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America’s Future Now: We have to get the public to support us to make Obama do the right thing

2010 June 7
by Ian Welsh

The interesting thing about the conference so far is the message: if only we organize, we can change what the public thinks and with the public behind us make the President and Congress do what we want.

This was epitomized by a “debate” between Darcy Burner and Deepak Bhargava, where they both agreed that the key to progressive change is organzing: get the public behind us, and change can be made to happen.  FDR wouldn’t have been FDR without the movement behind him.  LBJ wouldn’t have been behind civil rights without the movement.  And so on.

What the evidence, though?

70% of the public supported the public option. Calls against TARP ran from 100:1 to 1200:1.  Obama through the public option under the bus, and whipped hard for TARP, which would not have passed without him.

The evidence that Obama will respond to pressure to do things he really doesn’t want to do (ie. progressive things) is minimal.

Now that’s not to say there’s no reason to pressure him.  Really serious pressure, like the gay lobby pushed on him where they cut off donations, heckled him everywhere, and chained themselves to the White House fence.  Note, however, that this wsasn’t about public opinion, this was about making Obama miserable.

Now, the unions are sending messages through Democratic primaries.  Almost every serious Democratic primary challenge this year has been backed by union muscle and money.  So, whatever is being said here (and CAF is a union proxy), the unions have put a message across Obama’s bow.  Nor is the mood here happy with Obama, the assumption now is that he’s either too spineless to do the right thing, or that he doesn’t want to to do the right thing.

Still, the type of pressure Obama responds too isn’t public opinion, it is when you embarrass him and cost him money that he responds.  Mind you, gays didn’t get everything, but they got something.

Pain.  Obama responds to pain.  You can’t ask nicely, because he won’t listen unless y9u’re hurting him.

39 Responses
  1. anonymous permalink
    June 7, 2010

    This was epitomized by a “debate” between Darcy Burner and Deepak Bhargava, where they both agreed that the key to progressive change is organzing: get the public behind us, and change can be made to happen. FDR wouldn’t have been FDR without the movement behind him. LBJ wouldn’t have been behind civil rights without the movement. And so on.

    For those who want to hear this “debate” (two separate speeches), you can hear it at KPFA’s website:

    http://kpfa.org/archive/id/61621

  2. anonymous permalink
    June 7, 2010

    P.S., The “debate” starts about thirty minutes into the program.

  3. anonymous permalink
    June 7, 2010

    Obama through the public

    “through” -> “threw”
    “y9u’re” -> “you’re”

    (Feel free to delete this comment.)

  4. anonymous permalink
    June 7, 2010

    The evidence that Obama will respond to pressure to do things he really doesn’t want to do (ie. progressive things) is minimal.

    Now that’s not to say there’s no reason to pressure him. Really serious pressure, like the gay lobby pushed on him where they cut off donations, heckled him everywhere, and chained themselves to the White House fence.

    Note that what people who are gay are lobbying for does not significantly affect the “acien régime”, meaning it doesn’t much change the economic winners and losers. This is why I think they will get at least some of what they are lobbying for. Similarly, DADT will eventually be revoked because it does not affect the rent-seekers, and it can help with campaigning in 2011/2012 (“throw them a bone or two, so long as it doesn’t cost us anything”).

  5. rumor permalink
    June 7, 2010

    It seems to me that this is something the Republican machine understood many administrations ago.

  6. S Brennan permalink
    June 7, 2010

    “FDR wouldn’t have been FDR without the movement behind him. LBJ wouldn’t have been behind civil rights without the movement.”

    This is a big lie, a ready made excuse for “leadership”

    If Obama had been elected in 1932 he’d a been the pathetic putz he is today.

    From my Facebook this morning:

    “Leaders don’t say, I’m much better than the…”

    They Say:

    “We are here, we need to go there, here is how we will do it.”

  7. beowulf permalink
    June 7, 2010

    I’ve mentioned it here before, but James Douglass’s phenomenal book on Jack Kennedy (JFK and the Unspeakable) is worth reading. Or instead of wasting your time on those speeches at the KPKA site, you can listen to Douglass speak about his book.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=srstQVfVNEM

    The thing about Kennedy is he fought like hell against his enemies and even when he lost, he went down swinging… a sailor to the end. As for Obama, I believe he’s first president since Wilson who was a university professor before going into politics.

  8. June 7, 2010

    “You can’t ask nicely, because he won’t listen unless you’re hurting him.”

    That which applies to the head pr man of the establishment applies to the establishment as a whole.

