After the Health Care Legislation: the Challenges Facing Progressives in the Age of Obama

The passage of the health care bill was not an embodiment of the vision of universal health care that many of us aspire to, but it was a major turn-around in American politics, a moment in which Barack Obama was able to regain some of the moral authority that inspired his landslide election only a year and a half ago and gave many of us reason to hope a space was opening up for the creation of a more progressive, more social connected, more loving and caring society.

But Obama will not succeed in fending off the Sarah Palin-led Tea Party revolt against this progressive vision without the decisive emergence of a different kind of progressive voice into public space, a voice on the spiritual left of Obama which strengthens his own resolve and shows him how a new spiritual progressive vision can be both morally compelling and realistic in political terms.

Yet, this is very complicated, because Obama’s programs actually erode the support for progressive politics. Most people think Obama IS the Left: the progressives, liberals, even “the far left.” So when they hear about his or Congressional Democrats’ policies, or get their lives touched by their fallout, (e.g. his and their support for trillions of dollars to the banks and large corporations, but only symbolic acts to stop the millions of home foreclosures and to create jobs; his war in Afghanistan; his allowing the oil and gas conglomerates to ruin the environment through drilling on the coasts of many American states; his abandonment of his promises to end the human rights abuses of the Bush Administration; and the list goes on), many people become disillusioned, and blame the whole mess created by global capitalism on “big government,” thus giving an amazing opening both to the Tea Party movement and to the large business and financial interests.

From the standpoint of the large corporate interests, nothing could be better than to de-fund government or dramatically downsize it, because then it can’t constrain their economic power. But if the Democrats aren’t constraining that power anyway, and people think of them as championing big government that seems to be in bed with those corporate powers, they find the anti-government sentiments of Tea Party people to be appealing, and are even willing to turn their heads away and not pay attention when some of those Tea Partiers reveal an extreme racism or even a quasi-fascist attraction to militarism and denial of human rights.

So, here is our mission: we have to both protect the liberals from the anger their policies have generated, because we don’t want the quasi-fascists to take their place. Yet, the only way we can effectively protect the liberals is to openly criticize what is misguided in their policies, and to put forward an alternative that really embodies the best in liberal and progressive thought.

This is one of the major themes of the Tikkun/Network of Spiritual Progressives (NSP) conference June 11-14. I am writing you to invite you to come to that conference and to the demonstration we plan at The White House on June 13.

We need you to be there to participate with us in bringing this kind of thinking into the public arena. We will also focus on:

A. An Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment (ESRA) to the Constitution to restrain corporate power over elections and to re-empower democracy,

B. The Global Marshall Plan,

C. Developing strategies for how to pursue progressive politics in the Obama era,

D. How to help progressives reclaim the moral high ground by incorporating some of the leading ideas of the Network of Spiritual Progressives, particularly our “New Bottom Line.”

The cut-off date for the lower cost pre-registration sliding scale for the conference is April 10. Please register for it now at the lower cost prices by going to

Among the presenters:

Congressmen Keith Ellison and Dennis Kucinich, Bill McKibben (author, The End of Nature), Sister Joan Chittister (author, Welcome ot the Wisdom of the World & The Gift of Years, co-chair the Network of Spiritual Progressives), Rev. Brian McLaren (author, A New Kind of Christianity & Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crisis, and a Revolution of Hope), Medea Benjamin (Code Pink), Rev. Noemi Parrilla-Mena (Pastor of Hispanic Ministries to the National City Christian Church Disciples of Christ), Robert McChesney (author, The Political Economy of Media), Marianne Williamson (author, Healing the Soul of America, A Return to Love, The Gift of Change), Rev. James A. Forbes (Pastor emeritus of The Riverside Church, director of Healing of the Nations Foundation), Dr. Margaret Flowers (Physicians for a National Health Program), Robert Thurman (author, Inner Revolution & The Jewel Tree of Tibet: The Enlightenment Engine of Tibetan Buddhism), Riane Eisler (author, The Chalice and the Blade & The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating a Caring Economics), John Dear S.J. (activist Jesuit priest, author, A Persistent Peace & Put Down Your Sword), Rev. Jim Winkler (General Secretary of the General Board of Church & Society of the United Methodists of America), Jonathan Granoff (President of the Global Security Institute, and a Senior Advisor of the American Bar Association’s Committee on Arms Control and National Security), Sharon Welch (provost of Meadville Lombard Theological School, author, A Feminist Ethic of Risk & Real Peace, Real Security: The Challenges of Global Citizenship), Rev. Graylan Hagler ( Senior Minister of Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ), Jeremy Ben Ami (president, J Street), Bill Moyer (chair, The Backbone Campaign), Svi Shapiro (author, Education and Hope in Troubled Times: Visions of Change for our Children’s World & Losing Heart: The Moral and Spiritual Miseducation of America’s Children), David Loy (author, Money, Sex, War, Karma: Notes for a Buddhist Revolution & The Great Awakening: A Buddhist Social Theory), Rabbi Arthur Waskow (chair, The Shalom Center, author, Godwrestling & Down-to-Earth Judaism: Food, Money, Sex, and the Rest of Life) , Peter Gabel (Associate Editor, Tikkun Magazine, a founder of Critical Legal Studies, and author The Bank Teller and Other Essays on the Politics of Meaning), Rabbi Michael Lerner (Editor, Tikkun Magazine and author, The Left Hand of God: Taking Back our Country from the Religious Right, The Politics of Meaning, & Healing Israel/Palestine), Paul Wapner (Director, Global Environmental Politics Program, American University and author, Living Through the End of Nature: The Future of American Environmentalism, David Korten (author, Agenda for a New Economy: From Phantom Wealth to Real Wealth & The Great Turning), Sherry Shapiro (professor of dance and director of Women’s Studies at Meredith College, Raleigh North Carolina, author, Pedagogy and the Politics of the Body: A Critical PRAXIS), John Nichols (edits The Beat blog column for The Nation), Shaul Magid (Professor of Jewish Studies and Religious Studies, Indiana University & author, Hasidism on the Margin), Rev. Ama Zenya (a co-chair of this conference and of the NSP Bay Area chapter), John Cavanagh (director, The Institute for Policy Studies), Josh Weiner (poetry editor of Tikkun magazine, and author of The World’s Room (2001) and From the Book of Giants (2006), & more.


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