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Left-center unity and the 2008 elections

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A slew of articles in recent days have announced, commented on, or criticized Barack Obama's "shift to the center." Look at a recent op-ed from The Nation, for example. We are regaled with the signs and wonders that indicate a centrist candidate, and implicit in it is the call to help move Barack Obama to the left.

While these articles may be helpful journalism, one could ask, Is this the role of left and progressive organizations, voters, and publications? Is it our role to be left shifters?

Perhaps, but only if we were of a mistaken opinion that Obama, apart from his campaign's genuineness, uniqueness, and its people-oriented character, is an independent, left-wing candidate who in a very short period of time has lost his way. Perhaps, if we have forgotten that the Democratic Party is a contradiction of capital and labor, party insiders and independents (like the labor movement), with inside and outside tactics.

In my opinion, it makes little sense to talk about Obama shifting this way or that. Campaign tactics are campaign tactics. Obama's special ability to invoke, speak to, mobilize, and unite a left-center cause, though being of the center himself, is a special characteristic of this moment. With his eloquence and message, Obama has brought millions of new voters and activists into the process in ways that third party candidates have so far only fantasized about. He has promoted a broad unity in ways that third party candidates have failed even to imagine.

At a speech in Illinois as his claim to securing the nomination neared, Obama spoke of bringing together people from "all parties" to win the White House, turn the tide against the ultra right, and take back our country. Accomplishing that is on his agenda. Is it on our ours? Do we have to agree with him on all things to get behind a movement of tens of millions of people for real change and progress? Does sniping at Obama (or the center as a whole) from the sidelines endear the professional left to the rest of the working class or the people for whom we claim to speak?

So what is left-center unity? Does it mean advancing all progressive issues and denying the reality that millions of voters who have the strongest influence on Obama are not self-identified progressives or leftists? Heck, winning on November 4th means Obama needs bitter gun-toters, radical leftists, evangelicals, tree-huggers, factory workers, IT specialists, janitors, professors, seniors, students, civil libertarians, law and order types, hermits, urbanites, farmers, cops, soldiers, peaceniks, war supporters, and even some Wall Street speculators and Republicans to vote for him and fund his campaign. Does he accomplish it by adopting The Nation's political agenda?

On the other hand, does left-center unity mean sidelining any progressive cause for the sake of pushing the center ahead to electoral victory and to set the political agenda? Does it mean perpetually contrasting left positions with the center's positions? Is that unifying?

People of the left of various parties, movements, and publications often confuse cynicism and skepticism with analysis and correctness. Who wants to be duped?

Fortunately, none of that is necessary at the moment. Let's ask and answer some of these questions instead: What are the key demands of the labor movement, women's equality movements, racial justice and equality movements, and the special struggles of young people that must be accomplished if a left-center agenda is to win both at election time and to succeed in passing in Congress in a potential Obama admin.?

Along with ending the war in Iraq, aren't these the demands that we should fight for and strive to win the unity of the center and left forces around in our struggle to defeat John McCain and the Republicans and bring Obama and the Democrats into power in a landslide?

Is it possible to view left-center unity in terms of compromise: yes, a lot of crap will get through, but do we win on a few issues that will strengthen the core forces of the working class and democratic movements so that we emerge stronger in a qualitative way for a future struggle? Does standing on principle against crap block our chances of strengthening our own hand?

What do you think?

--Joel Wendland is managing editor of Political Affairs ( Reach him at
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--Joel Wendland is editor of Political Affairs.
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