The Change We Need

We’re under no illusions about Barack Obama being a progressive messiah. We hear Republicans call him the most liberal senator—even a socialist with plans to soak the rich and spread the wealth! Don’t you wish! Obama has learned to sublimate his progressive instincts and seek moderate consensus. His legislative record shows he will reach across the aisle to seek bipartisan deals. We expect him to operate in a centrist manner similar to that of Bill Clinton and we’re sure he’ll frustrate us in the process. We don’t like that his economic advisers include Robert Rubin and Lawrence Summers, but his circle also includes progressives such as economist Joseph Stiglitz.

Democratic voters passed over more populist candidates Dennis Kucinich and John Edwards during the primaries. But after eight years of Bush and Cheney messing things up, it is worth the fight to get Obama elected.

After all, the designated heir on the Republican side is John McCain, a conservative who supported Bush’s economic and foreign policies, while posing as a “maverick” on the margins. McCain is known for his hair-trigger temper, his campaign is the captive of corporate lobbyists and he displayed erratic judgment with his selection of right-winger Sarah Palin as his running mate.

Let’s have some straight talk, my friends. We cannot risk another four years with a Republican president who wants to cut domestic spending heading into a recession, wants to deregulate health insurance and, if anything, thinks Bush hasn’t been confrontational enough with Russia. It’s much better to choose the even-tempered and intellectually inquisitive Democrat who at least will cut progressives in on the deal.

Some of our friends wonder why we support Obama instead of our progressive populist colleague, Ralph Nader, who is running for president as an independent, or former US Rep. Cynthia McKinney, the Green Party nominee. Our answer is that someone will be elected on Nov. 4 but it won’t be Nader or McKinney—or Libertarian Bob Barr or the Constitution Party’s Chuck Baldwin, for that matter. Nader did an impressive job getting on 46 state ballots while the Greens only managed to get on 32. Libertarians will be on 45 and the Constitution Party 37. But on Nov. 5, any of them will be lucky to finish with 1% of the vote, and nothing we could do will change the likelihood of that reality-based prediction. But we have seen in the past two presidential elections—not placing blame anywhere—that a few hundred votes in a key state can sway the election.

When it comes to choosing between the big two, Noam Chomsky recently told The Real News Network (therealnews.com), he would suggest “voting against McCain, which means voting for Obama without illusions.” He expects Obama to take “standard centrist Democratic policies if he takes office.” But Chomsky noted that, over time, the general population “tends to do considerably better under Democratic than under Republican administrations.”

Chomsky added, “To say it doesn’t make any difference who wins is to simply express your contempt for the general population, because it does make a difference. A lot of what they say is correct—the two parties are effectively factions of one party—the business party—but the factions are somewhat different ... over time, the differences show up in benefits, working conditions, wages, things that really matter to people. So, yes, there’s a difference. ...

“If you’re in a swing state, you have to ask: Is the difference is enough for me to pick the lesser of two evils? And there’s nothing wrong with picking the lesser of two evils. ... So is it worth doing that or is it worth trying to act to create a potential alternative? For example, should I vote Green because maybe someday, with party building, there’ll be a real alternative? Should I express my disdain for the right-wing orientation of both parties by not voting, let’s say? Or should I pick the lesser of two evils, thereby helping people?”

We, too, choose the “lesser evil” and we hope that more progressive reinforcements in Congress will convince Obama (as well as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid) that Democrats can return to the progressive “better angels” of their nature.

As we went to press, Obama was leading by 8% or more in states worth 264 electoral votes, only 6 short of the number he needs. Six competitive states where Obama leads—Colorado, Florida, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia—could put him over the top and a seventh state, Nevada, would put the race in a tie (which would be resolved in the House, where Obama presumably would win as Dems currently outnumber the R’s in 27 state congressional delegations).

McCain has no chance to win a fair fight at this point, so he is running a typical GOP smear campaign, questioning Obama’s patriotism and distorting his ties with a former 1960s radical who is now a respected college professor in Chicago. McCain also lets surrogates raise questions about Obama’s former Christian pastor (while others suggest that Obama’s a closet Muslim).

Colin Powell’s endorsement was a blow to McCain and should help legitimize Obama among independent voters. A poll by Rasmussen Reports found that 80% have a favorable opinion of the former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman and secretary of state, but only 5% said it was “very likely” that the endorsement would influence their vote. However, Powell reinforces the view that Obama can be trusted while McCain is reckless and has grow too close to the right wing of the party.

Republicans also are challenging voter registration drives by ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. McCain claimed they are destroying the fabric of democracy. What ACORN actually did was to hire canvassers to go into low-income neighborhoods and register residents to vote. Some of the canvassers apparently decided it would be easier to fill out the forms with names taken from phone books, or cartoons, or football teams. In those cases, ACORN was the victim of fraud. It is unlikely that anyone will try to vote based on those fraudulent registrations, but if they do they can be prosecuted.

Unfortunately, Republicans once again are trying to suppress the vote in Democratic areas. (Greg Palast writes about some of those schemes on page 11 and with Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in the Oct. 30 Rolling Stone.) Election officials in Lake County, Indiana, which includes East Chicago and Gary, stopped processing voter registration forms submitted by ACORN, apparently assuming they were bogus, the Gary, Ind. Post-Tribune reported Oct. 19. After potential voters inquired why they hadn’t received voter cards, election officials resumed checking 5,000 applications turned in by ACORN canvassers, as well as 20,000 other voter applications unconnected to ACORN that had not been entered two weeks before the election. An election official blamed the backlog on the need to check ACORN applications, but an ACORN spokesman said the group caught nearly all the problem applications and brought them to election officials’ attention.

Lake County Republican Chairman John Curley also cited ACORN “voter registration fraud” as a main reason early voting locations should not be established in predominantly black Gary, Hammond and East Chicago precincts.

Even those who got their registration cards are not home free. More reports of malfunctioning electronic voting machines are coming in. Problems with e-vote software in New Mexico and Virgina have caused machines to tabulate straight-party votes incorrectly, VotersUnite.org noted. In past elections, similar problems have been notied in Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin.

With no way to know how many programming errors were never caught, VotersUnite.org recommends voting for candidates individually, even if straight-party option is offered. Vote carefully.

With the conclusion of his presidential campaign, we hope to welcome Ralph Nader back to our columns in the next issue. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, November 15, 2008

Home Page

Subscribe to The Progressive Populist

Copyright © 2008 The Progressive Populist.