Dismal Democrats, Radical Republicans, and a People’s Politics That Might Matter: Four Heretical Thoughts and More in the Wake of the Obama Disaster
I do not gently contemplate the possibility of an evangelical proto-fascistic dolt like Texas Governor Rick Perry walking into the White House. That is not a pretty prospect for anyone with hopes for the future. Ditto for Michelle Bachman and others in the Republican presidential field. As the Princeton political scientist Sheldon Wolin noted three years ago, well before the rise of the much ballyhooed Tea Party phenomenon: “The character of the Republican Party reflects a profound change: radicalism has shifted its location and meaning. Formerly it was associated with the Left [but now it is] the property of those who, quaintly, call themselves ‘conservatives’ and are called such by media commentators….It is hard to imagine any power more radical in its determination to undo the social gains of the past century.” 1
1. Dismal Democrats Empower the Right
Still, as I look across the ever more right-tilting landscape of America’s one-and-a-half party system, I can’t escape four basic thoughts that are certain to strike many “liberal” Democrats as unforgivable heresy. My first thought, hardly original, is that the Democrats have opened the door to the ever more right wing Republicans with their own excessive tepid corporatism and related class elitism. Given the closeness of the 2004 race and the unpopularity of the heavily plutocratic George W. Bush administration by the summer of 2004, the spectacularly wealthy Democratic presidential candidate John Forbes “I am Not a Redistribution Democrat” Kerry (the quote comes from a comment he made at a posh Manhattan fundraiser during the 2004 campaign) would likely have won the election if he’d run further to the populist left after achieving the Democratic nomination. (With all due respect for the roles played by Republican shenanigans in Florida and a preposterous and partisan vote in the U.S. Supreme Court in the installation of George W. Bush, the same is probably true of Al Gore’s centrist campaign in 2000).
His failure to do so followed in accord with Thomas Frank’s reflections on why many working class Americans vote Republican in Frank’s widely read book What’s the Matter With Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America. Released just before Bush defeated Kerry with no small help from working class whites, Frank’s book has generally been taken to have argued that plutocratic Republicans have cleverly conjured working class whites away from their own supposed “pocketbook interests” in the Democratic Party with “cultural wedge issues” like abortion, gun rights, religion, and gay marriage. At the end of his book, however, Frank blamed the shift of the post-New Deal Democratic Party to the corporate right and away from honest discussion of – and opposition to – economic and class inequality for much of whatever success the GOP achieved in winning white working class voters.
“‘New Democrats’…rule out what they deride as ‘class warfare’ and take great pains to emphasize their friendliness with business. Like the conservatives, they take economic issues off the table. As for working-class voters who were until recently the party’s very backbone, the DLC figures they will have nowhere else to go; Democrats will always be marginally better on economic issues than Republicans….The problem is not that Democrats are monolithically pro-choice or anti-school prayer; it’s that by dropping the class language that once distinguished them sharply from Republicans they have left themselves vulnerable to cultural wedge issues like guns and abortion and the rest whose hallucinatory appeal would ordinarily be overshadowed by material concerns.”3
Contrary to Frank, the Democrats’ difficulty is not so much the loss of working class votes to the racist, homophobic, and sexist “rancid populism” (William Greider’s excellent phrase) of the right as it is about shutting down and depressing a critical mass of the Democrats’ support base. The problem continues even when the Republicans screw up badly enough to lose control of both the White House and (briefly) Congress. As predicted in my 2008 book Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics (http://www.paradigmpublishers.com/books/BookDetail.aspx?productID=186987), the dismal dollar Democrats’ demobilization of the working class, minority, and progressive forces (such as they are) deepened a dangerous anger and activism vacuum on the left and has played itself out with standard rightward consequences that are all too chillingly reminiscent of pre-Nazi Germany. As I documented in my 2010 book The Empire’s New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power(www.paradigmpublishers.com/books/BookDetail.aspx?productID=243410) and in my 2011 book (co-authored with Anthony DiMaggio) Crashing the Tea Party: Mass Media and the Campaign to Remake American Politics http://www.paradigmpublishers.com/Books/BookDetail.aspx?productID=280225), the in-power Obama-Pelosi-Reid Democrats steered to the business-friendly center-right, savagely betraying their “progressive base” on numerous issues of economic and social justice and war (not to mention civil liberties and ecology), thereby opening the door for an epic “conservative” victory in the 2010 mid-term elections. The Democrats suffered from significant declines in voter participation on the part of segments of the electorate that played key roles in their triumphs in the 2006 (Congressional) and 2008 (Congressional and presidential) elections – union households; young voters, black voters. By contrast, voters who identified themselves as “conservative” increased their share of the active electorate significantly from 2006 and 2010. This was all it took for the right to clean up in a mid-term, when turnout is considerably smaller than during a race that includes a presidential contest.
