Party Like It’s 1932: The Obama Option
Seventy-six years ago, to many ears on the left, Franklin D. Roosevelt sounded way too much like a centrist. True, he was eloquent, and he'd generated enthusiasm in a Democratic base eager to evict Republicans from the White House. But his campaign was moderate -- with policy proposals that didn't indicate he would try to take the country in bold new directions if he won the presidency.
Yet FDR's triumph in 1932 opened the door for progressives. After several years of hitting the
Today, segments of the corporate media have teamed up with the
Do we have a major stake in this fight? Does it really matter whether Hillary Clinton or Obama wins the Democratic nomination? Is it very important to prevent John McCain from moving into the White House?
The answers that make sense to me are yes, yes and yes.
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In 1932, there were scant signs that Franklin Delano Roosevelt might become a progressive president. By the summer of that election year, when he accepted the Democratic Party's nomination for president, his "only left-wing statements had been exceedingly vague," according to FDR biographer Frank Freidel.
Just weeks before the 1932 general election,
Six days later, on October 19, FDR delivered a speech in
As the fall campaign came to a close, the Nation magazine lamented that "neither of the two great parties, in the midst of the worst depression in our history, has had the intelligence or courage to propose a single fundamental measure that might conceivably put us on the road to recovery." Looking back on the 1932 campaign, Freidel was to comment: "Indeed, in many respects, for all the clash and clamor, Roosevelt and President Hoover had not differed greatly from each other."
The Socialist Party's Norman Thomas, running for president again that year, had a strong basis for his critique of both major-party candidates in 1932. But in later elections, when Thomas ran yet again, many former supporters found enough to admire in FDR's presidency to switch over and support the incumbent for re-election.
Major progressive successes under the New Deal happened in sync with stellar achievements in grassroots organizing. So, in Zinn's words, "Where organized labor was strong,
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Support of a candidate does not -- or at least should not -- mean silence about disagreement. There shouldn't be any abatement of advocacy for progressive positions, whether opposition to nuclear power plants, insistence on complete withdrawal of the
For good reasons, Obama doesn't say "I am the one we've been waiting for." He says in speech after speech: "We are the ones we've been waiting for." Whether that ends up being largely rhetoric or profoundly real depends not on him nearly so much as on us.
A crucial task between now and November is to get Obama elected as president while shifting the congressional mix toward a progressive majority. Next year will bring the imperative of organizing to exert powerful pressure from the base for progressive change.
At a recent caucus in
Barack Obama has the potential to become as great a president as Franklin Roosevelt -- while social and political movements in the
"War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death," the documentary film based on Norman Solomon's book of the same name, has been released on home video. For information, go to: www.WarMadeEasyTheMovie.org