I didn’t post the Mystery Alexander Cockburn Quote yesterday just to point out that Cockburn is still doing his shtick of parroting right-wing talking points about leading Democrats and then turning around and asking progressives how they feel about being “on the same side as Alan Dershowitz, Colin Powell and Christopher Hitchens.” (Yes, that’s really how the column ends.) That’s bad enough as it is, and it suggests that Cockburn may be even more of a drag on The Nation’s circulation than Sarah Palin is on the GOP’s popularity among independents, but there are a few other things at stake here.
The first is that The Nation really would be a dreary place if all its writers lined up under the Obama flag. There’s no reason for such a contentious (famously contentious!) leftist journal to be so party-unified. Let many left-of-Obama positions flourish in The Nation . . . but let the advocates of those positions come up with arguments better than “Obama’s candidacy has always been about his blackness.” And let those positions flourish also in In These Times, The Progressive, Mother Jones, and, if you order now, many many more.
The second is a bit broader—a question not of the representation of left-of-Obamaness in left periodicals but of the representation of left-of-Obama positions in American political culture more generally. If this politically talented center-liberal Barack Obama fellow really does win the Presidency next week, and if he governs as the politically talented center-liberal kind of fellow I think he is rather than as the secret radical Muslim gay socialist of wingnuts’ fever dreams, I imagine that we (and by “we” I mean people to the left of Obama, to whatever degree we are to the left of him) will not want Obamacracy to become the leftward boundary of the thinkable.
When Clinton took office in 1993, many liberals and progressives thought they had found a home after more than a decade in the wilderness (even though Clinton was a DLC creature from start to finish); but one consequence of the flocking-to-Clinton phenomenon was that positions to Clinton’s left found themselves marginalized pretty quickly, and Clinton himself kept moving the leftward boundary of the thinkable rightward. By 1996 we were talking about “welfare” “reform” and the “defense” of “marriage” (thanks in part to polls conducted by Dick Morris and a campaign advised by this world-class consultant), and by 2000 this triangulating rightward creep produced a crisis that . . . well, you remember that crisis. Let’s not relive what happened when the Democrats drifted so far to the right that . . . no, let’s not. Let’s really not. This should be a happy time.
But perhaps the left blogosphere could be of some use in this regard, no? It needn’t be consolidated fully into Obama Enterprises Inc.; it could serve instead as a forum for writers dedicated to things like “hope” and “change” and “arguing that Obama was wrong to cave on FISA and better not do that kind of thing as President.” Of course, it could also serve as a forum for charting and mocking all manner of Ace-of-Confederate-Red-State-Yankeespade wingnuts as they venture into new realms of sheer barking lunacy that even the world’s sheerest barkingest lunatics have hitherto been unable to imagine. That might be fun. And it could do “shorters” and cat blogging and Theory Tuesdays and Friday Random Tens too. It’s a blogosphere. It’s a big place, with many many tubes.
The third has to do with why a left-of-Obama person might be left of Obama. If you’re left-of-Obama because you believe that the next U.S. President should close all U.S. military bases around the world, cut off all aid to Israel, and nationalize the means of production, you’re probably out of luck. (Aside: this is why it’s so important that people like Cockburn are passing over or minimizing Obama’s opposition to war in Iraq, and claiming instead that “Abroad, Obama stands for imperial renaissance.” [Yes, that’s a real quote.] Remember, back in 2004 people like Cockburn argued that (a) Iraq was the most important issue on the table, (b) Democrats had nominated someone who voted for the war, and therefore (c) Democrats offered no credible alternative to Republicans on the most important issue of the day. Now they argue that even Obama’s opposition to the Iraq war and commitment to a timetable for withdrawal is not enough to demonstrate that Democrats offer a credible alternative to Republicans. The point, of course, is that Democrats will never, ever nominate someone good enough for a certain kind of leftist, because a certain kind of leftist is dedicated above all to differentiating him (or her!)self from Democrats. Democrats who voted for the war, Democrats who voted against it—not a dime’s worth of difference between ‘em.) But if you’re left-of-Obama because you support universal health care and oppose warrantless wiretapping, you might just have some chance of persuading the democratic wing of the Democratic Party that you’re part of a sizeable constituency to which Democratic elected officials need to answer.
