Does Obama Speak for Progressives?

April 9, 2019

On Saturday in Berlin, President Obama said progressives shouldn’t attack other progressives, saying it’s a “circular firing squad.” But are corporate Democrats within the progressive camp?

On Saturday in Berlin, President Obama said progressives shouldn’t attack other progressives, saying it’s a “circular firing squad.” But are corporate Democrats within the progressive camp?


Does Obama Speak for Progressives?

Story Transcript

PAUL JAY: President Obama says progressives should be careful criticizing progressives. But does President Obama speak for progressives? That’s next on The Real News Network.

[TRNN INTRO]

PAUL JAY: On Saturday, President Obama, speaking about the race for the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party, said progressive candidates–and he seems to think they all are–should be careful how they speak about each other. Here’s what he had to say.

BARACK OBAMA: One of the things I do worry about sometimes among progressives in the United States, maybe it’s true here as well, is a certain kind of rigidity where we say, I’m sorry, this is how it’s got to be, and then we start sometimes creating what’s called a circular firing squad, where you’re shooting at your allies because one of them is straying from purity on the issues. And when that happens, typically, the overall effort and movement weakens.

PAUL JAY: So now joining us to talk about President Obama’s caution to progressives is Dr. Gerald Horne. He teaches at the University of Houston. He’s the author of many books, including most recently Storming the Heavens and The Apocalypse of Settler Colonialism. Thanks for joining us, Gerald.

GERALD HORNE: Thank you for inviting me.

PAUL JAY: So President Obama wants progressives to be careful. What do you make of that?

GERALD HORNE: Well, I think he’s reacting to a number of events. Number one, he’s been criticized for being silent as his Vice President Joseph Biden comes under attack for his repetitive and frequent violations of the personal space of women over the years and over the decades. Mr. Obama has been eerily silent, and coming to Mr. Biden’s defense. And I think that that rather elliptical comment that you just played in some ways is a response to that. Secondly, in Mr. Obama’s own Chicago you’ve had a stunning electoral victory by five democratic socialists to the Chicago City Council in the recent elections. This has caused a storm of outrage amongst many centrists. And Mr. Obama might be reacting to that, as well, and this ongoing conflict between centrists and democratic socialist to their left.

And then, finally, Mr. Obama’s policy in Libya obviously is up for inspection and scrutiny. As we speak there’s a bloodbath that’s about to unfold in Libya. Recall that in 2011 Mr. Obama and his NATO allies, including Britain and France, helped to oust the previous regime of Muammar Gadhafi, which has inaugurated an era of crisis and catastrophe, turning that North African country into a gateway for migrants crossing into choppy seas of the Mediterranean, oftentimes drowning in the process.

And even when they land on European soil, particularly Italy, U.S. demagogic politicians are using their presence to help to generate a neofascist movement. Obama says that his response to the day after Mr. Gadhafi was ousted was the biggest blunder of his administration. I dare say that authorizing the overthrow of Mr. Gadhafi was probably the biggest blunder of his administration. So speaking in rather vague terms it seems to me Mr. Obama is pursuing multiple agendas.

PAUL JAY: Yeah, I agree. There’s an interesting moment early on in the Clinton-Sanders debates, in that primary, where Hillary Clinton says that Bernie and her are both progressives. They both want the same thing. They just have different tactics, different ways to get there. And President Obama, when he was in power, tried to to talk the same way. And they’re hiding a very obvious fact, that these differences in the Democratic Party are differences of fundamental interest. There’s a section of the Democratic Party, you could say one of whose faces is Chuck Schumer, but there’s others, many others, are very much tied up with corporate America the same way leaders of the Republican Party are maybe somewhat different sections of corporate America. But not always. Sometimes the same people give money to both sides.

The differences are a question of class interest, the fights that are taking place in the Democratic Party. And Obama doesn’t want that record critique. And not just Obama. The party leadership wants the AOCs and the Bernie Sanders to play nice because they don’t want these class contradictions to be fully exposed.

GERALD HORNE: Well, I think you’re right with regard to being tied to different sectors of capital. Historically the Democratic Party has been close to the entertainment industry, particularly Hollywood executives. They’ve been close to finance capital. Particularly Wall Street. Republicans oftentimes have been closer to manufacturing and those who employ labor, with those unionized workers that they employ oftentimes being supportive of the Democratic Party in turn.

