The ongoing and deepening global economic crisis, to which Barack Obama owes his presidential election victory, is no small thing, to be sure. It also presents us on the left with a lot of openings to press for progressive change.
We saw how the Republican attempt to derail Obama by labeling him a “socialist” actually backfired—especially when people were reminded that a fundamental premise of socialism is “income redistribution,” in which some of the wealth of the rich is taken away through taxation, and transferred through federal programs to those who are less wealthy. Joe the Plumber was outraged, but when most Americans who were having trouble paying for gas or making their next mortgage payment, or who were worried that their jobs might be about to vanish, thought about that for longer than a sound-bite, it turns out that, not surprisingly, they decided socialism and redistribution didn’t sound like a bad or scary idea at all.
The same can be said of labor unions. In good times, many Americans have bought the argument that unions are just out to grab dues payments from their paychecks. But as job security vanishes and wages languish, people are waking up to the idea that they are simply expendable “inputs” to employers, and that a union can help them stand up to abusive, uncaring management. Republican propaganda about the sanctity of “secret ballot” union elections—ironic given the GOP’s simultaneous assault all over the country on the right to vote—fell on deaf ears.
Government itself, long a dirty word thanks to years of conservative propaganda, aped and spread through the corporate media, is coming back into favor, now that people see that they cannot count on either themselves or their employers to pull them through hard times. The idea that government can step in with things like extended unemployment insurance benefits, food stamps, and even renegotiated mortgages, makes people who once mocked “big government” view things a little differently.
But this unprecedented economic crisis also poses dangers.
Because we are so obsessed with the ongoing collapse of the economy and the gathering storm of debt, unemployment and loss of retirement savings that it entails, it’s easy for all of us to lose sight of other crises that demand our urgent attention and action.
Chief among these are the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the growing threat of climate change.
The wars are not going away on their own. The Iraq puppet government of Nouri al Maliki is close to approving a deadline for the removal of US troops from Iraq by the end of 2011. That is more than three years from now—nearly as long as the US was involved in World War II! It’s longer, even, than the absurd 16 months that Obama said it would take for him to end the US war and occupation of Iraq during his campaign, which was bad enough. (In the case of Afghanistan, it represents a decade of war—as long as the Vietnam War!) The danger is that Obama will allow that status of troops agreement with Iraq to become his timetable for withdrawal. We have to say “No!” The Iraq War must be ended immediately.
Afghanistan, meanwhile, is in a meltdown, and every day that US forces operate there, the opposition to US occupation grows, simply strengthening the Taliban. Similarly, the more the US tries to attack Taliban and Al Qaeda forces in neighboring Pakistan, the more opposition grows to the US in Pakistan. If we opponents of the war allow Obama to go ahead with his plans for a larger US military force in Afghanistan, we will end up with an even bigger and wider war in the Middle East and Asia, with more terrorist recruits, and with whatever remains of US funds for important domestic initiatives swallowed up by the Pentagon and the secret intelligence budget.
Let me put this simply: Nothing progressive that has been proposed by the Obama campaign can be achieved while the US is engaged in these two criminal wars. No health care reform, no increase in education loans, no early childhood education, no public works jobs programs, Nothing.
And then there is climate change. The Obama campaign promised to finally end eight years of a new Dark Ages, when government simply denied science or actively attacked science, and to start taking serious action to reduce America’s role in spewing out carbon into the atmosphere. But you don’t hear much about that anymore. That’s because reducing America’s carbon footprint costs serious money—money for research into non-carbon energy sources, money for a power transmission system to serve wind generation farms, money to develop a new generation of non-polluting vehicles and to rebuild light rail and inter-city rail systems. And once again, with the economy in a crisis, and with the two wars sucking up all available tax revenues that aren’t being given away to banks and Wall Street financial firms and insurance companies, none of that is going to happen either, unless we demand it.
Meanwhile, while the progressive folks who put their all into the Obama campaign are reveling in his and their Election Night success, and are now taking a breather, the forces of darkness that control the Democratic Party (think Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Chuck Schumer, Rahm Emanuel and the whole Democratic Leadership Council), are grabbing control of the new administration, filling the incoming Obama cabinet with carryover hacks from the Clinton administration, even including the Clintons themselves, and, in some cases, the outgoing Bush administration).
This is, in other words, no time to sit back and relax, reveling in the admittedly hard-to-believe prospect of an African-American moving into the White House. It is a time for action and then more action.
When Barack Obama makes that dramatic walk from his Inauguration Day speech at the Capitol building to the White House, the streets need to be lined with protestors holding up signs calling for an immediate end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
When the new Congress tries to vote for a $50 –billion or $150-billion bail-out of the US auto industry, we need to be packing the halls shouting it down. That money should be going only into development of zero-emission automobiles, and it should be in the form of voting-share equity in those companies.
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