Is that too little to ask? Isn’t it more radical and revolutionary to say be reasonable, demand the impossible? Well, sure. But it all depends on whether you’re left of Obama because you want to see significant structural and political change in the Democratic Party, or whether you’re left of Obama because you want to see the Democratic Party crushed so that the People’s Anarcho-Syndicalist Non-Party can take its rightful place in American political life—a place it has been denied only because of the existence of those powerful corporate Democrats and their allies in the corporate media, who have prevented hundreds of millions of people from recognizing their true interests.
In the next installment: why I wound up supporting Obama, despite my various reservations. Teaser (because you never could have guessed): it has to do with wanting to see significant structural and political changes in the Democratic Party.
I’m a little ashamed to admit that I glance at Eschaton. But Atrios noted there just this morning that it’s a good thing Obama will be appearing on Rachel Maddow’s show, because she presumably will test him from a leftier kind of perspective. Perhaps Obama and his people think that having him pushed from the left—if not a Sister Souljah kind of thing—wouldn’t be too terrible at this electoral moment.
captcha “growing” as in, is that what the progressive movement is doing, or not?Posted by on 10/29 at 10:04 AM
I might revise this phrase: “...a certain kind of leftist is dedicated above all to differentiating him (or her!)self from Democrats” to read: “...a certain kind of leftist is dedicated above all to differentiating him (or her!)self from anyone within sniffing distance of the corrupting halls of power.”
captcha: “under,” as in, Michael, what’s the over/under on Obama’s electoral college vote tally, and are you taking the over or the under?Posted by on 10/29 at 10:27 AM
This is the perspective I have had of Obama - not a radical, but not wholly absorbed by the corporo-political complex, either. A candidate too far on either side doesn’t serve the interests of enough of his/her constituency, but there should be constant testing/pushing/pulling from both sides to hear where the best ideas (that can be reasonably implemented) of those constituents lies.
Funny Penn’s bio doesn’t reflect his involvement in Hillary’s recent wildly successful campaign.
“line”, as in being walked?Posted by on 10/29 at 10:28 AM
Whatever Obama’s positions and stated policies have been in the course of this campaign, what has impressed me more than anything else has been his evenhandedness and level-headedness throughout. In fact, that is why now I am extremely confident he will make an extraordinary president, far more so than I was way back when the circus began. Perhaps it’s the stark contrast with the (frighteningly) erratic and incoherent McCain campaign, but I see in Obama someone who listens (to both those to his left and right), who THINKS, and who never acts intemperately or rashly ... which, to my mind, is ultimately more reassuring than a list of policy points that intersect with my own ideological leanings.
Unfortunately, being Canadian, I cannot vote for Obama ... but will be having an election night party at which I and like-minded North-of-49ers will be cheering on the junior senator from Illinois. We’re watching you, Pennsylvania ...Posted by Chris in NF on 10/29 at 10:54 AM
[I]t’s also that the left-of-Obama position in The Nation is being occupied by a crank—a climate-change-denying crank, at that.
I was kinda looking forward to a tie-in, here…
^_^J.Posted by gyokusai on 10/29 at 11:11 AM
I imagine that we (and by “we” I mean people to the left of Obama, to whatever degree we are to the left of him) will not want Obamacracy to become the leftward boundary of the thinkable.
Yes. This is why (though I’ve already cast my mail ballot for Obama and fervently hope he wins) I’ve been quietly promoting the slogan “This time, skip the infatuation and go straight to the bitter disenchantment.” Unfortunately this has failed to catch on.Posted by on 10/29 at 11:29 AM
When I consider what Obama may try to accomplish and what he may be able to accomplish, I’m reminded of this sentence from Frederick Douglass’s Oration on the Memory of Abraham Lincoln:
“Viewed from the genuine abolition ground, Mr. Lincoln seemed tardy, cold, dull, and indifferent; but measuring him by the sentiment of his country, a sentiment he was bound as a statesman to consult, he was swift, zealous, radical, and determined.”Posted by on 10/29 at 11:53 AM
This was something Naomi Klein talked about at a speach of hers I attended recently. basically, she set out the all-too likely premises that Obama, like Clinton, will find the centrist religion before he takes office and that it’s up to us on the left to force him to govern liberally by making outrageous lefty demands like Universal health care and the like. We force him to move leftwards, knowing that it will only be incremental. This way, he gets to keep looking like a moderate compared to all us socialists, and we get decent progressive reforms.Posted by Keith on 10/29 at 12:19 PM
But it all depends on whether you’re left of Obama because you want to see significant structural and political change in the Democratic Party, or whether you’re left of Obama because you want to see the Democratic Party crushed so that the People’s Anarcho-Syndicalist Non-Party can take its rightful place in American political life—a place it has been denied only because of the existence of those powerful corporate Democrats and their allies in the corporate media
You could also be left of Obama because you want to create the space for political imagination that’s not bound to the fight between corporate and populist interests within the Democratic Party, which is going to continue for some time to come. The left boundary of expressible thought in America is still pretty comfortable with militarism and accommodating of questionably sustainable growth. The foul-up is in addressing this, in the near term, with electoral politics.
