On Realism and Revolution
Confronting Liberal Objections to Left Criticism of Obama,the Democrats and the Profits System
In the spring of 1967, after he went public with his principled opposition to the Vietnam War, Martin Luther King, Jr. was approached by liberal and left politicos to consider running for the
Reflecting on his chastening confrontation with concentrated black poverty and class oppression in the "liberal" urban North and his shock at the horrors of
As Dr. King certainly knew, these were not exactly “winning” ideas in
“They Know, They Just Have Different Priorities”
Again and again during the first year of his presidency, “hard left” critiques of the Barack Obama administration have been met by a standard “left-liberal” objection. Obama, many of his “left” and “liberal” apologists have told me, is doing all he can for progressive values under the existing system of business and military power and in a context where the right-wing Republicans still exercise a great degree of power. Obama is imprisoned by the system he claimed in the name of democratic “change.” Corporate and military
This is an unimpressive defense on two levels. First, it misses the fact that the “deeply conservative” Obama  isn’t actually a progressive, something he himself has indicated to those willing to look. At a certain point, one has to wonder about the intellectual and/or moral competence of those who claim to be “left” and yet continue to cling to the brand over the reality when it comes to “understanding” Obama in the world of power. The comforting, self-pacifying notion that Obama – a president who often goes farther than required to appease corporate and military masters – really wants to transform America in genuinely progressive sorts of ways is simply unsupportable in light of what can easily found and shown about his political career and world view.
Second, while it is certainly true that
So, maybe it isn’t about running for president and getting behind presidential candidates. Maybe it isn’t about scaling to the top of the authoritarian American system and helping that system re-brand and re-legitimize itself as a “democracy” where “anything is possible.”  Maybe citizens and activists who are serious about democracy and progressive change should heed an all-too forgotten pearl of wisdom from The Bible: “Do not put your trust in princes.” Or, we might add, in the United States’ narrow-spectrum big-money/big-media electoral process, subjected as it is to the “hidden primary of the ruling class” (Laurence Shoup) and the “unelected dictatorship of money” (Edward S. Herman and David Peterson).
Maybe its really about re-building and expanding social movements and grassroots citizens’ power beneath and beyond the spectacular, melodramatic corporate-crafted mass-marketed narrow-spectrum and candidate-centered (and candidate-obsessed) “electoral extravaganzas”  the power elite and its dominant media stage for us every four years.
“Elected officials,” Adolph Reed, Jr. noted in the fall of 2007, “are only as good or as bad as the forces they feel they must respond to. It’s a mistake,” Reed observed, “to expect any more of them than to be vectors of the political pressures they feel working on them.” Reed cited a then recent conflict the black and historically progressive U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Chair John Conyers (D-MI) and antiwar activists who accused Conyers of being a “sell out” for failing to aggressively pursue the impeachment of George W. Bush. By Reed’s instructive account and analysis:
“His critics accused him of betraying the spirit of Martin Luther King. But that charge only exposes their unrealistic expectations. Conyers isn’t a movement leader. He’s a Democratic official who wants to get reelected. He’s enmeshed in the same web of personal ties, partisan loyalties and obligations, and diverse interest-group commitment as other pols. It was the impeachment activists’ naïve error, and I suspect one resting on a partly racial, wrongheaded shorthand, to have expected him to lead an insurgency.”
Instead of railing against Conyers’ predictable failure to embody King’s legacy in the compromised realm of American electoral politics and policy, Reed argued, activists would have served their cause better by trying to organize effective citizen force for the policy outcome they sought. Underlying many progressives’ sense of demoralization and defeat, Reed observed, was a terrible misunderstanding about leading Democratic politicians: “the belief that they just don’t know what we want and how important these things are to us.”
“They know;” Reed noted, “they just have different priorities”  (Obama is no special exception to this harsh reality, which does not change, in accord with what Reed called “a racial shorthand,” simply because he happens to be African-American.)
