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An open letter to liberals—and liberals who call themselves progressives.

When the West Coast map lit up brilliantly, beautifully blue on Nov. 4, 2008, pushing Barack Obama over 270 electoral votes, millions of us experienced a wave of political euphoria the likes of which we never imagined we’d live to feel.

Especially giddy were those of us old enough to remember another, bleaker November night in 1980, when a Hollywood second-stringer named Ronald Reagan swept into the White House, ushering in decades of right-wing policies that carried us into wars; greased the wealthy at the expense of the middle class and working poor; empowered a Christian fundamentalist, social conservative revival that threatened to turn the entire country into Dayton, Tenn., circa 1925; and validated a Lee Atwater-Karl Rove politics of the Big Lie and personal destruction that transformed “liberal” into a synonym for weak and unpatriotic—even, paradoxically, to many who tightly embraced liberal programs like Medicare and Social Security.

Oh, we got  jazzed about Bill Clinton and Al Gore in ’92. But Clinton’s centrism—many feel he governed as a Republican—his genuine personal failings and the relentlessly witch-hunting Right would drain much of the promise from his presidency and leave many liberals disappointed.  With the Supreme Court’s election of George W. Bush in 2000, and the 9/11 attacks, liberal Democrats became more cowed than ever.

But with the Obama ascendancy—after eight endless, disastrous years of Bush-Cheney and three decades of Reaganism—it was our turn. A revival. The dawn of a new liberal/progressive era.

Or was it? Many liberals are driven to distraction by President Obama’s almost obsessive desire to rise above the fray, to be the adult in the room, to reach consensus. We’re pissed because he’s too cozy with Wall Street; we’re pissed about the Bush Tax Cut extension; we’re pissed about the lack of a public option in the Health care bill; we’re pissed about Afghanistan, and we’re pissed about Gitmo and Bradley Manning. We’re pissed that he didn’t do more to plug up the BP leak. We’re pissed that he hasn’t done more to back unions in the Midwest. And in the Mideast, we’re either pissed that Obama didn’t intervene quickly enough to help the Libyan opposition—or we’re pissed that he intervened at all.

Now we’re preparing to be pissed—with good reason, perhaps—that our “middle way” POTUS won’t stand up to the Right and its resolve to destroy Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and all other remnants of the New Deal—and transform the USA into Kochistan.

Personally I agree with some, though not all, of the above. I remain a strong supporter of the President; perhaps my innate realism/pessimism kept me from expecting—and fantasizing—too much. Maybe President Obama hasn’t been a liberal messiah. But he has been an enlightened leader who has accomplished more legislatively than any President since Lyndon Johnson. This while dealing with a dysfunctional Senate, a rightist-rigged Supreme Court and a conservative propaganda juggernaut that has a frightening percentage of the electorate convinced that he’s un-American—or not American, and therefore not legitimate, at all.

(For more on POTUS’ accomplishments , check out http://whatthefuckhasobamadonesofar.com.)

How many of us would trade Obama for the deepest, darkest days of Bush-Cheney. Or a return to Reagan? Or, even more terrifying, any of the rightist ideologues now driving the Republican Party, zealots against whom Reagan himself might well lose a GOP Primary.

Why are we saddled with these Koch-and-corporate backed Teabagging extremists? Why are wingnuts like Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann given any legitimacy? Why do we see a GOP House trying to eviscerate women’s reproductive rights; why do we see right-wing governors like Scott Walker, Rick Scott, Rick Snyder Paul LePage and John Kasich wage war on workers, teachers, firefighters and the middle class, while big business and the wealthy get fatter and fatter? Why do we hear about rolling back child labor laws? Why the talk bout “shared sacrifice”—that is for all but the richest Americans, the ones who can afford it? Why are we threatened with the destruction of social safety nets we foolishly took for granted—and for which many of us have paid for many years?

Well, one huge reason was the “enthusiasm gap” in the 2010 midterms. When millions of Democrats and other moderates-to-liberals said “Meh”  and stayed home, while fired up Teabaggers and righty extremists turned out in droves—along with independents who fell for the bullshit they heard on Fox News, and the lies in Koch-Chamber of Commerce-Rove-funded attack ads.

Whatever the level of one’s disappointment with Obama, the experience of 2010 should be traumatizing enough for millions of stay-at-homes not to make the same mistake again. Especially while the GOP is using the “voter fraud” myth to disenfranchise as many young and minority voters—Democratic leaning voters—as possible.