The global justice movement has made pretty stunning gains—dramatically slowing the enthusiasm worldwide for free trade agreements—and the Democratic Party has been playing a little bit of catch-up but hasn’t been too big a factor. Voting for Nader, far less. But there is a place for a leftism that’s outside the boundaries of what you can do in the Democratic Party that doesn’t get lost in third-party antics.Posted by on 10/29 at 12:33 PM
If you’re left-of-Obama because you believe that the next U.S. President should close all U.S. military bases around the world, cut off all aid to Israel, and nationalize the means of production, you’re probably out of luck.
Darn. Thanks for the buzzkill, Mike.
Let’s not relive what happened when the Democrats drifted so far to the right that . . .
Uh huh. It’s inconceivable that Obama will recapitulate Clinton. That’s why so many conservatives are endorsing him… oh, wait…Posted by The Barefoot Bum on 10/29 at 01:09 PM
I’m completely confused by what you’ve posted here. I had no idea who the mystery person was in the quote puzzle and so I cheated and did a google search. On finding the source I wasn’t that much clearer on who or what the story was. Yada yada, whatever. So here you’re trying to clarify and far be it for me to sum up a load of verbiage but it seems to boil down to “constructive criticism, not destructive.” Which seems pretty obvious since it’s a maxim for children and teens.
But there’s also the dump (never mind constructive criticism) on those who are to the left of Obama, which happens to include me and .. in my view .. Hillary Clinton and certainly John Edwards. Those are damn lefties, are they not? As for a key point of your comment, that Obama was against the Iraq war, I was never that moved by Obama’s posture. Very early in the primaries a video was circulating on the web of an interview with Obama as an Illinois rep. That video was supposed to indicate Obama’s opposition to the war at the time when it was still in the future and a topic for consideration, at least among “lefties.” Obama did a lot of hedging in the interview and though he expressed opposition to the war he eventually said that not being in congress he didn’t have the information that those in congress did. Then Obama said he wanted to hear what Colon (sic) Powell had to say on the subject. We all know how well that worked out for those on the right side of the Democrat spectrum. You know. To the right of lefty wackos like Dennis Kucinich, who I get the impression would be one of your unsavory left types.
My point is that Obama was posturing politically at that time and when, later, he was running for president and could use opposition to the war with little to no political cost - benefit in fact - he was firmly opposed. But that opposition didn’t have any strong leadership aspects. He wasn’t exactly screaming in the senate every day to end the war. That’s wacky lefty territory. Go along to get along and don’t concern yourself with all the dead people. That’s for radical lefties.
The vote on FISA somewhat confirms my attitude of political gamesmanship in that Obama went with something that was completely anti-constitutional, effectively pre-pardoning criminal activity, the extent of which was unknown and thanks to Obama’s efforts will likely never be known. From my view the guy that voted as Obama did on FISA would have voted for the authorization to use military force. It was a political move by a politician, not representative of broad based principals, only personal political motivations. But I’m getting carried away with details and moving off the topic of critiques of Obama - where, when, why and how.
The FISA move was a spit in the face to lefties - people so far left that they believe that the U.S. constitution should be the law of the land and criminals shouldn’t be pre-pardoned because they are big political funders. Silly me. One of those wacky lefties. Truth be known, I’m even a Canuck, half pea soup too. Vive Amérique libre! or whatever the correct French should be, my pea soup having lost its flavor.
I thought of a recent post by Howie Klein while reading your words.
I prefer his take over yours.
