Posted by rflacks on:
The Obama debate rages on of course but maybe it can take a constructive turn. If the anger over the tax cut deal is to matter, the best chance is to seek a fight in the House-not with the expectation of stopping it all, but of changing it. One good possibility is to get the estate tax measure changed so that it at least restores current estate tax rates rather than reducing them. And maybe there are other ways to increase the value of the measure for job creation. Liberal economists, by and large, seem to think the deal will actually be a job stimulus beyond what had been expected. That weights heavily against all the handwringing about the cave in and the death of the progressive agenda, etc.
I do wish everyone would make an effort think through the strategic side of this. Obama, I believe, is trying to set up a battle for 2012 that will include the tax issue but go well beyond it. Of course he needs to energize his base, but he also has to reach the independent voters who deserted the
Democrats in 2010. But I think he has a plan:
The heart of the battle that he wants to wage is to fight for a large scale public investment program in infrastructure and green economy. I am certain that will be the key theme of his state of the union speech and the measures he will propose in the coming months.
It's a program that has a lot of its roots in the labor and environmental movements but, interestingly, can appeal to some business and conservative types as well. It will provide a basis for rallying grassroots and for local action-since every community and region needs that kind of investment in one or another form. The idea would be to create a public entity that can evaluate public project proposals on their merits and leverage public and private investment to advance these-in transportation, education, alternative energy, weatherization, etc etc. Obama spoke about this vision last week in a speech much less reported of course than the tax deal.
This is one large example of a number of initiatives that can be the basis for progressive activism, organizing and education. It's an idea with many perils and pitfalls but much social and political promise. And it's on this terrain that I think Obama wants to lead.
But while progressives should ally with the President on such initiatives, we really have to implement strategies that directly challenge corporate and financial domination. These have to include direct action that disrupts the institutional order. One essential theme: the costs and burdens of economic contraction and austerity must not be borne by the weakest and poorest. The disgusting cycle, perpetuated by the Obama tax deal, that gives virtually all economic gain to the very top of the income pyramid has to be disrupted. The wars, which drain hugely the public budget, have to be resisted. Demands that might actually help people materially and help the economy as well need to be voiced and acted on-a massive mortgage write-down being one evident example. Movement based organizing on these grounds need to find targets that can be seen and addressed. Make locally accessible banks and their executives responsible for the mortgage crisis for example.
A final thought for today: progressive organizations need to reinvest in college campus organizing. Instead of seeing students just as election time fodder, we need to consider that the campus is the primary space for generating deep, extensive discussion and debate about the social future. It's also the place where human energy for bold and creative action can be generated. Back in the early 60s, a few unions and older liberals more or less recognized their own political staleness, and put a little money and encouragement behind SNCC and SDS-even as these upstart groups made them nervous because they weren't ‘disciplined'. Once again, the progressive side needs activist energy that isn't controlled by big organizational practices and perspectives-energy and thinking that can break molds and invent new modes. But if we spend a lot of our own energy in anguish and attack on Obama, we may lose the chance to spark the new and even dampen new possibilities with our own cynicism