Top Ten Reasons Why We Need an Independent Progressive Movement
By Bernie Horn
June 1, 2009 - 7:19am ET
Barack Obama is the best President we’ve had in a long, long time. The U.S. House is reasonably progressive, so far. The Senate is just so-so. We have the chance to fundamentally change federal priorities—to remake America. But it’s just a chance. Real reform won’t happen if progressive activists watch from the sidelines.
Today we begin our annual 3-day conference for activists, America’s Future Now. More information is here and live-streamed audio is here. For years this conference was called “Take Back America” for obvious reasons. In one sense, we’ve taken it back. But in another, we’ve just begun the effort. There is so much that needs doing, and that’s what America’s Future Now is about.
Just because conservatives lost the presidency and Congress doesn’t mean they have given up. On the contrary, they have redoubled their efforts to block progressive health care; they’ve already crushed the strongest version of a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions; they at least temporarily prevented the closing of the Guantanamo Bay prison; they passed through the Senate an additional estate tax break for millionaires; they stopped the President’s proposal to limit charitable deductions for the very rich; and they remain determined to chip away at Social Security.
President Obama and the progressives in Congress cannot win the coming battles by themselves. We need an informed, passionate, independent citizens movement to defeat the powerful special interests. And more important, we need such a movement to apply pressure from the left when Democrats—including our President—get cold feet.
Here’s what we can (and must) accomplish together:
1. Health Care for All As Barack Obama declared, “If we don’t get it done this year, we’re not going to get it done.” After all these years, we finally have the opportunity to fix our broken health care system and insure everyone. But we wouldn’t be here without the heroic years-long efforts of organizations and activists dedicated to health care for all. Only a strong, independent movement can keep Democrats from giving up the public insurance option. Only pressure can make Congress adopt a progressive method for financing the system. If you want to stand up and fight, see what our friends at Health Care for America Now would like you to do. Click here for a new CAF fact sheet on health care.
2. Financial Regulation Two weeks ago, progressives won a big victory when Congress enacted legislation to rein in predatory practices by credit card companies. But four weeks ago, we lost to the banks on the bankruptcy “cram-down” legislation. It’s not clear how strong the President will push for financial reforms—so far, he’s been a lot tougher on car companies than on banks. What we need is sweeping regulation of the entire system so we’re never again thrown into recession by irresponsible banking practices, and we never again have to prop up companies that are “too big to fail.” Real reform simply won’t happen without an organized, fervent public outcry.
3. Energy Independence & Global Warming We can’t afford America’s addiction to imported oil. At the same time, we can’t afford to continue ignoring the growing crisis of global warming. The energy lobbyists have already proven their power by defeating the President’s request for cap-and-trade “reconciliation” language in the 2010 budget. The energy bill that’s taken shape in the House is already a compromise that some environmental groups can’t swallow—and it will inevitably be watered-down some more by the Senate. Unfortunately, we can’t count on the Democrats alone to save us from climate catastrophe. Click here for a new CAF fact sheet on energy.
4. Workers Rights The Employee Free Choice Act is exceptionally modest legislation to begin with. It’s supported by a clear majority of the House and Senate. But it looks like the bill will be painfully weakened in order to satisfy a few Senate Democrats who refuse to help break a filibuster. That’s a disgrace. Click here for a new CAF fact sheet on the Employee Free Choice.
5. Fair Taxation President Obama wants to abolish the Bush tax cuts for the rich. But he’ll have quite a fight in Congress. A few months ago, 10 Senate Democrats voted with Republicans to pass an amendment that would weaken the federal estate tax—a provision that would enrich only the one-fourth-of-one-percent richest Americans. Progressives need to form a new coalition on taxes if we are to have any chance of winning this fight. Click here for a new CAF fact sheet on taxation.
6. Investment in America Our nation is falling apart: Bridges are collapsing, roads are crumbling, levees are failing, school buildings need repair. It’s true that public investments were the highlight of President Obama’s $787 billion economic stimulus package, but they were limited to “shovel ready” projects. The legislation actually contains less than $200 billion to fund two years of investments in infrastructure, schools, energy, and science. We’ve a lot of persuading to do. Click here for a new CAF fact sheet on public investment.
7. Immigration Reform Our immigration system has been broken for years, and the Bush Administration let the situation fester. Bush was beholden to the corporations that wanted cheap labor, and the Republican Party was held hostage by anti-immigrant ideologues who thrive on fear and xenophobia. We must get beyond demagoguery to deal with the real problems. But no elected official, including the President, wants to handle this political hot-potato. Click here for a new CAF fact sheet on immigration.
8. Military Reform Surely there are few progressives who are happy with the way the Obama Administration has been slow to withdraw from Iraq, quick to escalate the war in Afghanistan, and unwilling to cut the defense budget. Yet in the long-term, we’re not going to be able to increase and maintain needed spending on progressive priorities (health, education, environment) unless we make substantial reductions in military spending. This is a job for an aggressive, unyielding, grassroots movement.
9. Obeying the Law It is astonishing that this needs to be listed among the top ten priorities. But clearly, individuals and entire agencies within the Bush Administration violated federal and international law with impunity. We had torture—apparently directed from within the White House; there was widespread warrantless wiretapping; people were kidnapped and “renditioned”; and there’s even a credible story (from Pulizer Prize-winning investigative reporter Seymour Hersh) that Vice President Cheney directed an international assassination squad. And the President doesn’t want to investigate?
10. All the Rest! Okay, I’m cheating. But there are just too many policies that need to change. We must fix George Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” disaster and make college affordable for all, protect Social Security, defend and expand civil rights and civil liberties, house the homeless, protect our food supply, fix NAFTA and similar trade agreements, promote human rights around the world, and ensure that every American who works full-time earns a living wage.
There is a place where you can learn about all of these issues and discover new ways you can help promote the independent progressive movement—our America’s Future Now conference. If you can’t stop by the Omni Shoreham in Washington, DC during the next three days, you can listen to live-streamed audio here, read updates on our newly-redesigned blog here, and read our brand-new “Making Sense 2009” policy briefing and message framing booklet here.
Whatever you do, get ready to rumble. The work of Taking Back America has just begun.
The writer is a Senior Fellow at Campaign for America’s Future and author of the book, “Framing the Future: How Progressive Values Can Win Elections and Influence People”.
Help us spread the word about these important stories...
Email to a friend
Views expressed on this page are those of the authors and not necessarily those of Campaign for America's Future or Institute for America's Future