The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Progressive Political Prisoners

I’m probably sticking my neck out here, and so I’ll preface this by saying that I’m supporting Obama for president and will vote for him in November.

That said, I have been wanted to ask one question of progressives talking about Obama moving to the center. And I ask knowing that s a black gay man, a college-educated, white-collar worker, and non-Christian who doesn’t live in a southern state, and who’s further to the left than anyone the Democrats are going to put up for office, I’m probably among the least important and least relevant voters in this election.

Why are you surprised? Near as I can tell Obama has never been all that much of a flaming liberal, or even all that progressive. At best, he’s maybe somewhat center left, but more center than left. Now, compared to the current president, the Republican base, and the current Republican nominee, he looks pretty liberal. But I’ve always seen him as pretty moderate.

As it stands now, progressives are reduced to petitioning Obama to prioritize their concerns.

We urge you, then, to listen to the voices of the people who can lift you to the presidency and beyond.

…Here are key positions you have embraced that we believe are essential to sustaining this movement:

§ Withdrawal from Iraq on a fixed timetable.

§ A response to the current economic crisis that reduces the gap between the rich and the rest of us through a more progressive financial and welfare system; public investment to create jobs and repair the country’s collapsing infrastructure; fair trade policies; restoration of the freedom to organize unions; and meaningful government enforcement of labor laws and regulation of industry.

§ Universal healthcare.

§ An environmental policy that transforms the economy by shifting billions of dollars from the consumption of fossil fuels to alternative energy sources, creating millions of green jobs.

§ An end to the regime of torture, abuse of civil liberties and unchecked executive power that has flourished in the Bush era.

§ A commitment to the rights of women, including the right to choose abortion and improved access to abortion and reproductive health services.

§ A commitment to improving conditions in urban communities and ending racial inequality, including disparities in education through reform of the No Child Left Behind Act and other measures.

§ An immigration system that treats humanely those attempting to enter the country and provides a path to citizenship for those already here.

§ Reform of the drug laws that incarcerate hundreds of thousands who need help, not jail.

§ Reform of the political process that reduces the influence of money and corporate lobbyists and amplifies the voices of ordinary people.

These are the changes we can believe in. In other areas–such as the use of residual forces and mercenary troops in Iraq, the escalation of the US military presence in Afghanistan, the resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict, and the death penalty–your stated positions have consistently varied from the positions held by many of us, the “friends on the left” you addressed in recent remarks. If you win in November, we will work to support your stands when we agree with you and to challenge them when we don’t. We look forward to an ongoing and constructive dialogue with you when you are elected President.

(And I have to take a minute to point out what doesn’t make the list, presumably because it’s not a progressive issue, but also because it’s not one Obama has previously embraced — though he and Michelle have consistently spoken up for equality. And, yes progressives, I support all of the above. They’re all high priorities to me, and I will “show up” to fight for each for each of them.)

Now, there’s even a petition asking Obama to chose a progressive running mate.

Dear Sen. Obama:

As a member of the millions-strong progressive movement, I urge you to pick as your running mate someone who shares progressive values. Please pick a VP candidate who:

* believes that privacy is a constitutional right

* believes in religious liberty and freedom of speech

* holds true to the core American principles of fairness and equality for all.

Progressive values are American values!


You had me at “fairness and equality for all.”

There’s a saying that kind of applies here: “If you have to ask, you can’t afford it.” If you have to ask all of the above of your candidate, you don’t really have a a progressive candidate.

I have been beating this drum since well before the primaries, and back when Netroots Nation was YearlyKos.

But over and over I basically hear about all of the above “If that’s what we have to do to win … ”

And then I remembered something I hear a certain A-list blogger (who honestly seems to care about these issues, and keeps asking how Dems should talk about them) say a while back: just getting Democrats elected is not sufficient. Certainly not if they’re going to put their constituents and the convictions in the closet in order to win. A party that believes it has to put its own values on the back burner in order to win must not believe that it can and should win based on its values. It becomes something else entirely, and will find it hard to go back if the trick should work.

LIke I said earlier, I get the message: the Democrats going to lead on our issues. When I bring up the shift that’s occurring in the party, and the unlikelihood that they will be able to return to their old values if new, more conservative constituents bring them back to power, the answer I get from the netroots is: “it’s your job to shift public opinion and give them cover to make it safe for them to take a stand on those issues.”

Well, I’ve been doing that job as an activist for about 20 years now. At this point, as a partnered gay dad, everything we do is an exercise in public education; from a trip to the grocery store to getting the mail. But I don’t think I’m the only one with a job to do. I think Democratic leadership still has a job to if they’re up to walking the (these days, coded and/or whispered-behind-the-hand) talk of their values. It’s called leading by example.

