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Frank Hammer – break from Democratic Party but vote Obama to block a far right Presidency

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.

So there’s a debate going we’ve been following on The Real News, and that debate amongst progressives and people on the left of center goes sort of like this. Some people say: vote for President Obama because Romney would be terrible, and vote for President Obama everywhere, because the vote matters, overall popular vote matters, even though things will be decided in the electoral college. Another position is: vote for third parties in non-swing states, for example the Peace and Justice Party or the Green Party or the Libertarian Party, vote for those parties in non-swing states, but in swing states vote for Obama because a Romney government will be so terrible. The other position you’ve heard—we’ve interviewed people on The Real News with all of these different positions, but the last position’s more or less: don’t vote for President Obama at all, for a variety of reasons, which we’ll explore in the next interview, but mostly it goes to the fact that President Obama and Mitt Romney are not that significantly different; there’s difference, but not enough difference that people should buy into the whole electoral theatre that the various sections of the American elite are staging.

Now joining us to talk about all of this is Frank Hammer. Frank joins us from Detroit, where he’s a retired GM employee of 32 years. He was president of the United Auto Workers Local 909. And he’s a regular contributor to The Real News. Thanks for joining us.


JAY: So, Frank, where do you come down on this issue? I know you’ve been very critical of President Obama’s policies over the last four years and many interviews we’ve done, but I guess the question comes down to, if you lived in a swing state—and I guess you kind of do; Michigan is, sort of—what would you do, or what are you going to do?

HAMMER: Well, I think it’s important to contextualize the discussion, or at least the way I would frame it, and that is that with—I think the other frustration is that the country has moved to the right at the same time that people are trying to bank on Obama, okay? So we’ve been moving to the right from the time of the last election.

And I can illustrate that in a variety of ways. One is the apparent unanimity on free trade agreements. They were—the two campaigns now are sort of crawling over each other to claim that they will do more free-trade agreements than the other. And four years ago, if you recall, Obama was saying he wouldn’t endorse the Colombia Free Trade Agreement and he wanted to renegotiate NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement.

And if you take those two things, you can see that the labor movement has had less impact now on the Obama campaign than they did four years ago.

I think that the silence on global warming on the part of Obama in this election cycle is another indication of things moving to the right and the ascendancy of the fossil fuel industry on the language that’s in the debate. Look at the silence on unions. When Obama was a candidate for the office, he was talking about that we need a president that won’t choke on the word union, and yet if you look at the—you know, whether it be the state of the campaign acceptance speech at the convention or whether you look at the debates, the word union is, like, absolutely absent.

JAY: And so is the words EFCA, the Employee Free Choice Act, which in ’08 said he was going to make sure it got passed, and then they never—they lost all interest in it.

HAMMER: Right. And it seems to me that, again, this shows—this is another indication of how things are moving to the right. And I would also say on the question of energy it was really startling to see the Obama campaign criticizing Romney for talking about shutting down coal mines in Massachusetts when he was governor and, you know, each of them declaring that they’ll continue to operate more coal and oil than the other. So it’s a very frustrating situation, certainly, for autoworkers and workers in general, for progressives, as to what to do. But I think we need to understand how we’ve sort of gotten here.

And I think two things that I would point to—I’m sure there’s more—one is that, of course, we have the just absolute takeover of the Tea Party—and I’m talking about the Koch brothers and so on—of the Republican Party and driving it further to the right.

But at the same time, you have a Democratic Party that decided that Clinton’s strategy for winning elections—which was this phrase, to triangulate—meant that the Democratic Party would continue to take over more Republican positions and basically suck the air out of the room for the Republican Party. And you can see that, certainly, in the Health Care Act that was passed that this was a Republican model for health care. And that’s what was embraced.

And I would say that the auto bailout embraced a Republican version of what a bailout should look like. And it’s affirmed to me by the fact that Romney pretty much spelled it out in his New York Times editorial in 2008, when in fact Obama went ahead and did it in 2009. So everything has been shifted to the right. And this is what we’re getting with Obama. We’re getting Republican policies, but in the name of a Democrat.

JAY: So some people argue: why vote for either of them, then? Vote for a third party; don’t vote at all.

