Friday, August 29, 2008
DENVER -- For months, the magic that once surrounded Barack Obama's presidential candidacy was lost in a fog of petty politics: the negative ads, the Clinton dramas, the degrading of Obama to the status of a mere "celebrity," the back and forth with John McCain over who is an elitist and who is a flip-flopper.
The McCain campaign has done all it could to bring Obama back to earth and to dissipate the sense of possibility he once inspired. But in defiance of his opponents' efforts to discredit the very idea of mass rallies, Obama grabbed the magic back last night as an Invesco Field crowd of some 80,000 roared around him in the sweep of spotlights in the night.
His message focused on bread-and-butter empathy, on harnessing John McCain firmly to President Bush's views and record, on a lengthy list of policies that stood as an answer to critics who say his campaign is longer on inspiration than on specifics. It was a speech aimed less at stirring the faithful, though no doubt it did, than at persuading and reassuring those who harbor doubts.
If it did nothing else, this week's Democratic National Convention served as a reminder of the historical import of Obama's nomination and the astonishing transformation of the country in just three generations.
The Democrats adopted the civil rights plank that Humphrey called for -- and a group of Southern delegates walked out and formed a breakaway segregationist party.
Thursday, August 28, 2008
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Thursday night is the triumph of those who too often are forgotten – the ordinary men and women who decided to make their own history, and helped to redeem a nation. The marchers at Selma, the freedom riders, those who sat in at lunch counters, or struggled through a Mississippi summer were, for the most part, not the prominent ministers, or the business leaders, or the successful professionals. They were the sanitation worker, the student, the cleaning lady, the secretary. They put their lives and their livelihood at risk, and, against the greatest odds, followed their hopes, not their fears. Many paid a fearsome price – beaten, jailed, fired, some murdered. Their sacrifice helped to make America whole. Barack Obama stands on their heroic shoulders.
That Civil Rights Agenda was never a black agenda alone; it was an agenda for America. Lincoln understood that the nation could not survive half-slave and half-free. King and Johnson understood that the South could not prosper if the energy of the majority was squandered on holding down its largest minority. Equal opportunity for all protects not only the rights of African Americans, but of women, and Latinos and gays and other minorities. And with progress in civil rights, America’s diversity started to become its strength, not its weakness – as is so clearly exhibited in the young generation now coming onto the national stage.
This reality forms the base of the Obama coalition – working people, blacks and Latinos and Asian Americans, young people, women. And it informs the nature of his agenda: a call to rebuild America, to put people first, to move to policies that will make this economy work for the many, not simply the few.
Some worry that with Obama's success, concern about civil rights, about racial discrimination will diminish, that those who have been left behind will be further isolated. That the country will view the journey towards equal opportunity completed.
But Obama’s candidacy will in itself advance the dialogue about race in this country. And we must challenge the assumption that the black agenda – for equal opportunity, for lifting the poor, educating the children, providing health care for the sick – is somehow a special interest agenda. As has been always true, it is America’s agenda.
The next president faces truly forbidding challenges. The worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. A broken health care system. Eight years of “recovery” in which most Americans lost ground. Record housing foreclosures, with falling prices erasing the largest investment most Americans have. Good jobs shipped abroad, while new jobs lack health care, pensions or living wages.
America is now the world’s largest debtor, increasingly dependent on foreign oil and foreign loans. A trillion dollar occupation of Iraq has left America more isolated and less respected than ever. Cities are increasingly divided into rich and poor, with collapsing infrastructure, overcrowded schools, and brutal systems of criminal injustice that are kindling for an explosion.
This crisis cannot be met with more of the same policies. We need fundamental changes – a new strategy for the global economy, a concerted drive for sustainable energy independence, investment in rebuilding America and in educating our children, measures to empower workers and hold corporations and banks accountable, a new urban agenda. This won’t get done with a fake populist garb donned for the ads of a political campaign. It will require challenging vested interests, changing old ways.
And here Barack Obama once more reflects the experience of those marchers a half century ago. No leader alone can get this done. It will require ordinary people mobilizing to challenge those that stand in the way. The McCain campaign mocks Obama’s ability to inspire people here and abroad. It presents McCain as a lone hero, able to act alone. But change doesn’t work that way.
Monday, August 25, 2008
Biden, Iraq, and Obama's Betrayal
Stephen Zunes August 24, 2008
Editor: John Feffer
Foreign Policy In Focus
Incipient Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama’s selection of Joseph Biden as his running mate constitutes a stunning betrayal of the anti-war constituency who made possible his hard-fought victory in the Democratic primaries and caucuses.
The veteran Delaware senator has been one the leading congressional supporters of U.S. militarization of the Middle East and Eastern Europe, of strict economic sanctions against Cuba, and of Israeli occupation policies.
Most significantly, however, Biden, who chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during the lead-up to the Iraq War during the latter half of 2002, was perhaps the single most important congressional backer of the Bush administration’s decision to invade that oil-rich country.
Shrinking Gap Between Candidates
One of the most important differences between Obama and the soon-to-be Republican presidential nominee John McCain is that Obama had the wisdom and courage to oppose the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Obama and his supporters had been arguing correctly that judgment in foreign policy is far more important than experience; this was a key and likely decisive argument in the Illinois senator’s campaign against Senator Hillary Clinton, who had joined McCain in backing the Iraq war resolution.
However, in choosing Biden who, like the forthcoming Republican nominee, has more experience in international affairs but notoriously poor judgment, Obama is essentially saying that this critical difference between the two prospective presidential candidates doesn’t really matter. This decision thereby negates one of his biggest advantages in the general election. Of particular concern is the possibility that the pick of an establishment figure from the hawkish wing of the party indicates the kind of foreign policy appointments Obama will make as president.