Given these harsh realities, Reed argued with no small justice that Left progressives should focus less on elections and more on building social and political movements for democratic change from the bottom up across and between elections:
“It’s a mistake to focus so much on the election cycle; we didn’t vote ourselves into this mess, and we’re not going to vote ourselves out of it. Electoral politics is an arena for consolidating majorities that have been created on the plane of social movement organizing. It’s not an alternative or a shortcut to building those movements, and building them takes time and concerted effort. Not only can that process not be compressed to fit the election cycle; it also doesn’t happen through mass actions. It happens through cultivating one-on-one relationships with people who have standing and influence in their neighborhoods, workplaces, schools, families, and organizations. It happens through struggling with people over time for things they’re concerned about and linking those concerns to a broader political vision and program. This is how the populist movement grew in the late nineteenth century, the CIO in the 1930s and 1940s, and the civil rights movement after World War II. It is how we’ve won all our victories. And it is also how the right came to power.”
Reed’s point on the need for activists to concentrate first and foremost on the building of movement capacities was seconded by Howard Zinn’s comments on the “election madness” he saw “engulfing the entire society, including the left” with special intensity in the year of Obama’s nomination for the presidency in the early spring of 2008:
“The election frenzy seizes the country every four years because we have all been brought up to believe that voting is crucial in determining our destiny, that the most important act a citizen can engage in is to go to the polls and choose one of the two mediocrities who have already been chosen for us. “
“…Would I support one candidate against another? Yes, for two minutes-the amount of time it takes to pull the lever down in the voting booth.”
“But before and after those two minutes, our time, our energy, should be spent in educating, agitating, organizing our fellow citizens in the workplace, in the neighborhood, in the schools. Our objective should be to build, painstakingly, patiently but energetically, a movement that, when it reaches a certain critical mass, would shake whoever is in the White House, in Congress, into changing national policy on matters of war and social justice.”
“Let's remember that even when there is a "better" candidate (yes, better Roosevelt than Hoover, better anyone than George Bush), that difference will not mean anything unless the power of the people asserts itself in ways that the occupant of the White House will find it dangerous to ignore…..”
“The Democratic Party has broken with its historic conservatism, its pandering to the rich, its predilection for war, only when it has encountered rebellion from below, as in the Thirties and the Sixties.” 
One can bemoan the failure of President Obama to act in accord with the antiwar sentiments he seemed (it was an illusion ) to articulate when speaking to his “progressive base” during the campaign. The simple cold fact of the matter is that the U.S. antiwar movement does not possess the capacity (whether it possesses the willpower is a separate but related question) to hold mainstream politicians’ elected officials’ feet to the fire in ways that command respect at elite levels. Peace activists lack structures and active constituencies remotely strong enough to make Obama and other Democrats accountable from below. They lack the power to compel leading politicians to reconsider commitment and captivity to the powerful entrenched interests and deadly culture of imperial militarism. They are not too “dangerous to ignore.”
Building that power and capacity between and across the election cycle is a more worthy endeavor than picketing the offices of elected Democratic war supporters. It is a more productive progressive project than accusing Democratic officials and politicians of betraying or (following the argument of the widely read liberal linguist and political consultant George Lakoff) failing to adequately “frame” a Left-progressive ideological commitment they do not really share and which (in any event, even if some of them do) does not serve their interests under the existing political system.
The same point can and should be made not just for foreign policy but also for numerous other and related issues of special concern to Left progressives: women’s rights, climate change, economic justice, gay rights, racial equality, and so on. On these and other issues and on their totality, there is no independent left in the
False Dichotomy: Social Movements or Political Reform
Having heard and/or read my argument (sketched above and hardly original) for focusing on building and re-building rank and file social movements over and above for focusing on elections and candidates, some fellow progressives raise what at first seems to be a reasonable objection. Why, such comrades ask, accept the disempowering dichotomy between social movements and electoral politics imposed on progressives by the currently reigning corporate-military
* Take private money out of public elections through the full mandatory equal and public financing of federal campaigns
* Introduce proportional representation in the election of state and congressional representatives.
* Provide extra public resources and public access – a form of political party affirmative action – for third, fourth, and fifth parties that have been discriminated against in the past.
* Introduce a parliamentary system whereby the chief executive is selected by and ultimately subordinated to the representative branch of government.