Wolin easily foretold this Democratic performance in his chilling 2008 book Democracy Incorporated:
“The timidity of a Democratic Party mesmerized by centrist precepts points to the crucial fact that, for the poor, minorities, the working-class, anti-corporatists, pro-environmentalists, and anti-imperialists, there is no opposition party working actively on their behalf. And this despite the fact that these elements are recognized as the loyal base of the party. By ignoring dissent and assuming the dissenters have no alternative, the party serves an important, if ironical, stabilizing function and in effect marginalizes any possible threat to the corporate allies of the Republicans. Unlike the Democrats, however, the Republicans, with their combination of reactionary and innovative elements, are a cohesive, if not a coherent, opposition force.”
Obama’s liberal apologists complain about how their supposedly progressive President is now checked at every turn by terrible Republicans. As the Associated Press reported two weeks ago, “liberal angst has surfaced repeatedly over the past year as Obama has faced the reality of divided government in the aftermath of the 2010 congressional elections, in which Republicans won the House.” But it is questionable how blocked Obama feels, since he appears to be something of a Republican in his own right. And Obama and other top Democrats bear no small burden of responsibility for the exaggerated power of the right in the U.S. What did they deliver to their purported popular constituency in 2009 and 2010, prior to the onset of “divided government,” when they held not just the White House but also a significant, filibuster-proof majority in the Congress? With its monumental bailout of hyper-opulent financial overlords, its refusal to nationalize and cut down the parasitic too-big (too powerful)-to-fail financial institutions that have paralyzed the economy, its passage of a health reform bill that only the big insurance and drug companies could love (consistent with Rahm Emmanuel’s advice to the president: “ignore the progressives”), its cutting of an auto bailout deal that rewards capital flight, its undermining of serious global carbon emission reduction at Copenhagen, its refusal to advance serious public works programs (green or otherwise), its disregarding of promises to labor and other popular constituencies, and other betrayals of its “progressive base” (the other side of the coin of less advertised promises kept to its corporate sponsors), the “change” and “hope” the 2009-10 Obama presidency and Democratic Congress starkly demonstrated the power of what Edward S. Herman and David Peterson call “the unelected dictatorship of money.” As the left liberal author Bill Greider noted in a Washington Post column titled “Obama told Us to Speak but Is He Listening?” in early 2009: “People everywhere [have] learned a blunt lesson about power, who has it and who doesn’t. They [have] watched Washington run to rescue the very financial interests that caused the catastrophe. They [have] learned that government has plenty of money to spend when the right people want it.” The “right people” include the top military contractors and the Pentagon, as the “new” White House has escalated Superpower violence in South Asia, passed record-setting “defense” (Empire) budgets, rolled over George W. Bush’s not-so counter-terrorist assault on human rights (in the name of “freedom”), extended the imperial terror war to Yemen and Somalia, disguised escalated U.S. occupation of Haiti as humanitarian relief, and aided and abetted a thuggish right wing coup in Honduras. “Liberal angst” is coming rather late in the game if it surfacing just this year.