There’s a lot of web discussion on where the Republican party is going to go now. I think it’s obvious. There going to go and have gone into the Democrat party, which no longer has much resemblance to anything like the Democratic party of the ‘60s. I’ve noted with disgust some recent posts by Markos MZ including zingers at Bev Harris and Dennis Kucinich, as if they in any way related to the topic he was posting about. Kos of course ignores his own “Fightin’ Dems” campaign that gave the Democrat party many to the Bush dogs that effectively do what Republicans want.
So we’ve defeated (hopefully) the Republicans and now we have to defeat the Democrat party and maybe, eventually, we’ll have a Democratic Party, the likes of which Will Rogers would be proud to be ashamed of.
And you want us to make nice-nice.Posted by Amos Anan on 10/29 at 01:15 PM
Edward @ 1: yeah, I saw that too, and I agree with the great light-blue Satan.
shannon @ 2: hey, do you remember something on this blog about how it’s not over ‘til it’s over? Well, that’s what I have to say about the over/under, too. McCain/ Palin ain’t under ‘til they’re under.
Justicio @ 3: yeah, you’d think Penn would make more of his role in the primaries, wouldn’t you? I’ll contact his webmaster later today.
Chris @ 4: I’m with you in your first paragraph, and as for your second—I’ll see what I can do to swing PA your way.
Wrongshore @ 9: amen to that last paragraph, brother (or sister). There are all kinds of politics that aren’t electoral politics, and that in the long run are more effective than voting for Obama (or for Nader, or for Barr, etc.).
Amos @ 11: I’m completely confused by what you’ve posted here.
Apparently. I’m with you on FISA. And if Obama doesn’t close Gitmo as he’s promised, then I will go straight to the bitter disenchantment of which rootlesscosmo speaks @ 6. And yeah, I have my problems with Kucinich and his Marianne Williamson-inspired meditations on the spiritual forces in stardust, but his opposition to war in Iraq ain’t one of them.Posted by Michael on 10/29 at 01:36 PM
Bloix, that’s a marvelous and timely quotation. Thanks for posting it.Posted by Amanda French on 10/29 at 03:00 PM
Amos Anan @11:
There’s a lot of web discussion on where the Republican party is going to go now. I think it’s obvious. The[y’]re going to go and have gone into the Democrat party, which no longer has much resemblance to anything like the Democratic party of the ‘60s.
Thank goodness for that. I suggest you read Rick Perlstein’s terrific book “Nixonland”. While the main focus of the book is the rise and fall of Richard Nixon and how Nixon (with a lot of help from people like Ronald Reagan) perfected the politics of fear, hatred, and division that are now the hallmark of the Republican Party and conservatism--Perlstein pulls no punches detailing how hapless and incompetent the Democratic Party of the 1960’s was.Posted by on 10/29 at 03:11 PM
This interview, I think, says all that needs to be said about where Cockburn’s loyalties truly lie.Posted by on 10/29 at 03:36 PM
Let us not forget an important point here: Cockburn is an effing liar.Posted by Hattie on 10/29 at 03:50 PM
Partial thread derailment, but it does lend itself to the thesis. And inspiring Mr. Bill to create better ones for all of us, perhaps a thrashing of AC, his assholishness.
Spoiler alert: Open the door several times, and save the red phone for last.
Captcha: “Living” in the USAPosted by on 10/29 at 04:39 PM
As soon as I saw Cockburn’s global warming denialism post, I lost any further interest in what he had to say on any subject. I suggest this as a general policy.
What does left of Obama mean? Well, in the most immediate sense, it’s the difference between the Obama who said he was going to focus on ending the war, universal health care, and global warming, and the Obama who most probably isn’t going to do any of those things.
More aspirationally? I don’t see why he shouldn’t just smash all of the fear-and-terror things that the GOP relies on. End the war on drugs; free half the people in prison; reduce the size of the armed forces.
But I’ll look for even smaller things. Re-regulating everything that needs to be re-regulated. Changing the rules so that people can unionize again.Posted by on 10/29 at 04:56 PM
WAATTLOBHONP - We Are All to the Left of Barack Hussein Obama Now Party. You, me, Alexander Cockburn; it’s a really *big* tent.Posted by on 10/29 at 05:31 PM
rootlesscosmo, would you, perchance, like a bumper sticker?Posted by SEK on 10/29 at 07:00 PM
Oh yeah. What Amanda said @ 13.Posted by Michael on 10/29 at 08:23 PM
Why do we need military bases around the world anyway? We got nuclear subs who can cruise missile nuclear warheads anywhere anytime in force.
