President Obama’s reelection should mean more to progressives than simply dodging the bullet of a Romney presidency indebted to the Tea Party. Democratic politics has to be more than relief, while playing Russian Roulette, that this time we got the empty chamber. Progressives are a significant wing of the Democratic Party, and if we continue to be ignored, the party will ultimately falter.
Clearly, Obama does not have progressive instincts, and prefers to rule from the center. This impulse is wrong-headed, since the center didn’t man his campaign offices or make phone calls for him. Ruling from the center means taking his base for granted while reaching out to relatively conservative constituencies. This tactic is why we don’t have a single-payer health insurance plan. It is why Wall Street reform has consisted of half-measures. It is why we are imposing a financial blockade on Iran that could easily spiral into a war. When it comes to the arch-conservatives, for the most part, Obama has never learned to just say ‘no.’
It does not help that Obama will face virtually the same, obstructionist Tea Party House of Representatives that stymied him for the past two years. Instead of going to them and asking how he could make them happy, he has to threaten to make an all-out push to turn them out of office in 2014 if they continue to say ‘no’ to everything.
Progressives will have to push Obama to the left if we are to get what we want. This situation is nothing new– FDR’s New Deal would not have amounted to much if workers hadn’t engaged in widespread wildcat strikes and if people had not resorted to civil disobedience.
As for positive accomplishments, here are a few we should pressure him and Congress on:
1. We need the tax break for wind energy to be continued. Uncertainty here is deadly to the industry. And it is facing competition from cheap fracked natural gas (which is itself an environmental disaster every which way from Sunday). Wind energy could easily provide a quarter of all the electricity the US produces annually, and it is a way of slowing the rapidly rising average temperature of earth’s surface. Obama should deploy Republicans from high-wind states such as Iowa and Colorado to help make his case. It is to Obama’s credit that green energy doubled in the US from 3% to 6% during his first term. But 6% is almost nothing, with Portugal, Germany, Scotland and others being far more ambitious. Scotland wants to be 100% green by 2020.
Obama should emulate John F. Kennedy, Jr., and give a major address committing the the nation to try to go green in 8 years, just as Kennedy pledged to put us on the moon.
2. The Citizens United and other such rulings of the Supreme Court that allow dark money to dominate our elections needs to be undone by legislation. Corporations are not people, and Superpacs shouldn’t be buying our elections. Obama should start the work on a constitutional amendment that would permit actual campaign finance reform so that our elections look more like those of Western Europe and less like those of Pakistan.
3. Banking regulation still needs to be strengthened. There is nothing really in place that would prevent a repeat of the 2008 meltdown. Moreover, relief for homeowners under threat of losing their mortgages unfairly or arbitrarily needs to be pushed for again.
4. Obama needs to show leadership in pushing back against Koch Brother attempts to destroy public sector unions. Moreover, he needs to create a legal framework for the protection of the right to unionize in the private sector, a right that has been gutted by corporations such as Walmart. It was the unions that gave Mr. Obama Ohio, and if they are undermined during the next four years, they won’t be there to deliver the state again.
5. He needs to have the Department of Justice look into the Koch Brother-backed legislation in two dozen states restricting the franchise by requiring a paid-for state i.d., which is a kind of poll tax. In many states, this legislation violates the 1965 Voting Rights act. We can’t let a couple of sour billionaires undo the achievements of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., achievements for which he gave his life.
6. That use of the Department of Justice would perhaps make its workers and its head, Eric Holder, too busy to go around kicking down the doors of medical marijuana clinics and confiscating their computers, records and cash, in states where the state has legalized marijuana. Obama was elected the first time by the youth, and had promised to cease Federal harassment of pot clinics, but reneged and proved much worse than Bush on this issue. Holder should stop denying the clear medical uses and benefits of pot. In Colorado and Washington states, the same people who voted for him have legalized recreational marijuana. Moreover, the RAND Corp. concludes that legalization would defund the Mexican cartels. If the the Democratic Party continues on this Draconian path, it should not be surprised when it begins losing elections because a substantial younger constituency deserts it for the Green Party.
7. Obama put off further consideration of the PATRIOT Act until 2014. Several of its remaining provisions have been tagged by Senators Wyden and Udall as unconstitutional and pernicious because of the way law enforcement is interpreting them “secretly.” These unconstitutional provisions must be repealed altogether. Moreover, Obama needs to come clean about the extent of Federal violations of fourth amendment rights, warrantless surveillance of citizens, and the data mining of our emails and possibly their storage by the National Security Agency. As a victim of illegal White House/ CIA surveillance myself, I am furious that Obama has continued Bush-era abuses, and moreover that the Democratic Party has not so much as bothered to launch an investigation of my case.
8. The Bush tax cuts for the wealthy have to be allowed to lapse.
9. Obama must give up the fiction that a Department of Justice review of assassination targets is the same thing as a court trial that ends in an execution. The separation of powers is there in the constitution because King George III used to use the executive to declare people “outlaws” and have them killed on a whim, too. Maybe Obama and the national security state think they have invented something new. They haven’t. Targeted assassination by executive fiat has been around for a long time, and the Founding Fathers wanted it prohibited.
10. Obamacare has to be tweaked in the direction of a single payer system.