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Obama and progressives

Thom Hartmann talks about AIPAC, Obama, American foreign policy, progressives, and the grass-roots democratic movement.

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: I’m joined by Thom Hartmann of the Thom Hartmann radio show on Air America. AIPAC just held its conference in Washington. John McCain spoke. Barack Obama spoke. Both received thunderous applause. And there was very little to distinguish one speech from the other. In terms of the foreign policy positions Barack Obama’s proposing, with one very important exception, the willingness to negotiate with Iran—and I wouldn’t minimize how important an exception that is—but when it comes to the other principles of how Obama lays out his foreign policy, it doesn’t seem very different than what we’ve had, certainly pre-Bush, and certainly even in words, even Bush. In action we’ve had a departure from Bush. But Obama’s not charting a new course. Do you think?

THOM HARTMANN, AIR AMERICA: With regard to Israel, no. No. Nor has any country in Europe. You know, Israel is a democracy and an ally, and they’ve been there with us and for us for a long, long time, and I expect they’ll continue to be. I think that, you know, many of the foreign policy suggestions that Barack Obama has come up with are radically different from those of John McCain, particularly with regard to the war in Iraq.

JAY: Which?

HARTMANN: For example, let’s withdraw from Iraq. You know, let’s end the war.

JAY: Obama has talked about hearkening back to the fundamental principles of US foreign policy. He’s talked about Truman. He’s talked about Bush I. Isn’t those assumptions of that foreign policy is what got us where we are?

HARTMANN: Yes, and I think to some extent the America-as-empire, regardless of what we think our foreign policy is going to be, events have gotten ahead of us. We find ourselves in the same place the British did, I think, at the turn of the last century. You know, our empire is disintegrating, and we can’t afford to hold it together any longer. On the other hand, there are certain political realities that I think any candidate has to acknowledge over the short term. It sounds cynical to say that it’s appropriate for a politician to campaign on A and govern on B. And if A and B were radically different, it would be. Unfortunately, Bill Clinton governed as a conservative, although he campaigned as a progressive, ’cause the campaign in ’92 was a very, very progressive campaign. Apparently, two or three weeks, according to the story that nobody has denied, two or three weeks before he was inaugurated, Alan Greenspan and Robert Rubin sat him down and said, "Bill, we’re going to tell you the facts of life." You know, and all of a sudden everything changed. What this all ultimately boils down to is the idea, which is the extraordinary and wonderful thing about how this country is organized, is that we don’t elect leaders in this country. The word "leader" doesn’t exist in the Constitution. We elect representatives. We elect people to represent we the people. And every single significant change in the history of this country in direction, for better or for worse, frankly, has been the result of a groundswell of public opinion creating a parade so large that the politicians decided; that they had to run out in front of it, hoist the flag, and say, "This is my parade."

JAY: But there’s no such movement.

HARTMANN: I believe that such a movement right now is called the progressive movement. It’s called the blogosphere. It’s called the netroots. It’s called the whatever. It’s driving the Obama campaign.

JAY: But are you concerned at all that in the movement to elect Obama, which to a large extent is also the movement to defeat McCain, if you get my meaning, that a more independent position, independent movement may get submerged. It barely exists to begin with. It’s very weak. Are there voices that will say, at this stage, not just later, that, "Obama, this is the direction you need to go in"?

HARTMANN: Oh, they already are, and they have been for a long time, you know, from Moveon.org to Daily Kos, to, you know, fill in the blanks. The fact of the matter is the Democratic Party has moved dramatically on a lot of issues in the last two or three years as a consequence of pressure from the grass-roots. And this is where, you know, people say, well, you know, you’re supporting the Democratic Party, you know, like it was, you know, this is just a machine, quack, quack, quack. The fact of the matter is the Democratic Party is ripe for the picking. It’s a not-for-profit. It’s owned by its members. I’m not suggesting that we should support blindly Barack Obama or the Democratic Party; I’m suggesting that we should take it, that we should infiltrate it and take it over. It’s what conservatives did with the Republican Party 30 years ago. And to the extent that they thought that they could reinvent America in a new and better way that they thought was going to make a paradise, they did. It turned out not to be a paradise. Their dream turned out to be a dystopia. But they did it. We don’t have to reinvent America in some new and radical way; we can look around the world and see what works and what doesn’t work. If the Democrats go back to the roots of Franklin Roosevelt, or go back to the roots in some ways of Thomas Jefferson and the populist and progressive movements that have informed, frankly, both parties, that animated, originally, the Republican Party and then became the property of the Democratic Party, from the Wobblies to the Progressives in the 1880s, to the Grange movement, you know, through the women’s suffrage movement, through the—you know, name it, right? All of them, they all started from the grass-roots up, from the ground up; they all took the form of eventually infiltrating one of the two major political parties, bringing that party to power, and then using that party to change America. I believe that people are now sufficiently engaged and energized that that’s the cusp that we’re at again. America has become a very progressive nation. And the world is a far more progressive place than the Democratic Party is right now. And that’s a tide of history that’s not going to change. It’s not going to be rolled back.

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