Friday, December 04, 2009

More on Tom Hayden and Obama's disappointing the base

I posted earlier about the criticism that Joan Walsh directed at Tom Hayden for what she saw as an overly-credulous attitude toward Obama on progressive priorities. I was focusing there on her criticism of his 2008 position. On Thursday, Digby seconded Joan's criticism in Fergawdsake Hullabaloo 12/03/09.

There were a lot of comments to her post, including some good ones gizmo, rilkefan (great screen name!) and Mitchell Freedman. I'm incorporating into this post most of what I said in a comment there. Digby always seems to get a number of commenters lecture shaking their heads at her thinking that anything positive can be accomplished because Big Money has everything locked up and why bother to complain about them. I guessing most of those people fit into the category I call "Republicans and future Republicans".

Here I want to talk more about the substance of Tom Hayden's position on Obama. Because it's actually carefully considered and is not really much different from the analyses that Joan and Digby also make of Obama and the state of the Democratic Party.

It's true that those who were adult New Left activists in the 1960s do sometimes have a tendency to fall back on wooden rhetoric, even someone like Tom with a lot of experience in retail electoral politics. But the "manifesto" quality of that group statement to which Joan and Digby are referring isn't his normal style, either. What he has to say about politics and about both the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars is usually worth hearing. In the case of Iraq, he was personally active early on in trying to bring together Iraqis and Americans to promote peace talks. And his book Ending the War in Iraq (2007) is going to be worth reading for a long time. I learned during these last eight years that there was particular value in reading some of the better analyses of the Vietnam War from the time that the war was still going on. And the same will no doubt be true about those from the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars.

Joan singles out Tom in her criticism, but the 2008 statement she quotes actually was a four-person manifesto-type endorsement. Tom himself wrote separately at the Huffington Post in 2008 about his endorsement of Obama, titled An Endorsement of the Movement Barack Obama Leads. He wrote there:

As for issues, the differences between Obama and Clinton on Iraq are difficult to pin down. Obama was against the Iraq war five years ago, and favors a more rapid pullout of combat troops than Clinton. But both would replace combat troops with an American counterinsurgency force of tens of thousands, potentially turning Iraq into Central America in the 1970s. Obama seems more supportive of diplomacy than Clinton, but he supports military intervention in Pakistan's tribal areas. Edwards favors a more rapid pullout from Iraq, but is unlikely to prevail. ...

I do not like the Hillary haters in our midst. As president, her court appointees alone would represent a relief from the present rigging of the courts and marginal improvements for working people. On Iraq, I believe she could be pushed to withdraw. She is a centrist, and it will be up to social movements to alter the center. ...

Is Barack the one we have been waiting for? Or is it the other way around? Are we the people we have been waiting for? Barack Obama is giving voice and space to an awakening beyond his wildest expectations, a social force that may lead him far beyond his modest policy agend [sic]. Such movements in the past led the Kennedys and Franklin Roosevelt to achievements they never contemplated. [As Gandhi once said of India's liberation movement, "There go my people. I must follow them, for I am their leader."]
That last sentence appears in the original in brackets,for some reason; my emphasis is in bold.

And I think his perspective as he expressed it then, "sixties" rhetoric or not, is basically correct. And it's essentially the same position that Joan Walsh is arguing: Obama is governing as a "centrist", i.e., a corporate Democrat who is far too open to the advice of warmongers on foreign policy and to advocates of what most of the world calls "neoliberalism" on domestic policy. If he becomes the leader of a successful progressive movement, it will be because the base forces him to do so. Politics is still politics, in the 2000s as well in in the 1960s. And it is still "up to social movements to alter the center."

The article which set Joan Walsh and Alex Koppelman and Digby off is Obama Announces Afghanistan Escalation The Nation 12/01/09, which he opens by saying, "It's time to strip the Obama sticker off my car."

His immediate comment on the Afghanistan escalation was:

The expediency of his decision was transparent. Satisfy the generals by sending 30,000 more troops. Satisfy the public and peace movement with a timeline for beginning withdrawals of those same troops, with no timeline for completing a withdrawal.

Obama's timeline for the proposed Afghan military surge mirrors exactly the eighteen-month Petraeus timeline for the surge in Iraq.
He makes it very clear that he would expect to support Obama in 2012 against Sarah Palin or any other Republican candidacy "of the pitchfork carriers for the pre-Obama era." But he also stresses the need to actively oppose the Afghanistan War:

Beyond public persuasion and pressuring Congress, activists are sure to be hitting the streets and precincts in the year ahead. The antiwar movement has a certain leverage based on the current doubt in the minds of voters and policy experts, and the potential dissent from within the Obama base. Democratic turnout increased 2.6 percent in 2008 over 2004, while Republican votes dropped by 1.3 percent. Twenty-two million more young people voted in 2008 than in 2004. The unprecedented energies of those young people who volunteered their time, money and hope could drain away by 2012, if not sooner.

In addition, the peace movement will be globalizing its reach as Obama seeks to extract more troop concessions from wary NATO countries. Opposition is particularly strong in the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany and France. When Obama accepts the Nobel Prize in Oslo on December 10, he may address as many as ten thousand protestors. ...

The albatross of the Karzai government will threaten any plans to rapidly expand the Afghan army and police, themselves divided along sectarian lines. In 2005, the Kabul regime ranked 117th on the list compiled by Transparency International; by this year it was 176th. [my emphasis]
His piece is mostly about the Afghanistan War and it's worth reading in full.

The last eight years have reinforced very strongly for me the need for the United States to drastically reduce our military budget and adopt a far more cautious role about military intervention. The Long War is corrupting our democracy and seriously undermining the rule of law. What the constant state of war and manufactured fear is doing to the US is grimly illustrated in this Pew poll commissioned by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), reported with the title U.S. Seen as Less Important, China as More Powerful 12/03/09, as shown by their summary table on description of their findings on American opinions about torture:

The proportion of the public saying torture is at least sometimes justified against suspected terrorists has increased modestly over the past year. Currently, 54% say torture is at least sometimes justified to gain important information from suspected terrorists, compared with 49% in April and 44% in February.
As long as the US is spending half of the world's military budget, the ugly reality is we will have a military establishment closely tied with major economic interests from weapons manufacturers to mercenary companies and war-loving think-tanks who will always be finding new enemies to fear and fight. And the findings of that poll on torture show the kind of baggage it brings with it.

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