This Week: Nader’s Last Stand, Advice from Michael Moore, Remembering Studs Terkel, Marijuana initiatives, and a comment on challenges facing progressives. Live Broadcast Friday, November 7, Noon EST, on The Howie Rose Show (WOMM), streamed on The Radiator.
TURNING POINT. What a moment. An African American male has become President of the United States. We’re certainly entering a time of remarkable and somewhat unexpected change. But what kind of change? The signs aren’t that clear. For example, in the closing weeks of the campaign, Barack Obama explicitly referred to the Bill Clinton presidency as a positive model for his administration. Plus, Obama has surrounded himself with members of the political establishment.
Some people, notably fundamentalist Republicans, imagine a socialist future, as if Bernie Sanders is about to become Secretary of the Treasury. No, more likely some Clinton retread. Massive redistribution of wealth? As if. Yet, some of the challenges are similar to those during the Clinton years: a confused, misdirected foreign policy, and the impacts of corporate globalization.
Struggle continues within the Democratic Party. According to the Wall Street Journal, there are basically three groups in the Democratic Congress - progressives who want big changes, Blue Dogs who want deficit reduction, and those who haven't taken a side or want Obama to split the difference and move slowly. That latter group is led by Rahm Emanuel – known as Rahmbo to his friends – the Illinois Democrat and former Clinton aide whom Obama has tapped to be his chief of staff. Former Clinton Chief of Staff John Podesta is running the transition team. Names in the mix include GOP Maverick’s Chuck Hagel and Colin Powell, Warren Buffett, Tom Daschle (one of Obama’s mentors) and current Defense Secretary Robert Gates. So, will this end up looking like a third Clinton administration, or something different?
Plans are underway to pressure the new boss. The 1Sky campaign is organizing rallies and protests on November 18 across the country, calling on the new regime to move strongly on the climate crisis in the first 100 days. The student climate movement hopes to bring 10,000 or more students to DC at the end of February for a “Power Shift” conference, grassroots lobbying and direct action. United for Peace and Justice is calling for a mobilization in the capitol on March 19, the 6th anniversary of the Iraq war. And community organizers have begun planning for the January 20 inauguration.
What can Progressives do to affect the country’s direction during the next four years? Some say the Left won’t be able to criticize the US as much. There will be a tendency to view this moment is epochal terms, as if past issues, including race, are no longer relevant. Obviously this isn’t true, but people will have to speak up.
Are we “tired” of ideology, as the establishment is suggesting, or just a specific, bankrupt ideology – corporate fundamentalism? Red-baiting didn’t work during the presidential campaign – a major development in itself. But why? Is it because socialism sounds like an archaic label? Or, as some have suggested ironically, did the Republicans inadvertently turn the election into a referendum on socialism – and did socialism win? That remains to be seen.
In either case, progressives need to develop an effective and disciplined multi-issue movement for a new era. The people in charge of the US are about to change, but the issues aren’t. Justice, democracy, equality, and peace – these remain our unmet national goals.
We need a peace and recovery agenda, which will require a new foreign and military policy and a change in economic priorities. As it stands, Obama seems ready to shift military operations from Iraq to Pakistan and Afghanistan, and he hasn’t called off the “war of terror.” Economic recovery and a new US role in the world require a different set of priorities.
Despite the outcome of the election, equality is still under attack. The “spread the wealth” charge during the campaign was basically a rejection of the idea that government should help people, and, to some extent, level the playing field. We need an equality agenda, one that presses for this, along with fairness and opportunity, as American values.
And we need a democracy agenda, including new pressure for alternatives to corporate globalization and re-assertion of basic civil liberties and human rights. This means rolling back things like the Patriot Act, closing Guantanamo, and rescinding the abuses of executive authority instituted during the last eight years. In a way, this is Issue Number One.
And finally, we need a justice agenda with real accountability. As Charlotte Dennett urged during her campaign in Vermont for Attorney General, those who thought they were “above the law” must be brought to justice. In other words, real accountability.
It’s been a remarkable week. Suddenly, it looks possible that the long national nightmare known as the Bush administration is ending and a new, tolerant, multi-cultural era may begin. But nothing is certain, and the nature of this regime change is still largely unknown. Whether progressives will influence its direction depends on the ability to overcome division, to support what is hopeful, and to challenge obsolete thinking.
I could be wrong, but it looks like the election last week is less a victory than an opening, a turning point whose ultimate destination – at least for the moment – is in all our hands.
RALPH’S “UNCLE TOM” MOMENT. Consumer advocate Ralph Nader took another step toward the political wilderness last week, polling only about 1 percent of the vote in his fifth run for president. But the most perplexing aspect of Nader’s campaign turns out to be something he said on Election Day. Speaking to a Fox News affiliate, he became the first public figure to make a racially provocative public remark about the first African-American US president.