* If a presidential system remains, introduce “instant run off” voting – a mechanism requiring permitting third and fourth parities to avoid functioning as “spoilers” by requiring that winners must receive at least 50 percent of the total vote. Let all voters mark their second and third favorite choices, hold an instant run off between the top candidates until one candidate secures at least 50 percent plus one.
* Permit “fusion” voting, whereby voters are free to support a major party candidate in the name of their own favorite third (or fourth, etc.) party.
* Mandate free media advertisements for all candidates.
* Remove candidate debates from private media corporations and hand them over to publicly funded, publicly elected, and publicly overseen citizen committees.
* Activate antitrust laws to break up the current corporate media oligopoly and distribute political news and information across a broader and more diverse range of print and media outlets.
* Require that media campaign coverage spend a designated relevant amount of time on policy and ideological differences between and among candidates and parties.
I agree with the criticism at one level. I support each of these reforms and in fact argued for them (and more) at the conclusion of Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics (2008). But there’s a big problem with setting up a dichotomy between social movement activism and this sort of radical electoral reform (as I mistakenly did in my 2008 book, I should add ). Doing so begs the important question of how and why the existing political order’s currently entrenched elites would be any more prone to introduce such major political reforms than it would be to end a war or corporate subsidy in the absence of significant and highly mobilized grassroots pressure from the bottom up. Expecting the political class and its well-heeled, deep-pockets sponsors to bring about any significant measure of progressive electoral reform in the absence of relevant radical mass protest and activism is naïve.
“Are You Trying to Elect Sarah Palin in 2012?”
“You’re only helping Republicans. What’s the matter with you? Do you want Sarah Palin or Mitt Romney or Tim Pawlenty in the White House in 2013?” I have heard this criticism, too, again and again, from so-called left liberals since Obama’s early months in the White House.
In order to rally meaningful progressive social movement and anti-war activity against the persistently center-right corporate, financial, and military policies being conducted in the name of “change” by the current White House, it is necessary to break through “Obamaitis” – the paralysis inflicted on liberals and progressives by the childish illusion of Obama as some of sort of progressive-left actor. Critical distancing, elementary due-diligence research, and truth-telling is required. You have to separate the real Obama team from the illusory branding. You have to be willing to see Obama in the world of “power as it is, not as many of us wish it to be.”
The results of doing that are not pleasant, as much of my previous writing on ZNet and at Black Agenda Report has tried to demonstrate without apology. My own research and reporting, including my forthcoming book The Empire’s New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power (Paradigm, June 2010), even at times show Obama going beyond the Bush-Cheney regime in advancing the combined and interrelated imperatives of empire and inequality at home and abroad. It has not been a fun volume to write.
Many Democrats are of course reluctant to see the shroud taken off the “Dalai Obama.” They are not ready or willing to look at what is exposed when the new emperor’s clothes are removed. They are embarrassed, some of them, at the enthusiasm and even passion they heaped on his candidacy and presidency in the name of progressive and democratic ideals.. They are worried, some of them, about losing real or perceived access to power and funding (and even employment) if they join me and others on the left in seeing and speaking the terrible truth about the corporate-imperial and authoritarian Obama presidency. They are incapable, some of them, of seeing Obama as anything other the progressive hero they imagined him to be (with no small help from Team Obama’s expert niche-marketers) or of understanding left criticism (which hardly enjoys access to dominant media and educational institutions) or of imagining Obama as anything than the left-leaning actor they and the right wing noise machine insists (against elementary and ubiquitous, overwhelming evidence to the contrary) he must be.
And, of course, many frightened progressives are convinced that any substantive and serious, sustained criticism of their “liberal” standard-bearer is a vote for the dangerous right-wing Republicans. In the Manichean, black or white “all or nothing” world of American “winner-take-all” politics, they sense, there is no room for anything beyond the most marginal and respectful criticism of Empire’s New Clothes. To get real about Barack Obama and the rest of the corporate-imperial Wall Street Democrats is, they fear, to give the game back to the dreaded G.O.P. in America’s narrow-spectrum two-track winner-take-all pinball machine of a party system and political culture.