Obama’s choice of Biden as his running mate will likely have a hugely negative impact on his once-enthusiastic base of supporters. Obama’s supporters had greatly appreciated the fact that he did not blindly accept the Bush administration’s transparently false claims about Iraq being an imminent danger to U.S. national security interests that required an invasion and occupation of that country. At the same time Biden was joining his Republican colleagues in pushing through a Senate resolution authorizing the invasion, Obama was speaking at a major anti-war rally in Chicago correctly noting that Iraq’s war-making ability had been substantially weakened and that the international community could successfully contain Saddam Hussein from any future acts of aggression.
In Washington, by contrast, Biden was insisting that Bush was right and Obama was wrong, falsely claiming that Iraq under Saddam Hussein – severely weakened by UN disarmament efforts and comprehensive international sanctions – somehow constituted both “a long term threat and a short term threat to our national security” and was an “extreme danger to the world.” Despite the absence of any “weapons of mass destruction” or offensive military capabilities, Biden when reminded of those remarks during an interview last year, replied, “That’s right, and I was correct about that.”
Biden Shepherds the War Authorization
It is difficult to over-estimate the critical role Biden played in making the tragedy of the Iraq war possible. More than two months prior to the 2002 war resolution even being introduced, in what was widely interpreted as the first sign that Congress would endorse a U.S. invasion of Iraq, Biden declared on August 4 that the United States was probably going to war. In his powerful position as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he orchestrated a propaganda show designed to sell the war to skeptical colleagues and the America public by ensuring that dissenting voices would not get a fair hearing.
As Scott Ritter, the former chief UN weapons inspector, noted at the time, “For Sen. Biden's Iraq hearings to be anything more than a political sham used to invoke a modern-day Gulf of Tonkin resolution-equivalent for Iraq, his committee will need to ask hard questions – and demand hard facts – concerning the real nature of the weapons threat posed by Iraq.”
It soon became apparent that Biden had no intention of doing so. Biden refused to even allow Ritter himself – who knew more about Iraq’s WMD capabilities than anyone and would have testified that Iraq had achieved at least qualitative disarmament – to testify. Ironically, on Meet the Press last year, Biden defended his false claims about Iraqi WMDs by insisting that “everyone in the world thought he had them. The weapons inspectors said he had them.”
Biden also refused to honor requests by some of his Democratic colleagues to include in the hearings some of the leading anti-war scholars familiar with Iraq and Middle East. These included both those who would have reiterated Ritter’s conclusions about non-existent Iraqi WMD capabilities as well as those prepared to testify that a U.S. invasion of Iraq would likely set back the struggle against al-Qaeda, alienate the United States from much of the world, and precipitate bloody urban counter-insurgency warfare amid rising terrorism, Islamist extremism, and sectarian violence. All of these predictions ended up being exactly what transpired.
Nor did Biden even call some of the dissenting officials in the Pentagon or State Department who were willing to challenge the alarmist claims of their ideologically-driven superiors. He was willing, however, to allow Iraqi defectors of highly dubious credentials to make false testimony about the vast quantities of WMD materiel supposedly in Saddam Hussein’s possession. Ritter has correctly accused Biden of having “preordained a conclusion that seeks to remove Saddam Hussein from power regardless of the facts and . . . using these hearings to provide political cover for a massive military attack on Iraq.”
Supported an Invasion Before Bush
Rather than being a hapless victim of the Bush administration’s lies and manipulation, Biden was calling for a U.S. invasion of Iraq and making false statements regarding Saddam Hussein’s supposed possession of “weapons of mass destruction” years before President George W. Bush even came to office.
As far back as 1998, Biden was calling for a U.S. invasion of that oil rich country. Even though UN inspectors and the UN-led disarmament process led to the elimination of Iraq’s WMD threat, Biden – in an effort to discredit the world body and make an excuse for war – insisted that UN inspectors could never be trusted to do the job. During Senate hearings on Iraq in September of that year, Biden told Ritter, “As long as Saddam’s at the helm, there is no reasonable prospect you or any other inspector is ever going to be able to guarantee that we have rooted out, root and branch, the entirety of Saddam’s program relative to weapons of mass destruction.”
Calling for military action on the scale of the Gulf War seven years earlier, he continued, “The only way we’re going to get rid of Saddam Hussein is we’re going to end up having to start it alone,” telling the Marine veteran “it’s going to require guys like you in uniform to be back on foot in the desert taking Saddam down.”
When Ritter tried to make the case that President Bill Clinton’s proposed large-scale bombing of Iraq could jeopardize the UN inspections process, Biden condescendingly replied that decisions on the use of military force were “beyond your pay grade.” As Ritter predicted, when Clinton ordered UN inspectors out of Iraq in December of that year and followed up with a four-day bombing campaign known as Operation Desert Fox, Saddam was provided with an excuse to refuse to allow the inspectors to return. Biden then conveniently used Saddam’s failure to allow them to return as an excuse for going to war four years later.
Biden’s False Claims to Bolster War
In the face of widespread skepticism over administration claims regarding Iraq’s military capabilities, Biden declared that President Bush was justified in being concerned about Iraq’s alleged pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. Even though Iraq had eliminated its chemical weapons arsenal by the mid-1990s, Biden insisted categorically in the weeks leading up to the Iraq war resolution that Saddam Hussein still had chemical weapons. Even though there is no evidence that Iraq had ever developed deployable biological weapons and its biological weapons program had been eliminated some years earlier, Biden insisted that Saddam had biological weapons, including anthrax and that “he may have a strain” of small pox. And, even though the International Atomic Energy Agency had reported as far back as 1998 that there was no evidence whatsoever that Iraq had any ongoing nuclear program, Biden insisted Saddam was “seeking nuclear weapons.”
