Thursday, August 28, 2008

Progressives and Obama

Following is a snippet from a commentary by media analyst and author Norman Solomon (pictured at right) on Barack Obama and the progressive base. I like what Solomon has to say as he neither fawns over Obama nor, as some on the far left have done, totally dismisses him for not being progressive enough.

I came across Solomon’s commentary in a booklet produced by This free booklet can be found in numerous Twin Cities shops and businesses in the lead-up to the Republican National Convention. Along with articles and commentaries by Noam Chomsky, Winona LaDuke, Any Tannenbaum, and others, both the “My Peace City booklet and website contain a detailed listing of events that have been planned in response to the agenda being pushed by the Republican party during its upcoming convention in St. Paul. (Note: A number of these events are also listed in the Upcoming Events section of the latest issue of The Progressive Catholic Voice.)

I particularly appreciate Solomon’s reminder that we should not expect any one person to be responsible for solving our society’s problems. It is always the work of social movements, i.e., a range of collective actions on the part of all of us, that facilitates positive social change. Yet as Solomon observes, such action is more likely to be present and effective under an Obama presidency than a McCain one.

Not being a U.S. citizen, I won’t be able to vote in the upcoming presidential election. But if I could I would be voting for Barack Obama – and pragmatically for the reasons outlined by Norman Solomon below.


As an elected Obama delegate to the Democratic National Convention, I’ve been hearing from people who are upset by the recent direction of the campaign. Some were always skeptical of Obama but are becoming more so. Others have been strong supporters from the outset. In the latter category, an attorney sent an e-mail to me a few days ago: “I must confess that my enthusiasm for Senator Obama has waned in recent weeks with a number of his policy announcements (on FISA, gun control, etc.). While I of course will vote for him and help him get elected, I must say that I feel a bit deflated after having put so much hope, effort, and money into his candidacy.”

Obama and his top advisors will have to gauge the importance of such deflation and waning enthusiasm. A key factor in the election will be the extent to which the Obama campaign can pull off a massive mobilization of voters. Deflated constituencies don’t mobilize as well as inspired ones.

Anyone who assumes that Obama will be elected president in November is on ground as solid as the assumption in 2000 that Al Gore would be elected president. On July 9, when releasing new results from nationwide polling, the Democratic research outfit Greenberg Quinlan Rosner reported that Obama has a mere 4-point lead over John McCain. Despite its propensity to spin for Democrats and its eagerness to note that Obama seems “well-positioned,” the firm acknowledged “some diminished enthusiasm for the presumptive Democratic nominee and only small gains among independent voters.”

Some progressives, now disaffected, might consider the prospect of Obama falling short on Election Day to be his problem, not ours. But this isn’t about Obama. It’s about whether the levers of power in the Executive Branch, and the Supreme Court along with it, are going to be redelivered into the hands of the right wing for another four years.

We’re facing the historic imperative of keeping McCain out of the White House. If major progressive change is going to be feasible during the next several years, defeating McCain in November is necessary. And insufficient. The insufficiency does not negate the necessity.

Under a McCain presidency, we’d be back to the square one where we’ve found ourselves since January 2001. Putting Obama in the White House would not by any means ensure progressive change, but under his presidency the grassroots would have an opportunity to create it.

Along the way, let’s strive to eliminate disillusionment by dispensing with illusions. No one who is a presidential candidate can proceed to overcome corporate power or the warfare state. The pervasive and huge problems that have proved to be so destructive are deep, structural, and embedded in the political economy. The changes most worth believing in are ones that social movements can make possible.

- Excerpted from “Obama and the Progressive Base” by Norman Solomon.

NEXT: Part 2

Recommended Off-site Links:
Progressives and Obama: The Clash of Narratives - Norman Solomon (, August 18, 2008).
Yes You Can: Why Catholics Don’t Have to Vote Republican - Gerald J. Beyer (Commonweal, June 20, 2008).
Catholic Democrats
Catholics for Obama
Roman Catholics for Obama/Biden ’08
Catholics United

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Historic (and Wild!)
Reality Check
Catholic Democrats
An American Prayer

Image 1: Normon Solomon (photographer unknown).
Images 2- 3: Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and Democratic vice presidential candidate, Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Wednesday, August 27, 2008. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

1 comment:

kevin57 said...

I think his advocacy of Obama for progressive change is naive and simplistic, at least as far as promoting greater dignity for gays. Just as it took a Richard Nixon to go to China, or a Bill Clinton to sign welfare reform, or a George Bush to enact No Child Left Behind, Obama will not be able to end DADT in the military. He'll have no 'cred' with the military. However, let any Chicken Hawk oppose McCain if he wants to allow gays to serve openly in the military. That would only get a laugh and then a well-deserved sneer.

I understand that DADT is just one issue, but these issues will be advanced societally only one at a time.