The question is how long can this system continue to last and persist, particularly given the strain that is coming under given the rise of the juggernaut known as the People’s Republic of China. I paid very close and careful attention to a recent statement by Ray Dalio of Connecticut, a billionaire hedge fund manager, and one of the not only 1 percent, but the one half of 1 percent, who said–and I was rather stunned to see this–the United States system of capitalism may no longer be sustainable, and that those like himself are basically courting the risk and danger of revolution unless something changes rather quickly. He suggested, among other things, and this was not high on his list, higher taxes on people like himself. But I’m afraid to say that that’s going to have to bubble up from the grassroots, and we should not be depending upon the 1 percent to tax themselves at a higher rate.

PAUL JAY: Yeah, he did–60 Minutes did a profile of him just the past Sunday, where he said essentially those things. The there is a fine line, though, for people like Sanders and others who are, I would say, are, in terms of their policies, progressive; or, I think, people that are often called corporate Democrats I don’t think are very progressive. Of course, that name, that label, ‘progressive,’ starts to be meaningless when practically everybody is claiming it.

But there is a fine line that actually progressive candidates have to walk here, which is yes they need to fight for the nomination, and let’s say Bernie, the leader of this progressive charge, it seems like; certainly at this point he is. Maybe it becomes Warren, but it sure looks like it’s going to be Bernie. But if he doesn’t win, he said himself the priority is defeating Trump. He may have to go out and do what he did with Hillary. He may have to go and campaign for somebody who is, in fact, a corporate Democrat in order to defeat Trump. So how do they play that game? Because to differentiate himself in the primary, he needs to critique these policies of the corporate Democrats.

GERALD HORNE: Oh, I think that Sanders will be on point in terms of critiquing the 1 percent. Whether or not he’ll be critiquing those within the Democratic Party who reflect the 1 percent is another question altogether. But recall that Mr. Sanders only caucuses with the Democrats in the U.S. Congress. He does not necessarily consider himself to be a card-carrying member of the Democratic Party, which gives him a bit more flexibility when it comes to going after some of his comrades like AOC, Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez, is doing as we speak. And in any case, we’re going to have to keep a very close and careful eye on Mr. Trump’s attempt to keep his tax returns shrouded. The latest news is that in New York State, and of course he’s a resident, a New York state legislation is about to be passed which would allow Albany, the state legislature, to inspect his state returns, which then provides an opening to inspect his federal returns. And I’m not sure what might shake the confidence of 63 million Trump voters, but certainly exposing him as not being a billionaire, or perhaps being a skinflint and not contributing to charity, may serve to chip away at his support, providing a further opening for Senator Sanders if he’s the nominee for U.S. president in 2020.

PAUL JAY: Now, the point you were making about him indirectly coming out in defense of Biden in this speech of his, perhaps is also that if Biden gets over this sort of Me Too moment and continues his run, it sounds like he’s going to, doesn’t Sanders in his critique of Biden have to critique the Obama record? Is that partly what Obama is saying? Don’t go after my record, because that will be the circular firing squad?

GERALD HORNE: Well, I don’t think Senator Sanders will have any hesitation in terms of critiquing the Obama record. If he does I’m sure that his left-wing supporters will light a fire under him and push them forward on that agenda into that circle. Because I do think that there needs to be a reckoning with regard to the years between 2008 and 2016, how people like Senator Biden and then Vice President Biden helped to pave the way for the rise of Donald Trump. Senator Biden, in terms of his lackadaisical approach to Clarence Thomas during the Anita Hill hearings; Senator Biden, in terms of his stern and staunch opposition to busing for school desegregation in the state of Delaware; Senator Biden, with regard to his full-throated support for the crime bill, which locked up a generation of African-American youth, in particular. And so I’m not really that concerned about Senator Sanders going after that record, although perhaps I’m wrong.

PAUL JAY: All right, just one final question. Asking you for some speculation here. If Biden stumbles and Sanders is kind of rising, it looks like he might win this thing, although fairly early on this would have to be done. But do you think there’s a chance Michelle Obama enters this race?

GERALD HORNE: No, but I do think there is a chance. They’ve already made it clear that Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire former mayor of New York City, will enter the race if Biden stumbles. I do think that there’s much more likelihood Starbucks billionaire Howard Schultz would enter the race if Biden stumbles. That’s the danger, it seems to me, because Schultz in particular has made it clear, or made it implicit, I should say, that he would prefer to see Trump continue in office rather than see someone like Senator Sanders become president.

PAUL JAY: I’m sure most of Wall Street feels that way.

GERALD HORNE: Exactly. And that’s, it seems to me, the danger we’re going to have to guard against.

PAUL JAY: All right. Well, just for the record, I went on one of those websites where you can gamble on political speculations. And I bought for a whole $10 seven cents that Michelle Obama will enter the race. So I’ll either lose $10 or somewhere down the line I’ll play this video and I’ll be the one who’s vindicated. Thanks for joining us Gerald.

GERALD HORNE: Thank you.

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