Though the Republican Party remains highly unpopular and is having difficulty finding a serious presidential candidate, it is hardly guaranteed that cringing corporate centrism will not cost the Democrats the “big prize” – the White House – in 2012. Most of the “progressives” and liberal activists who express “disappointment” and “surprise” at “our black president’s” predictable (and predicted) center-right policy record can be counted on to vote for him again out of fear and hatred of the terrible Tea.O.P. But some, perhaps many, angry and disenchanted liberals will refuse to volunteer to make phone calls or knock on doors and to make modest campaign contributions (I have spoken with a number of such liberals in recent weeks). Working class, minority, and youth turnout for Obama and the Democrats will be considerably lower and “grassroots” get-out-the-vote energies will be slighter, thanks to Obama’s “New Democrat” approach. The New York Times’ political reporter Jackie Calmes asked the leading liberal activist Robert Borosage (co-director of Campaign for America’s Future) what price the Democrats might pay in the next election for the fact that the president “has adopted the Republicans’ language and in some cases their policies.” Borasage noted that “the activist liberal base will support Obama because they’re terrified of the right wing” but added that “the voting base of the Democratic Party — young people, single women, African-Americans, Latinos — are going to be so discouraged by this economy and so dismayed unless the president starts to champion a jobs program and take on the Republican Congress that the ability of labor to turn out its vote, the ability of activists to mobilize that vote, is going to be dramatically reduced.” That’s a big “unless” – one that Obama is unlikely to overcome in his forthcoming Labor Day jobs speech.
2. The Moral and Practical Price of Lesser Evil-ism
My second heretical thought is that liberals and leftists only encourage this kind of deadly nonsense by announcing in advance they will vote for Democrats to block Republicans. The great left intellectual Noam Chomsky has long advised (with no particular strong emphasis or enthusiasm, it should be noted) leftists to vote tactically for Democrats in contested American elections since the winner-take-all and narrow “two party” nature of U.S. elections means that a third party vote can swing a contested race to the right and because even small differences between the two reigning business parties can carry big consequences for millions of disadvantaged people in a system of vastly concentrated power and wealth like that one the prevails in the U.S. It’s an important moral point to keep in mind if and as one enters that venerable “coffin of class consciousness” (to quote the late radical historian Alan Dawley) known as the American ballot box in an election where the two viable candidates are in a closely matched battle. But we must also weigh the moral and practical price of telling the Democrats in advance that they – and not the only other party that can actually defeat them under the rules of the U.S. elections system – can count on our votes no matter how far right they drift, Listen to the following remark from Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster, who spoke to the New York Times four weeks ago about Democratic voters will line up with Obama no matter how far right he drifts because of how bad the G.O.P is: “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. So I’m not honestly all that worried about a solid or enthusiastic base.” Progressives’ less-evil-ism is at least partly to blame for Mellman’s smugness, which nicely captures elite Democrats’ basic attitude towards those beneath and to the left of their party’s capitalist and imperial behavior: “screw ‘em, they’ve got nowhere else to go.”
We might, moreover, examine the moral price of helping put into power the business party that is better at cloaking neoliberal policy and imperialism in fake-progressive clothing – at putting a supposedly human and popular face on corporatism and militarism. The Republicans are at least more transparent and explicit in announcing their plutocracy, nationalism, militarism, sexism, nativism, and racism.
3. Outrages That Are Wrong Under Republicans Become Acceptable Under Democrats
My third heretical thought, intimately related to the last reflection, is that we almost seem to need to have Republicans in power for much of the nation’s progressive and liberal community to engage in meaningful social protest and movement-building. Last summer when then White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs called for “drug testing” for the “professional left,” I proposed an “ObamaLaid test.” My examination would have been applied all those supposedly left and liberal Americans who opposed criminal wiretappings, immoral and illegal wars, plutocratic bankers’ bailouts, corporate environmental outrages, and other vile policies when they were implemented in the name of a white Republican moron from West Texas but who became all too strangely silent when those same policies were enacted under the portrait of a supposedly eloquent black Democrat from Chicago. As Cindy Sheehan noted in 2009, thinking of all the liberals she could no longer interest in opposing Washington’s imperial policies, “Wars that were wrong under Bush become acceptable under Obama.” She could have made much the same point in relation to numerous Orwellian police state policies, to bankers’ bailouts, to U.S. enablement of criminal right wing coups in Latin America, and to much more.