Three important points get badly lost in this last, fear-based argument. First, the right wing might as well have won the last election anyway when progressive and “left” forces are unwilling and/or unable to meaningfully protest right-leaning policy on the part of a not-so “liberal” White House. “When you start in the center (on, say, healthcare or Afghanistan) and readily move rightward several steps to appease rightwing politicians or lobbyists or Generals,” the progressive journalism professor Jeff Cohen noted last November, “by definition you are governing as a conservative.” As Mumia Abu-Jamal wrote after FOX News and the Republicans essentially fired the black environmental activist Van Jones from the White House in September of 2009, “If racists can ostensibly lose an election, and still dictate policy, then, have they really lost?” One would write much the same sentence substituting the words “corporatists” or “imperialists” or “militarists” or “police state advocates” or “enemies of sustainable ecology” for “racists” and also make a relevant point about the Obama administration.
And if the more openly right wing party were to return to power in 2012 or 2016, some radicals add (with no small justice in my “cynical” view at least the “conservatives” would be running the show without the confusing and pacifying façade of “liberal” rule. This might spark more “progressives” to actively oppose policies and structures that many of them seem inordinately reluctant to resist as long as Democrats and “Brand Obama” hold the top elected offices.)
Second, one probably hurts rather than helps Obama’s chances of having a second term and the Democrats’ chances of keeping a majority in Congress by turning a blind eye to the rightward, Bush-re-branded policy trajectory of the current White House. That trajectory, richly continuous with Obama’s “mushy” ideological record, goes against the grain of majority American opinion, which stands well to the left of both of the nation’s major business parties. By graphically failing to fulfill their campaign promises to (essentially) act in accord with that opinion, Obama and his party mates walks the usual treacherous corporate-military Democratic line between (i) doing the bidding of Washington’s real-world capitalist and military masters and (ii) so alienating the populace as to endanger their electoral chances in 2010 and 2012. The danger is escalated amidst an epic economic downturn marked by stubborn mass joblessness and deepening poverty and inequality that the federal government is unable or unwilling to meaningfully reverse and in light of an expanded military commitment to futile colonial war in Afghanistan (along with adjacent Pakistan), a legendary graveyard of empire – not to mention the continuing occupation of Iraq and war president Obama’s related escalated campaigns in Somalia and Yemen.
Third, progressive “Obamaitis”  is a gift to the far right in a different but related way. In the absence of meaningful anger and protest on the left, the dodgy, arch-regressive and messianic-militarist Republican right wing and its still-potent “noise machine” is absurdly left to soak up and express much of the legitimate “populist rage” (to use the corporate media’s pejorative term for understandable working class anger) that ordinary Americans naturally feel over Washington’s continuing captivity to concentrated wealth, corporate-direction, and the military-industrial complex. This is dangerous. Popular resentment abhor a vacuum and there are more than enough “educators” and activists on the corporate-funded far right – e.g. Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck et al. – who are ready, willing, and able to step into void left by pathetic “left” quiescence and irrelevance.
“A Chasm Has Opened Up Which We Must Leap Across to Survive”
As Noam Chomsky observed four years ago, "One commonly hears that carping critics complain about what is wrong, but do not present solutions. There is an accurate translation for that charge: ‘they present solutions and I don't like them.'" 
Again and again in 2008 and 2009, I have heard “liberals” and centrists accuse “hard left” critics of Obama and the Democrats of being hopelessly alienated and negativistic “gripers” and “antis.” We are supposedly just harsh opponents of “reality” – “cynics” and “ideologues” (our supposedly “reality-based” liberal critics purport to have transcended ideology) who are all about being “against” and are not actually “for” anything real and “pragmatic” and “practical” in the real world.
Consistent with Chomsky’s point, however, my 2008 “Obama book” ended with a detailed list of action and policy proposal that are widely supported on much of the really existing “hard left.” The policies recommended included radical electoral reform, the socially progressive re-chartering and egalitarian reconstruction of the modern corporation, checks on corporate globalization, a serious policy attack on institutional racism, substantive universal health reform on the progressive single-payer model, labor law reform (the rapidly forgotten Employee Free Choice Act, for a start), the re-building and expansion of the union movement, removal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, a rollback of the Pentagon System and the global U.S. Empire in connection with a major domestic and global peace dividend, and the dismantling of the “national security” police, surveillance and (globally unmatched) mass incarceration state built around the related official “wars on terror and drugs.” At the same time, Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics was not content to call only for reforms, even radical reforms. It also called for something more drastic - revolution:
“In trying to work creatively with the Obama moment, people engaged in progressive political action should not be afraid of demanding something along the lines of revolution. King’s ‘radical restructuring’ and reordering of national and global priorities is a matter of increasing urgency and indeed survival for the democratic ideal and for sustainable human existence. ‘Reforms will not suffice’ and capitalism and democracy are two very different and indeed fundamentally opposed beasts.”