Said Biden, “One thing is clear: These weapons must be dislodged from Saddam, or Saddam must be dislodged from power.” He did not believe proof of the existence of any actual weapons to dislodge was necessary, however, insisting that “If we wait for the danger from Saddam to become clear, it could be too late.” He further defended President Bush by falsely claiming that “He did not snub the U.N. or our allies. He did not dismiss a new inspection regime. He did not ignore the Congress. At each pivotal moment, he has chosen a course of moderation and deliberation.”
In an Orwellian twist of language designed to justify the war resolution, which gave President Bush the unprecedented authority to invade a country on the far side of the world at the time and circumstances of his own choosing, Biden claimed that “I do not believe this is a rush to war. I believe it is a march to peace and security. I believe that failure to overwhelmingly support this resolution is likely to enhance the prospects that war will occur.”
It is also important to note that Biden supported an invasion in the full knowledge that it would not be quick and easy and that the United States would have to occupy Iraq for an extended period, declaring, “We must be clear with the American people that we are committing to Iraq for the long haul; not just the day after, but the decade after.”
Biden’s Current Position
In response to the tragic consequences of the U.S. invasion and the resulting weakening of popular support for the war, Biden has more recently joined the chorus of Democratic members of Congress criticizing the administration’s handling of the conflict and calling for the withdrawal of most combat forces. He opposed President Bush’s escalation (“surge”) of troop strength early last year and has called for greater involvement by the United Nations and other countries in resolving the ongoing conflicts within Iraq.
However, Biden has been the principal congressional backer of a de facto partition of the country between Kurdish, Sunni Arab, and Shia Arab segments, a proposal opposed by a solid majority of Iraqis and strongly denounced by the leading Sunni, Shia, and secular blocs in the Iraqi parliament. Even the U.S. State Department has criticized Biden’s plan as too extreme. A cynical and dangerous attempt at divide-and-rule, Biden’s ambitious effort to redraw the borders of the Middle East would likely make a violent and tragic situation all the worse.
Yet it is Biden’s key role in making possible the congressional authorization of the 2003 U.S. invasion that elicits the greatest concern among Obama’s supporters. While more recently expressing regrets over his vote, he has not formally apologized and has stressed the Bush administration’s mishandling of the post-invasion occupation rather than the illegitimacy of the invasion itself.
Biden’s support for the resolution was not simply poor judgment, but a calculated rejection of principles codified in the UN Charter and other international legal documents prohibiting aggressive wars. According to Article VI of the Constitution, such a rejection also constitutes a violation of U.S. law as well. Biden even voted against an amendment sponsored by fellow Democratic senator Carl Levin that would have authorized U.S. military action against Iraq if the UN Security Council approved the use of force and instead voted for the Republican-backed resolution authorizing the United States to go to war unilaterally. In effect, Biden has embraced the neo-conservative view that the United States, as the world’s sole remaining superpower, somehow has the right to invade other countries at will, even if they currently pose no strategic threat.
Given the dangerous precedent set by the Iraq war resolution, naming one of its principal supporters as potentially the next vice president of the United States has raised serious questions regarding Senator Obama’s commitment to international law. This comes at a time when the global community is so desperately hoping for a more responsible U.S. foreign policy following eight years of Bush.
Early in his presidential campaign, Obama pledged to not only end the war in Iraq, but to challenge the mindset that got the United States into Iraq in the first place. Choosing Biden as his running mate, however, raises doubts regarding Obama’s actual commitment to “change we can believe in.”
Stephen Zunes is a professor of politics and chair of Middle Eastern studies at the University of San Francisco and serves as a senior analyst for Foreign Policy in Focus.
Published by Foreign Policy In Focus (FPIF), a project of the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS, online at http://www.ips-dc.org/). Copyright © 2008, Institute for Policy Studies.
Saturday, August 23, 2008
by John Nichols
It was Biden who suggested in an August, 2007, debate that, “I think (Obama) can be ready, but right now I don’t believe he is. The presidency is not something that lends itself to on-the-job training.”
Democrats, and ultimately Americans, should be able to reconcile themselves to the fact of a No. 2 who suggested Obama was not ready to be No. 1.
For all the silly talk about vice-presidential nominees being irrelevant, the truth is that they have always mattered — either to party unity or to the broader electorate.
Presidential and vice presidential candidates run as a team, complementing one another and guarding against the vulnerabilities of their running mates.
But when Joe Biden takes Barack Obama’s side, the scale may well tip back in a Democratic direction.
Friday, August 22, 2008
Thursday, August 21, 2008
August 21, 2008
By M.E. SPRENGELMEYER Scripps Howard News Service
CHICAGO — It takes the Rev. Jesse Jackson 10 1/2 minutes just to get warmed up.
He enters the studio dressed head-to-toe in black. He has black history on his mind, too.
So when Jackson sits behind a desk and begins an hour-long interview, he doesn’t wait for the first question before launching into a detailed monologue that can’t be interrupted.
Sen. Barack Obama’s climb up ‘‘the mountaintop’’ is the history of the civil rights movement from 1954 to the present, Jackson says, and he thinks it’s sad that much of that journey isn’t being depicted by current media coverage of the campaign.
In Jackson’s mind, Obama is the last runner, ‘‘the anchor guy,’’ in a relay race that began before he was born.
Think back to 1954, Jackson says, and the U.S. Supreme Court decision that finally outlawed ‘‘race supremacy’’ — the so-called ‘‘separate but equal.’’ Don’t forget Emmett Till, whose brutal lynching the next year so shocked the national conscience that it inspired the likes of Rosa Parks and began turning the tide, he says.
Jackson says we can’t forget the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. nor Fannie Lou Hamer of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. In 1964, she was ‘‘sick and tired of being sick and tired’’ and pried open the doors to the Democratic National Convention for delegates of all colors.
Don’t forget all the little steps it took to open up the process for women, for young people, for immigrant voters and others, he says.