The trend for the last few years has been for progressive to throw their support behind Democrats (and, no, the two are not necessarily the same, and are often distinctly different) who aren’t necessarily all that progressive on any number of issues, in the name of getting Democrats (who may not be all that progressive) back into power.

The constant refrain has been “This is what we have to do to win.” My question is “What do you mean we?” Progressives, through their support of moderate to centrist Democrats have ensured that we have candidates who feel they much attract independent, moderate, and somewhat conservative voters, even if it means straying away from progressive positions. To some degree, that means at least a slightly conservative Democratic party. One that needs the Leah Daughtrys of the world in order to win, or thinks it does.

F.I.A. has also financed the faith outreach of state parties, sometimes in striking ways. In Alabama, the pro-life party chairman was given F.I.A. money to publish a “Faith and Values Voters Guide” in local newspapers just before Election Day in 2006. The 12-page insert provided the religious narratives of statewide Democratic candidates — “I was richly blessed in my life with parents who raised me in a Christian home. . . .” — and concluded with a Democratic “covenant for the future.” The covenant pledged to “require public schools to offer Bible literacy as part of their curriculum” and made at least two vows that run counter to positions of the national party: to “pass a constitutional amendment confirming that all life is a gift from God and should be protected; and that life begins at conception” and to “defeat any efforts to redefine marriage or provide the benefits of marriage to a same-sex union.”

If this is the be the driving voice of the Democratic party, if this is how the Democratic party will return to power, and if this is how it remains in power, then I have just had a “come to Jesus moment” of my own.

If this is the future of the Democratic party, then as non-Christian American, as non-theistic American, and as a gay man I may very well have no party in this country that speaks for and stands for me and my family.

If this is the way the Democratic party will go, then we will inevitably part ways. And don’t tell me that it’s my job to keep it from going that way. Given the numbers, no amount of pulling on my part or the part of anyone who fits into any or all of the above categories will cause it to veer much from its course. You might as well ask me to stop the turning of the earth by running counter to it, rather than just being carried along.

Now, can someone tell me how this doesn’t add up to a victory for the Republican Revolution: a more conservative Democratic party?

A Democrat who wins under those conditions will be hard pressed to govern from a progressive position, and keep the voters who gave him the margin of victory — are decided not progressive on some issues. (The best progressive evangelicals can do on gay issues and reproductive choice is to just not talk about them or ignore them. Candidates who want their votes would do well do downplay those issues as well. Note, again, the progressive laundry list petition linked above.)

Progressives, being the base, don’t provide that margin of victory, because they don’t “swing.” And in the current political landscape, they don’t have anywhere else to go. The Greens? Sure, go ahead. Progressives will volunteer, phonebank, fundraise, and canvas for their candidates; everything that any campaign needs hordes of volunteers to do. But we will do it for candidates who aren’t always progressive, and yet believing that we’ll get a progressive-governing elected official after the election. But we do not have to be pandered to, courted, catered to, or convinced, because — again — where else are we going to go?

We can’t afford to stay at home either, which differentiates us from the Republicans’ religious right base. They have less to lose if their candidate doesn’t win because the reality is that if our candidate wins he will probably have to spend so much of his time and energy cleaning up the mess of the last 7 1/2 years that he won’t be able to do much in terms of moving in a more progressive direction. There’s a swamp to be drained, and then alligators to fight as the first order of business. Once that’s done, we might well be half-way through the second term. At which point, the best we can hope for is a couple of Supreme Court appointments, and some executive orders.

Progressives have become political prisoners, of a sort. After we work to get a candidate elected, the real work of then moving that candidate towards more progressive positions begins. We will get them elected so that we may begin lobbying and petitioning them and hoping they will listen.

One Comment

  1. My partner has a similar view in that he was hoping that Hillary would be the democratic nominee — precisely because he doesn’t want the image of black folks being tarnished by the fact that if Obama gets elected, that he would not be able to do much in office but cleaning up the mess Bush did — and people would (as usual) blame it on the “inabilities” of black folks, when it was the guy before him that put us in ruins.

    For me, the lack of a true representative for progressives is a big reason I dread going to the polls to vote, when I know that none of the candidates on the ballot truly represent my views. Often times, I too, feel frustrated by the fact that my singular voice for progressive views is drowned out by tens and thousands fold by the voices of knuckleheads for conservative views. I am tired of fighting for a voice in a country that doesn’t really want to hear what I have to say.