Consistent with Sheehan’s complaint, a major study published by University of Michigan political scientist Michael Heany and his colleague Fabio Rojas of Indiana University last spring found that the U.S. antiwar movement demobilized as Democrats withdrew from antiwar protests when the Democratic Party achieved electoral success, first with Congress in 2006 and then with the presidency in 2008. Democrats had been sparked to participate in antiwar activities when the war (the invasion and occupation of Iraq) they purported to oppose was being conducted by a Republican president. “As president,” Heany notes, “Obama has maintained the occupation of Iraq and escalated the war inAfghanistan…The antiwar movement should have been furious at Obama’s ‘betrayal’ and reinvigorated its protest activity. Instead, attendance at antiwar rallies declined precipitously and financial resources available to the movement have dissipated. The election of Obama appeared to be a demobilizing force on the antiwar movement, even in the face of his pro-war decisions.” 
Looking at Heany and Rojas’ study the other day, I was reminded of my futile counsel to the local campus antiwar group in Iowa City (the now defunct “University of Iowa Antiwar Committee”) in the summer of 2008: “protest at the [Obama-nominating] Democratic national convention in Denver, Colorado, not the [McCain-nominating] Republican national convention in St. Paul, Minnesota. Obama,” I told disbelieving “activists,” is “the next president, the empire’s next and new clothes. He will continue the war on Iraq and expand the one in Afghanistan.” There is no longer an antiwar movement in Iowa City, thanks to the departure of the best activists, the nefarious activities of an FBI informant, internal squabbles over personalities and Israel, and – last but not least – the significant demobilizing impact of an imperial Democratic president who deceptively ran as an antiwar candidate.
Look at the remarkable mass protests that broke out in Madison against Wisconsin governor Scott Walker’s brash public sector union-busting offensive last February and March. They seemed like an inspiring monument to Howard Zinn’s call for citizens and activists to remember that how the really important question isn’t “who is sitting in the White House, but who is sitting in—in the streets, in the cafeterias, in the halls of government, in the factories.” Still, the ease with which the giant marches and protests were shut down and rank and file energies directed into Democratic Party campaigns to recall Republican state legislators and Walker after mid-March makes it hard not to suspect that the protests had quite a bit to do with the party identity of who was sitting in the governor’s mansion and state senate. The state-level labor rebellion that emerged in response to right wing provocations in Wisconsin (and also in Ohio and Indiana) is a most welcome development – no small step in the direction the nation’s all-too hidden, under-reported and under-mobilized progressive majority needs to take if political and social democracy and sane, balanced, and egalitarian policy are going to survive and advance in 21st century America. Still, it is one thing for existing labor institutions and leaders (themselves heavily integrated into the nation’s reigning state-capitalist order) to rally popular masses in defensive response to the worst policy outrages of the most reactionary politicians in the rightmost wing of America’s corporate-ruled “one-and-a-half party system.” It is another thing to wield and expand popular pro-actively and against the richly bipartisan neoliberal business agenda and to capture and act meaningfully on the legitimate popular anger that “the Tea Party” and the broader right has at times been able to exploit and misdirect. The political observer Chris Green raised a good question in a private communication with me (via the mostly disastrous medium called Facebook) on February 22, 2011. “Is this progressive movement going to operate,” Green asked, “within traditional limitations, especially those imposed by the union leadership? That is, are they only going to protest Republican governors and not pro-cut Democrat governors in places like New York, California and Illinois? This will be the challenge, not to get co-opted by the Democrats.” Indeed, the Austerity Party is not limited to the Republicans. The left commentator Doug Henwood offered some sage and sobering advice at the end of a generally quite favorable and optimistic take on the eruption of labor protest in Wisconsin:
“It may be that had Walker not gone for such a maximalist agenda, this sort of protest might not have happened. Other governors may take note and opt instead for the death by a thousand cuts instead of one giant machete chop. But of course, it’s not just Republicans. Democratic governors like Jerry Brown and Andrew Cuomo also have it out for public sector workers, since, as everyone knows, you just can’t tax the fat-cats these days. And you do have to wonder how aggressive unions in California and New York will be in protesting Democratic governors.”12
A correspondent from California recently wrote me with a poignant reflection on what passes for a left in his state. Many liberal and progressives he knows are sitting on their hands in response to anti-labor and other regressive provocations from the California governors’ office because that office’s current occupant is a Democrat named Jerry Brown. “It is amazing and dumbfounding,” my correspondent writes, “to watch this every-4-year cycle of hopes hyped then predictably smashed. We live in California and Jerry Brown is getting a pass, from the same folks that if [the Republicans’ 2010 gubernatorial candidate] Meg Whitman had won and was doing exactly what Brown is doing, would be having a cow.” With Whitman running Sacramento, “left” activists would be in the streets, protesting policies they seem unable to openly oppose with Brown in nominal power atop corporate California.
