December 23, 2008
I'll be taking a few days off for the holidays, but I'll try to check in and respond to comments and post stuff every couple days.
Here are a few tidbits I've found especially interesting recently:
Brent Budowsky has the closest thing to a Take Back Barack essay I've read yet.
The Libertarian Party has decried Obama's foreign policy, or at least his indicators of policy, saying we'll be in Iraq and Afghanistan for "his entire presidency."
The Obama transition team is still using the campaign Web site, to organize more house meetings and to show off the ones that have already happened.
A Dallas resident has posted a list of five Dos and five Don'ts for the Obama administration. No surprises here - they are why we elected the man.
Michael Pollan, a man some wanted to see as the Secretary of Food, has denounced Obama's pick of Tom Vilsack as Secretary of Agriculture, noting - among other pointed observations - that Vilsack didn't use the word "food" in his first remarks as a nominee.
Even though Dick Cheney has confessed to war crimes, people in the know suggest that nobody will be held accountable. How that serves as a deterrent to others, or a statement to the world that it's unacceptable, is beyond me.
The New York Times suggests that Obama's plan to spend billions on fixing the country's roads, bridges, railroads, and buildings might not have the effect he's hoping for, which is a warning that Obama needs to remember to stay true to those who elected him, and to whom he has promised protection.
And Mother Jones suggests that Obama may fail to change Washington - and that it may change him instead. A chilling warning indeed.
December 22, 2008
President-elect Obama's commitment to restore honesty to the core of federal science policy (and science-related policies) is definitely encouraging. The biggest potential pitfall is that the Bush administration also claimed to base its decisions on science - even when it censored science to serve political ends. (This involved paying lip service to science while actually subjugating it to ideology.)
I don't believe Obama will engage in this kind of deception, but it's worth keeping an eye out.
Also, Glenn Greenwald had a good piece on Salon on Friday, in which he asked when Dems haven't tolerated, included, and accommodated. And, he notes, we're suspicious of Obama's quavering and middle-seeking "because we know where it ends." And we're sick of that.
Robert Parry over at ConsortiumNews also explains that what we're seeing is more of the same, and not the Change We Need.
Beyond the question of whether you want this man to be the first person you see in the morning (except for Michelle, we hope), there are serious concerns about having the Director of National Intelligence be a member of the military (albeit retired). While Dennis Blair is a Mainer, he is also a retired four-star general. The problem here is conceptual, but could become actual. The military - and government intelligence agencies - exist to serve the civilian leadership of the country. Obviously, the military has a martial mindset. If that takes too much precedence in intelligence gathering and analysis, then our civilian leaders could be led in a direction that civilian analysts might suggest against. (UPDATE: According to the Nation, Blair made the US (more) complicit in the 1999 violence in Timor. And the NYT reports that he tried to waterski behind a destroyer he commanded in Japan.)
Also, it's very encouraging to see Obama focusing on the middle class so much. As always, the key questions: Is the middle class growing? Are middle-class people prospering? are vague and noncommittal. As the effort takes shape, let's look for serious metrics to be involved, like the number of uninsured (and underinsured), high-school and college graduation rates, and so on.
BTW, Dissident Voice last Friday began a series called, I'm guessing, "Obama's Unprogressive." Here are the first three installments: "Obama's Unprogressive People," "Obama's Unprogressive Foreign Policies," and "Obama's Unprogressive Domestic Policies." Interesting reading, for sure!
December 20, 2008
I've been catching up on the blogosphere and reading Andrew Sullivan's commentaries on Obama's choice of conservative evangelical pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation on Inauguration Day. Sullivan and others appear to have struggled mightily and come to terms with the selection, saying it appeared abominable at first but is perhaps a new and giant symbol of Obama's "post-partisan" politics.
While I commend their intellectual effort and attempt at compassion, I have to caution liberals and progressives about being too inclusive. Remember, we got to the Bush administration by being inclusive, patient, tolerant, and easygoing. We got to the Dems' takeover of the Congress in 2006 - and their utter failure to do anything good about Iraq, warrantless wiretapping, or holding Bushies accountable - by being accepting, and by believing that "this is a process" in which "things take time."
That viewpoint has been proven false, a failure, a senseless tragedy. Certainly, wrong-thinking people need to be shown the error of their ways. But that presumes they are willing or able to do so. Some are, to be sure - others aren't.
