Holding the “lesser evil” accountable

October 26, 2010

IN RESPONSE to an announcement that I recently sent out to a few e-mail lists, about a planned protest against Barack Obama's October 25 fundraiser in Providence, R.I., one activist responded:


Could we take a brief break from our protests at this time? When there is a good possibility of the Democrats losing the majority in the House, we should be doing everything in our power to minimize the highly probable losses in the coming elections. Because the alternative to the Democrats, i.e., under the Republicans, is almost certain to be worse for our cause(s).

We all know that POLITICS is not what is IDEAL, but what is PRACTICAL, i.e., what can reasonably be expected to achieve without sacrificing major principles.

Thomas Pereira

I wanted to respond to Pereira's critique publicly. I believe that the critique he raises is likely shared by a great number of people who, I would argue, should be at the protest.

So in the spirit of friendly debate on the left, I offer this response. A few points:

1. If you hadn't noticed, essentially the entire broad left and all the social movements (with the exception of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender [LGBT] movement last October) have taken a two-year break from protests.

During that time, while our society has gone through the deepest crisis since the Great Depression, the only visible protest movement has been the racist, corporate-funded, astroturf "Tea Party" movement. These people have absolutely no solution to the ongoing economic crisis and the ongoing military occupations other than to call for more tax cuts (probably for the rich), or for racist scapegoating (of Muslims, of Latino immigrants, of the first Black president, etc.).

I cringe at the racism of these bigots every time I see a "NObama" bumper sticker, and they make me utterly angry. But I don't see that the existence of a racist opposition to the chief executive of the world's biggest military-industrial complex should make me sit on my criticisms.

It's high time we on the left reclaim our role as the traditional organizers of protest, mobilizers of the populace, and catalysts of real social change. As Frederick Douglass said, "Without struggle, there can be no progress."

There has been next to no struggle since Obama came to office. As for progress...

2. Pereira raises the specter of the Democrats losing Congressional seats--possibly control of one or both houses--as a reason not to protest.

Let's state for the record: If the Democrats are likely to lose ground, they have no one to blame but themselves. The GOP continues to be less popular than the Democrats (both have actually lost a lot of popularity, but the Dems are still ahead). It continues to be an utter shambles, its main ideological figures are the likes of Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck, with no clear actual politician ready to step up and unite it as a party.

If the Democrats are losing to this shipwreck, they have no one to blame but themselves--and our silence is not going to help them now.

3. And why are the Dems losing to a sinking ship? Let's review the record of Obama in office:

War: Obama kept his campaign promise to escalate the war in Afghanistan, which is, properly speaking, also in Pakistan. This has produced record-high casualty rates among both Afghan civilians and U.S. soldiers, while producing no "results."

Meanwhile in Iraq, we're down to "only" 50,000 "non-combat" troops, plus all the Blackwater-type contractors who are still there. Mission Accomplished? Still looks like an occupation to me. And yet, even according to the New York Times, this "stability" is unraveling already, as the Sunni Awakening movement is crumbling and the ranks of the resistance being replenished. And the military budget continues to grow.

LGBT rights: While Obama the candidate pledged to be a "fierce advocate" for LGBT rights, in practice, his Justice Department has defended both "don't ask, don't tell" and the Defense of Marriage Act, and done so with gusto. This, despite the mass "National Equality March" that took place last year, and the growing sentiment that homophobia REALLY has to go.

By the by, Queer Action of Rhode Island (QuARI) is also organizing a protest against Obama's fundraiser. They say: "This event is being scheduled to hold President Obama accountable for his promises he made to the LGBT community. He said so himself, 'We must form grassroots structures that would hold me and other elected officials more accountable for their actions,' and Queer Action of Rhode Island plans to do that." Bravo QuARI!

Education: Obama has dropped "No Child Left Behind" (NCLB) as a slogan, because it was unpopular. But in practice, his "Race to the Top" does what Democrats were calling for throughout the Bush era: it fully funds NCLB.

So on the watch of the president who was elected with near-religious fervor by teachers, we are witnessing the greatest invasion of the testing mania and the greatest attack on teachers' unions since they rose to prominence in the 1960s.

Health care and financial reform: Let's face it: much of what Obama has "accomplished" has been essentially a series of corporate welfare programs, massive giveaways to the very same capitalist class that is responsible for plunging our society into crisis.

In summary, while I recognize that the GOP is a disgusting, racist, reactionary party, I fail to see how we can support much of anything the Democrats have done over the past two years without sacrificing major principles.

4. A lot of people refer to what Obama the candidate said in order to justify what Obama the president has done. I find this operation to be intellectually dishonest, but I do think there's one useful thing that Obama the candidate said, and that we should now heed.

Remember how he invoked the great social movements of the past in his campaign? Remember how he asked his supporters to hold his feet to the fire, to put the type of pressure on him and organize the mass movements that would ensure the types of reforms he promised and that we wanted?

If there's one thing you can't blame Obama for after almost two years in office, it's the utter slavish silence of the broad left; its refusal to raise any critique of Obama or even defend itself when he bashes us; its refusal to mobilize the constituencies of the left in defense of our own interests when those interests conflict with the actions of the administration.

It's high time we listen to that part of "candidate" Obama's message and act accordingly.
Brian Chidester, Providence, R.I.

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