Obama: I am a Progressive

  • Bob Fertik's picture
    Bob Fertik
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Chris Bowers has excellent news from the NY Times:

"I am someone who is no doubt progressive," he said, adding that he believes in universal health care and that government has a strong role to play in overseeing financial institutions and cracking down on abuses in bankruptcies and the like.(...)

"I believe in a whole lot of things that make me progressive and put me squarely in the Democratic camp," he said. But, he noted, he does not believe that the active hand of government is a replacement, say, for parental responsibility in education.(...)

Bowers lays out the reasons why this is great news:

First, and most obviously, Obama self-identifies as a progressive twice in this speech. While it is not a replacement for standing up for progressive policies, it is still important for a Democratic nominee to publicly identity with an ideological term associated with the American left. This strikes me as quite novel, as least in recent decades.

It sure is novel! I can't recall Bill Clinton calling himself a progressive, or Hillary or Al Gore or John Kerry. Most leading Democrats like Ted Kennedy and Robert Wexler still call themselves liberals; only Dennis Kucinich and Russ Feingold call themselves progressives - and act like it.

Third, the speech is actually directed at what Obama calls "my friends on the left." I can't remember a Presidential nominee specifically courting left wing voters and activists before. Honestly, I really can't. This is a sign of increased respect and being taken more seriously. The Obama FISA group played an important role in this regard.

It's actually a sign that Progressives have won the ideological battle in America.

Read. That. Again. Slowly.

Obama is a politician who wants to win the Presidential election. Until now, a candidate who called herself "progressive" (or even "liberal") was effectively marginalizing herself as a candidate who could only win "liberal" states like Massachusetts (McGovern) and Minnesota (Mondale), not the centrist battleground states like Ohio and Florida.

So when a serious contender - even frontrunner - like Obama calls himself "progressive," he's saying (a) it won't hurt him politically and (b) it might even help him.

This is really historic for me, because I have lived my whole adult life in a "conservative" era. The first campaign I worked in was in 1980, the year Reagan swept conservatives into power in Washington and across the country. I was on the staff of a first-term liberal state senator in Connecticut and we eked out an 86-vote victory but we knew we were swimming against a powerful conservative tide. I thought Reagan's victory was a fluke, but his popularity soared after he was shot and his slick "Morning in America" ads, along with the start of an economic recovery, gave him a not just a second term, but time to appoint far-right conservatives to every position of power in the Executive and Judicial branches. Reagan's influence also reached the Corporate Media, which shifted far to the right under Reagan allegedly because he was "popular."

I obviously remained progressive in the years that followed, but there weren't many of us. What kept us going was our belief that (a) we were right on the issues and (b) most Americans agreed with us on the issues, even if Republicans won elections by brilliantly trashing our candidates.

It wasn't until the mid-90's that progressives actually started to gather at the Take Back America conference hosted by the Campaign for America's Future (not a "p" word in sight!). And it wasn't until the Stolen Election of 2000 that we got angry enough to take to the streets by the thousands. We retreated after 9/11, but returned to the streets in the millions to stop the invasion of Iraq. Even though we were absolutely right, we were overwhelmed and silenced once again by the massive war propaganda which featured (corrupt) generals.

Five years after the invasion, the war is now rejected by everyone except Republican zombies. Yet the Corporate Media remains dominated by those who supported the war; war opponents are almost rare on TV as we were before the war.

Since we were shut out of the Corporate Media, we created our own media here on the blogs. And as our ideas gained cohesiveness, we also developed concrete political strategies, especially fundraising for insurgent progressive candidates like Howard Dean. And in 2006 we swept Congress with remarkable long-shot candidates like Jon Tester and Jim Webb.

There was little doubt the wind was at our backs heading towards the 2008 election. But we threw caution to the winds by elevating a woman and a black to the top of our nominating list. This extraordinary historic event was largely obliterated by the Corporate Media, which artificially created the narrative of a "divisive" primary where no real divisiveness existed, especially on substantive issues. So until Obama and Clinton formally declared "Unity," we had no idea whether we were ahead or behind McCain.

Over the past month, it's become clear that we're ahead of McCain by a steady 5%. Only now are we able to catch our breath and look around at the victory we're achieving. And that victory is stunning, considering we're up against the entire Corporate system, with all the money and power that it controls.

Obama's progressive declaration is simple but powerful confirmation of our victory. And in its simple power, it is as exciting as anything in my political life.