And this is where Take Back Barack begins. We need to be clear about what our expectations are. I very much believe that progressive ideas can withstand the test of public debate. But does every single perspective have to be taking into account in every single debate? Conservatives and centrists have thrown out progressive ideas without a second thought for decades. I am not saying we need to do the same, but we should certainly not waste our time on failed policies or ideas that have proven themselves useless or damaging.
It is, if you'll pardon a one-sentence digressive analogy, ridiculous to be in a position where your mother-in-law and your lawyer are drowning, you can only save one, and you ask: Should I go to a movie, or have lunch? (H/T The Book of Stupid Questions.) It is similarly ridiculous to be in a position where human rights and dignity are being eroded left and right and ask "Should we consider doing more of those things?" We have no time to waste on pro forma consideration of old, tired ideas that have no future.
I say the same to those, like Sullivan, who seem to be accepting Rick Warren now as part of Obama's "post-partisanship." And I caution against believing that the partisans - who definitely still exist, and wield great power in DC - will look kindly and benevolently upon such feel-good tactics. You can't get beyond partisanship unless all sides agree to do so. Maybe Obama is playing a great chess game, and maybe he will prove to be a unifying force like none in history. Sure, I hope so. But I don't delude myself into thinking it's going to happen, and I don't delude myself into thinking it's even likely unless progressives speak up for what we deserve. I still say we lose nothing by continuing to voice our concerns, or by continuing to demand what we want.
December 19, 2008
Sorry - it's been rather a day here, so while I'm waiting for the call to be on the radio (we're taping it so I don't have to get up at 1:30 am to attempt to be coherent), I'll offer a summary of some of my thinking so far. (I'll also marvel at how quickly this TBB meme is expanding.)
I've had several really interesting exchanges with people - and have been very entertained by various comments suggesting I'm either a moonbat or a wingnut or both. In any case, these exchanges have helped me sharpen my point, and have deepened my belief that Take Back Barack is the right move at the right time.
First, today's Obama-pointments. Mainly centrist, with a dash of conservatism and a pinch of liberalism.
--Dem Hilda Solis for SecLabor. She's a strong pro-labor person, who is being touted as pro-union, though her remarks upon her appointment had almost nothing to say about unions. Sure, she said she would "work to strengthen" them, but the examples she gave - and her major policy accomplishment in California of increasing the minimum wage - were very much non-union in nature. (That is, while they help union workers, they advance the interests of non-union workers at the same time.)
--GOPer Ray LaHood for SecTransportation. He's an anti-abortion guy - though that's perhaps less important in a transportation official than one in, say, public health. His record on oil and transportation are mixed. He supported the auto bailout last week, and voted to end the moratorium on offshore drilling. But he also voted to make OPEC illegal, and opposed oil and gas subsidies for exploration.
--Dem Karen Mills (a Mainer!) to head the Small Business Administration. She's been touted as "a venture-capital expert," though what her firm does is anything but clear. Also uncertain is how she'll be able to handle the SBA's chief task - loaning money to businesses, and offering loan guarantees, in this credit market. And what she'll do to help the millions of Americans who run "microbusinesses" remains to be seen. (Disclosure: I'm an NASE member.)
--Dem Ron Kirk as US trade representative. Another Clintonite and former DC lobbyist, Kirk is a Southerner (of sorts - he's from Texas) who has supported NAFTA but opposed the "Fast Track" system. How much clout he will wield appears to be in question - a previous candidate for the job declined it because he feared trade would be too low a priority for Obama. (Interestingly, Kirk was a finalist to be SecTrans, so maybe this is a second-choice situation for him, too.)
Now then, as I've had e-mail exchanges with several folks, I've come to a deeper understanding of this visceral feeling I have of worry about Obama.
Progressive ideas and ideals can't stand up for themselves. We
have to stand up for them. Our ideas can prevail in rigorous policy debates,
and we can't shy away from them for fear of conflict or political messiness.
Only time will tell whether Obama
will do the right things, the things we voted for him to do - withdraw from
Iraq, improve our education system, fix healthcare, green the economy. Many
liberals and progressives are counseling us to wait and see, to give Obama a chance to make change.
That is the wrong path. We cannot sit back on whatever laurels we
may have heard by electing Obama and let him
do what he and his advisors want. We must remain constantly involved, a
constant force to push Obama, his advisors,
and Congress to do what we know needs to be done.