Obama will have to choose between being “Uncle Sam for the people of this country, or Uncle Tom for the giant corporations,” Nader announced. Grilled by Shepard Smith on Fox News early Wednesday morning, shortly after the election was decided, Nader declined to back down from the remark. Take a look:
MIKE SUMS UP. Filmmaker Michael Moore issued an evaluation of his own. Writing to supporters, he noted, “Never before in our history has an avowed anti-war candidate been elected president during a time of war. I hope President-elect Obama remembers that as he considers expanding the war in Afghanistan. The faith we now have will be lost if he forgets the main issue on which he beat his fellow Dems in the primaries and then a great war hero in the general election: The people of America are tired of war. Sick and tired. And their voice was loud and clear...
Here are a few more excerpts from Moore’s message: “… today we celebrate this triumph of decency over personal attack, of peace over war, of intelligence over a belief that Adam and Eve rode around on dinosaurs just 6,000 years ago. What will it be like to have a smart president? Science, banished for eight years, will return…
“We may, just possibly, also see a time of refreshing openness, enlightenment and creativity….What will it be like to work and create in an environment that nurtures and supports film and the arts, science and invention, and the freedom to be whatever you want to be? Watch a thousand flowers bloom! We've entered a new era, and if I could sum up our collective first thought of this new era, it is this: Anything Is Possible…
“We can wrestle our economy out of the hands of the reckless rich and return it to the people. Anything is possible! Every citizen can be guaranteed health care. Anything is possible! We can stop melting the polar ice caps. Anything is possible! Those who have committed war crimes will be brought to justice. Anything is possible.
“We really don't have much time. There is big work to do. But this is the week for all of us to revel in this great moment. Be humble about it. Do not treat the Republicans in your life the way they have treated you the past eight years. Show them the grace and goodness that Barack Obama exuded throughout the campaign. Though called every name in the book, he refused to lower himself to the gutter and sling the mud back. Can we follow his example? I know, it will be hard.”
REMEMBERING A LEGEND. Author, radio host, actor, activist and Chicago symbol Louis "Studs" Terkel died on November 3 at his Chicago home at age 96. A media institution for decades, who wrote his first best-selling book at the age of 55, Terkel was born in New York City on May 16, 1912. "I came up the year the Titanic went down," he would often say.
Terkel worked on radio soap operas, in stage plays, as a sportscaster and a disk jockey. His first radio program was called "The Wax Museum," an eclectic collection of whatever music struck his fancy. When television emerged in the early 1950s, he created and hosted "Studs' Place," a legendary part of the "Chicago school" of television that later produced Dave Garroway and Kukla, Fran and Ollie.
But his TV career didn’t last, mostly due to the commercialization of television. McCarthyism also played a role, since Terkel was politically outspoken. For years he had a hard time finding work, surviving on speaking fees and book reviews. His wife, Ida, made enough to keep the family afloat. Eventually, he found a larger audience when he was hired at a new fine arts station, WFMT, where Terkel began his morning radio show in 1952. In the mid-1960s, when Terkel was in his mid-50s, he started a new career, author of books that chronicled the stories of real people. "I think of myself as an old-time craftsman," Terkel once said.
GRASS TAKES NINE OUT OF TEN. Marijuana reform measures passed in Michigan and Massachusetts on Tuesday. In fact, nine out of ten initiatives passed across the country. The only no vote came on a California referendum that would have reduced penalties for possession of a small amount was defeated. Other wins came in Berkeley, various Massachusetts communities, and even Fayetteville, Arkansas.
In Michigan, voters approved a medical marijuana initiative 63 to 37 percent. Seriously ill patients with a physician's recommendation will be allowed to possess up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis without arrest. Patients or their caregivers can grow up to 12 plants indoors. This is scheduled to go into effect in early December, making Michigan the 13th state to allow the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes. Nearly 25 percent of the US population now lives in a state with a medical marijuana law, according to the Marijuana Policy Project. Eight of these states passed laws by voter initiative, the remainder went through state legislatures.
Opponents warned that the proposal could result in an explosion of "pot shops," pointing to the proliferation of medical cannabis dispensaries in California before several communities, including San Francisco, took measures to bring them under control.
In Massachusetts, voters statewide overwhelmingly approved a decriminalization initiative that will substitute a civil violation and fine – similar to a traffic ticket – for criminal penalties for possession of 1 ounce or less of marijuana.
The only loss came in California, where voters soundly defeated Proposition 5, the Nonviolent Offender Rehabilitation Act, by a margin of 60 to 40 percent. In addition to changing sentencing guidelines for non-violent drug offenses and expanding treatment and rehabilitation programs, the measure would have reduced penalties for possession of less than 1 ounce of marijuana.