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February 21, 2009


John Judis, New Republic - I think the main reason that Obama is having trouble is that there is not a popular left movement that is agitating for him to go well beyond where he would even ideally like to go. Sure, there are leftwing intellectuals like Paul Krugman who are beating the drums for nationalizing the banks and for a $1 trillion-plus stimulus. But I am not referring to intellectuals, but to movements that stir up trouble among voters and get people really angry. Instead, what exists of a popular left is either incapable of action or in Obama's pocket.

The labor movement, for instance, has not recovered from the split between the AFL-CIO and Change To Win. To make matters worse, the unions themselves--in particularly, SEIU and Unite Here--are rent by division. As a result, the unions have either been on the sidelines during the debate over the stimulus and bank bailout or uncritically backing Obama and Reid. One labor group, Americans United for Change, which is backed by the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, even ran ads thanking Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe, Ben Nelson, and Arlen Specter for agreeing to back the stimulus bill that they had significantly weakened.

A member of one liberal group, Campaign for America's Future, pronounced the stimulus bill "a darn good first step." MoveOn--as far as I can tell--has attacked conservative Republicans for opposing the bill, while lamely urging Democrats to back it. Of course, all these groups may have thought the stimulus bill and the bailout were ideal, but I doubt it. I bet they had the same criticisms of these measures that Krugman or The American Prospect's Ezra Klein or my own colleagues had, but they made the mistake that political groups often make: subordinating their concern about issues to their support for the party and its leading politician.

What, you might ask, would have been the result if these groups had gone after Obama and Reid--and in the case of the so-called Americans United for Change--the self-appointed centrists? They would have certainly incurred the wrath of the Obama administration. . .

But they would have also moved the political debate to the left, so that the center no longer resided somewhere in Susan Collins or Ben Nelson's heads, but considerably to their left. . .

What's the basis for my saying this? Look at the last two periods in Americans history where dramatic reforms were adopted--the 1930s and the 1960s (up to 1972). These were periods when the presence of a popular left moved the center away from the laissez-faire, pro-big business right. The experience of the 1930s is particularly relevant now. During the initial years of the Great Depression, there were demonstrations and marches--notably those by the Bonus Army in 1932--but there was also great despair and disunion. The AFL was paralyzed. Communists were battling Socialists. And the absence of leftwing pressure was reflected in the legislation that passed. . .

In 1934, there was a wave of strikes. Huey Long's Share Our Wealth movement began. In a year, it had organized 27,000 clubs across the country. Francis Townsend organized a movement for old age pensions. As a result, the center of politics shifted dramatically to the left and made it possible for the liberals in Congress and in the administration to pass legislation that under different circumstances Roosevelt would have deemed too radical. . .

Obama might not want these kind of strident critics from the left--who wants a Huey Long thundering against him?--but it's exactly the kind of opposition he and the Democrats need.


Blogger PlanB247 said...

"there is not a popular left movement..."

This is not true. What is true is that the popular left movement is marginalized in the mainstream media and is entirely shut out of the "debate" that occurs in the MSM. Where do you ever hear Noam Chomsky, or leaders of ACORN or the unions being quoted regularly -- certainly not on any cable news channel, now without being screamed over anyway.

February 21, 2009 2:52 PM  
Anonymous wellbasically said...

"there is not a popular left movement..."

This is completely true. Obama won because he opposed the Iraq war, but people don't want the rest of his liberal agenda.

The stimulus bill was broadly unpopular, and it was a complete giveaway.

February 21, 2009 5:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The left movements are there; And the effort towards ignoring them is very real. And it's only a part of the huge effort to undermine them.

Look at the size of the demonstrations against the Iraq war before it started.

Or how about womens issues? It would be hard to ignore the support groups and other recources that are available now that didn't exist at all in the 30's or 60's. That's an example of the "left" making things better for people. It's just more of a nebulous movement than a membership group, so it's harder to realize until after the sea change.

And don't forget about back then the EPA, OSHA, ergonomics, and seat belts didn't exist at all.

(Thanks a ton, Ralph, in all sincerity)

And it's also not discussed in this article the huge efforts and money that have been poured into selling "free enterprise." Private and government forces conspire against anything and everything on the "left". They spy, act as provocatuers, spread outright lies, arrest people illegally, plant evidence, etc. etc. And abroad they take off the kid gloves and just kill you.

Sometimes they kill you here, too. Think Gary Webb.

There is a rich history of evidence to back this up. Wilsons red scare, McCarthy's red scare, the ludlow massacre, the Seattle WTO meeting, COINTELPRO, the gulf of Tonkin lies, the Iraq WMD lies, police depts. keeping huge files on protest groups.

People are way more left than they think and it takes a lot of brainwashing and subterfuge to keep them from realizing it.

Turn off that AM radio crap, it's just Orweillian newspeak to dumb you down.

February 21, 2009 8:21 PM  
Anonymous wellbasically said...

I only listen to sports talk!

February 21, 2009 10:47 PM  
Anonymous robbie said...

but people don't want the rest of his liberal agenda.

what do they want? a conservative one? Like has been said above, I think most people embrace a more conservative agenda because they've been told that liberalism is bad, bad bad! "They hate America and eat the brains of babies! And they killed your dog too!"

February 22, 2009 1:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Much of the 'dissident left' is an astroturf/phony grassroots Democratic party operation. MoveOn, True Majority, etc. exist in order to get Democrats elected. Once that's accomplished, they sit back. The wars will go on forever. As will the looting of the Treasury for the sake of Wall Street.
Congratulations, suckers.

February 22, 2009 9:09 AM  
Anonymous wellbasically said...

People wanted the government to fix the recession and they know that the liberal programs funded by the stimulus bill won't do it.

Obama offers people a few bucks here and there, and a few government jobs. But his tax policies will destroy many more private jobs, and that's where the real money comes from.

February 23, 2009 12:32 PM  

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