    Z

  9. anonymous permalink
    June 7, 2010


    The thing about Kennedy is …

    …that his handling of the October Missile Crisis was the single greatest act of diplomacy ever. Had he done what the military and others were clamoring for most of us wouldn’t be here today.

  10. anonymous permalink
    June 7, 2010


    …wasting your time on those speeches…

    Especially the second one, which sounded to me like it was written by Obama’s speech writer.

  11. June 7, 2010

    Pain. Obama responds to pain. You can’t ask nicely, because he won’t listen unless y9u’re hurting him.

    Pain, and potential loss of power. These are the things he will care about. Nothing else matters. I’ve been saying that for a long time. That I’ve been able to recognize this should indicate that it’s not a terribly remarkable insight. Yet it seems to be beyond many of the folks at this conference.

    Until progressives learn this lesson, nothing is going to change for the better.

  12. Bernard permalink
    June 7, 2010

    Obama is bought and paid for. don’t expect him to be or do anything other than what he is: a spokesman for the Corporations. All face and no substance.

    the pain issue is correct. enough push and maybe, to save his “image”. but he is a Republican anyway. what good are Republicans or Democrats for that matter.

    the kabuki theatre must go on!!

  13. June 7, 2010

    Once again, I will note that “the public option” referred to no fixed thing.

    We got double-screwed, by career “progressives” who brilliantly got most of us to take our eye off the ball of real HCR and by Obama who wouldn’t even deliver that placebo.

    This is worth noting, not just on long-term policy grounds, but to understand what a complete FAIL progressive politics is in America today. We’re advocating for nothingburgers… and not getting them, and then debating how to be more effective at maybe getting the next one.

  14. June 7, 2010

    Pain? What pain?

    The one event that Obama might respond to is impending loss of incumbency. Forget about pressure. If you can get the public to “support pressure” on dozens of doomed policy initiatives, you will definitely be able to get them to support ending Obama’s career. Can’t get that? The you have nothing – no leverage, no influence, no future.

  15. June 7, 2010

    “Mind you, gays didn’t get everything, but they got something.”

    Yeah, unlike the tortured, the detained, and the dead.

    Embarrassing Obama? The man is a living, breathing, painful embarrassment. Let’s get to the point:

    “Bush’s statement amounts to an admission of his role in a serious crime. He can speak and act without concern because the Obama White House has announced its intention not to enforce American domestic law, under which this conduct was a felony, and not to comply with the unequivocal treaty commitments of the Convention Against Torture, under which the United States is unconditionally obligated to undertake a criminal investigation. In this way, the sins of one regime have been assumed by its successor.”
    http://www.harpers.org/archive/2010/06/hbc-90007166

    Just how much bargaining does this “progressive” bowel movement entail, and how many non-citizens will have to bleed out under the campaign bus for “four more years” of this? What does it take? The whole “Make him FDR” drivel has carried way beyond its expiration date, and the stench has become that of an abbatoir.

  16. anonymous permalink
    June 7, 2010


    The one event that Obama might respond to is impending loss of incumbency.

    I don’t think that he would respond, at least not in any way that has any economic significance. Sure, he would pay lip service, that’s his forte. But actually do something such as a substantial public legislative proposal (“Read my lips…”), that he won’t do. And not only on economic matters but on judicial matters. Not even a significant Democratic challenge with a campaign launched in 2011 would, for example, get him to have the justice dept. initiate investigations into bush&cheney&rove. He’ll settle for what he anticipates will await him after he leaves office: the Bill Clinton Reward Tour, along with his lifetime pension and secret service detail.

  17. Jim permalink
    June 7, 2010

    What anonymous said about DADT makes sense to me but I can’t see any significant reforms left in capitalism. Capitalism is not expanding–it is contracting–and the leftovers that the ruling elite used to share with the working class are gone. Obama, to be a great leader for the “people,” would have to step outside this reality and rally for the fundamental changes that many in this country are asking for: universal single payer health care, cutting the military budget, getting troops out of the rest of the world, expanding public education at all levels, feeding the poor, housing the poor…make your own list. This would demand a fundamentally different understanding on his part. The democrat party, the house, the senate, the supreme court, the major media, the military…you get the idea…all these players who make up the State apparatus would also need to have a fundamentally different understanding.

    Let’s for the sake of argument say at this point in history you can’t reform capitalism. Then, if all Obama can do is reform capitalism, he has an impossible job. Wait, he can reform capitalism as it contracts to help the major corporations in this country maintain a greater margin of profits and make sure that the property relations remain status quo? Is this not exactly what he is doing?