The demand for radical, even revolutionary change naturally strikes many, probably most of Obama’s more intellectually inclined liberal and progressive supporters as hopelessly “utopian” and “unrealistic” – as off the charts of serious consideration. The real progressive thing, the properly “practical” and “pragmatic” course, such Democrats think, is to carefully and incrementally push for small steps on the long, slow path to a better world. As Obama likes to say, “we must not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”
But for many on the actual historical Left, the honest and truly informed calculation of what is realistic is profoundly different. Leaving aside the important fact that many of Obama’s “reforms” are simply (far worse then being merely “less than perfect”!) “just no damn good” (for example the current ongoing corporatist “health reform” without even a shred of a public alternative to the rule of the for-profit insurance mafia) even just from a mildly progressive liberal perspective (the perspective of say, a John Conyers), we have a very dissimilar sense of practicality and reality. As we see it, the currently reigning profits system – every bit as entrenched and intact under the “leftist” Obama and a (corporate-) Democratic congressional majority as it was with Bush and Republicans in the saddle (possibly more entrenched now thanks in part to the superficially left cover provided by “Brand Obama”) – is thoroughly incompatible with basic human needs and democratic principles. The really fantastic, actually deadly illusion, for us, is to believe that the U.S. and humanity can build a desirably democratic and sustainable future without implementing an egalitarian alternative to the capitalist order – to the so-called “free market” system to which Barack Obama has repeatedly pledged his allegiance  and on whose financial chieftains he has so strongly relied. Increasingly grave ecological issues, particularly those connected with the largely U.S.-driven problem of global warming call into question the “pragmatic” wisdom of pursuing nothing more than the “incremental change” that many Obama fans laud the president for embodying. As Ricardo Levins-Morales noted in an important reflection on the Left strategy and prospects last summer, the cautious “one small step at a time” approach to progressive change loses credibility when the existing order is posing ever more imminent existential questions of survival  for the species. Honest appreciation of realistic imperatives calls for a more radical approach:
“If the road we are on leads to a precipice, then a shift in our strategic orientation is overdue. If the Obama administration proposes modest green-oriented initiatives and then waters them down to mollify corporate interests, we will still (it can be argued) end up further along than we were to begin with. If we envision ourselves as advancing across an expanse of open field, then we can measure our progress in terms of yardage gained and be satisfied that we are least moving in the right direction. If, instead, a chasm has opened up which we must leap across to survive, then the difference between getting twenty percent versus forty percent of the way across is meaningless. It means we have transitioned from a system of political letter grades to one of ‘pass/fail.’ We either make the leap or not.”
As the world enters a period of epic mass structural unemployment and (most urgently of all) related, potentially fatal ecological crisis  that is directly traceable to – and fundamentally rooted in – the profits system , it’s long past time for millions of Americans to embrace (as some recent polling suggests many do, in fact ) the conclusion that Obama’s left cheerleader Michael Moore had reached half way into the first of his candidate’s presidency: “Folks, capitalism’s got to go. Because we can't have a system where the richest 1 percent own as much as the bottom 95 percent. That just isn't democracy. That's not
The filmmaker had a point, whatever his often irrational commitment to Obama, who clearly disagrees (FOX News fantasies notwithstanding) with
In one of the many wryly humorous moments in his 2009 movie Capitalism: A Love Story, Moore examines a copy of the U.S. Constitution at the National Archives. He asks a guard to show him the part of U.S. Constitution which mandates that the
Still, both of these documents can be reasonably cited in opposition to the corporate profits system that later overtook the nation’s economic and political life, instituting the aforementioned “unelected dictatorship of money.” The Constitution requires federal officeholders, including the president, to work “to form a more perfect
More than being merely different from the nation’s founding principles of popular government and common good and absent from its founding documents, capitalism is opposed to those core precepts. Its key characteristics include:
* A consistent drive towards the ever-greater concentration of wealth and power.