4. John McCain for President?
My fourth heretical thought is that insofar as anything remotely progressive can actually take place within the American one-and-half party political system (I’m not sure it can, in all honesty), we’d be better off in the medium term if John McCain had won in 2008. Think about the counter-factual scenario from the perspective of a Democratic Party “progressive.” The corporate crack white- nationalist neoconservative Republican Party rather than the corporate Coke neoliberal Democrats would wear the Herbert Hoover yoke of the greatest capitalist slump since the 1930s – a slump that McCain would have done little or nothing to alleviate. Democrats rather than Republicans would have gained in the mid-term elections. Liberal and left progressives would be in the streets and building movements and sparking actions without the paralyzing Kool Aid of a Democrat (what’s more a Democrat with a non-traditional ethno-cultural identity) in the White House. It is doubtful that the Scott Walker and David and Charles Koch “Tea Party” would have arisen as a vehicle for the most crazed wings of concentrated wealth to push U.S. politics yet more rightward had a Republican (even a McCain) sat in the White House during the last two and half years. Had McCain won, a Democrat would be poised to roll into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with a long-building mandate for progressive change from a furious working and lower class majority, its anger stoked by the continuation of a Great Recession that would be clearly owned by the party of Hoover, Bush, and McCain. Instead, of course, we got a premature, pre-emptive, and popular expectation-managing brand shift toward the Democrats just as the financial crisis kicked in, followed by a neoliberal Barack O’Hoover administration (definitely NOT the “Franklin Delano Obama” White House that leading national liberal Paul Krugman dreamed about) that may or may not hang on to prevent the emergence of a new Christian Fundamentalist presidency with potentially lethal consequences at home and abroad.
Beyond the Electoral Delusion
Ah, but what am I thinking? The ruling class always has the option of pulling the other major party brand out from the back of the shelf when the one in power (out front) runs into trouble and the populace-pacifying Democrats are always waiting in the wings to calm and co-opt the angry masses and their “populist rage” (the dominant corporate media’s condescending term) if things get too hot and alienated under the more explicitly authoritarian rule of the Republicans. A McCain administration would have helped Democrats continue to avoid any blame for wars and other corporate and imperial outrages they support – to blame everything on the Republicans and to pose as a meaningful popular opposition party. What really matters is that citizens and activists develop the capacity to build energetic rank and file social and political movements whichever party beneath and beyond the “two party system” and the narrow spectrum big money big media candidate-centered “electoral extravaganzas” (Noam Chomsky’s term ) the masters stage for us every two and four years, telling us “that’s politics” – the only politics that matter. We must develop the capacity for such activism with Democrats as well as Republicans in the Washington saddle. Such activism is currently on display with the significant action being undertaken by Bill McKibben and thousands of other courageous ecological activists in opposition to the Obama administration’s revolting alliance with Big Oil’s Keystone Pipeline Project – an environmentally disastrous assault on Canadian ecology, global climate, and U.S. American water safety. 16
Though I protest-voted (in a “safe,” that is, un-contested state) for Nader in 2008, I wanted Obama to win the election for what might seem like on odd reason. I thought there was radical potential in U.S. voters and citizens, especially younger ones (for whom war, empire, and plutocracy seemed to be all about George W. Bush and Republicans), experiencing corporate and imperial rule under a Democratic administration. I wanted Americans to come into more direct and visible contact with the bipartisan nature of the American imperial and business system and to confront the gap between their rising and ridden expectations and the harsh reality of persistent top-down corporate, financial and military rules with Democrats at the nominal helm of the ship of state. I wanted them to be subjected to the reality that (in Marxist writer Doug Henwood’s words) “everything still pretty much sucks” when Democrats hold the top political offices – that the basic institutional reality stays the same with the other business party in official charge. As the antiwar activist, author, and essayist Stan Goff put it last year, “I’m glad Obama was elected. Otherwise, people would blame the war on McCain and the Republicans and continue with the delusion that elections can be our salvation. The modern nation-state was created by war, of war, and for war. That is its only real purpose, and all others are subordinate to it. You can change the executive director but he/she is still the commander in chief. That’s the job description.” The Age of Obamanistic betrayal would, I hoped, be a very teachable, left-moving moment for serious American progressives. Thinking of many reported and under-reported examples of popular resistance that have occurred this year – U.S. Uncut’s actions against corporate tax breaks and loopholes enjoyed by Bank of America and other big government bailout recipients, the Midwestern public worker rebellion sparked in Madison earlier this year, the recent Verizon strike, recent mass Latino protests against the Obama administration’s, mass-deportation-ist “Secure Communities” program, the current protest of the Keystone project, and (looking ahead) a forthcoming October convergence against war and corporate greed in Washington– I have yet to give up on that possibility and the notion that a critical mass of Americans can undertake significant action against concentrated wealth and power with dismal fake-progressive Democrats as well as radical messianic Republicans holding down the White House.
