Barbarians Inside the Gates: What Now?

Step away from the ledge, put down the whiskey, though if you must call in sick today because psychologically speaking you are, then do what you need to do. But please, don’t uncritically absorb the dominant hype.

The barbarians have taken over the House, they’re inside the gates now, but what does it all mean?

One widely peddled narrative is that Obama’s administration overreached its mandate, thus alienating ordinary Americans and driving millions into the arms of the right.

Democratic Party insider, Paul Begala, condensed what I suspect will be his party’s line last night on CNN and in his column at the Huffington Post, “The message of this year’s election results is clear: President Obama and the Democrats need to move to the center.”

WHAT?! That can only make sense if you believe the following policies are left wing:

  • keeping open centers of torture like Guantánamo;
  • expanding wars and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan;
  • throwing trillions at banksters while providing almost no relief or jobs to ordinary people;
  • refusing to regulate the masters of the universe who crashed the economy (and instead actually promoting them to run your administration); and
  • empowering private insurance companies to jack up the costs of health care instead of delivering genuine single-payer health care to Americans, and on and on and on,

These have been the failed policies of the Obama administration—all rather conservative to right wing, according to almost anyone to the left of Sarah Palin.

Then there’s that other tripe echoed in today’s New York Times editorial, “Mr. Obama, and his party, have to do a far better job of explaining their vision and their policies.”

If there is one problem the administration does not have, it’s with communications. Workers, poor people, the youth, Blacks, LGBT people and all the other folks who are collectively known as Obama’s base aren’t misunderstanding him, we hear him all too clearly. We do not like what he and the Democrats have been saying and doing for the four years the Dems have controlled Congress and the last two when they’ve controlled it all.

From jobs and union card-check, known as the Employee Free Choice Act, to refusing to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and DOMA, they haven’t delivered the goods. And what’s worse, at every turn they spurn their base and embrace neoliberal policies and welcome corporate fat cats to the table to write health care legislation and, soon, to help gut what’s left of our social welfare programs.

I’ll tell you why many of my neighbors here in Brooklyn sat out this election, as did many progressives across the country.We live in one of the poorest and most expensive cities and it’s about to get much worse. Writing in Counterpunch, Joseph Grosso detailed just how degraded the living standards of average New Yorkers have become,

For all its vast Wall Street wealth, low crime, and civic boosters, a study printed last year in City Journal by Eamon Moynihan, director of the Cost of Living Project, showed that when adjusting census data for cost of living, New York is quite possibly the poorest big city in America (Detroit being the other serious contender; using the same data New York State shares the bottom with Mississippi). For instance, according to data from C2ER (a company that produces cost of living estimates) someone earning about $51,000 in Chicago and $63,000 in DC enjoys the same standard of living as a New Yorker making $100,000. While this is mainly due to the astronomical cost of housing, utility costs are also lower in the other two cities, 29% in Chicago, 39% in DC. Groceries are 28% lower in both other cities.

No, this criminal poverty amidst so much wealth will not be reversed by the likes of the Dems who are either incapable or uninterested in lifting a finger for working and poor people. We are going to have to fight this one independently—in the streets, in our workplaces and in our communities, as Socialist Worker lays out in today’s editorial.

As the successful anti-eviction protests in Boston and Chicago and the large New York City rallies to counter Islamophobia have shown, our side can make advances when we act independently of the Dems, a party of endless compromise and equivocation.

Today’s airwaves will be filled with calls for even more compromise because progressive ideals supposedly lost last night. Nonsense. Progressive policies weren’t even on the ballot. Our side hasn’t lost because we haven’t yet begun to wage a genuine fight. Politics is a contact sport, get in the game.

P.S. (added Tues., Nov. 4) I think it’s noteworthy that the nation’s leading liberal economist, Paul Krugman—yup, the only man alive who can explain credit default swaps in less than a minute—and I share a common take on one aspect of the post-election hoo-ha. here’s his blog post from yesterday: “Blame the whiny center”

So, we’re already getting the expected punditry: Obama needs to end his leftist policies, which consist of … well, there weren’t any, but he should stop them anyway.

What actually happened, of course, was that Obama failed to do enough to boost the economy, plus totally failing to tap into populist outrage at Wall Street. And now we’re in the trap I worried about from the beginning: by failing to do enough when he had political capital, he lost that capital, and now we’re stuck.

But he did have help in getting it wrong: at every stage there was a faction of Democrats standing in the way of strong action, demanding that Obama do less, avoid spending money, and so on. In so doing, they shot themselves in the face: half of the Blue Dogs lost their seats.

