all of the Bush-era tax cuts, exempts almost all estates from taxation, and enshrines the former president’s credo that dividends and capital gains should be taxed equally and gently.”

Obama has his hands firmly on the levers of national party power. That’s why so few Democrats—just three in the Senate and 16 in the House—dared to vote against the fiscal deal on New Year’s Day. But now there are real opportunities for insurgencies and challenges from the party base as well as other progressive constituencies, inside and outside the electoral arena.

Will we grasp those opportunities? If the answer is yes, it won’t come from the top echelons of the largest unions, environmental groups or liberal PACs. Whatever their virtues, such organizations have become too enmeshed as enablers of the Obama White House to contemplate helping to launch from-the-base challenges to the administration.

With the danger of a Republican replacing Obama in the White House now behind us, progressives must proceed to systematically confront the administration in the process of reframing the national discourse on economic fairness, Wall Street, civil liberties, war and climate change. The next generations are depending on us.