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PORTSIDE  August 2010, Week 2

PORTSIDE August 2010, Week 2

Subject:

Building a Movement by Offering Solutions

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Sat, 14 Aug 2010 10:22:30 -0400

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Building a Movement by Offering Solutions

By Michael Kazin
The Nation
August 12, 2010

http://www.thenation.com/article/154018/building-movement-offering-solutions

If the left were not somewhat unhappy with Barack Obama,
it would not be much of a left. That, in effect, is the
underlying point of Eric Alterman's excellent survey *
of the obstacles confronting a presidency the typical
Nation reader could rush to celebrate. From the legacy
of Bush-era incompetence and corruption to the partisan
discipline of the GOP and the Roberts Court to the
influence of lobbyists, one marvels that the president
has accomplished anything at all. Progressive historians
may well praise Obama and the Democrats for passing
healthcare reform, a major stimulus and stiffer
financial regulation in the face of so many structural
and ideological barriers.

Still, when Senator Richard Durbin admits that the
barons of banking "frankly own" the most powerful
legislative body in the world, he is revealing how stark
is the crisis that progressives confront. Eighteen
months ago, many of us thought Obama's tenure might
rival the triumphs of FDR's first term and of LBJ during
the halcyon days of the Great Society. Now one merely
hopes he will be able to blunt the GOP's offensive long
enough to win four more years in office.

But as Alterman suggests, the way to confront this
reality is not to kvetch that Obama is not living up to
our fondest hopes. Amid the euphoria of 2008, too many
Barackophiles-of which I was one-failed to realize that
no presidential campaign, whatever its rhetorical
flourishes, can substitute for a social movement. Both
FDR and LBJ had to respond to potent insurgencies on
their left-industrial labor for Roosevelt, black freedom
for Johnson. Each of these movements gestated for
decades before emerging as a force that could make or
unmake a presidency.

Since the feminist awakening of the 1970s, we have had
several grassroots campaigns-successful ones, like the
battle against apartheid; apparent busts, like the much-
hyped crusade for global economic justice; and some that
are still fighting for their causes (global warming, gay
marriage). But there has not been a mass campaign, much
less a movement, capable of addressing what should be
the central domestic issue of our time: the yawning gap
in income, education and healthcare between the economic
elite and a majority of working Americans. Abundant
analysis on this issue can be found in periodicals and
websites on the left. But to translate a terrible
problem into an inescapable issue requires organizations
that can mobilize millions. And with private-sector
unionism in perhaps terminal decline, it is not clear
who will provide the organizing muscle.

While the left cannot instantly conjure up the movement
we need, it can revive the tradition of speaking in
credible, urgent, moral ways about the need to enact
policies to aid the great majority. Alterman refers to
Bush's "ideologically obsessed presidency." What enabled
these obsessives to have their way-until the Hurricane
Katrina debacle-was that their ideology reigned for
decades. To most Americans, the idea of slashing taxes
and cutting back on regulation sounded like common
sense.

Amid the frustrations of Obama's term, those notions
seem dominant once again. In July Don Blankenship, in
whose West Virginia mine twenty-nine workers died this
past spring, told an audience at the National Press
Club, "Corporate business is what built America, in my
opinion, and we need to let it thrive by, in a sense,
leaving it alone." Such an obscenity-and the worldview
that lies behind it-should be publicized as widely as
possible.

Progressives and their sometime allies in the White
House do enjoy one advantage over their opponents:
unlike in the heyday of Reaganism, the American right
cannot pose a single serious answer to any problem
plaguing the United States or the world. Give the Great
Communicator his due: communism was a tyrannical system,
and liberals in the 1980s did discount the practical
virtues of entrepreneurial innovation.

But a Republican Party and a conservative movement that
follow the lead of Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin are
dwelling in a land of perilous delusions. We need people
who can broadcast that fact repeatedly and in
imaginative ways-and who are rooted as much in old
factory towns and fast-growing exurbs as in places like
Manhattan and Berkeley. Once the left starts doing that,
clever politicians will follow-at least part of the way.

*
http://www.thenation.com/article/154019/kabuki-democracy

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