Friday, August 13, 2010

The Impotence of the "Professional Left"


The Obama administration has always been about bringing the country together. No matter how much resistance the Republicans and the teabaggers put up, the friendly folks in the White House will always look for a compromise. You know, for the sake of unity and whatnot. Free healthcare? No? Then how about a toothless public option? Still to radical? Okay then, how about we force people to give their money to a bunch of HMOs? There we go!

Of course, this spirit of togetherness only applies to the right. If you actually want free health care then, according to White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, you're a crazy person who ought to be drug tested. Sorry Gibbsyboy, but I have no intention of paying for drug tests. Now if you were to say, provide free health care, then I might consider it.

However, I must admit that the Gibbsmeister probably wasn't referring to me personally. He was referring to what he called the professional left, by which, I assume he did not mean professional mathematicians who happen to be on the political left. In other words, people like Dennis Kucinich, Michael Moore, and co.

And what was "professional leftist" Kucinich's response to the whole imbroglio? To diplomatically criticize Gibbs's comments while announcing that he had no intention of challenging Obama in the 2012 primary as a sign of good will. You know, for the sake of unity and whatnot.

It's like a fractal, you see. The Republican leadership reaches out to the teabaggers while attacking the Obama administration, the Obama administration reaches out to the Republican leadership while attacking people like Kucinich and people like Kucinich reach out to the Obama administration. Incidentally during the health care debate, Kucinich himself attacked Ralph Nader for, you know, wanting free health care.

Rather than continue with this pattern, I, for one will go after Dennis Kucinich, but for the right reasons. What has Kucinich accomplished? Nothing worth celebrating.

He first came to national prominence back in 2004 when he ran in the Democratic presidential primary, where he was the main anti-war candidate. He didn't win. People voted for a pro-war candidate, John Kerry, who even managed to out-hawk Bush on Venezuela. Was this because all those people supported the war? No, it was because they thought a more right-wing candidate would be more "electable" and that Kerry could win the presidential election. He didn't win. Most of Kerry's support on the left was laced with the "Anybody but Bush" mantra, and wasn't able to garner up enough enthusiasm for a guy who was touting his military credentials (see also Dukakis, Michael).

But what did Kucinich do after he lost the Democratic primary? Did he run as an independent or Green candidate? Nah! Did he endorse Ralph Nader? Of course not! He endorsed the pro-war candidate John Kerry. So did Michael Moore. And the entirety of MoveOn. And pretty much every celebrity in existence. Kucinich's rational was that he wanted to, in the words of Leonard Cohen, "change the system from within".

You see, he thought he could best oppose the war by giving a deeply moving anti-war speech at the Democratic convention. But the people running the convention didn't want him too, because having an anti-war speech would be too embarrassing for their pro-war candidate. So they asked Kucinich not to speak out against the war at the convention. And what did Kucinich do? He valiantly caved in to all of their demands!

He refused to speak out against the war for the rest of the campaign. You know, for the sake of unity and whatnot. So did Michael Moore. MoveOn which had previously organized anti-war demos, called all of them off and eventually abandoned anti-war protests altogether in favor of lobbying. The anti-war movement was effectively derailed until all the Cindy Sheehan stuff started a few years later.

The same thing happened in 2008 with Obama. But unlike Kerry, Obama did win the election. So we came to the health care debate. Obama started the debate in a state of compromise, with a mere public option rather than actual universal health care. So any compromise from then on was a compromise of a compromise. So Obama was faced with the tea party right on one side and the "professional left" of Dennis Kucinich and Michael Moore on the other side.

While the teabaggers organized big protests at the town hall meetings, the "professional lefts" tried to convince people to support Obama's proposal, which, right from the start, was so watered down that it would provide no benefits for most people. As incoherent as the teabagger nonsense was, at least they were angry, and that resonated with people. If people had tried to organize mass protests in favor of free health care, maybe Obama would have been pushed in the other direction. Instead the only people who were trying to get Obama to change his position were the teabaggers, so those were the only people he compromised with, and then he compromised so much that the final bill ended up taking money from ordinary working people and giving it to the HMOs.

The same sort of stuff is happening with the war, especially in Afghanistan where Obama actually had a troop surge. Not to mention his Obama's aggressively reactionary attacks on the teachers unions in the name of education "reform".

Now let's think a little bit about how actual progress came about. Which president took us out of Vietnam? Which president passed the EPA? Which president passed OSHA? The answer is (gasp) Richard Nixon!

In fact, the Nixon administration was one of the most progressive periods in US politics, enacting legislation that puts Obama to shame. But this came about because there was a big anti-war movement, the black and women's liberation movements, and a wave of wildcat strikes. People were actually willing to demand things rather than just kindly request things. But now the only people willing to demand things are the teabaggers.

If we want real change, we need to fight for it. We need a rank-and-file left that is independent of both parties of big business. Not a "professional left" that stands by the Democratic Party even as it betrays everything they claim to stand for. Obsequiousness simply doesn't pay.

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