Pressure from the left could help Obama win reelection

Tax increases on the rich are not going pass. Period. Obama is doing this so he can look like a liberal, because he knows it won’t pass. If he wanted this sort of policy, he needed to do it in his first few months.  He didn’t and he doesn’t; this is re-election positioning. If you are treating it as anything else, you are being played.  —Ian Welsh

Many Democrats and some progressives are cheering the wording of President Obama’s September 8th job’s speech. Parts of it sounded good. But, I agree with Welsh. When Obama says he wants to raise taxes on the rich, he’s playing us. This is very similar to when, during the last election, Obama told union audiences that NAFTA had harmed workers and was in need of serious reform and then informed the conservative Canadian government not to worry, that it was just election rhetoric. Obviously, sounding like a progressive or liberal for election purposes is not the same as being one. After eight years of the Clinton administration and three years of the Obama administration, we should know the difference by now between a corporate Democrat and a real one.

The desire to place our trust in our elected officials runs deep. But to grow up politically, I think it’s necessary to stop doing that. In order to truly understand how power works in the United States, I think we need to take a break from partisan politics and stand back and observe. We have to take what those in power say with a grain of salt. Instead, we can watch carefully what they do, because what they do (or don’t do) is a much better measure of whose interests they are serving. And that includes President Obama and the majority of politicians of both parties.

President Obama has tried to function as a pragmatic broker, giving equal weight to the needs of his donors and the needs of working families. But, at this critical point in time, we desperately need him to focus on the needs of the 99%, those who will provide the lion’s share of the billion dollars he is planning to raise. We need Obama to be like FDR who fearlessly confronted the elite of his day. Rather then being a broker between the elite and the rest of us, we need President Obama to simply stand with us.

Many Democrats and some progressives feel it is dangerous to be critical of Obama because to do so could cause him the election, and give us a Republican who would be so much worse. I don’t buy that argument. I think it’s just the opposite— to be reelected he needs to respond to criticism from the Left and begin to truly represent working people. And if his promises are genuine, and his actions between now and the election suggest thy are, a turn to the Left is what will bring people to the polls.

Corporate Democrats have an investment in progressives being silent and marginalized. In the last election, Obama neutered progressives, and in his administration he has been highly critical of progressives and progressive organizations. He and other corporate democrats who buy into the agendas of the power elites (such as “free market” capitalism, less “burdensome” regulation, bailouts for the financial industry, endless war, a trickle down economy, etc.) have little interest in an active, informed citizenry that would see through their Madison Avenue political branding and slick political advertising, and that would understand, and be outraged by the fact, that our government has been sold to banks and corporations. To be for a progressive agenda would mean at least the partial dismantling of the very power structures and money on which corporate Democrats rely. For one thing, the revolving door between lobbyists and government would have to stop. However, politicians of both parties are not willing to give up the lucrative jobs in the private sector that await after they serve in office.

The problems in the United States— persistent high unemployment, housing foreclosures, crumbling infrastructure, an unsustainable economy, increased poverty, a decline in the quality of education, and a bloated military—are severe. It is important for progressives to insist that a Democratic president and the Democratic Party embody progressive values and policies that can effectively address these problems. It is important that we are outspoken and critical of Democrats when they take political positions that are practically indistinguishable from Republicans.  In my mind, this is not only our responsibility, but also our only “hope” for the future.