We can cut defense spending by 80%. We just need to blow up a few caves in Afgha-Paki-Iran or whatever with some nuculear weapons and let these guys know we ain’t f**king around.
e.Posted by on 10/29 at 08:46 PM
Apparently the poor are also really far to the left of Obama, and they aren’t real Americans either.
On his radio show yesterday, far right talker Bill Cunningham — who Sean Hannity considers a “great American” — claimed that people who are poor in America are not poor “because they lack money.” “They’re poor because they lack values, morals, and ethics,” said Cunningham.Posted by on 10/29 at 11:36 PM
as far as the left of Obama, the thing to hopefor is something like those who managed to keep pushing and dragging FDR to be a traitor to his class (even if he was willing to do it—they gave him cover—and of course they were sincere and asked for more than they got)
but they had several years of nasty depression to organize and make organized demands
i am hopeful that Obama will be more like FDR than Clinton and use his intellect to keep his advisers on their toes, play off one against the other and do what he thinks is the right thing—rather than get stuck in some DLC mindset
we’re probably in for some tough economic times that will allow for experimentation and I think he will experiment and not be snowed in the way N. Klein puts it (altho his stand on FISA scared me)
catchpa: “same”—as in hopefully “not as it ever was”Posted by on 10/30 at 12:33 AM
caveat: i’m voting for obama, i hope obama wins, i’d love to see a blow out.
that being said, i have always remembered in the back of my mind that if there’s anything more corrupt than a washington politician, it’s a chicago politician.
just sayin’…Posted by skippy on 10/30 at 12:41 AM
Skippy, no, sorry. Nothing that a Democrat could do would even approach a nanohack of the corruption we’ve seen introduced to Washington by Republicans in the past ten years. And Obama, as Biden observed, seems to be unusually “clean.”
Indeed, the idea that Illinois was distinctive in its political corruption was promulgated sans evidence by guess which losing 1960 presidential candidate?Posted by on 10/30 at 01:28 AM
"Cockburn is still doing his shtick of parroting right-wing talking points about leading Democrats and then turning around and asking progressives how they feel about being ‘on the same side as Alan Dershowitz, Colin Powell and Christopher Hitchens.’ (Yes, that’s really how the column ends.)”
And how precisely does Cockburn feel about being on the same side as, say, Jonah Goldberg, concerning Obama’s “novelty factor”? Egads.Posted by on 10/30 at 01:43 PM
It’s a blogosphere. It’s a big place, with many many tubes.
The Blogosphere says, “I am large, I contain multi-tubes”Posted by on 10/31 at 10:34 AM
But there’s also the dump (never mind constructive criticism) on those who are to the left of Obama, which happens to include me and .. in my view .. Hillary Clinton and certainly John Edwards.
And, in a much more realistic sense than either of your right-wing examples, Michael Bérubé himself. Which you’d think would be obvious given your keen observational powers. Here’s a subtle hint:
I imagine that we (and by “we” I mean people to the left of Obama, to whatever degree we are to the left of him) will not want Obamacracy to become the leftward boundary of the thinkable.
Does that therefore mean that Professor Bérubé is unable to mock global warming denialists or the Milošević Rehabilitation Club while still remaining to Obama’s left? I sincerely hope not.
Also, let us remember that left and right are a simplification of a multidimensional manifold (which, contra Cockburn, is differentiable). Is Obama to the right of Edwards on health care and poverty? Yes, if we ignore Edwards’ history before he morphed into a cross (ha!) of William Jennings Bryan and Michael Harrington. And get back to me when corporatist centrist Senator Clinton acknowledges that her AUMF vote was wrong before you put her on a T-shirt wearing Che’s beret.
Obama has already disappointed me more than once. Notwithstanding the sneers about a “cult” from the side that holds shrieking fascist-style rallies for God’s anointed ignorant liar from Alaska, I think much of the progressive blogosphere holds few illusions about him. All we can hope for is to pull the Overton Window a little bit back towards what a sane country would already be calling the center. Because the revolution ain’t coming yet, and if it does come, I don’t think most of us left of Obama will be happy with the result.Posted by on 10/31 at 02:59 PM
Yeah, mds, I’m still not seeing how Hillary “yes on the AUMF and on Kyl-Lieberman too” Clinton gets to be to the left of Obama. Thanks for having my back on this one.Posted by on 10/31 at 04:16 PM