A Progressive Strategy for 2011-2012
For two years, Tikkun critiqued President Obama for not putting forward a consistent narrative or worldview. As of Obama’s State of the Union address, our view has changed decisively — inconsistency is no longer the problem; he has made himself clear. But the worldview he has adopted is unequivocally the one that Republicans have championed for the past eighty years: economic nationalism backed by a competitive ethos domestically and a strong military internationally.
Obama’s message is the opposite of the message that we urged him to adopt about seeking to build “The Caring Society” by caring for each other and caring for the earth.
By embracing the full message of Blue Dog Democrats and the pro-corporate agenda that follows from it, Obama has taken exactly the path of the Clinton administration of the 1990s. While the media claim that this path was imposed upon Clinton by his loss to Republicans in the 1994 midterm elections, we remember it quite differently. Hillary Clinton’s health care plan of 1993 failed not because it was too liberal, but because it sought to ensure the contradictory goals of reducing spending, guaranteeing universal care, and ensuring the high profits of health care profiteers (the insurance companies, hospitals, medical specialists, the drug industry, etc.). The result was an incomprehensible mish-mash of pro-corporate policies that Tikkun and most other liberal and progressive forces found difficult to support because of its absence of a moral core. This same failure characterizes the Obamacare legislation that was passed in 2010 — it had some very valuable parts, but the decision to mandate the purchase of health care without imposing any serious controls on the rising prices that insurance companies charge us for these government-mandated services was morally incoherent.
Over the course of the past two years, we’ve made the case that in almost every major arena, the Obama administration failed to develop policies that could significantly challenge the already existing status quo. It was this failure — not Obama’s alleged radicalism — that engendered deep cynicism about Obama and his policy direction. Yet the media and the Democratic Party pretend that it was his being too progressive that caused the loss of so many Democratic seats in Congress, and that the solution is to become more like the Republicans.
Obama’s Enthusiastic Expression of Conservative Ideology
Becoming more like the Republicans is what Obama has now set out to accomplish. His State of the Union address put forward conservative ideology as though it had been newly discovered by the Democrats. He breathlessly extolled the virtue of competition and our need as a country to win with big ideas! Instead of imagining a world in which we would cooperate with others to achieve shared goals (environmental sustainability, nuclear disarmament, human rights, and an end to global poverty and despair), we were told that the real patriotism consists in getting ahead and beating those other countries when it comes to international economic competition.
From that framework emerged his emphasis on education for success in the competitive marketplace. Gone is the idea that we might instill in students the desire to seek wisdom and knowledge for their own sake. It is the “information age,” and we are to seek information for the sake of global power and domination.
A powerful summary of what was wrong with giving primacy to competition as the central goal for Americans was included within a response by “Historians Against the War” to the State of the Union address: