Friday, November 14, 2008

Our Responsibility as Citizens to Demand Accountability from President Obama & His Administration


Speaking of the crucial issues of civic responsibility and political accountability and their essential necessity in the upcoming Presidency of Barack Obama and his new administration please check out this very important article...


Sparing Obama Criticism Isn't Doing Him (or Us) Any Favors
By Tom Engelhardt

Posted on November 13, 2008

On the day that Americans turned out in near record numbers to vote, a record was set halfway around the world. In Afghanistan, a U.S. Air Force strike wiped out about 40 people in a wedding party. This represented at least the sixth wedding party eradicated by American air power in Afghanistan and Iraq since December 2001.

American planes have, in fact, taken out two brides in the last seven months. And don't try to bury your dead or mark their deaths ceremonially either, because funerals have been hit as well. Mind you, those planes, which have conducted 31% more air strikes in Afghanistan in support of U.S. troops this year, and the missile-armed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) now making almost daily strikes across the border in Pakistan, remain part of George W. Bush's Air Force, but only until January 21, 2009. Then, they -- and all the brides and grooms of Afghanistan and in the Pakistani borderlands who care to have something more than the smallest of private weddings -- officially become the property of President Barack Obama.

That's a sobering thought. He is, in fact, inheriting from the Bush administration a widening war in the region, as well as an exceedingly tenuous situation in devastated, still thoroughly factionalized, sectarian, and increasingly Iranian-influenced Iraq. There, the U.S. is, in actuality, increasingly friendless and ever less powerful. The last allies from the infamous "coalition of the willing" are now rushing for the door. The South Koreans, Hungarians, and Bulgarians -- I'll bet you didn't even know the latter two had a few troops left in Iraq -- are going home this year; the rump British force in the south will probably be out by next summer.

The Iraqis are beginning to truly go their own way (or, more accurately, ways); and yet, in January, when Barack Obama enters office, there will still be more American troops in Iraq than there were in April 2003 when Baghdad fell. Winning an election with an antiwar label, Obama has promised -- kinda -- to end the American war there and bring the troops -- sorta, mostly -- home. But even after his planned 16-month withdrawal of U.S. "combat brigades," which may not be welcomed by his commanders in the field, including former Iraq commander, now Centcom Commander David Petraeus, there are still plenty of combative non-combat forces, which will be labeled "residual" and left behind to fight "al-Qaeda." Then, there are all those "advisors" still there to train Iraqi forces, the guards for the giant bases the Bush administration built in the country, the many thousands of armed private security contractors from companies like Blackwater, and of course, the 1,000 "diplomats" who are to staff the newly opened U.S. embassy in Baghdad's Green Zone, possibly the largest embassy on the planet. Hmmmm.

And while the new president turns to domestic matters, it's quite possible that significant parts of his foreign policy could be left to the oversight of Vice President Joe Biden who, in case anyone has forgotten, proposed a plan for Iraq back in 2007 so filled with imperial hubris that it still startles. In a Caesarian moment, he recommended that the U.S. -- not Iraqis -- functionally divide the country into three parts. Although he preferred to call it a "federal system," it was, for all intents and purposes, a de facto partition plan.

If Iraq remains a sorry tale of American destruction and dysfunction without, as yet, a discernable end in sight, Afghanistan may prove Iraq squared. And there, candidate Obama expressed no desire to wind the war down and withdraw American troops. Quite the opposite, during the election campaign he plunked hard for escalation, something our NATO allies are sure not to be too enthusiastic about. According to the Obama plan, many more American troops (if available, itself an open question) are to be poured into the country in what would essentially be a massive "surge strategy" by yet another occupant of the Oval Office. Assumedly, the new Afghan policy would be aided and abetted by those CIA-run UAVs directed toward Pakistan to hunt down Osama bin Laden and pals, while undoubtedly further destabilizing a shaky ally.

When it comes to rising civilian casualties from U.S. air strikes in their countries, both Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari have already used their congratulatory phone calls to President-elect Obama to plead for an end to the attacks, which produce both a profusion of dead bodies and a profusion of live, vengeful enemies. Both have done the same with the Bush administration, Karzai to the point of tears.

The U.S. military argues that the use of air power is necessary in the face of a spreading, ever more dangerous, Taliban insurgency largely because there are too few boots on the ground. ("If we got more boots on the ground, we would not have to rely as much on airstrikes" was the way Army Brig. Gen. Michael Tucker, deputy commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, put it.) But rest assured, as the boots multiply on increasingly hostile ground, the military will discover it needs more, not less, air power to back more troops in more trouble.

So, after January 20th, expect Obama to take possession of George Bush's disastrous Afghan War; and unless he is far more skilled than Alexander the Great, British empire builders, and the Russians, his war, too, will continue to rage without ever becoming a raging success.