  18. June 7, 2010

    No, Obama’s going to get a humongous contract to go on the teebee, or become a GS director, or something. He doesn’t care about incumbency, now that he’s a made man. For all these guys, elected office is the equivalent of an unpaid internship on the way to the real money.

  19. anonymous permalink
    June 7, 2010


    I can’t see any significant reforms left in capitalism.

    Here’s my back-of-the-envelope calculation:

    1. Health care costs in the U.S. were about 17% of GDP, where GDP was around $14 trillion. The nearest GDP expenditure was Canada’s at around 10% of Canada’s GDP. Most of western Europe and Japan had even smaller expenditures. And keep in mind that those countries covered all of their citizens, while the U.S. left about 1/6 of the population without coverage. If the other 40+ million citizens were to be covered, the cost would be near 20% of U.S. GDP. Let’s say that the U.S. was to come up with a reform that cut the 17% of GDP down to 10% of GDP, saving 7% of GDP. 7% of $14 trillion is roughly $980 billion per year that is lost on unproductive work, that doesn’t cover the entire population and has worse health outcomes (higher infant mortality, etc.) than the countries that pay so much less.

    Is a $980 billion per year reform not “significant?”

    2. The military budget for 2009 was $876 billion*, which arguably could be cut to its pre-Cold War level in 1950 of around $250 billion, or over $600 billion. Is that not “significant?” Or, even if it was cut to its Cold War level from 1955 to 1965 of around $350 billion, that is still $500 billion saved.

    3. I don’t know how to calculate how much is wasted yearly on the FIRE sector. In 1980, the financial industry’s share of corporate profits was approximately 8%. By 2007, its share was approximately 40%. Reforming this sector of the economy would likely also save hundreds of billions of dollars annually.

    4. For thirty years since Carter left the presidency, the U.S. has done nothing to end its dependency on imported oil. This bill is hundreds of billions of dollars per year, and that’s not even including the cost of the military expenses.

    Combined, these expenses are multiple trillions out of a nearly $14 trillion GDP.

    These are the profits that obama is protecting (some people can come up with others, I expect). Worst of all, while protecting these profits, he and the ruling class are not doing anything about moving the economy to a non-fossil-fuel based means of production and transportation, which the planet is not negotiating (see, global warming).

    *http://www.warresisters.org/federalpiechart

  20. Jim permalink
    June 7, 2010

    “Is a $980 billion per year reform not “significant?””

    Hell, yes, it is!! All the points you make seem valid. The point I am trying to make is that there is an objective side of the game; i.e., the law of maximum profit will not allow significant reforms to be given (even though they exist) in the environment where U.S. based capitalism is in a fight for its life all over the planet. If this were not true we would not have military personnel all over the world and two major wars going at once. Capitalism can’t even exploit labor like it used to. All the people out of work in the world and they can’t even be used to create surplus value.

    Are reforms available? Yes, they are. Can capitalism objectively give them up and follow the law of maximum profit? That is the fight we see before us. How do we get them to be nice capitalists and give the working class a bigger piece of the pie?

  21. June 7, 2010

    Those jobs are offered on the strength of the power that politicians have accumulated during their internship, Lambert. If they lose it before they leave office, those contracts are likely to be less lucrative.

  22. anonymous permalink
    June 7, 2010


    … the law of maximum profit will not allow significant reforms to be given (even though they exist) in the environment where U.S. based capitalism is in a fight for its life all over the planet.

    If this were not true we would not have military personnel all over the world and two major wars going at once.

    I don’t think that is why we have military personnel all over the world* or two military occupations. We have that because it is a gov’t. jobs program that spends a lot of money on two non-productive industries: weapons makers and “military contractors.” It is presented as a foreign policy decision, but in fact is a domestic policy decision.

    Imagine if the following was presented before Congress:

    “The foreign policy response of the U.S. shall be to send hundreds of billions of dollars annually to the gov’t.s of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan to help them rebuild their countries. None of the money will be spent on domestic weapon production, contracting, or other “military” expenditures.”

    This foreign policy would be very popular in those three countries (look at how popular it is in Israel and Egypt, and those countries only receive about $4 billion annually), and would go a long way to helping them avoid becoming failed states. It would get nearly zero votes in Congress because it would mean that hundreds of billions of dollars would not be spent domestically in congressional districts.

    *http://www.truthout.org/1218098

    Overall, contractors now comprise a whopping 69% of the Department of Defense’s total workforce, “the highest ratio of contractors to military personnel in US history.” That’s not in one war zone—that’s the Pentagon in its entirety.

  23. Jim permalink
    June 8, 2010

    “It is presented as a foreign policy decision, but in fact is a domestic policy decision.” I believe it is both.

    The U.S. strategy is to gain control of the global economy by blunting the development of its various competitors (European Union, China, Russia). It is doing this by trying to strangle the development of their economies through the control of access to oil. This requires more than economic power. The U.S. must position itself geopolitically throughout the world to accomplish these goals. The establishment of U.S. controlled regimes in the Middle East and Central Asia, the encirclement of China, the undermining of Russia in its historical spheres of influence and now the attempts to isolate and crush Iran are all part of this.

    The history of U.S. economic development is a constant story of giant giveaways: dollars, land, roads, resources, military contracts, risk insurance and more – public wealth put into private hands. As the economy grew, it brought incredible wealth to a small class of people and a comfortable standard of living to millions of workers integral to the productive process.
    Today’s bailouts and the nationalization of failing industries – with the goal of getting them healthy and putting them back into private hands – are different from the giveaways of the past. They are a recognition that private ownership and the market no longer can meet society’s needs. When the market can no longer guarantee the profits of the corporations and the government steps in to protect them.

    Breaking down all barriers to global capital and investment either by economics, politics or by the military is a necessary aspect of the process of globalization which the U.S. based capitalists must take care of . To compete globally, the U.S. capitalist must feed the military and, in doing so, the military contractors; they in turn provide some jobs for some districts in the country that help guarantee the Representative will be elected to vote for even more military spending.

  24. beowulf permalink
    June 8, 2010

    his handling of the October Missile Crisis was the single greatest act of diplomacy ever. Had he done what the military and others were clamoring for most of us wouldn’t be here today..

    Agreed, and from Douglass’s book (and speech linked above), its clear “the military and others” clamoring for preemptive nuclear war against Russia were foremost of the enemies JFK fought like hell against.

  25. anonymous permalink
    June 8, 2010


    The U.S. strategy is to gain control of the global economy by blunting the development of its various competitors (European Union, China, Russia). It is doing this by trying to strangle the development of their economies through the control of access to oil.

    If so, it is doing a piss-poor job of it. Russia is a net oil and natural gas exporter (especially to the EU), and China is able to get all of the oil that it wants without having to spend a stupid amount of its GDP on wasteful military spending, unlike the U.S.

  26. June 8, 2010

    Yes, he only responds when he feels his next career step is threatened. It’s how he was as my senator, and that’s why I worked against his nomination.

    So all we have to do is figure out what his next career step is.

    God?

    Carolyn Kay
    MakeThemAccountable.com

  27. June 8, 2010

    LBJ and FDR, though, were reachable through their sympathy with the poor, weak, and oppressed, and when strong movements arrived that spoke for those people, they could be backed into supporting those movements. To sway Obama, we must first find his sympathies, and so far we do not know where they are, though his Supreme Court picks suggest a passion for law and perhaps justice.

  28. Ian Welsh permalink*
    June 8, 2010

    There are no nice capitalists as a group. Capitalists, like any other powerful group, will give up power or money or anything else when the alternative to doing so is worse than doing so.

  29. anonymous permalink
    June 8, 2010


    Capitalists, like any other powerful group, will give up power or money or anything else when the alternative to doing so is worse than doing so.

    Jared Diamond, from 2003:

    http://www.ted.com/talks/jared_diamond_on_why_societies_collapse.html

    At around 11:30 minutes into the talk.

    And so, I’ve been trying to develop a hierarchical set of
    considerations about why societies fail to solve their problems.
    Why they fail to perceive the problems, or if they perceive them, why
    they fail to tackle them. Or, if they fail to tackle them, why do
    they fail to succeed in solving them?

    One blueprint for trouble, making collapse likely, is where there is a
    conflict of interest between the short-term interest of the
    decision-making elites and the long-term interest of the society as a
    whole, especially if the elites are able to insulate themselves
    from the consequences of their actions
    . Where what’s good in the
    short run for the elite is bad for the society as a whole, there’s a
    real risk of the elite doing things that would bring society down in
    the long run.

    Those same issues of conflicts of interest are acute in the United
    States today. Especially because the decision makers in the United
    States are frequently able to insulate themselves from consequences by
    living in gated compounds, by drinking bottled water, and so on. And
    within the last couple of years, it’s been obvious that the elite in
    the business world correctly perceive that they can advance their
    short-term interest by doing things that are good for them but bad for
    society as a whole, such as draining a few billion dollars out of
    Enron and other businesses. They are quite correct that these things
    are good for them in the short term, although bad for society in the
    long term.