I still believe that in a second term, with a restored Congressional majority, Barack Obama can accomplish even more than he has in the past 26 months. And even if you remain disillusioned, even it depresses you to vote “against” the GOP instead of “for” Obama, as you did in ’08—get over it.

Think of the havoc a Pawlenty, Romney, a Rubio or whoever else can wreak. On social programs and women’s rights. On the middle class and workers. On the already corrupt Supreme Court. On international affairs.

If you think 2010 was bad….

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Madison

 

 

Not to put too fine a point on it, but much of the time, many of us Americans—and I don’t exempt myself for a minute—essentially have our heads up our butts. You can’t entirely blame us. We’re trying to get through the day, consumed with the moment-to moment events of our own circumscribed lives, with our loved ones, with our homes, with our jobs (if we have one), with having sex, not having sex, losing the weight, changing our hair, avoiding our colonoscopies. (Which actually brings this paragraph full circle).

Lately, we’re obsessing over whatever iGizmo it is we’ll never surrender till someone pries from our cold, dead hands. If we focus on the outer world, it’s pure escapism—sports & Snooki.

But when it comes to history and politics, that’s when we Americans really rear our buttheaditude. Two illustrative stories come to mind:

1) A recent Gallup Poll of 1,015 adults asked to name the nation’s greatest president.

2) The Battle of Wisconsin.

WTF?

As for the presidents: For most historians, naming the top three is a gimme—Lincoln, Washington, and FDR. Only the order is in dispute.

Not so for Gallup’s sampling of regular folks in Feb. 2011:

Ronald Reagan — 19%

Abraham Lincoln — 14%

Bill Clinton — 13%

John F. Kennedy — 11%

George Washington — 10%

Franklin Roosevelt — 8%

Barack Obama — 5%

Theodore Roosevelt — 3%

Harry Truman — 3%

George W. Bush — 2%

Thomas Jefferson — 2%

Reagan? Seriously?

Well, no. Liberals of course, argue that he set the country back 50 years, empowering repressive social conservatism and promoting the trickle-down economics that helped create the ever vaster economic chasm between the rich and the rest of us.  But leaving aside ideology I don’t even think Nancy Reagan would give Ronald Reagan the gold. Nor, to be fair, would any sane person rank Clinton third or the 34-month term of JFK fourth, or Obama in seventh, above TR and Truman. And when was the last time W and Jefferson were mentioned in the same sentence?

The point is that these surveys always skew wildly toward contemporary presidents. This is the year of Reagan’s centennial, he’s in the news again, Teabaggers are summoning his memory (though, as many point out, he’d probably not survive a primary today). At the same time, if you asked these same 1,015 folks to name the worst POTUS, I suspect W, Bubba, Ronnie and Barack would poll very high—certainly better than Harding (Warren, not Tonya) or Buchanan (James, not Pat).

Now, to current events: How many Americans are really aware of the Battle of Wisconsin—specifically the fight over collective bargaining—and if they are, do they know the stakes?

How many Democrats, moderates and ordinary working stiffs realize that Scott Walker’s anti-union purge is part of a nationwide effort by the GOP—backed by powerful right-wing forces like the Koch Brothers and U.S. Chamber of Commerce—to use “fiscal responsibility” as a weapon to crush the Democratic Party? To make Karl Rove’s wet dream of a permanent GOP majority reality? And in the process, wage nuclear class warfare, obliterating workers’ rights and recourse, suppressing wages and benefits and maximizing profits for a very few?

For insight into the GOP strategy, look at the Citizens United decision delivered by our tea-stained Supreme Court, which allows corporations and labor unions to flow unrestricted cash into the political campaigns.

Corporations tilt heavily toward Republicans; unions tilt Democratic. Shutting down unions is like cutting off the Dems blood supply. And it’s not just money; unions are crucial to getting out the vote, and registering new voters—who historically trend Democratic. Squelching unions is key to GOP voter suppression plans—the same reason they waged a vendetta against ACORN, why they’re pushing voter ID legislation, and trying to end same-day voter registration. The more new voters, the higher the turnout, the better for Democrats—at least most of the time.