He might just do the right things, even if we left him alone. But
we can't take that chance - especially with the advisors he has chosen. Maybe
he can take the Clinton
out of Hillary and the McCain out of Jim Jones. Maybe they will come around -
or even already have - to share Obama's views on many topics. But I'm not
willing to bet my future, my country's future on that.
We need people in office who will listen to progressive ideas,
who will give them serious consideration. We have gone far too long - decades -
with leaders who dismiss progressive concepts out of hand. Many of them have
just been invited back into the White House. They have tons of practice putting
progressivism aside. It's clear that the policies they espoused aren't working.
We need to make sure they listen.
Obama called on us to stand up and take our country back. We need to do that - and we start by Taking Back Barack.
December 19, 2008
Many of the comments about Take Back Barack so far have been from conservatives shouting with glee, calling Obama a "snake-oil salesman" and a "con man," and apparently suggesting I'm a sucker for believing his promises. But it appears the progressive community might be paying some attention. Early tomorrow morning (East Coast time) - so early it's late at night Pacific time - I'll be on the Phil Hendrie Show talking about the Take Back Barack effort.
It starts at 1 am Eastern, 10 pm Pacific. You can listen live here, or find out what station in your area is broadcasting it here.
A couple of samples for the Phoenix's coverage area - Maine: WLOB 1310 AM and 96.3 FM. Massachusetts/Rhode Island: WTKK 96.9 FM and WSAR 1480 AM. Both from 1-4 am.
December 18, 2008
So Rick Warren's been chosen to give the invocation at Obama's inauguration. Anybody else super-excited to see a rabidly pro-life, anti-choice, anti-gay evangelical cleric blessing Obama and the nation? Fine, so he cares about poverty and children in Africa. You don't have to turn over too many steeples to uncover exciting, progressive clergymen and -women who feel the same way about those issues, and who recognize that legislating things like pregnancy and partnership are never good. (I won't launch into my tirade about how government is good at - and necessary for - balancing needs between competing interests, but terrible at - and should avoid - attempting to balance desires between different perspectives.)
But while Obama's choice is "causing [the] first real rift with progressives" - or so Huffington Post suggests - this effort is taking off. You can read some of the (so far) 16 comments - of which only one is gibberish, and that, literally: "ceguyomvpaxcetgolubxagbjzlwlcr" - on the initial post.
A little lower is a compendium of the comments from those of you who e-mailed. (Not to worry, I'll keep your names to myself.)
But I do want to highlight one in particular, from a Republican strategist here in Maine: "We like him more now that he is being sensible." I offer this to those of you who suggested I was pushing too hard, too soon, and expecting too much from Obama.
In response, I say: The Republicans have decided what they think of Obama based on his choices so far. We should too. We have more to learn from the Republicans about getting things done and playing the game of politics than they have to learn from us. (See Leahy's delay of Holder's hearings, something Republicans would never have agreed to.)
We need to play the game of politics, but play it with our goals in mind, and with tools like relentlessness and courage. Right now, Obama has chosen a team who have proven they can play politics with old centrist goals in mind and with the old Democratic tools - lassitude, lily livers, and whining. This is precisely why I am worried, and I believe that the fact that a Republican strategist thinks this way is confirmation that we progressives need to act now.
That said, here are the other comments I've gotten in my e-mail so far:
--Indeed, it sure seems like we got a Clinton administration cabinet. I know
these times of crisis require having people who already know how to get things
done in the heart of empire, but there are lots of people with those skills who
aren't so New Democrat / Old GOP as this crowd. Still an improvement over W or McCain, I suppose.