And, yes, Jackson adds, don’t forget what he had to go through in 1984 and 1988 to make the idea of a black presidential contender more than just a novelty.
‘‘This year, what one sees, is the blossoming of trees planted in ’84 and ’88,’’ he says.
It’s an elder statesman’s attempt to make sure his generation’s contributions aren’t lost in the new generation’s success.
‘‘I wanted to make sure the media saw this not just as a three-year race with a phenomenal guy, but a 54-year race with a phenomenal guy,’’ he says.
Jackson goes on to praise Obama at every turn. He says he grew emotional when he was traveling in Africa and heard the news that Obama, whose father was African and mother was a white woman from Kansas, had reached the magic number of delegates to clinch the nomination.
‘‘Within his body is the DNA of reconciliation. That is the key to the kingdom . . . the healing, closing the gap,’’ Jackson says. ‘‘And I just took a deep breath after I cried, because I knew it was the last lap of a 54-year race.’’
As Jackson speaks, an assistant is rolling his own videotape. Why? Because at that point, in mid-June, Jackson already felt he had been burned by his own comments that he says were taken out of context.
Various online sources speculated about generational friction, envy or strained relations between the 66-year-old Jackson and the 47-year-old Obama.
Already, a South Carolina newspaper had quoted Jackson saying Obama was ‘‘acting like he is white’’ for not speaking out more forcefully about the arrest of six black juveniles in Jena, La., on murder charges. (Jackson later said he did not remember the particular comment, but did repeat some of the general criticism.)
Nothing so controversial surfaced in the Rocky’s interview in mid-June. But then, a few weeks later, during a break from a Fox News interview, Jackson was caught on a live microphone whispering to a fellow guest that he thought Obama was ‘‘talking down to black people’’ with his talk about faith-based initiatives. He added a now infamous line about taking a knife to Obama.
Jackson was ripped and ridiculed from far and wide. Even his own son, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., distanced himself. Commentators accused Jackson of being motivated by envy — a notion he later told CNN was ‘‘ridiculous.’’
The network even posed the question to viewers: ‘‘Has Jesse Jackson become irrelevant?’’
Although Jackson had nothing but kind words about Obama, he made one thing perfectly clear:
That the path Obama took on the way to the nomination was far smoother than the campaign trail he had blazed.
‘‘This has been a victory for Barack and his family because they have run a very astute, smart, well-thought-through campaign,’’ he says. ‘‘It was a victory for the civil rights struggle because the fruits of our labors have produced the platform from which he could be launched and win. And it’s a victory for America. This is a redemptive moment for America. It’s a transformative moment.’’
And, he insists, people must not forget when it began.
Chicago has long been Jesse Jackson’s kind of town.
It’s where the South Carolina native first began his theological studies. It’s where he founded Operation PUSH (People United to Serve Humanity) in 1971.
Chicago is where a contentious mayoral election in 1983 brought division within the old racial coalitions of the Democratic Party and ultimately prompted Jackson to run for president in protest.
The city was home base for Jackson’s presidential campaigns in 1984 and 1988.
Afterward, Chicago is where Jackson settled into his role as a Democratic Party elder and tried to play a unifying role in the 1996 Democratic National Convention.
That year, as a relatively tranquil convention washed away lingering memories of the city’s 1968 smackdown, Jackson set aside his own anger over President Clinton’s signing of a controversial welfare reform bill. He made a speech urging other skeptical liberals to rally behind the president — something that angered some of his own followers.
It was ‘‘an imperfect choice,’’ and the alternatives, fighting or staying home, would have helped Republicans, he says. ‘‘And I felt that the value of keeping the party together was worth the hit that we took,’’ he says. ‘‘You can agree to disagree, but there’s a higher prize.’’
Chicago still is home to Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH Coalition. From a Hyde Park headquarters, he leads fights on domestic fronts like opposing predatory lending and other urban woes, and he uses it as a base for international work, particularly in Africa.
But now there’s an even more famous resident in the neighborhood: Sen. Barack Obama.
Media trucks, Secret Service vehicles and parades of tourists now roll down the streets a few blocks away from Jackson’s long-time headquarters, checking out the residence of what could be the first black man to live in the White House.
Make no mistake. The Rev. Jesse Jackson always knew that was not going to be him.
Some people don’t know the genesis of Jackson’s first run for president in 1984.
It started with a contentious mayoral election in 1983, when Jackson and other African-American community leaders rallied behind Congressman Harold Washington to become Chicago’s first black mayor.
Black mayors had been elected all over the country, but not yet in Chicago. Washington was taking on incumbent Mayor Jane Byrne and Richard M. Daley, the son of the legendary former mayor.
Jackson and others were angered when prominent white Democrats came to Chicago supporting the white candidates, ignoring ‘‘please don’t’’ telegrams signed by 100 local community leaders, Jackson says. Former Vice President Walter Mondale backed Daley and Sen. Ted Kennedy backed Byrne.
‘‘They were our liberal allies. We assumed that once we made a great break politically, they would be with us,’’ Jackson remembers. ‘‘But once we moved to self-determination, a number of our allies backed up. They wanted to represent us, not be our partners in politics.’’
Washington won, largely with the help of a black-Hispanic coalition. But racial divisions remained. A number of black ministers and other leaders met and decided to send a message in the 1984 presidential election.
‘‘I said, ’Somebody has to run,’ and in the meantime the crowds around ’Run, Jesse, run!’ kept getting louder and louder,’’ he says.
It was about sending a message that a key Democratic constituency would not be taken for granted. But it wasn’t about winning, Jackson says
‘‘We didn’t really believe we could win,’’ he says. ‘‘Except running was winning.
‘‘Registering voters was winning. Bringing in new people was winning. Learning how to run a convention on the floor was winning. Having our own trailer was winning. Having access to the mic was winning. Having access to the national press corps was winning. Having our issues on the front line was winning. So we began to define winning in many long-range terms.’’