* The relentless subordination of the majority populace to employee status (to wage-and salary-slavery).
* Harshly authoritarian and hierarchical division, command, and stultification of the human work process.
* The contingency of employment on business-class profitability.
* The insidious drowning of basic egalitarian human sentiments and life-ways in the “icy waters of egotistical calculation” (As Karl Marx and Frederick Engels put it in 1848).
* The soulless hegemony of exchange value over social and human use value.
* A constant and unequal battle between the wealth of the capitalist Few and the income, security, autonomy, health, and sanity of the working class Many.
* A relentless profit-addicted, “cost externalizing” business assault on livable ecology.
* The private ownership and biased control of core opinion-forming communications sectors.
* Disproportionate political and ideological influence for the capitalist elite, with its wealth concentrated and protected in giant, impersonal corporations, whose directors are legally mandated to privilege investor profit over any and all other basic democratic and civil concerns.
None of these and other characteristics of the modern profits system can be meaningfully reconciled with either the pre-capitalist republicanism of the
Paul Street (email@example.com)is the author of many articles, chapters, speeches, and books, including Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007), Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2004), Segregated School: Educational Apartheid in the Post-Civil Rights Era (New York: Routledge, 2005); and Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2008). Street's next book is titled The Empire's New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power (
1 David Garrow, Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (New York, NY: 1986), p. 562).
2 Martin Luther King., Jr. “Where Do We Go From Here?” (1967), p.250 in A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr., ed. By James M. Washington (San Francisco, CA: Harper Collins, 1991); Michael Eric Dyson, I May Not Get There With You: The True Martin Luther King, Jr.(New York: Touchstone, 2000), pp. 82-89; Paul Street, “The Pale Reflection: Barack Obama, Martin Luther King Jr., and the Meaning of the Black Revolution,” ZNet Magazine (March 16, 2007), read at http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=12336; Paul Street, “Martin Luther King, Jr: Democratic Socialist,” ZNet Sustainer Commentary (January 14, 2006): http://www.zmag.org/Sustainers/Content/2006-01/14street.cfm and Black Commentator (February 2, 2006): http://www.blackcommentator.com/169/169_street_mlk_democratic_socialist.html
3 For some chilling reflections on U.S.-imposed mass death and devastation in Southeast Asia, see William Blum, Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower (Monroe, ME: Common Courage, 2005), pp. 66, 114, 117-118, 138-139, 174; Noam Chomsky, Year 501: The Conquest Continues (Boston, MA: South End, 1993)pp. 251-274; Ward Churchill, On the Justice of roosting Chickens: Reflections on the Consequences of U.S. Imperial Arrogance and Criminality (Oakland CA: AK Press, 2003), pp.132-149.
4 Garrow, Bearing the Cross, p. 562.
5 Martin Luther King, Jr., "Where Do We Go From Here?" 1967, reproduced in King, Testament of Hope, p. 250.
6 King, “Where Do We Go From Here?”
7 William F. Pepper, An Act of State: The Execution of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (
8 Mumia Abu-Jamail, “Just War? Or Just War…,” ZNet (January 3, 2010), http://www.zmag.org/zspace/commentaries/4096,quoting from and citing Vincent Harding, Martin Luther King: The Inconvenient Hero (New York: Maryknoll, 1996).
9 Larissa MacFarquhar, “The Conciliator: Where is Barack Obama Coming From?,” The New Yorker (May 7, 2007); Paul Street , Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2008), pp. ix-163; Paul Street, “Audacious Deference to Power,” ZNet Magazine (January 24, 2007), read at http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=11936; Kevin Baker, “Barack Hoover Obama: The Best and the Brightest Blow it Again,” Harper’s Magazine (July 2009).
11 Psalms, 146:3
12 Laurence H. Shoup, “The Presidential Election 2008,” Z Magazine (February 2008); Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, “Riding the ‘Green Wave’ at the Campaign for Peace and Democracy and Beyond,” Electric Politics, July 22, 2009.
