Contextual Content

What Should Progressives Do Now?

Story Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. Joining us again are three members of the board of the Progressive Democrats of America (PDA): Steve Cobble, Tim Carpenter, David Swanson. Thanks for joining me again.

STEVE COBBLE, BOARD MEMBER, PDA: Glad to.

TIM CARPENTER, NATIONAL DIRECTOR, PDA: Thanks for having us.

JAY: So, November elections are coming, and there’s, I guess—Democratic Party’s going to be facing apathy amongst its own supporters. What do you say to people that feel like I’m just going to stay home, let’s teach them a lesson, and if the Republicans win, well, what’s the difference anyway?

COBBLE: I would say that people died for their right to vote. And going to vote is no more difficult than going to buy a carton of milk. And if you can strike a blow against right-wing theocrats, hawks, crazy people, global free capitalists, you should go buy a carton of milk and go vote if that’s all you do in the next month.

JAY: But not so much out of not wanting to make the effort. Some people may just decide as a choice. I mean, sometimes not voting is a conscious engagement.

COBBLE: Life is a series of choices, and most of the time they come down to two that you’re not completely happy with, and you go with the best one. The best one now has been disappointing. But we—the last time the Republicans took power was a disaster for the country. It was a disaster in ’94 when [Newt] Gingrich took power. It was a disaster when the Republicans controlled all three branches of government in 2001—a million Iraqis got killed because of that. We should keep that in mind, that it was a war based on lies. It ruined the politics of this country. We’ve been scared for 10 years because of a few thousand votes in a couple of places and a plane crash with Paul Wellstone. It ruined the Labour Party in Britain, because Tony Blair got on board that liars’ train and he went crazy, and they’re just now getting their act together again after they got 27 percent in the last election. Your vote is important. If you can’t stand the Democrats, then stop the crazy people and the Republicans, and then turn around and march in the streets to stop the Democrats from misbehaving. So I would say vote in November, on November 2. Make phone calls before that. If you don’t like your own congressman, make phone calls for Russ Feingold. Make phone calls for Alan Grayson. They have tough races. Make phone calls for Barbara Boxer. And then, when you’re done with that, let’s march again after election day and push the process.

JAY: Tim, there’s a quote I always refer to from George Will. I must have quoted it on Real News maybe 40 or 50 times. He said on Stephanopoulos’s show on Sunday morning, he said, let’s not be sentimental about democracy in America. He says, we don’t choose whether or not the elite is going to rule; we choose which elite’s going to rule. Is that message, to some extent, not missing from when people talk about the Democratic Party, that the corporate leadership of the Democratic Party represents a section of the elite? Maybe people prefer it to the other section of the elite, but shouldn’t that be part of the conversation?

CARPENTER: Yeah. We have to have a deep, meaningful conversation when it comes to election time, and we’ve got to make sure that we’re all getting out and voting and not worrying about the elites that dominate both parties. We need to get out and get a real populist message of what PDA is about and what this election is really about. The stakes are high. When you say by not voting—when you began this conversation—that people are making a statement, I don’t—at this point in time, speaking as a progressive Democrat, at the end of the day, whether you’re voting for a green or an independent or whatever it is, we have to vote. As we began the conversation out here in these hallowed grounds, people gave their lives for the right to vote. So not to vote is not an option. The question is: who do you vote for? Do you vote for or against? And this election season, for a lot of folks, they’re going to be voting against something. They’re going to try to prevent some very bad things from happening. For me, as a progressive Democrat, I’m part of an insurgency, a movement inside the Democratic Party to transform it, to get it to its roots. And I’m going to get out and vote in these closing days to make sure that good progressive Democrats like Jim McGovern out in Massachusetts, who’s the second in the Rules Committee, who’s leading the fight to end the occupation in Afghanistan, is going to get reelected; or I’m going to make sure that my friends out in Tucson, out in Arizona, get out and vote for Raúl Grijalva, who’s leading the fight for humane immigration policy, who’s part of an insurgency inside the Democratic Party. So say not to vote, that’s not an option. You’ve got to get out and vote. Either you’re going to vote for something or against it. I learned a long time ago that I’m going to make sure, what little impact I can have, that I’m going to vote for something that’s going to make a difference. And there are real candidates, real issues, and real politicians that can make a difference. So that’s what we’re going to get out and vote for.