--The hits keep coming: today Obama announced his secretary of Corn Subsidies [and] the
fact that Rick Warren, anti-choice, anti-gay rights fundamentalist, will deliver
the invocation at his inauguration. The Progressive movement doesn't even get
--I disagree with both your premise and your cause, but I'll see if I can work in
a mention of some sort. Or maybe you don't want me to! ;-)
--From the Portland Phoenix
I agree with a lot of what you wrote. One area of difference is the idea of taking back
Barack - he was my 4th choice, and really I only supported him because McCain
was so f'n awful. What many of his appointments demonstrate is that we're in for
another spell of Corporatism Lite, hardly the change that his campaign espoused
(and many of us doubted would actually come to pass). suppose the idea
of a true progressive ever getting a whiff of the White House is pretty stupid
--Please stop. Please stop now. Relax. I supported Obama from the first inkling of his run. Part of the change
that I voted for, as a lifelong progressive, is to move us beyond these
ideological food fights and tandrums. Obama promised to bring people together,
to find common ground and common purpose. You can't do that with only one side
of the room. You can't do that with just one party. And you sure as heck can't
do it with just one segment of one party. The problems this country faces are so massive, and so historically
unprecedented (they didn't have climate change during the great depression, for
instance), that they require a great mobilization of people across the country,
and across the political spectrum. Obama can't do that by filling every one of
his cabinet positions with someone who passes a narrow ideological or partisan
test. After decades of work on progressive causes, I've slowly but certainly come
to some humility about what progressives know, and what they don't
know. Progressives don't have all the answers - particularly on the economy -
any more than the neocons did. Truth and wisdom isn't allocated that way, to one
particular segment of the population. Its scattered around like pieces of a
puzzle that need to be rounded up and reconstructed. Progressives simply don't
own all the pieces of the puzzle, though they do own some important ones. The last thing we need in Washington, in my view, is yet another
ideologically-driven narrow agenda, that takes us toward arrogance and
division. Oh, and by the way, the guy isn't even in office yet. I'm not ready to
write him off just yet.
--gotta build a coalition Jeff. He hasn't done anything yet, give him a chance.
--s time to Take Back Barackgood work..i agree..he's drifting ever further to
the right..i gasped when i heard about the evangelical speaking at the
--I completely agree!! I sent an email around yesterday in a panic about his
appointment for Sec of Ag. (bad choice!) we so wanted someone such as Michael
Pollan: //www.pollanforsecretaryofagriculture.com/ wtf
is going on?? I am sure you saw this one too ie. his pick for sec of education: //www.truthout.org/121708R
--Thanks for sending me this, I have been feeling a tad uneasy and feeling a
bit like I was conned..where the hell is the change? I will send this out to
folks I know because many of us are feeling this way yet no one wants to speak
out about it too much.
December 17, 2008
This story and this effort all started, for me, back when
Hillary Clinton's name was being bandied about as a prospect to become the next
secretary of state, even before she was officially selected. I had been
thrilled - and not a little relieved - when Obama
won, and I had eagerly awaited the unveiling of the team of cabinet officers
and other key executive-branch staffers who would move quickly to Change this
country, which has been going in the wrong direction for far too long.
And while I respect Hillary, and was largely impressed with her
candicacy during the Democratic primary, I was - and remain - worried that
sending her out as America's
chief diplomat will not represent enough of a Change for America's standing in
So I got a little worried. And then more announcements and leaks
trickled in. Dubya's SecDef Robert Gates was staying. McCain's
national-security advisor during the campaign was going to be Obama's
national-security advisor in the Oval Office.
I was - and still am - worried, as is progressive columnist Ted Rall, that the people Obama
is surrounding himself with will change him, more than he will Change them.
He's not picking progressives. And beyond that, he's picking Establishment
people - not even non-progressive outsiders, generally speaking. Deirdre Fulton
and I detail some of these concerns - as well as a few bright-ish spots - in
our story this week in the Portland
Phoenix and at thePhoenix.com.
And Obama owes the progressive movement - and the generally
population - much more than he owes the Establishment.
We Want Change. We voted for change. We backed Obama
because of his promise as well as his promises, because of his idealism as well
as his ideas. We kept him alive in the primary, and our energy electrified this
nation during the general election.
It is time to make sure that Obama
does what we want - not what he wants, nor what his advisors want, nor even
what he thinks we want. We need to tell him, loud and clear, the same things he
told us: Change will be difficult. It will take time. But we need to start now,
and we need to move fast. But we want Change. And we won't settle for anything
It is time to Take Back Barack. Yes, We Can. And, we must. This
is our country. He is our president. He works for us, not the Establishment,
not the corporations, not the Democratic Party. He's ours. Take Back Barack!
So, what can you do? And what's this blog all about?
First, check out our story - "Take Back Barack" is its name.
Also, see the stuff I've tagged as related in some way or other, using Google Reader. (The link is also an RSS feed, if you want to get updates on the stuff I tag in the future.) Then, post comments here on this blog, saying what you want Barack to do, and
what you think of his choices so far.
As more developments occur through the transition, and as his
administration begins, we here at the TBB blog will be watching, and giving our
thoughts on his choices and decisions.
For more information, you can also check out the list of related
links - which include other blogs with others' perspectives on the transition,
as well as progressive political news, and even some general news sites.
But overall, please use this blog any way you want, so long as it
helps keep the pressure on Obama to serve us,
as he promised he would do.