And what are those who are left demanding? Why, that Obama move to the center.

I will be speaking on Friday, Nov. 5, at UNC-Chapel Hill, at 7PM on The Right Turn in US politics: How it happened & what we can do about it


7 responses to “Barbarians Inside the Gates: What Now?

  1. Sherry, you are absolutely right – progressive policies weren’t even on the ballot. I’m sick. I think we are looking at a Depression, now. I just fail to see why we have to go through this all over again. The immune system kills invaders by fever – I guess this country is now facing a high fever – a fever of even higher unemployment, higher social inequality, and higher violence. God help us all.

  2. Out of the Election Booths and Into the Streets!

  3. Yes, yes, and yes. Don’t cry for corporate Democrats. Instead, start supporting Independents who accurately represent your real positions. Either side of the corporate duopoly will never do that. It is time to give that fantasy up. Remember: Elephants they win, Donkeys we lose.

  4. Konstantin Doren

    I do not really know what all the hand wringing is all about. For progressives, it is like being an atheist choosing which deity not to believe in.

    President Obama is not about to change his policies, nor will the Dems decide to dump him for someone who will help their party in the next election and the Repubs are just going to repeat the routine they have developed in the past two years. None of these politicians are going to suddenly see the light and magically transform themselves.

    Nothing is going to change except the number of chairs on either side of the aisles.

  5. Oh how the left is attempting to deflect defeat and rejection. The voters spoke and informed progressives that their brand of politics isn’t wanted. The same thing happened to FDR, Clinton and now Obama. I do like how progressives try to use revisionist history to make their points. Everything you listed above was done by what party again? We must remember, progressive democrats have been in control since 2007. What were the results? Under Pelosi-Reid, unemployment doubled from 4.6 t0 9.6 percent. Since 2007, $5 trillion was added to the deficit ($3 trillion happened in 20 months under Obama). Bills were passed by Democrats who refused to read them. We have record bankruptcies, foreclosures, poverty and record numbers of Americans on food stamps.

    Americans are suffering and they spoke loud Tuesday. This is what progressives call progress?

  6. NO, Snotty Scarnes, this isn’t what progressives call progress.

    I did not vote for Obama due to the hard right turn he took just after winning the nomination from Hillary. As McCain challenged him during the campaign, Obama continued his rightward drift without a fight. He had altered so many of his campaign positions by the election that I had to vote a third party write-in rather than support his sorry lame ass.

    Obama confirmed that I had made the correct decision with his staff selections, which included so many Bush holdovers that it was clear that we were not going to see much that couldn’t be linked directly to the Bush corporatist agenda. Talk all you want about that so-called health care reform. Few of the beneficial aspects of the bill will ever go into effect, and of those that do, all will be neutralized. It was designed from the beginning to be dismantled by either party should the need or opportunity arise. And thus it will be, killed by the Republican House refusing to fund any aspect of it just to spite Obama.

    It is also thus with any of the other Obama “accomplishments”, any one of which can be stalled or killed by the GOP House. I fully believe that the GOP will do as they boast, and there is nothing Obama will do about it. He has neither honor nor courage, and his “vision” was all smoke and mirrors. He ignored the obvious pain of the unemployed working class while he made sure that the banking class got everything it wanted without cost. This is why he got his ass kicked: he did NOTHING progressive whatsoever. It would have helped him if he had.

    The only joy I’m going to get out of this travesty of an election reverse over the next few years is that GOP tools like Snotty Scarnes will be wailing that no one warned him that the GOP was a bunch of reptilian predators -willing and able to devour everything that doesn’t earn an annual 12-figure income- when they come for his meager fortune.

  7. This was “Progressive Obama” speaking in June 30, 2003:

    “I happen to be a proponent of a single payer universal health care program.” (applause) “I see no reason why the United States of America, the wealthiest country in the history of the world, spending 14 percent of its Gross National Product on health care cannot provide basic health insurance to everybody. And that’s what Jim is talking about when he says everybody in, nobody out. A single payer health care plan, a universal health care plan. And that’s what I’d like to see. But as all of you know, we may not get there immediately. Because first we have to take back the White House, we have to take back the Senate, and we have to take back the House.”

    And we now know how that all ended up: instead of even trying, we got an immediate and complete capitulation to corporate interests. I’d call that “Bullshit Obama” and “Sellout Democrats.” If you are still calling that “progressive” you seriously need to turn the Fox News off, and learn to think for yourself.

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