Part 2. What Should Progressives Do Next?

February 11, 2013

Norman Solomon on developing an independent progressive movement and influencing the Democratic Party

Norman Solomon on developing an independent progressive movement and influencing the Democratic Party



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Story Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore. And welcome back to our interview with Norman Solomon. We’re talking about what’s next for progressives in America, progressive Democrats in America.

Thanks for joining us again, Norman.

NORMAN SOLOMON, COFOUNDER, ROOTSACTION.ORG: Hey, it’s a pleasure.

JAY: And as I mentioned, Norman is the cofounder of RootsAction.org and a founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy.

So let’s pick up on where we were in the last—first—part one of the interview. But let me ask you a question. I personally think part of the problem when assessing President Obama and talking about the Democrats and such is that I rarely hear a five-letter word, which it seems to me should be in almost every conversation about this, and that’s class. President Obama represents a certain section of the American elite, and the Republicans represent another section of the American elite. And if we don’t say that almost every time and then talk about, okay, what do people who aren’t in the elite, what are going to be their politics and how are they going to relate to these different sections of the elite, if you lose that framing, then it kind of—it’s all about one guy who has a policy—or maybe you can call them corporate Democrats, but it’s still, like, about one section of people. And the emphasis is not about whose interest they represent, but more about policy and just some ideas.

SOLOMON: Right. It shouldn’t be about the individual at all. I mean, what’s going on inside Obama’s head or his personality or personal virtues—no more or less important than anybody else on the planet, and it is, as you allude to, the interests that he’s representing.

I think that a chronic problem and a kind of a political and media illiteracy—which is useful for corporations, but very damaging to the interests not only of progressives but working people, want-to-be-working people in general—is fixating on words and rhetoric and symbols rather than actual policy. And when you look at Tim Geithner and the replacement that Obama’s put in, the Treasury secretary, and a whole host of other appointments and policies, then the kind of rhetoric that we’re getting out of the White House has such a huge disconnect from actually the policies being pursued by this administration.

I mean, a flagrant example, which I just find maddening: in the inaugural address early this year to begin his second term, Obama went out of his way to say he doesn’t accept the idea that we’ve got to have perpetual war. And yet this president has made perpetual war a bipartisan commitment. He is the essence of perpetual war. There is no president of the United States in history who’s been more a proponent in practice of perpetual war. And yet in his speech he says he is against perpetual war.

We know that we have a military complex, as Eisenhower said, making a killing off of these military contracts. And that’s propelling so much of this foreign policy and the so-called defense spending. So whether you talk about that or supposedly aligning with the middle class and people who are not wealthy, that rhetoric is so enticing to people, it’s a sort of a—it’s a show that’s put on that diverts from reality.

JAY: So, then, how do you see developing a politics independent of those people who control the Democratic Party who clearly represent a specific section of the elite?

SOLOMON: Well, two legs I think we’ve got to be walking on collectively are, first, that we speak clearly and analyze precisely through media outlets like The Real News, through all sorts of ways that we communicate with each other interpersonally, socially, on the internet, all sorts of media that we bring to bear, institutionally and in terms of habitually, to say, we don’t BS each other; we’re clear, we share information, and we’re direct, and we don’t beat around the bush.

The other is that we’ve got to organize. The politics of analysis and denunciation on the one hand are inadequate, but you don’t have an organizing component. And by the same token, if you’re organizing without clear information and analysis, that doesn’t tend to get us very far either. So I think it’s those two components.

JAY: Organize with what objective?

SOLOMON: Well, I think the objective needs to be social cohesion of opposition, and also developing an electoral capacity. And I think that is important because we get into this dualism of either-or, and it’s clearly both. We need the Occupy type movements, we need to be in the streets, we need to be organizing in the workplace, the schools, the communities, including on-the-street protests like the big one this month against the XL Keystone pipeline, for instance. But at the same time, we can’t leave aside the fact that state power really matters. And that means building the ability, the capacity to win elections for genuine progressives and defeat not only right-wing Republicans, which is a redundant phrase at this point, but also defeat the corporate Democrats who now dominate the party.

JAY: And do you think that fight is mostly within the Democratic Party? Or is it also third-party?

SOLOMON: Well, as a practical matter, for partisan races, for state legislatures, governorships, Congress, and so forth, those are partisan races. And there’s virtually no record whatsoever of any third party in our lifetime—certainly not the Green Party or any other—having any electoral success. And so if we’re serious about state power for progressives and the interests of people instead of Wall Street, then third parties are a dead end.

At the same time, there are nonpartisan races, in municipalities, for instance, where non-Democrat progressives, including Green Party people, have been and can be successful. And I’ll give a quick example: Richmond, California. A Green Party member who’s been a mayor there for a number of years, she and the communities that she’s part of have fought successfully against Chevron Corporation. This huge oil company dumped a large amount of money in the last race trying to defeat Mayor McLaughlin. And that Green Party member was successful in defeating this huge oil company, which is polluting and damaging the health of very poor people, most of them people of color, in Richmond. So that’s an example that can be done.

But I think the third-party attachment as some kind of romantic ideal to wrest power away from a corporate-military complex in Congress, I think that’s an hallucination, I think that’s a mirage. And so there’s a pathway. And the only pathway to electoral power in Congress has to be working through the Democratic Party—not to be subservient to its power structure, but to overcome it.

JAY: So this is just the beginning of a discussion with Norman. If you would like to argue with Norman, ask a question, make a comment, the best way to do that is send me a Tweet. So I’m @PaulJay_TRNN. One more time: @PaulJay_TRNN. So let us know what you think. The next time Norman and I talk, I’ll ask your questions.

Thanks for joining us, Norman.

SOLOMON: Thank you, Paul.

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

End

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