Paul Street (firstname.lastname@example.org and www.paulstreet.org) is the author of Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2008, described by John Pilger in 2009 as “perhaps the only book that tells the truth about the 44th president of the United States”) and The Empire’s New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2010). Street’s sixth book, co-authored with Anthony DiMaggio, is Crashing the Tea Party Mass Media and the Campaign to Remake American Politics (Boulder, CO Paradigm. 2011).
1 Sheldon Wolin, Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008), 206.
2 Paul Street, “Kerry’s Predictable Refusal to Make Bush Pay for Rising US Poverty,” Dissident Voice (September 8, 2004) at http://dissidentvoice.org/Sept04/Street0908.htm
3 Thomas Frank, What’s the Matter With Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America (New York: Metropolitan, 2004), 242-43, 245.
4 For early reflections, see Paul Street, “Frank Discussion: Moral-Economic Abandonment, Race, Security, and Psychological Wages,” ZNet(November 6, 2004).
5 Karlyn Bowman, “What the Voters Actually Said on Election Day,” The American (November 16, 2010), citing CBS exit polls at http://www.american.com/archive/2010/november/what-the-voters-actually-said-on-election-day. For a detailed analysis of the November 2010 mid-term elections, see Paul Streetand DiMaggio, Crashing the Tea Party: Mass Media and the Campaign to Remake American Politics (Paradigm, 2011), Chapter 7: “Elections 2010: The Democrats’ Mid-term Disaster, the Tea Party, and the Challenge to Progressives.”
6 Associated Pres, “Liberal Democrats Complain About Obama: Will it Cost Votes?” The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, IA), August 20, 2011, 7A.
7 William Greider, “Obama Asked Us to Speak But is He Listening?” Washington Post, March 22, 2009.
8 Paul Street, “Whose Black President? Getting Things Done for the Rich and Powerful,” CounterPunch (July 30, 2011) at http://www.counterpunch.org/2011/07/30/whose-black-president/
