Saturday, June 28, 2008


KATHY G, HISTORY NEWS NETWORK If you're a liberal Obama supporter, this past week or so has sucked pretty hard. We've seen Obama move sharply to the right on a number of fronts. . .

I've gotta say, though -- all this was utterly predictable. It's not that only that, once the general election campaign starts, presidential candidates tend to move to the center. It's that, as I've been telling anyone who would listen, Barack Obama is an extremely cautious, utterly conventional, center-left politician. If you want to see real, transformative change in this country, he is not your guy.

The second coming of FDR he is not. As president, I think he's far more likely to resemble Bill Clinton -- except he'll be a Bill Clinton who can keep it in his pants and will likely be governing with large majorities in both houses of Congress. Which does not thrill me -- I never liked Clinton much and held my nose while voting for him.

This is not say Obama is a bad guy at all. He's whip-smart, he's a compelling speaker, he's honest*, and he has a pretty decent voting record overall. His campaign so far has been most impressive, particularly in the managerial and grassroots organizing departments. I will always give him enormous credit for speaking out against the Iraq War at a time when almost everyone else in public life was running scared. Indeed, after my first choice candidate, John Edwards, dropped out, I chose him over Hillary largely because I think he's less likely to get us involved in stupid wars than Hillary is (my other reasons were that he's less tainted by corporate sleaze than she is, and that I thought there was more of a chance he'd be slightly more liberal overall). . .

I've been familiar with Barack Obama for a while now. First as my state senator and now as my U.S. senator, he has sometimes greatly impressed me, but often frustrated and disappointed me as well.

He's an illustrative story: a few years ago, an activist friend of mine was working to pass a bill in the Illinois legislature regulating payday loans. His group met with a number of members of the legislature, including Barack. . . Barack listened sympathetically, but didn't make any promises or in fact tip his hand in any way . . . And when push came to shove, Barack didn't do a damn thing.

My friend (who, by the way, has given money to Obama and voted for him the primary) said ruefully that he wasn't particularly surprised: "That's the Barack Obama I know." He pointed out that a good chunk of Barack's campaign donations come from the banking and financial services industry in Illinois and he thinks that was probably the main reason Barack didn't want to take action on the payday loan issue.

The fact is, in his entire public career Barack Obama has never stuck his neck out for anyone or anything. He's never once taken on a big, high-profile cause or project that was highly controversial or risked failure. Yes, there's his early opposition to the war on the one hand; but on the other hand, once he got to the U.S. Senate he did little to, you know, try to stop the war, and his votes on the war have been utterly conventional Democratic votes. . .

As president, either Barack or Hillary, or Edwards, would be infinitely better than any Republican, but from a progressive point of view, each of them would also far short in some pretty profound and powerful ways. . .

This is where we, as liberals, progressives, lefties, activists, whatever-you-want-to-call-us, come in. . . Instead of shilling for Barack, or Hillary, or whoever, we should have been pressuring the candidates to work for our votes. We should have been pressing them to take firm, non-negotiable positions in favor of things like no immunity for the telecoms, or immediate withdrawal from Iraq with no residual troops. Instead, we were really cheap dates. And when you act like suckers, don't be surprised when something like Obama's support for the FISA compromise comes back and bites you in the ass.

If we want real change in this country, the place to look for it is not in our so-called leaders, but in ourselves. What we need, in short, is a movement. Without such a movement, President Obama is not going to be able to achieve a whole lot more than President Clinton or President Carter did. But with such a movement, we may actually get somewhere. FDR was able to achieve great things because he had the strong support of a powerful labor movement. Similarly, the civil rights movement was the wind at LBJ's back. But I ask you, what will President Obama have?. . .

I'll close with one of my favorite political stories. It concerns my all-time favorite president, FDR. He was meeting with a group of reformers trying to persuade him to support one of their goals. After they finished speaking, FDR said to them, "You've convinced me. I want to do it. Now make me do it."

And that, my friend, is the task at hand.


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