Among workers and the Democrats' liberal base, outrage at Obama and party leaders has reached new heights. The president who many hoped would revive the New Deal appears determined to bury it instead. Obama’s approval ratings by mid-August dipped below 40% for the first time in his presidency.
Channeling the growing mood of indignation, liberal star Keith Olbermann, host of Current TV’s Countdown, came out swinging after the deal was announced:
"There is a tide pushing back the rights of each of us, and it has been artificially induced by union-bashing and the sowing of hatreds and fears. ... It will continue and it will crush us, because those who created it are organized, unified, and hell-bent, and the only response is to be organized, unified, and hell-bent in return. We must ... protest this deal, and all the goddamned deals to come, in the streets. We must rise - non-violently, but insistently. General strikes, boycotts, protests, sit-ins, non-cooperation, takeovers."Divisions within the Democratic Party machine are deepening. Twelve AFL-CIO unions declared they would boycott the 2012 Democratic National Convention, which they traditionally pour millions into. Veteran liberal Rep. John Conyers blasted Obama, saying:
"The Republicans - Speaker Boehner or Majority Leader Cantor - did not call for Social Security cuts in the budget deal. The President of the United States called for that… My response to him is to mass thousands of people in front of the White House to protest this.” (Salon.com, 8/1/11; video here)Unfortunately, true to form, Conyers is more bark than bite and no protests were organized. Nonetheless, such statements reveal the deep anger among working people Democrats rely on for votes. And while some union leaders will organize symbolic protests, none are talking about a real break with the Democrats.
Divisions Deepen in the Democratic Party
Last winter, after Obama agreed to extend Bush's tax cuts for the rich, calls for organizing a primary challenge in 2012 gained attention. Now there is a growing chorus for this among liberal commentators and within the Democratic Party. The Progressive Caucus of the California Democratic Party – the biggest party caucus both nationally and in California – passed a resolution endorsing a primary challenge to Obama.
While any open challenge to the corporate leadership of the Democratic Party would be a welcome breath of fresh air, the strategy of organizing a primary challenge is a dead end. As Dennis Kucinich and numerous others have already proven, there is no genuine democracy inside the Democratic Party. With corporate media and Wall Street funding backing them up, the party leadership would snuff out any left primary challenge, and the question would be posed: Who do we vote for in the general election?
If the only choice open to voters is a Republican candidate churning out Tea Party rhetoric and a Democratic party candidate making false promises to represent working people with some kind of progressive agenda, then the seething anger that exists at this bipartisan corporate agenda will have nowhere to be expressed. That is why it is so important that an anti-corporate pro-worker candidate, independent from the corporate parties, runs who can affirm the anger and direct it at the banks and big business.
Obviously, any left independent candidate will be frozen out of the corporate media, and will face a vicious campaign of “lesser evilism” from liberal Democrats. But this is not an argument not to run. Instead, it should be a call for all progressives to move quickly now to build the most powerful possible base for that independent to run on. Unless a left independent candidate can successfully direct the anger at big business and Wall Street, then the abandonment of New Deal policies by the Democrats, and their failure to provide jobs, will be responsible for allowing the right wing to tap into the growing anger at the deepening social and economic crisis.
The Democratic Party has nothing left to stand on. Its leaders have shown that they are prepared to shred the social safety net, content that they can use the extreme right wing of the Republican Party as political cover. Prominent Salon.com blogger Glenn Greenwald lays out the calculations of the Democrats in this way:
Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster, said polling data showed that at this point in his term, Mr. Obama, compared with past Democratic presidents, was doing as well or better with Democratic voters. “Whatever qualms or questions they may have about this policy or that policy, at the end of the day the one thing they're absolutely certain of - they're going to hate these Republican candidates,” Mr. Mellman said. "So I'm not honestly all that worried about a solid or enthusiastic base.” In other words: it makes no difference to us how much we stomp on liberals’ beliefs or how much they squawk, because we'll just wave around enough pictures of Michele Bachmann and scare them into unconditional submission (Salon.com, 7/31/11).Which Way Forward?
Democratic Party strategists will continue to embrace Wall Street’s agenda unless a powerful and politically independent mass movement is built to challenge corporate rule in the streets, workplaces, and the electoral arena.
We don’t need to help Wall Street elect either one of their two parties. We need to build a party of our own. And we should begin now, while this debt deal debacle remains fresh in the minds of millions. This means preparing to run independent, working-class candidates in the 2012 elections who will firmly stand against all cuts and concessions and for taxing the rich, fully funded jobs and services, ending the wars and slashing the Pentagon budget, single-payer health care, and other core working-class policies.
That means no support for the Democrats in the 2012 elections. No money, no door-knocking, no phone-banking. At minimum, the unions and all social movements should immediately cut off all funding for the Democrats.
The unions have the organizational apparatus to mobilize a massive national demonstration against the Super Committee’s plans, but so far they refuse to risk embarrassing the Democratic Party. They field tens of thousands of volunteers and spend hundreds of millions of dollars each election to support the Democrats, but this money could, instead, be put behind building a real working peoples' party, behind independent labor-left candidates who refuse corrupting donations from big business.
There is an important window of time between now and when the Super Committee's proposals are due in November to organize the broadest possible resistance against cuts to the New Deal programs and other attacks on working people. Mass protests and direct action - including coordinated public sector strike action - should be organized around the following demands:
Every union local, central labor council, and national union leadership body should take up resolutions calling for action supporting these demands. The unions should unite with the broadest layer of workers, poor, retirees, and young people in democratically run coalitions to organize the fight-back in every area. A monster demonstration on the White House and Congress in the fall could have a major effect if backed up by a series of escalated actions at a local level.
- Repeal all the cuts in the debt deal that fall on ordinary people. Hands off Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. No cuts at all on workers, retirees, the poor, and social services.
- End all the wars and slash military spending.
- Enact massive taxes on Wall Street, big business, and the very rich.
- Pass single-payer health care to save hundreds of billions of health care dollars now wasted on wild-eyed health industry profits and unaccountable private bureaucracies.
- End attacks on public sector workers’ pensions, health benefits, and collective bargaining rights.
- Unite public and private sector workers for a massive organizing drive focusing on low-paid workers to rebuild the labor movement.
- Create a massive jobs program of public works to solve the unemployment crisis. Rebuild the nation’s infrastructure, schools, and community health centers. Develop green energy and mass transit.
These protests and actions should prepare the ground to organize for independent anti-cuts, pro-labor candidates to compete with both parties in the 2012 elections and lay the groundwork for a decisive mass break from the Democrats. Unless working people get organized – both in the streets and in the electoral arena – the attacks are just going to keep coming. With anger at Obama, the Democrats, and the entire corporate political establishment at an all-time high, now is the time to act!