But as Andrew Levine, Senior Scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, writes in CounterPunch:

“Even this is not the main reason why Madison matters. It isn’t just Democratic-leaning unions that Walker and his Tea Party colleagues want to undo – it’s public sector unions. This matters for reasons that are much more obscure than the others but that are plainly related to many of our contemporary afflictions — the financialization of contemporary capitalism, the globalization of manufacturing and trade, and, more generally, the world-wide assault on social and economic advances won at great cost over the past century and a half. The problem, in short, is that to survive, capitalism must expand – and, with so few areas left for expansion, the public sphere is a target too tempting to resist.”

That’s a hell of a lot harder to digest than, “I gotta cut the budget which means those overpaid public workers have to suck it up and STFU.”

All we know is what’s in our own, narrow frame of reference. And, when it comes to contemporary politics, what’s quick and easy to digest. What’s in front of our face—and we take most of that at face value. Bumper sticker stuff. That’s why Fox News is so effective—it spews out falsehood, opinion and wild speculation as fact. And as Mark Twain said, more or less, a lie can circle the globe before the truth can put its shoes on.

Indianapolis

And yet, truth may be gaining ground. The thousands of peaceful anti-Walker protesters in Madison seem to be getting their message across. According to polls, a significant majority of Wisconsin voters oppose Walker’s attempt to crush collective bargaining. Now, faced with a similar revolt in Indiana, Gov. Mitch Daniels—perhaps keeping in mind his presidential ambitions—has backed off union-busting “Right-to Work” legislation in his state.

Whatever one thinks of the Koch-Tea Party, it has dominated endless news cycles and shifted the national conversation  with its anti-government, anti-labor, Obamaphobic demagoguery.

Maybe the progressives, union members and Democrats making their stand in Madison can change the subject

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Understand this: If American workers are being denied their right to organize and collectively bargain when I’m in the White House, I’ll put on a comfortable pair of shoes myself, I’ll will walk on that picket line with you as President of the United States of America. Because workers deserve to know that somebody is standing in their corner.”  Barack Obama, 2007

 

Dear President Obama,

I have been one of your staunchest supporters. Along with tens of millions of other Americans–black, white, brown liberal, moderate and even some conservatives– the experience of your campaign and election was one of the most euphoric events of my life, something I never imagined in my wildest dreams.

I saw you as not only the first African-American president, but a transformational leader.

And I still do. Through all my fellow liberals’ criticism of your presidency, I have stood by you. Through Afghanistan, through the tax cut compromise, when you were being called a turncoat—one liberal writer, Roger Hodge, skewered you with a book titled The Mendacity of Hope— I gave you my unwavering support.

I touted your accomplishments. I understood the concerns of the progressive base, and shared many of them. But I also knew the realities of American politics, the complexities of Congress and the fact that if you lose the middle, 2012, and any hope of a progressive agenda, is lost.

I still support you. Ardently. But now, I implore you:

Fulfill your campaign promise to walk with workers facing the loss of their collective bargaining rights.

Go to Madison, Wisconsin.

Perhaps you’re waiting, watching Gov. Scott Walker self-destruct, abandoned by his fellow GOP governors, exposed as a preening fraud by a prankster. Maybe you’re afraid that, by going to Madison you’ll somehow slow down the Walker train wreck.

Then go to Indianapolis. Or Columbus. Or Trenton. Anywhere workers fight for their rights against the conservatives waging war against them, people like the Koch Brithers, who vow to crush them and enact their ideological agenda—no taxes, no regulation, no rules, privatization. Dismantling decades of social progress.

Show the world you stand with them, inspire them with the power of your words, the full force of your Bully Pulpit.

Speak out and inspire the thousands of ordinary citizens massed in the capital, fighting for their liberty.

Show solidarity.

If you have any hope of reclaiming the progressive base, bonding with the middle class¸—the folks Arianna Huffington said you’re “just not that into….” Bonding with the “real” Real America.

Go.

On the night of your election victory you told the crowd in Grant Park, “In this defining moment, change has come to America.”

This is a defining moment. A turning point in the history of our nation.

In Wisconsin, Ohio and across America, Republicans who have vowed to destroy you —fueled by the Kochs, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Club for Growth and other groups–are using union-busting tactics to cripple the Democratic Party, weaken it permanently.

Unions are the only large entities that mobilize and organize Democratic voters. They have fought for our workplace rights and for social welfare for generations.

If the unions fall, we all do.

And meanwhile, under the guise of “fiscal responsibility” Gov. Scott Walker, Gov. John Kasich, et. al., are attempting to steal away workers’ rights to collective bargaining, fair representation, vital civil liberties.