JAY: David, if there’s one force in the country that has some clout, some money, and some people, it’s the unions. What do you make of their role in the campaign and overall in the Democratic Party?

DAVID SWANSON, BOARD MEMBER, PDA: I think they understand the lessons that Steve and Tim have been talking about. And I think the unions are better than anybody else at turning out the vote. Well, ACORN was very good at registering the wrong people to vote. It got them into a lot of trouble. But I think that unions have always been for making that choice of the lesser of two evils if you don’t have a good.

JAY: But they’re getting nothing—I mean, I shouldn’t say nothing. They’re getting next to nothing of the legislative agenda that they said they were going to get out of President Obama. EFCA’s not even mentioned in Washington anymore, Employee Free Choice Act.

SWANSON: Because even if there’s a plausible argument for voting for your lesser of two evil choices in an election, you shouldn’t expect that, in and of itself, to accomplish anything. And labor, like everyone else, largely does, and the day after the election goes home. And when it comes time to getting tough with the people you’ve elected, they fold. And they did not want to challenge Democrats for the Employee Free Choice Act or for anything else. They’re happy to challenge Republicans, but that’s not enough.

JAY: If that doesn’t change, where is there going to be change? I mean, and if not, how does that change? How do you get the unions to actually act as a more independent political force?

SWANSON: I think that it’s encouraging that there’s beginning to be this coalition that brings other activists, activists who work on international issues, on questions of war and military funding, together with labor, together with civil rights groups, to have a conversation about a united front. I mean, a month ago you had the teachers unions pushing for war funding because they put the teacher funding in the same bill. If instead of that we had preemptively gone out, all of us—the peace movement, the unions, the civil rights groups—and said, we want the teacher funding and we want ten times what you’re talking about and we want it clean of war funding, and the money’s available because we’re going to stop the war funding, if we had that united front, and it was willing not just to make that speech and then run home, but to do the risk-taking, law-breaking resistance that built the labor movement in the first place, that, you know, if we can get the labor movement together with people who are aggressive about forcing change and get the labor movement to fight even for itself, then other people will be willing to fight for it.

CARPENTER: Can I take the union question? I think it’s important when in a couple of days we’re going to—as we began our conversation, there are good Democrats, there’s bad Democrats; there’s progressive Democrats, there’s blue Democrats. You can make your choice on the right lines. In regards to unions, there’s good unions that are really out making a difference and those unions that are lying back and not out front. And I challenge you to look at the election results out in California. If you want to see a union that’s aggressive and making a difference, look at the California nurses. Watch it, what’s going to happen with Meg Whitman. And she’s going to be defeated, and I’ll go on now and predict that now. And Jerry Brown’s going to be elected because of a union that stood up against Schwarzenegger when he was governor and a union that stood up to take her down because of her attacks on the unions and on public employees. And the question of health care, if I stood here with you a year ago and were to tell you where we are in the single-payer movement, we didn’t succeed, necessarily, and get what we wanted here at the White House. But what we did succeed is a union for the California nurses and other unions that stood up and kept single-payer on the table. And across this country there are a number of states today that are very much engaged, and unions at the rank-and-file level, on the fight for universal single-payer health care. So there’s a difference where there are unions that are engaged and making a difference.

JAY: How do you get some spine into the progressive Democrats that have been elected in this building behind you? There was a press conference, I think, on the steps back here a few months ago, where the Progressive Caucus says, if there’s no public option, we will not vote for this bill. And then they all voted for the bill.

COBBLE: Not only they all voted for the bill, but the two that didn’t got roundly trashed by the same people who had tried to talk them into doing it in the first place. So the only two people out of the 57 who signed the bill who did what they said got trashed and threatened back home. So that was kind of a disaster. On the other hand, the public option as a strategy was kind of a disaster, because no one knew what it was and a robust public option had no meaning to the person on the street. Universal health care, Medicare, those terms mean something to people. We need to be clear on our side that we’re fighting for people. We need to talk in ways that they understand. Too often we say "single payer", and I don’t think most Americans know what that means. But I do want to say one thing that the unions did right this year, and it might focus some attention if they hang on to the House and Senate: they cleaned Blanche Lambert Lincoln’s clock in Arkansas. They didn’t beat her in the primary, but she’s damaged goods. She’s going to lose. They were going to probably lose that seat anyway, so it was a very smart play to go after her for all the betrayals that she did of her base. I mean, she lives in a state that’s 15 to 20 percent African-American, and the whites are very poor, too, and she just couldn’t make up her mind about what kind of health care she wanted. And they, the unions, put some money on the table and they went after her. And when she loses on election day, all the other senators are going to get the idea that they could be the target, and that may help next time around.

