The historical task of the progressive movement is to facilitate the evolution of American society and its economic substructure to meet the social, economic and environmental challenges of the 21st century and to finally break the grip of corporate control so that our political process serves the common good rather than private profit. This project will not be completed by winning one election. We need to think in 40-year cycles rather than in four-year cycles.
The abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, the union movement, the New Deal Social Security safety net, the civil rights movement, and the Medicare guarantee were hard fought victories by ordinary citizens working in solidarity. The great progressive reforms of the last two centuries came from mobilized movements, not just from individual leaders.
This brings us to the 2012 election. My labor progressive allies have spent a lot of time and energy trying to rally politically naïve cultural progressives who are disappointed by the failure of the Obama Administration to fulfill their expectations. Our main talking point is that this election is not about Barack Obama or the Democratic Party. We are clear that an Obama re-election will not produce a progressive policy sea-change, but a defeat at the hands of the radical right would be catastrophic for the progressive movement and agenda.
The cautious centrists in the Obama Administration will have to be compelled by energized and strategically savvy social movements to move in the direction of deep structural reform. In the words of FDR, we will have to make him do it. An electoral victory will create the space in which the progressive movement can operate. A Romney/Ryan victory would suck all the oxygen out of the room, and initiate a ruthless campaign to dismantle what remains of the social contract, decimating sources of resistance to the Wall Street agenda by destroying unions and centers of power for workers and minority communities. Those are the stakes.
The puzzling inability of Obama to use his considerable rhetorical gifts to articulate a coherent narrative to counter the hegemony of the market fundamentalist project has convinced the core of the progressive movement it is our job to take up that task. The cult of “free market” fundamentalism still dominates elite consensus, despite its repeated failure to deliver the goods in terms of an economy that provides social stability and environmental sustainability. The austerity agenda of the global corporate elites has been poisoned medicine for working class and middle class populations in both the U.S. and Europe. The progressive movement must pry the death grip of this benighted ideological fixation from the levers of power and rebalance the relationship between the corporate sector and our political system.
The basic choice in the 2012 election is between capitulation to social Darwinism or movement toward restoring the social contract.
The primary short-term political objective is to arrest the advance of a radicalized conservative movement that seeks to roll back the progressive gains of the 20th century. These are not your father’s Republicans. The new breed of Tea Party Republicans are prepared to use small, temporary majorities to rip up long-standing social contracts, defund and destroy sources of opposition, and salt the ground under them. They work fast and they mean business. They are funded by virtually unlimited financial resources from market fundamentalist billionaires, secretive corporate Super PACs, and an extensive network of right-wing think tanks working in tandem with an aggressive and mendacious conservative media empire consisting of TV, radio, and print publications that set the terms of debate for American politics. There are whole sections of the country where right-wing and conservative evangelical talk radio is the only option on the air. Job #1 is to decisively defeat the Tea Party conservative movement that has gone to the dark side in its single-minded drive for unchecked power.
Finally, we need to enlarge our sphere of concern from the media-driven obsession with the presidential horse race and pay close attention to the Senate, the House, and state and local legislatures. The gut-wrenching gridlock that ensued following the 2010 capture of the House by Tea Party Republicans bent on blocking any initiative to speed up economic recovery demonstrates the need to provide the president with a Congress to work with him. Huge sums are being spent by regressive political forces to take over state legislatures, county boards of supervisors, and city councils. We must contest at every level of government.
Here in Sonoma County, the marquee political race is for First District supervisor. Susan Gorin represents the progressive choice, backed by every environmental and labor organization in the county, while the regressive troika of the Chamber of Commerce, the Sonoma County Alliance, and the Farm Bureau back John Sawyer. Our county is a microcosm of the larger political contest going on in the country. The choice is clear and the consequences are real. Your vote matters.