13 Noam Chomsky, Interventions (
14 Adolph Reed Jr., “Sitting This One Out,” The Progressive (November 2007).
15 Reed, “Sitting This One Out.” Reed is a longstanding left critic of Obama’s centrist, the first intellectual to note (more than eight years before the Obama phenomenon burst across the national and global stage from the floor of the 2004 Democratic National Convention) Obama’s neoliberal centrism. Curiously, the less radical black academician and major Obama fan Cornell West – an early and vocal member of “Progressives for Obama” who advised the Obama campaign and spoke more than once of his “love” for the future first black president during the campaign year of 2008– made a similar point in 1990. Real and substantive “social motion and movements in America tend,” West wrote twenty years ago, “to be neither rooted in nor sustained by campaigns for electoral office, no matter how charismatic the leader….Despite the symbolic and cathartic electoral victories of liberal women and people of color, all remain thoroughly shackled by corporate priorities in the economy and in debt-ridden administrations. Under such conditions, the plight of the ill-fed, ill-clad, and ill-house tends to get worse.” Two decades before the great, identity-politicized Hillary-Obama-McCain-Palin battle to embody the Re-Branding of America, the future Obama fan and black-academic celebrity West argued that merely symbolic change through bourgeois electoral victories for outwardly liberal minority or female candidates were inadequate to produce significant progressive change. The real “social motion,” he knew, came from social movements. See Cornel West, “The Role of Law in Progressive Politics”  in David Kairys, ed., The Politics of Law: A Progressive Critique (New York: Basic, 1998), pp. 712-713.
16 Howard Zinn, “Election Madness,” The Progressive (March 2008). For similar and related reflections, see Chomsky, Interventions, 99-100.
18 See Charles Derber, Hidden Power: What you Need to Know to Save Our Democracy (
19 Street, Barack Obama, pp. 202-03.
20 That’s what I tried to provide progressives from the ground in
21 “Barack Obama is a brand. And the Obama brand is designed to make us feel good about our government while corporate overlords loot the Treasury, our elected officials continue to have their palms greased by armies of corporate lobbyists, our corporate media diverts us with gossip and trivia and our imperial wars expand in the
22 Jeff Cohen, “Get Ready for the Obama/GOP Alliance,” ZNet Sustainer Commentary (November 29, 2009), read at http://www.zcommunications.org/zspace/commentaries/4058.
23 Mumia Abu-Jamail, “Imagine Being Van Jones,” ZNet (September 22, 2009), read at http://www.zcommunications.org/zspace/commentaries/3990.
24 “The power of accurate observation,” the Irish dramatist and socialist George Bernard Saw once said, “is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it.”
25 For sources and details, see
26 In late September of 2009, the progressive television show “Democracy Now” interviewed with Kehban Grifter, a young activist who was among a modest number protesting the corporate-globalizationist G 20 summit in
Ms. Grifter’s worries about “Obamaitis” were consistent with sad reports from attempted mass antiwar marches in
Ms. Grifter’s comment also reminded me of brief discussion I had with a highly intelligent young antiwar activist – perhaps I should say, former activist – in
27 Noam Chomsky, Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy (
28 Street, Barack Obama and the Future, pp. 193-220.
29 Street, Barack Obama and the Future, p.206.
30 See John K. Wilson, President Barack Obama: A More Perfect Union (
31 “The president and his supporters often throw around the old cliché about not letting the ‘perfect become the enemy of the good.’ That’s their way of defending the fatal compromises Obama keeps making with the right-wing before the fight has even begun. Whether because of lack of gumption or lack of real commitment on Obama’s part, this refusal to confront Power is what has brought us to the current health care debacle in Congress. It’s not a matter of the perfect being the enemy of the good, but that the health care legislation shaped by the White House and its allies in Congress is just no damn good.” Glen Ford, “John Conyers: ‘There is No One More Disappointed Than I am in Barack Obama,” Black Agenda Report (August 4, 2009), read at http://www.blackagendareport.com/?q=content/conyers-%E2%80%9Cthere-no-one-more-disappointed-i-am-barack-obama%E2%80%9D.