For the sake of tax cuts for the wealthy elite and Big Business, for the sake of expanding the ever-growing chasm between rich and poor, between plutocrats and working folks, these anti-government corporate activists are breaking the back of middle class and low-income Americans.

All while wrapping themselves in the flag.

This is more than a matter of your personal political fortunes. It is a moral imperative. You will be accused of high-handed interference. Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin will call you a Marxist dictator. Or a Fascist dictator. Or a Nazi.

In the words of John Boehner: So be it

Go.

This is not a time for centrist diffidence. It is a time for passion and emotion and conviction.

The conviction shown by Wisconsin Democrats who fled their state in protest to deny their legislature a quorum.

The courage of teachers, cops, firefighters, nurses and students who, by the thousands, now crowd the state capital of this cradle of progressivism. “Real Americans” the Right-Wing attack machine now calls un-American.

This is not about a budget. This is about the survival of the Democratic Party, and the survival of liberalism, the liberalism that forged so many of the rights Americans now take for granted.

And the survival of American workers.

There is one person who can overcome all the corruption, all the poison, that the Kochs and Walkers of the world—and the Foxes and the Palins– are injecting into American politics.

You. With that Bully Pulpit. Now is the time. The 2012 campaign will be too late. There are many who said–unfairly, I believe–that your reaction to the uprising in Egypt was too slow, too cautious.

This isn’t Cairo. This is Wisconsin. It’s America. It’s home.

Mr. President:

Go.

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Violence against unions. It seems anachronistic—and distinctly un-American now. One thinks of Henry Clay Frick calling in Pinkertons during the 1892 Homestead strike and a grim list of other clashes, large and small, especially up through the 1920s. I won’t give an encyclopedic summary here.

Today, in 2011, the anti-labor movement—among Republicans—is entering new Golden Age. Unions have always been a conservative bogeyman, but as the GOP veers radically to the Right, the war on workers is escalating to a fever pitch. And nowhere more dramatically than in Wisconsin, a state with a proud Progressive heritage (indeed where “Fighting Bob” LaFollette helped invent the Progressive movement in the early 20th century) which in 2010 made a sharp Right turn—in this instance, right into the gutter.

Outsourcing wasn’t enough. Now this:

I’ll reprint, in its entirety, a piece by Talking Points Memo’s Brian Beutler:

“Wisconsin’s new Republican governor has set a new benchmark in fraying state-union relations in the wake of massive GOP victories in the November elections.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Scott Walker proposed stripping nearly all government workers of their collective bargaining rights. And as a warning shot across the bow, he told Wisconsin reporters Friday that he’s alerted the National Guard ahead of any unrest, or in the event that state services are interrupted. Under his plan, which he’ll include in his forthcoming budget proposal, most state workers would no longer be able to negotiate for better pensions or health benefits or anything other than higher salaries, which couldn’t rise at a quicker pace than the Consumer Price Index.

According to the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer “The proposal would effectively remove unions’ right to negotiate in any meaningful way. Local law enforcement and fire employees, as well as state troopers and inspectors would be exempt.”

He also says this plan is non-negotiable — as in, he’s cut off negotiations with prison guards, teachers and other state workers.

Walker’s casting the move as a part of a broader need to tighten the state’s fiscal belt. But it would basically turn Wisconsin into a right-to-work state overnight.

To get it done, he’ll need the help of the newly Republican state legislature. Republicans have a 19-14 majority in the state Senate and a 60-38-1 edge in the state Assembly. The question is whether this plan goes too far even for the Republican legislature — but he’s pushing them to pass the plan quickly.

Workers and their allies are responding as rapidly and forcefully as possible.

“Instead of balancing the budget on the backs of hard-working Wisconsinites, we need to come up with a balanced approach that looks at shared sacrifice from everyone,” said Wisconsin State AFL-CIO President Phil Neuenfeldt.

In a statement, former Democratic Senator Russ Feingold, who lost in November to Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), said the governor is using the state’s budget woes as a “bogus excuse to strip [Wisconsin workers] of rights that millions of other American workers have.”

This is symptomatic of a broad state-level GOP push, in the wake of the November elections, to roll back workers rights. But it’s probably the most stark example so far.”

I’ll resist the temptation to shout, Workers of the World, unite! But any liberal, moderate, or just plain working stiff should wake up, take heed, and do everything possible to battle this all-out assault on workers’ rights.

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