Friday, June 27, 2008

Want a More Progressive Obama? Then Make It Happen


Author David Sirota, on tour promoting his new book The Uprising, gave an intriguing take on Barack Obama as an "empty vessel."

He didn't mean that as an insult. Nor did he mean it in the sense that Democrats tend to project their own hopes and dreams onto Obama.

He meant that Obama will be the candidate and potentially president that we - progressives - make him.

Just as Ronald Reagan, though an idealogue, was molded by determined fanatics into the star of their wingnut fantasies, so, too will Obama move in the direction progessives push him.

If we sit around moping over his FISA capitulation, pitying ourselves over being fooled into supporting a centrist once again and muttering about third-party candidates, then we'll get exactly what we're complaining about: a nominee and possible president who's a centrist because the centrists are the only ones pushing him their way.

Make your voice heard. One individual voice has a bigger impact this year for two reasons: 1) Obama knows better than anyone that individual small donors got him the nomination and he needs them to get the nomination. Five bucks gets you entree by email. And 2) Because of the Internet, each of us can magnify our voices exponentially - tell all your friends, comment on every blog, make it viral.

On Glenn Greenwald's Salon blog, cherished commenter William Timberman makes an eloquent case for dealing with a candidate's bad votes:

In my opinion, candidate worship is just another symptom of a neutered population. The problem isn't the people's impotence, which is an illusion fostered in every way possible by politicians who stand to benefit by it, and by a media dominated by commercial interests which do it as a matter of course, whether to sell a candidate or to sell soap. No, the problem isn't impotence, it's inactivity. As long as we expect to be saved by some external force, and can only rouse ourselves to petulance when this or that candidate disappoints us, we more or less deserve what we get.

If we're to be saved, we'll have to do it ourselves. In tactical and strategic terms, what we do matters, but doing anything is better than doing nothing. Once you get in the habit, you can adjust what you do according to what works. Then it is just a matter of strategy and tactics, and not an insurmountable existential paralysis.

Don't mourn, in other words -- organize.

And The Nation knows where to start.

After the Patriot Act became law, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee (BORDC) began a national campaign to get cities, counties and states to stand up for the Constitution.

Thanks to the determined efforts of this small but remarkably effective group, more than 400 communities and eight states have passed resolutions declaring their support for restoring protections guaranteed under the Bill of Rights and the U.S. Constitution.

The BORDC is still fighting the good fight. This week, the Massachusetts-based group is sounding the alarm against congressional moves to undermine 4th amendment privacy rights.

But the BORDC is not satisfied to simply play defense.

"At BORDC, we know many of our subscribers are outraged at the number of times their legislators have given in to fear mongering and supported freedom-robbing legislation because they believe voters are willing to give up their freedoms for a promise (a hollow promise!) of greater security," BORDC director Nancy Talanian and her colleagues explain.

"Responding to Congress's ongoing unconstitutional actions can often feel tiring and ineffective. Join the People's Campaign for the Constitution so that together the grassroots can set our government's agenda and hold our government accountable to the constitutional principles upon which it was founded."

The People's Campaign for the Constitution seeks to bring together all groups and individuals -- right and left, Republican and Democrat, Libertarian and Green, independent and partisan -- who are concerned about renewing the rule of law to a country where it has been severely threatened by executive arrogance and legislative lethargy. "Fighting against one violation at a time fragments our movement," the BORDC says. "It is time to unite to face the common source of these problems."

Something of a national debut will come July 4, when Bill of Rights Defense Committee plans to purchase a half-page advertisement in the New York Times to sound the call for Constitutional renewal. I've signed on and I hope that readers of The Nation will join in this essential effort to raise the profile of our struggle to renew civil liberties in a time of warrantless wiretapping, torture, signing statements and all the other evidences of kingly arrogance in the executive branch of what is supposed to be a republic.

To learn more about how you can support this new declaration of faith in America's founding principles, visit the committee's Web site and sign on for the Constitution.

One of the themes of Sirota's The Uprising is that we are at a historical turning point, when progressives can turn the country around the way they did in 1900 and 1930 and 1960.

Can, but not necessarily will. At the last such turning point, in 1980, it was conservatives who grabbed the uprising opportunity and succeeded.

Don't let them do it again.

UPDATE, 5:46 p.m.: Obama supporters have formed a networking group specifically to pressure Obama on FISA. Get the details at TPM here, and join the group here.

Cross-posted at Blue in the Bluegrass.