Jackson remembers the ‘‘culture shock phenomenon’’ he faced on one of those early trips to the first caucus state of Iowa, where he knew some people in the crowds were there to see the ‘‘spectacle’’ of a black candidate.
He tried to tell a group of white farmers how they had more in common with inner-city blacks than they might imagine.
‘‘You look through the TV lens and you see blacks in . . . Chicago unemployed. You think they are lazy; they don’t want to work,’’ Jackson said. ‘‘They came to work. The jobs left . . .They see you through the TV lens, you’re not working, they think you’re getting a subsidy because you feel privileged. You get a subsidy because the big farmers, corporate farmers, took your farm. You guys have an awful lot in common.’’
After the speech, a white farmer approached Jackson, he recalls.
‘‘The farmer said to me, ’You know, we hear what you’re saying and we think you’re right. We’re just not there yet . . .’ ‘‘ Jackson says.
Jackson knew in 1984 that the country wasn’t ready for someone like him to be president. ‘‘And we shook hands. I embraced their children. I kissed their children,’’ he says. ‘‘Their children, 24 years later, are there now because of a cultural transformation in our society, because America is becoming more mature, less anxious, less reactive on the question of race and gender.’’
In that 1984 race, ‘‘people begin to get used to seeing a person of color on that stage debating these issues,’’ Jackson says.
He remembers being approached by the organizer of one campaign forum and told, ‘‘We’re glad you’re in, but if you don’t want to be in tomorrow night, you don’t have to be, because we’re going to debate foreign policy.’’
The implication: That a black candidate was only interested in ‘‘urban’’ issues.
‘‘But,’’ he told them, ‘‘you know, we came here on foreign policy. Slavery was a foreign policy . . . It was a bigger foreign and trade policy than was banking and insurance. I understand foreign policy maybe the best.’’
It was the kind of ‘‘culture shock’’ that seems archaic in 2008, when a Democratic candidate forum got little voter interest if Obama wasn’t on the stage.
In 1984, and then in 1988 when Jackson doubled his previous showing, earned 1,250 delegates and had the clout to influence Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis’ platform, ‘‘I knew that in time we could break through these ancient cultural barriers,’’ Jackson says.
Jackson uses that plural pronoun, ‘‘we,’’ regardless of whatever strained relations people perceive between him and Obama.
Both before and after his now-infamous, ‘‘hot mic’’ blasts about Obama, Jackson is emotional when imagining the scene on Aug. 28, 2008, when the nominee is scheduled to take the stage and formally accept the Democratic Party’s nomination for president.
‘‘Aug. 28, 1955: Emmett Till lynched. A very low moment in American history; really state-sanctioned terror,’’ Jackson says.
‘‘Aug. 28, 1963: Dr. King speaks in Washington about a dream, a dream beyond the predicament of that day, to end apartheid . . . Aug. 28, 2008: Barack will be nominated in Denver, nominee of the Democratic Party for the presidency. What a growth in a country.’’It’s a history that the older man thinks the young man must embrace.
At the convention, ‘‘Well, you know, clearly he must acknowledge this is a high point in America’s struggle to make this a more perfect union. It’s a time to heal the breach,’’ he says.
Many analysts attribute Obama’s success to his ability to ‘‘transcend’’ the old racial politics.
His toughest moments of the campaign came when his former minister, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, injected controversial, highly racial overtones into his sermons and speeches. In July, when Jackson’s ‘‘hot-mic’’ whispers about Obama dominated a 24-hour cable news cycle, some said it actually helped the nominee gain even greater distance from an old-school activist who has alienated many white voters for years.
No matter. Whatever he might be saying when he thinks the microphones are off, Jackson publicly points to Obama as the man who’s at the pinnacle of that civil rights struggle now.‘‘There’s unfinished business. I (am) not at all romantic about the structural inequality and the gaps yet to be closed and the healing that must take place. But we’re getting there,’’ Jackson says. ‘‘I think that what Barack must show is that, from the vantage point of that mountaintop, how to get all of us into that promised land . . .’’
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
He is transformational not only by his charisma and brilliance, but by embodying the possibility of an African-American being chosen president in the generation following the civil-rights movement. Whether he wins or loses, the vast movement inspired by Obama will become the next generation of American social activists.For many Americans, the possibility of Obama is a deeply personal one. I mean here the mythic Obama who exists in our imaginations, not the literal Obama whose centrist positions will disappoint many progressives.
Sunday, August 17, 2008
By Robert L. Borosage & Katrina vanden Heuvel
August 13, 2008
Electric. When Barack Obama receives the Democratic
presidential nomination before 75,000 people in Denver's
Mile High Stadium on the forty-fifth anniversary of
Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, new
possibilities will be born. A historic candidacy, a new
generation in motion, a nation yearning for change. Even
the cynics running the McCain campaign might be touched,
if they weren't so busy savaging Obama as a vain
celebrity not up to the task of leading a nation.
No one should be blinded by the lights. It will take
hard work to turn the nomination into victory in a
campaign that has already turned ugly. Moreover, even if
victorious, Obama will inherit the calamitous conditions
wrought by conservative failures--a sinking economy,
unsustainable occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan,
accelerating climate change, Gilded Age inequality, a
broken healthcare system and much more.
Obama will also be limited by the constricted consensus
of an establishment not yet able to contemplate the
changes needed to set this country right again. To be
successful, his presidency will have to be bolder and
more radical than now imagined.
A historic candidate, the forbidding conditions and the
constricted consensus make it vital that progressives
think clearly and act independently in forging a
strategy over the next months. The following is a
contribution to a rich and ongoing discussion. We invite
others to join it at thenation.com in the weeks to come.