    And that was before the TARP vote, where they showed that when
    they are threatened by the consequences of their decisions (a
    decade of bank fraud), they will act quickly to insulate themselves
    from the consequences of their foolish prior acts, even overturning
    a ‘No’ vote within a week, if needed.

  30. June 8, 2010

    That’s blasphemy, Carolyn!

    He already is G*d.

  31. judith Braun permalink
    June 8, 2010

    the progressive constituency will tune in and organize en masse if the issue on the table is accountability. that’s what’s making people ballistic. obama stated his position on that on day 1. he doesn’t believe it’ s helpful to look back at the criminal wars and plunder and rape of the body politic. no sir, it’s forward march.
    so many stories of endless rip-offs and grand theft. we could dramatize 1 a night and never run out.
    make a list. the most egregious cases interspersed with…..

  32. anonymous permalink
    June 8, 2010


    … if the issue on the table is accountability.

    Earlier this year, a school district made national news when it fired the entire staff of a public school, including the principal and all teachers. In that instance, Obama went out his way to make a public statement saying that people (the teachers & principal) needed to be held accountable.

    If you’re in Obama’s socioeconomic class, then you will not be held accountable for crimes (see, bush&cheney&rove&gonzales) or incompetence (see, bernanke). The rules don’t apply to everyone.

  33. June 9, 2010

    “He doesn’t care about incumbency, now that he’s a made man.”

    Fair enough. I am not particularly interested in the education and rehabilitation of Obama.
    I want to get rid off him. In the long run, even Presidenta Palin would be better for the world, if not the nation.

    If it is true that neither shame nor loss of re-election – nor impeachment – will influence a man once elected, we should probably polygraph and interrogate – and hey, for good measure, waterboard – anybody running for public office. Because there does not seem to be any other way to determine what they are made of before it is too late.

  34. anonymous permalink
    June 9, 2010


    Because there does not seem to be any other way to determine what they are made of before it is too late.

    In other words, representative gov’t. is broken. If candidates are free to do whatever they choose — including the opposite of what they said they would do — once they are in office, then it is impossible for citizens to express their will through voting. A gov’t. that does not express the will of the governed is not legitimate:

    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…

    and eventually the governed will need to do something about it:

    …— That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

    but it may be some time before the governed act:

    …Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.

  35. June 9, 2010

    Because there does not seem to be any other way to determine what they are made of before it is too late.

    Before he ran for President, Obama already had a clear record of embracing anyone who could give him campaign donations and avoiding making anyone who could make his political life difficult uncomfortable. He was known as “Mr. Present” in the Illinois legislature for all the “present” votes he recorded there on issues that might have lost him one supporter or another. All this was clearly known.

    The other clue to who Obama really was came in the form of his advisors. His advisors on foreign policy and economics advocated the policies he’s pursuing now.

    The trick is that you have to pay attention to the deeds, not to the words. Obama was an open book once you looked past the words.

  36. anonymous permalink
    June 9, 2010


    The trick is that you have to pay attention to the deeds, not to the words. Obama was an open book once you looked past the words.

    Whatever he was or is, when people voted in 2008, they pretty emphatically did not consciously vote for Bush III, or they would have chosen McCain. The fact that they got Bush III should lead to a lot of voters being angry that they were duped, regardless of what they “should” have known. In due time, they should see that once again they got someone who is a failure at helping the country resolve its problems.

    But what do I know? Harman just won her primary, not to mention B.Lincoln. It may be quite some time before enough people realize that these politicians are not working in their interests. And besides, they’re still only able to chose between the lesser of two evils.

  37. Ian Welsh permalink*
    June 10, 2010

    It was there in the words too, if you knew how to listen. The compulsive worship of tax cuts, the hagiography of Reagan, the insistence that Dems weren’t right any more than Republicans, and so on…

    I think I had a big advantage–I hate watching videos because it takes so long, so I read the transcripts of Obama’s speeches, and when you read them they are remarkably empty, but the ideological markers are not liberal or progressive.

  38. June 12, 2010

    Helen Thomas was dis-appeared because people didn’t know to

    “read the transcripts”

    When the Helen Thomas story started I asked to “read the transcripts”

    Videos are easily manipulated without causation.

    Falsified transcripts are easily detected, dis-assembled and their creator destroyed.

  39. June 12, 2010

    >>That’s blasphemy, Carolyn!

    >>He already is G*d.

    Well, it seems to be my lot to offend everybody.

    Carolyn Kay
    MakeThemAccountable.com

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