JAY: Between—you have November, but looking forward to 2012, what do you think people that agree with your politics, what should they be doing?

COBBLE: Well, they should join PDA. We have got to undertake some reforms. I’m sitting here staring at the Supreme Court building while we’re talking. We are coming up on the tenth anniversary of a court that stole an election. Three of the members that stole that election are still sitting over there, and they just participated in this preposterous, unjust partisan hackery, Citizens United ruling, which allows corporations now to spend their treasuries directly into politics, something that was banned for a century. They’re not content with the biggest wealth grab in the history of the world over the last 30 years. They want to go for more. The top 1 or 2 percent are—their greed—Michael Douglas can’t hold a candle to their greed in that movie. He’s not—those guys are greedier than Michael Douglas ever dreamed of being. And that Supreme Court over there is illegitimate. It’s partisan. They lied in their hearings. They said they wouldn’t do that. And I can’t sit here and stare at that building without saying, we have got to undertake some reforms. We have got to get some good money into politics. We have to fight a constitutional amendment. We’ve got to hang on to the presidency until we get some new Supreme Court justices that replace their side. And that leads me to argue that we have got to support Obama already. I am not with people who are starting to pop up and say, we’ve got to challenge Obama, we’ve got to primary. I’ve been in forums where lots of people have disagreed with me. The African-American community is not going to turn on a black president who’s being racially vilified by a bunch of yahoos. And those of us that are progressives can’t run a respectable primary campaign against that African-American president while the black community, the Latino community, and the unions are all over here. So we should just forget that, and we should keep the pressure on him to do what he told us he was going to do. He was about transformation for—his campaign was, and people loved it. The day he hired Rahm Emanuel and Timmy Geithner, he became about transaction, and people have hated it. And now that Rahm’s going back to do his Sarah Palin act and leave before his job was over, you know, and go back to Chicago, maybe we can reset this and Barack can start thinking about transformation again and firing people up a little bit. But even if he doesn’t, our job is to just keep him there and work on the things we can actually do, which are some of these House races, some of these governors, some of these senators. And that’s my opinion. I suspect there’s three different opinions right here.

SWANSON: Can I say, that’s obviously not our whole job. And whether we should end up supporting him in that election or not, to say we have to do it now and do it for three years I think is to give elections too big a prominence in our interests as activists. I mean, we should be building media outlets like this one and others so that we can communicate with people. We should be countering recruitment and shrinking the military. We should be building a massive movement that does more than march on weekends, that shuts this city down, as any decent civilization would have done years ago to this place. We should not be obsessing with the president as against the Congress—where the power should be—and we should not be obsessing with elections for years prior to that election. And to say we have to put the pressure on them and commit now to working to reelect them obviously limits the pressure that we can put on them.

COBBLE: I agree with you, David. I actually meant take it off the table, where instead of worrying for two years about are we going to primary and who’s going to do it and how are we going to get the money and we don’t have any structure, take it off the table. That’s not what we’re going to do. We’re going to do the things you talked about, ’cause we are too weak to do that effectively and it’s a bad idea.

CARPENTER: We’re going to be busy in the off election years.

SWANSON: And, in fact, getting a better president in there is not our easiest move and is not a solution we should be longing for, because we should be stripping the White House of the power to do things like announce that henceforth it will be legal to assassinate Americans. That’s the extent to which this building behind us is empty. There’s no power in there. And unless we get the power back in there and amend the Constitution, and all the other reforms needed so that they can be compelled to represent us, we’re done for. I mean, whether your calculation turns out to be right come the election, I want to wait until we’re a lot closer to the election and deal with that. I think we have a lot of work to be done. I mean, the chunk of those number of years we have left to reverse global warming that you’re talking about here is a big chunk of that. I think we have urgent, urgent work to be done that primarily has to be done outside of elections.

JAY: Thank you for joining us. And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

End of Transcript

DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.