A Sea-Change Election
The Obama nomination sets the stage for a sea-change
election, one that could not only elect a Democratic
President and increased reform majorities in both houses
of Congress but also mark a clear turn from the
conservative ideas that have dominated our politics for
In recent weeks, the media--primed by a Republican
strategy contrasting Obama's purported doublespeak with
McCain's alleged Straight Talk--have focused on Obama's
compromises and backsliding. Much of the alleged
retrenchment has been exaggerated. Some of it--like his
fold on the FISA wiretap bill, mixed signals on trade,
the compromise on offshore drilling--has been clear and
deplorable. Many on the left were dismayed as the Obama
campaign trotted out advisers from a Democratic bench
that had championed the toxic Rubinomics brew of
corporate trade and financial deregulation.
These concerns should not distract us from the central
reality: this election features a stark ideological
contrast. Although marketed as a trustworthy maverick,
McCain accurately describes himself as a "foot soldier
in the Reagan revolution" and attests that "on the
transcendent issues, the most important issues of our
day, I've been totally in agreement and support of
President Bush." He is committed to the full Bush
catastrophe: continued war in Iraq, more tax cuts for
the wealthiest, more corporate trade deals, more
deregulation, more hostility toward labor, more
conservative social policies and reactionary judges.
Indeed, he's Bush on steroids. McCain seeks not only to
privatize Social Security but also to unravel employer-
based healthcare, leaving people to negotiate alone with
insurance companies liberated from regulation. His
bellicose posturing on Iran and Iraq is as disastrous as
his pledge of impossibly deep cuts in domestic programs.
He embraces the corporate economic and trade agenda that
has so devastated the American middle class. If he is
defeated, it will mark the end of the Reagan era.
Obama clearly offers a change of course. His victory in
itself will require overcoming the racial fears that
have so long divided this country. He carries a reform
agenda--largely driven by progressives--into the
election: an end to the occupation of Iraq, using the
money squandered there to rebuild America; affordable
healthcare for all, paid for by raising taxes on the
wealthy; a concerted drive for energy independence,
generating jobs while investing in renewable energy and
conservation. He is committed to empowering labor, to
holding corporations and banks more accountable and to
challenging our trade policies. A social liberal, his
judicial appointees will keep the right from
consolidating its hold on the federal judiciary. Obama
may not be a "movement" progressive in the way that
Reagan was a "movement" conservative, and he may have
disappointed activists with his recent compromises, but
make no mistake: his election will open a new era of
reform, the scope of which will depend--as Obama often
says--on independent progressive mobilization to keep
the pressure on and overcome entrenched interests.
As this is written, an election Obama should win handily
is locked in a virtual tie. Both the Obama and McCain
campaigns treat the race as a referendum on Obama, with
the former focused on getting Americans comfortable with
trusting a young African-American with an unusual name,
and the Rove minions in the McCain campaign intent on
stoking the fears that enabled them to assemble a white
majority party in the past.
Obama's campaign will not succeed without the
independent efforts of progressive activists. One
central task is winning support among wary white blue-
collar workers, the core target of the Rovian poison.
This will require persuasion as well as mobilization;
the work of the AFL-CIO, Change to Win, Working America,
religious groups and others with a base in these
communities in swing states will be of critical
Progressives generally--and independent media and the
blogosphere specifically--can contribute by reminding
voters there's a clear choice in this election, with
McCain representing the same old, same old. While
exposing McCain's doubletalk, his Bush-redux agenda and
the money and interests behind the scurrilous right-wing
independent expenditure campaigns, progressives can also
help build support for reform. The new Health Care for
America Now coalition, for example, has the resources to
expose McCain's healthcare folly, thereby building a
mandate for universal coverage. The antiwar movement
should be challenging McCain's saber-rattling on Iraq,
Iran and Afghanistan, helping to strengthen US support
for a change in course. With gas prices at the center of
American concerns, the environmental alliance around
jobs and energy can consolidate support for a concerted
drive toward energy independence, while challenging
absurd claims that we can drill our way out of the
While focusing on what is certain to be a difficult
campaign, progressives should start thinking now about
strategy for an Obama presidency. Clearly his election
and inauguration would mark an exciting moment. At home,
a new sense of energy and idealism will be unleashed.
Across the world, his election will begin the process of
restoring America's ravaged reputation. Not only will
Obama usher a new generation into politics, but for the
first time a President with experience as a community
organizer will have the ability to mobilize directly a
dedicated following larger than any other in politics
[see our roundtable forum of community organizers].
In the first months of an Obama administration,
progressives should be pursuing an inside-outside
strategy in relation to the administration. For example,
in the transition, we should push to place allies in
strategic positions, particularly in the areas of
economic policy and national security. The AFL-CIO and
other groups are preparing lists of potential
candidates. These inside efforts should be complemented
by watchdog monitoring and reporting on potential
nominees. No free pass should be given to those who
drove the financial and trade policies that led to the
current economic debacles or supported the invasion of
Iraq, the worst foreign policy fiasco in recent history.
For Obama to achieve his core promises, he will have to
push significant reforms early. As Dan Lazare has
argued, our entire political system is designed to block
reform, not facilitate it. Periods of significant change
in American politics are rare, but they feature spasms
of furious activity: Roosevelt's first 100 days,
Johnson's push in 1964-65, Reagan's reaction in 1981-82.
Inevitably, these spasms don't last long before reaction
sets in. So it is vital to move rapidly and boldly and
across many areas to have any chance at success.
Obama's first decision--to be made, no doubt, during the
transition--will be the most telling. He has pledged
that he will instruct the Joint Chiefs of Staff to
prepare a sensible plan for ending the Iraq occupation.
Already, Democratic security advisers who initially
supported the war are calling for "conditional
engagement," arguing that the United States can't afford
simply to set a timetable to get out. Thus it is vital
that the peace movement organize aggressively during the
campaign, and mobilize independently and visibly
immediately after the election. The Obama White House
must have no doubt about the firestorm in Congress, in
the streets and within the Democratic Party that would
be caused by a retreat from this pledge.
