Recently my friend and colleague Bill Scher challenged progressive critics of President Obama's conciliatory approach toward corporations with a New York Times op-ed entitled "How Liberals Win." Far from being "business as usual," Bill writes, "the Supreme Court's upholding of Mr. Obama's health-care law reminds us that the president's approach has achieved significant results."
Bill argues that, critics notwithstanding, ours is not "a system paralyzed by corporations." He adds: "The most liberal reforms in more than 40 years have been brought about because Mr. Obama views corporate power as a force to bargain with, not an enemy to vanquish."
Sorry, Bill. I'm with those who have concluded that the Obama White House has failed, both pragmatically and politically, on a number of key progressive issues. In my view, believing otherwise requires an almost a historical view of liberalism. We can't pre-emptively limit the definition of "liberal victory" to whatever corporate interests will allow.
Wherever the truth lies, the road ahead is clear: We can't allow the radical right to take power this year. But we need to fight for results, not politicians, by building a mobilized and truly independent citizens' movement.
Young and Estranged
This is an important discussion, especially in an election year in which liberals should be terrified. A Romney Presidency and increased Republican control on the Hill would endanger much they hold dear, including representative democracy, our social safety net, and workplace rights. And yet the outcome of this election may depend on the ability to mobilize precisely those voters who believe, not unreasonably, that the Obama Presidency represents "business as usual."
That may not be easy. Youth voters helped propel Obama into office and handed Democrats the House of Representatives. But youth turnout was lower in 2010 than in the previous off-year Congressional election of 2006, meaning they'd been more turned off in the preceding two years than they had been turned on by Obama.
To be sure, they still favor Obama over "generic" Republicans by a wide margin. But a poll which otherwise bodes well for Obama shows that young voters' enthusiasm has diminished considerably since 2008.
Why? Here are some clues: Another poll shows that three out of four young voters consider unemployment a "critical" issue. Obama's jobs messaging was ambiguous for years; at best, promoting jobs-destroying deficit panic as he "bargained" with corporations and their political representatives.
Three out of four young people also believe our economic system unfairly favors the wealthy, while a plurality of them feels their generation will never achieve the American Dream reached by those who came before. The President's rhetoric has improved on these issues in recent months -- but that's precisely because independent progressives and the Occupy movement refused to believe that dealmaking with corporations was a "win."
It's a similar story with middle-class voters who struggle with unemployment, stagnating wages and growing wealth inequity, retirement insecurity, lost home value, and tax laws which help the wealthy avoid paying their fair share. Who's speaking for liberals on the economy?
And let's be clear: By "liberals," what we really mean is "most Americans." Take Social Security and Medicare: Poll after poll has shown that most Americans oppose using their benefits to balance the budget. And yet, through his Simpson/Bowles Deficit Commission and on numerous occasions afterward, the President has opened the door to doing precisely that.
Most Americans want more government action on jobs, yet the President has offered only weak job proposals -- and tempered even those with tax cuts that muddy his own message and lave the public confused.
As our own analysis showed, more than 20 million voters live in underwater homes. There, too, the President's corporate-friendly agenda has limited his ability to connect with disaffected voters. These homeowners have been tormented and exploited by the Administration's own HAMP program, which is now better known by the name "extend and pretend."