9 Jackie Calmes, “Rightward Tilt Leaves Obama with Party Rift,” NYT, July 30, 2011, A1.
10 Calmes, “Rightward Tilt.”
11 Michael T. Heaney and Fabio Rojas, “The Partisan Dynamics of Contention: Demobilization of the Antiwar Movement in the United States, 2007-2009,” Mobilization: An International Journal, 2011, 16 (1): 45-64, read at http://www-personal.umich.edu/~mheaney/Partisan_Dynamics_of_Contention.pdf. As the University of Michigan press release explains: “Heaney and Rojas analyzed the demobilization of the antiwar movement by using surveys of 5,400 demonstrators at 27 protests mostly in Washington,D.C., New York, Chicago and San Francisco from January 2007 to December 2009. The surveys asked questions on basic demographics, partisan affiliations, organizational affiliations, reasons for attending the events, histories of political participation, and attitudes toward the movement, war and the political system…. In addition, the researchers observed smaller, more informal events at which antiwar activists gathered, including Capitol Hill lobby days, candlelight vigils, fundraisers, small protests, planning meetings, training sessions, parties, the National Assembly of United for Peace and Justice and the U.S. Social Forum. They also interviewed 40 antiwar leaders about their personal backgrounds, the inner workings of the antiwar movement, political leaders and the Democratic Party…Their study found that the withdrawal of Democratic activists changed the character of the antiwar movement by undermining broad coalitions in the movement and encouraging the formation of smaller, more radical coalitions….After Obama’s election as president, Democratic participation in antiwar activities plunged, falling from 37 percent in January 2009 to a low of 19 percent in November 2009, Heaney and Rojas say. In contrast, members of third parties became proportionately more prevalent in the movement, rising from 16 percent in January 2009 to a high of 34 percent in November 2009….’Since Democrats are more numerous in the population at large than are members of third parties, the withdrawal of Democrats from the movement in 2009 appears to be a significant explanation for the falling size of antiwar protests,’ Heaney said. ‘Thus, we have identified the kernel of the linkage between Democratic partisanship and the demobilization of the antiwar movement.’…Using statistical analysis, the researchers found that holding anti-Republican attitudes had a significant, positive effect on the likelihood that Democrats attended antiwar rallies. The results also show that Democrats increasingly abandoned the movement over time, perhaps to channel their activism into other causes such as health care reform or simply to decrease their overall level of political involvement. ‘Overall, our results convincingly demonstrate a strong relationship between partisanship and the dynamics of the antiwar movement. While Obama’s election was heralded as a victory for the antiwar movement, Obama’s election, in fact, thwarted the ability of the movement to achieve critical mass.’”
12 Doug Henwood, “Wisconsin Erupts,” Left Business Observer, February 16, 2011 at http://lbo-news.com/2011/02/16/wisconsin-erupts/
13 Paul Krugman, “Franklin Delano Obama,” New York Times, November 10, 2008. See Paul Street, “The Economics of Barack O’Hoover: Obama and the Business Culture,” CounterPunch (August 12,, 2011) athttp://www.counterpunch.org/2011/08/12/the-economics-of-barack-ohoover/
14 See Lance Selfa’s sophisticated Marxist presentation in his book The Democrats: A Critical History (Chicago: Haymarket, 2008). As Selfa notes, the two reigning U.S. business parties are not identical. To be sure, the differences that separate the Democrats from the Republicans are “minor,” “in comparison to the fundamental commitments that unite them” (p. 13). Still, Selfa reminds us, corporate America would have no reason to embrace a two-party system if there were no differences at all between the two competing “subdivisions” of what Ferdinand Lundberg once called “The Property Party.” The U.S. ruling class profits from a narrow-spectrum system wherein one business party is always waiting in the wings to capture and control popular anger and energy when the other business party falls out of favor. The parties are not simply interchangeable, however. It is the Democrats’ job to police and define the leftmost parameters of acceptable political debate. For the last century it has been the Democrats’ special assignment to play “the role of shock absorber, trying to head off and co-opt restive [and potentially Left, P.S.] segments of the electorate” by posing as “the party of the people.” The Democrats performed this critical system-preserving, change-maintaining function in relation to the agrarian populist insurgency of the 1890s, the working-class rebellion of the 1930s and 1940s, and the antiwar, civil rights, anti-poverty, ecology, and feminist movements during and since the 1960s and early 1970s (including the gay rights movement today). The “such absorber” role continues into the 21st century.
15 Noam Chomsky, Interventions (San Francisco: City Lights, 2007), pp. 97-100.
16 See Amy Goodman, “D.C. Protests that Make Big Oil Quake,” Truthdig, August 23, 2011, athttp://www.truthdig.com/report/item/dc_protests_that_make_big_oil_quake_20110823/
17 Lucia Graves, “Liberal Tea Party? U.S. Uncut Disrupts Service at Bank of America,” Huffington Post (February 28, 2011) at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/02/27/us-uncut-bank-of-america-liberal-tea-party_n_828782.html
18 “Latino Activists Take Aim at Obama Administration’s Secure Communities Program,” LatinoPoliticsBlog.com, August 17, 2011 athttp://latinopoliticsblog.com/2011/08/17/activists-take-aim-at-obama-administrations-secure-communities-program/;Latinos Across America Protest Obama’s Deportation Policies,”’ AlterNet, August 15, 2011 athttp://www.alternet.org/newsandviews/article/650572/latinos_across_america_protest_obama%27s_deportation_policies