If the Iraq promise is kept, progressives will sensibly
work to help define Obama's agenda from the inside and
support key parts from the outside. He will lay out a
major initiative on jobs and energy. He has said that
he'll try to push through healthcare reform quickly--
although that is likely to trigger trench warfare in
Congress (and progressives will have to overcome deep
internal divisions to ensure that fundamental reform
succeeds). Obama will reverse many of the reactionary
Bush executive orders, from the global gag rule to
secrecy excesses stemming from the "war on terror." His
first budget decisions most likely will have to deal
directly with a broader stimulus plan to get the economy
going. He has pledged to support passage of the Employee
Free Choice Act, enabling workers to organize unions
without employer harassment.
But Obama will encounter formidable obstacles. He'll
face a business lobby girded for battle. Corporations
have already begun moving more of their money to
Democratic incumbents and are snapping up former
Democratic legislators and staffers for their lobbies
[see "Dollars for Donkeys" on page 28]. They will do
everything they can to stall healthcare and drug-pricing
reform, empowerment of workers and re-regulation of Wall
Street. Moreover, while Democrats are likely to enjoy
larger majorities in both houses, their caucuses are
likely to be less progressive as they pick up seats in
very conservative, formerly Republican districts.
Progressives will enjoy their greatest strength
mobilizing independently to support Obama's promises. We
can organize constituent pressure on politicians who are
blocking the way, something even a President with
Obama's activist network would be loath to do. We can
expose the lobbies and interests and backstage maneuvers
designed to limit reforms. Now that newspapers
increasingly lack the resources for investigation,
progressive media, online and off, and the independent
progressive media infrastructure--from The Nation to
Media Matters to Brave New Films to The Huffington
Post--must assume a greater role in monitoring the
opposition, even as we mobilize activists in targeted
districts across the country.
In doing this, we can help give backbone to the Obama
agenda, even as we supply muscle and energy to help pass
it. The best way to achieve this is to generate large-
scale independent-issue campaigns. A clear example is
the Healthcare for Americans Now Coalition, which is
ready to take on the insurance companies and support the
White House's commitment to universal care. The new Half
in Ten Campaign, spearheaded by ACORN and the Center for
American Progress Action Fund, will help ensure that
poverty does not disappear from the agenda. Progressives
generally should join the AFL-CIO and Change to Win in
their drive to pass the Employee Free Choice Act. The
Apollo Alliance and a range of environmental efforts
will support the initiative on jobs and energy.
Acting in support of Obama will require challenging
legislators in both parties who stand in the way, a task
progressives should undertake aggressively. The Service
Employees International Union has already taken the lead
in announcing a $10 million "accountability program,"
designed to force politicians to heed the will of their
voters, with a new plan--Justice for All--as the core
vehicle. This should be complemented by other
independent efforts, despite likely objections from the
Democratic Congressional leadership and possibly the
White House. Democrats should be on notice from their
own constituents that they will be expected to help move
reform, not stand in its way.
See the entire post.
Thursday, August 14, 2008
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
What Did He Tell Tbilisi?
By Andrew Tilghman - August 12, 2008, 6:13PM
John McCain's top foreign policy adviser, Randy
Scheunemann, has for years been an essential conduit
for the relationship between the United States and
Georgia, the former Soviet republic that has been
pounded by the Russian military for the past week.
He was Georgia's top lobbyist in Washington until
earlier this year. He has taken leave from his lobbying
firm, Orion Strategies, but he is still listed as
president of in the firm, which has received nearly
$900,000 from the Embassy of Georgia since 2004.
Scheunemann is tight with the Bush administration and
many neoconservatives in Washington's foreign policy
establishment. A former aide to Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS),
Scheunemann also has easy access to lawmakers like
McCain, whose office Scheunemann has lobbied directly
in recent years.
For the Georgia government back in Tbilisi, having
Scheunemann on the payroll in Washington has been
"Randy Scheunemann is at a vital nexus...and it made
Tbilisi feel as if it was wedged into the back pocket
of Dick Cheney," Steve Clemons, head of the foreign
policy program at the New America Foundation in
Washington, told TPMmuckraker today.
Scheunemann's primary mission on behalf of Georgia was
getting the Russian border state on track for NATO
membership, according to Scheunemann's filings with the
Department of Justice database maintained under the
Foreign Agent Registration Act.
NATO membership would include a mutual defense pact
that could legally draw the U.S. and the rest of Europe
into a conflict between Georgia and its neighbor to the
Of course, Russia loathes that idea and even some
Americans think it's unnecessarily risky and
provocative. But pushing NATO further eastward and
ultimately up to the Russian border has long been a key
mission for hawkish Republicans and neoconservatives.
The Bush administration has been a big proponent of
Georgia's NATO bid, despite resistance in Europe. Bush
visited Georgia in 2005 and has been especially chummy
with Georgia's president, Mikheil Saakashvili, the
young Georgetown-educated pro-American leader.
It sure made for great rhetoric -- casting Georgia as a
beacon of spreading democracy and freedom.
But now, since violent clashes have erupted between
Georgia and Russia, the Bush administration is taking
some blame for not reigning in its small and militarily
After all, it was the Georgians who catalyzed this
week's bloodshed when its military mounted an incursion
into South Ossetia and confronted the Russian troops
there (prompting many to ask: what were they
"I would say Georgia has a very good PR team. The U.S.
and the Georgian government built a very close
relationship and it was too close for the good of
either party. . . The U.S. allowed Saakashvili to get
too puffed up and think he could fly too close to the
sun," Charles Kupchan, a senior fellow at the Council
on Foreign Relations and a professor at Georgetown
University, said in an interview today.