32 For two among many examples, see Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream (
33 Massachusetts Institute of Technology, “Climate Change Odds Much Worse Than Thought: New Analysis Shows Warming Could be Double Previous Estimates,” MIT News, May 19, 2009, read at http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2009/roulette-0519.html#; Christian Schwagerl, “Obama Has Failed the World on Climate Change,” Spiegel Online (November 17, 2009), read at www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,661678,00.html
34 Ricardo Levins-Morales, “Revolution in the Time of Hamsters,” ZNet (September 18, 2009).
35 For a chilling and comprehensive reflection by the environmental editor of the leading French newspaper Le Monde, see Herve Kempf, How the Rich Are Destroying the Earth (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green, 2007). For recent data that ought to give pause, see Massachusetts Institute of Technology, “Climate Change Odds.”
36 Istvan Meszaros, Socialism or Barbarism: From the “American Century” to the Crossroads (
37 Last April, the national polling firm Rasmussen Reports asked 1000 randomly selected American adults a simple question: Which is better, capitalism or socialism? Only 53 percent picked the profits system. Among younger adults (18 to 29-year-olds), just 37 percent preferred capitalism, 33 percent socialism, and 30 percent were undecided (Rasmussen Reports, April 9, 2009).These were remarkable findings in light of decades of ongoing Red Scare propaganda in this country.
38 David Germain, “Michael Moore: I May Quit Documentaries,” Huffington Post (September 15, 2009), read at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/09/15/michael-moore-i-may-quit-_n_286854.html
39 Kempf, How The Rich Are Destroying the Earth. Among other things, Kempf demonstrates that capitalism’ super-rich underwrite dissemination of the core Western notion that growth is the solution to social crises resulting from inequality, poverty and unemployment. A “rising tide lifts all boats,” the standard Western maxim (carried over from the New Deal era into the neoliberal age) maintains, making “angry” comparisons between the Few’s yachts and the Many’s rowboats obsolete. “Expanding the pie,” the conventional top-down economic wisdom still asserts, abolishes the supposedly irrelevant question of socioeconomic redistribution – of how the pie is shared out. ”To escape any reevaluation,” Kempf notes, “the oligarchy keeps repeating the dominant ideology according to which the solution to the social crisis is production growth. This is supposedly the sole means of fighting poverty and unemployment.” Abundant data over the last three-and-a-half decades shows that economic growth does not in fact reliably undo those and other social evils. But so what? The notion that material growth is the answer lives on because it induces societies plagued by structurally imposed poverty and idleness “to accept extreme inequalities without questioning them.” Besides being demonstrably false on its own terms, moreover, the reigning doctrine ignores growth’s giant negative impact on an increasingly fragile environment. The toxic ecological costs of increasing total consumption far outpace whatever gains are achieved in per-unit ecological efficiency within and beyond “advanced” economies.
40 See Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary Unabridged (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1979), p. 269: “capit-tal-ism, n.” Lester Thurow, The Future of Capitalism (New York: Penguin, 1996), p. 248; Ellen Meiksens Wood, Democracy Against Capitalism: Renewing Historical Materialism (Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 1995); David Montgomery, Citizen Worker: The Experience of Workers in the United States With Democracy and the Free Market During the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 1993); Paul Street, “Capitalism and Democracy ‘Don’t Mix Very Well’: Reflections on Globalization,” Z Magazine (February 2000): 20-24; Paul Street, “Hitchens, Orwell, Capitalism, and the Real Threat to Democracy,” Review of Education, Pedagogy, and Cultural Studies, Volume 26, Number 1 (January-March 2004): 61-68.
41 Street, “To Save the Capitalist System;” Street, “Democracy and Capitalism.” On ideological influence: some “unreasonable” thinkers have noted that the United States’ free speech and civil libertarian traditions inherited from the late 18th century are an invitation to corporate-totalitarian thought-control and propaganda when they exist side by side with the profit system’s stark socioeconomic inequalities. Precisely because Americans can't be dominated in purely coercive ways, they must be controlled in more subtle and less overtly oppressive fashion. Because they are “free to speak their minds,” their minds must be influenced by those who wish to maintain existing extreme disparities of wealth and power. Thus, there is a huge capitalist investment in the
42 Here are fifty fascinating words from Kramer, a leading member of the