HAMMER: Right. My attitude is, one, I don’t particularly want to give a bigger playground to the Tea Party if I can at all avoid it. And I think that Romney will be very much obligated to the Tea Party folks and will absolutely, you know, flood his administration—a little bit like the way Manhattan’s been flooded—with Tea Party lunatics. And I think that’s very hazardous. And I think to have Tea Party judges in the Supreme Court would be hazardous. These things are—they represent real dangers. I think to have Tea Party types running the EPA or dismantling it is a real hazard for us—especially in this critical moment that Hurricane Sandy demonstrates—is that we have a real task ahead of us, and that is to deal with global warming. So I’m not inclined to do that.

And the other thing that I think is very important is I think everybody should notice that 94 percent, I think it was, the one poll, of African Americans, and I think 70 percent of Latinos are going to be voting for Obama. And I think that that’s a political fact that has to be taken into account. And I think it would be a tragic mistake, especially for white working-class folks, who voted for Obama in 2008, to abandon or fire Obama now and basically abandon the very, very important alliance that Martin Luther King always talked about, about the importance of the alliance of the working class with black people and people of color, that that alliance is extremely critical.

JAY: Right. Well, one of the arguments that’s given why it would be better—why progressives, I should say, or people involved in trying to build a movement, an oppositional movement, should not vote for Obama is that it’s more difficult to get a movement going when a Democratic Party president’s in power. And one of the examples is given—for example, like the drone attacks in Pakistan, that it’s very difficult right now for the antiwar movement to make much headway or make much noise about the drone attacks, because they’re being ordered by a Democratic and African-American president. If it was Romney ordering these drone attacks, or if it had been a Republican president, likely the antiwar movement would have been much more significant over these kinds of issues. How do you answer that?

HAMMER: Well, I look at the second term for Obama differently than I do for the first term. And I think now that we’ve got—if he’s going to win, that there’s no, oh, you know, he’s got to get reelected and all of this going on in 2016, that this is really—for the Democratic Party, this is really put up or shut up time, okay, even though they’re going to have a nasty Congress to deal with, apparently.

But I think that the most important thing that Obama has said recently, although he might not have meant it the way I’m going to take it, is that he said that, oh, you know, I came to Washington, and now I realize that change won’t come from inside, change will have to come from the outside. And I couldn’t agree more. But what I think is important is that he’s talking about outside of Washington, D.C. I take that to mean outside of the Democratic Party. And I believe that the day after Obama gets elected, I think that progressives should certainly abandon the Democratic Party in droves and really develop the third force so that, you know, we can be our own version of a progressive force in the U.S. in preparations for the 2016 election and building a movement between now and then. That’s what I think. But I’m not willing to see Obama fired as the first African-American president and just to bring in the lunatics from the Tea Party into the halls of Congress more.

JAY: But what do you make of this idea that, for example, Bill Black and others have argued that President Obama’s planning to make a grand deal—some people are calling it a grand betrayal—on Social Security. Now, just given that I quoted Bill, I should say Bill also is agreeing with you that in a swing state he would vote for Obama. But there is this argument that President Obama can sell stuff that a Romney couldn’t sell.

HAMMER: Well, again, I want to come back to—let me put it this way. In my community here in Detroit, I mean, there are a lot of African-Americans that believe that Obama will deliver in his second term, okay? And I believe that that’s going to be demonstrated to be a total fiction. And I think that that will help to wean people from thinking that either one of these parties of the elite is going to solve our problems. And I think that this second term is going to be a period of time where people are going to be weaned from that tie to the Democratic Party and looking for an alternative like is being presented by the Green Party and the other third parties that right now are very, very marginalized, unfortunately.

JAY: Alright. Thanks very much for joining us, Frank.

HAMMER: Thank you very much, Paul.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network. And don’t forget there’s a Donate button over there. If you don’t click it, we can’t do this.


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Frank Hammer is a member of the Real News Network Board of Directors, and has been a social justice activist for nearly 50 years. He spent the last 40 years in the labor movement as an autoworker and a member, elected officer, staff representative, and now retiree of the United Auto Workers. Frank was the former president of the Greenacres Woodward Civic Association in Detroit, and he currently represents the association as a member of the Michigan State Fairgrounds Advisory Committee. He is a lecturer in the Labor Studies Programs at Wayne State and Indiana Universities. He’s a board member of the Michigan Coalition for Human Rights, an activist with South East Michigan Jobs with Justice, the School of the Americas Watch (SOAW-UAW), and the Autoworker Caravan.