Few on this side of the Atlantic doubt that Russia's
response was brutish and heavy handed. But the Bush
Administration is taking a lot of criticism for
possibly sending mixed signals to the Georgian
government about our level of commitment and support
for the tiny nation. (Those critiques are, for example,
spelled out here, here and here.)
Georgia was until this week the third-largest
contributor of troops to Iraq after the U.S. and Great
Britain, where its roughly 2,000 troops were welcomed
by the Bush administration.
State Department officials insist they were clear that
Georgia should not expect U.S. military support in case
of a clash with Russia.
Sure, that was the official line. But we can't help but
wonder, what did Scheunemann tell the Georgians? While
they were paying his firm hundreds of thousands of
dollars a year to help build a strong relationship with
Washington, how did he characterize the level of
support Georgia might expect?
Scheunemann's influence, either spoken or unspoken,
emboldened Saakashvili, Clemons said.
"Saakashvili overplayed his hand. He believed he had
the world's best lobbyist helping him not only with
Cheney- land. . . but that he also had this wedge into
the nerve cell of John McCain, who he may have believed
would be the ultimate victor over Barack Obama."
[Andrew Tilghman, a former Iraq correspondent for Stars
and Stripes, is a staff writer for the Marine Corps
Times. He lives in Washington, D.C., and can be reached
Thursday, August 7, 2008
Why Misgovernment Was No Accident in George W. Bush’s Washington
by Thomas Frank
Misgovernment by ideology.
Fantastic misgovernment of the kind we have seen is not an accident, nor is it the work of a few bad individuals. It is the consequence of triumph by a particular philosophy of government, by a movement that understands the liberal state as a perversion and considers the market the ideal nexus of human society. This movement is friendly to industry not just by force of campaign contributions but by conviction; it believes in entrepreneurship not merely in commerce but in politics; and the inevitable results of its ascendance are, first, the capture of the state by business and, second, all that follows: incompetence, graft, and all the other wretched flotsam that we’ve come to expect from Washington.
The correct diagnosis is the “bad apple” thesis turned upside down. There are plenty of good conservative individuals, honorable folks who would never participate in the sort of corruption we have watched unfold over the last few years. Hang around with grassroots conservative voters in Kansas, and in the main you will find them to be honest, hardworking people. Even our story’s worst villains can be personally virtuous. Jack Abramoff, for example, is known to his friends as a pious, polite, and generous fellow.
But put conservatism in charge of the state, and it behaves very differently. Now the “values” that rightist politicians eulogize on the stump disappear, and in their place we can discern an entirely different set of priorities — priorities that reveal more about the unchanging historical essence of American conservatism than do its fleeting campaigns against gay marriage or secular humanism. The conservatism that speaks to us through its actions in Washington is institutionally opposed to those baseline good intentions we learned about in elementary school.
Conservatism-in-power is a very different beast from the conservatism we meet on the streets of Wichita or the conservatism we overhear talking to itself on the pages of Free Republic. For one thing, what conservatism has done in its decades at the seat of power is fundamentally unpopular, and a large percentage of its leaders have been men of eccentric ideas. While they believe things that would get them laughed out of the American Sociological Association, that only makes them more typical of the movement. And for all their peculiarity, these people — Grover Norquist, Tom DeLay, Jack Abramoff, Newt Gingrich, and the whole troupe of activists, lobbyists, and corpora-trons who got their start back in the Reagan years — have for the last three decades been among the most powerful individuals in America. This wave of misgovernment has been brought to you by ideology, not incompetence.
Yes, today’s conservatives have disgraced themselves, but they have not strayed from the teaching of their forefathers or the great ideas of their movement. When conservatives appoint the opponents of government agencies to head those government agencies; when they auction their official services to the purveyor of the most lavish “golf weekend”; when they mulct millions from groups with business before Congress; when they dynamite the Treasury and sabotage the regulatory process and force government shutdowns — in short, when they treat government with contempt — they are running true to form. They have not done these awful things because they are bad conservatives; they have done them because they are good conservatives, because these unsavory deeds follow naturally from the core doctrines of the conservative tradition.
And, yes, there has been greed involved in the effort — a great deal of greed. Every tax cut, every cleverly engineered regulatory snafu saves industry millions and perhaps even billions of dollars, and so naturally securing those tax cuts and engineering those snafus has become a booming business here in Washington. Conservative rule has made the capital region rich, a showplace of the new plutocratic order. But this greed cannot be dismissed as some personal failing of lobbyist or congressman, some badness-of-apple that can be easily contained. Conservatism, as we know it, is a movement that is about greed, about the “virtue of selfishness” when it acts in the marketplace. In rightwing Washington, you can be a man of principle and a boodler at the same time.
The Wrecking Crew in Full Swing
One of the instructive stories We Are the Government brought before generations of schoolkids was the tale of a smiling dime whose wanderings were meant to introduce us to the government and all that it does for us: the miner who digs the ore for the dime has his “health and safety” supervised by one branch of the government; the bank in which the dime is stored enjoys the protection of a different branch, which “sees that [banks] are safe places for people to keep their money”; the dime gets paid in tax on a gasoline sale; it then lands in the pocket of a Coast Guard lieutenant, who takes it overseas and spends it on a parrot, which is “quarantined for ninety days” when the lieutenant brings it home. All of which is related with the blithest innocence, as though taxes on gasoline and quarantines on parrots were so obviously beneficial that they required little further explanation.
Clearly, a more up-to-date version is required. So let us follow the dime as it wends its way through our present-day capital. Its story, we will find, is the reverse of what it was in 1945. That old dime was all about service, about the things government could do for us. But the new dime is about profit — about the superiority of private enterprise, about the huge sums that can be squeezed out of federal operations. Instead of symbolizing good government, the dime now shows us the wrecking crew in full swing.