Finally, President-elect Obama accepted the overall framework of a "Global War on Terror" during his presidential campaign. This "war" lies at the heart of the Bush administration's fantasy world of war that has set all-too-real expanses of the planet aflame. Its dangers were further highlighted this week by the New York Times, which revealed that secret orders in the spring of 2004 gave the U.S. military "new authority to attack the Qaeda terrorist network anywhere in the world, and a more sweeping mandate to conduct operations in countries not at war with the United States."

At least twelve such attacks have been carried out since then by Special Operations forces on Pakistan, Somalia, most recently Syria, and other unnamed countries. Signed by Donald Rumsfeld, signed off on by President Bush, built-upon recently by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, these secret orders enshrine the Pentagon's right to ignore international boundaries, or the sovereignty of nations, in an endless global "war" of choice against small, scattered bands of terrorists.

As reporter Jim Lobe pointed out recently, a "series of interlocking grand bargains" in what the neoconservatives used to call "the Greater Middle East" or the "arc of instability" might be available to an Obama administration capable of genuinely new thinking. These, he wrote, would be "backed by the relevant regional players as well as major global powers -- aimed at pacifying Afghanistan; integrating Iran into a new regional security structure; promoting reconciliation in Iraq; and launching a credible process to negotiate a comprehensive peace between Israel and the Arab world."

If, however, Obama accepts a War on Terror framework, as he already seems to have, as well as those "residual" forces in Iraq, while pumping up the war in Afghanistan, he may quickly find himself playing by Rumsfeld rules, whether or not he revokes those specific orders. In fact, left alone in Washington, backed by the normal national security types, he may soon find himself locked into all sorts of unpalatable situations, as once happened to another Democratic president, Lyndon Baines Johnson, who opted to escalate an inherited war when what he most wanted to do was focus on domestic policy.

Previews for a Political Zombie Movie

Domestically, it's clear enough that we are about to leave the age of Bush -- in tone and policy -- but what that leave-taking will consist of is still an open question. This is especially so given a cratering economy and the pot-holed road ahead. It is a moment when Obama has, not surprisingly, begun to emphasize continuity and reassurance alongside his campaign theme of "change we can believe in."

All you had to do was look at that array of Clinton-era economic types and CEOs behind Obama at his first news conference to think: been there, done that. The full photo of his economic team that day offered a striking profile of pre-Bush era Washington and the Washington Consensus, and so a hint of the Democratic world the new president will walk into on January 20, 2009.

How about former Treasury Secretaries Robert Rubin and Larry Summers, those kings of 1990s globalization, or even the towering former Fed chief from the first Bush era, Paul Volcker? Didn't that have the look of previews for a political zombie movie, a line-up of the undead? As head of the New America Foundation Steve Clemons has been writing recently, the economic team looks suspiciously as if it were preparing for a "Clinton 3.0" moment.

You could scan that gathering and not see a genuine rogue thinker in sight; no off-the-reservation figures who might represent a breath of fresh air and fresh thinking (other than, being hopeful, the president-elect himself). Clemons offers an interesting list of just some obvious names left off stage: "Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz, Jeffrey Sachs, James Galbraith, Leo Hindery, Clyde Prestowitz, Charlene Barshefsky, C. Fred Bergsten, Adam Posen, Robert Kuttner, Robert Samuelson, Alan Murray, William Bonvillian, Doug & Heidi Rediker, Bernard Schwartz, Tom Gallagher, Sheila Bair, Sherle Schwenninger, and Kevin Phillips."

Mobilizing a largely Clintonista brain trust may look reassuring to some -- an in-gathering of all the Washington wisdom available before Hurricane Bush/Cheney hit town, but unfortunately, we don't happen to be entering a Clinton 3.0 moment. What's globalizing now is American disaster, which threatens to level a vulnerable world.

In a sense, though, domestic policy may, relatively speaking, represent the good news of the coming Obama era. We know, for instance, that those preparing the way for the new president's arrival are thinking hard about how to roll back the worst of Bush cronyism, enrich-yourself-at-the-public-troughism, general lawlessness, and unconstitutionality. As a start, according to Ceci Connolly and R. Jeffrey Smith of the Washington Post, Obama advisers have already been compiling "a list of about 200 Bush administration actions and executive orders that could be swiftly undone to reverse White House policies on climate change, stem cell research, reproductive rights and other issues," including oil drilling in pristine wild lands. In addition, Obama's people are evidently at work on ways to close Guantanamo and try some of its prisoners in U.S. courts.

However, if continuity domestically means rollback to the Clinton era, continuity in the foreign policy sphere -- Guantanamo aside -- may be a somewhat different matter. We won't know the full cast of characters to come until the president-elect makes the necessary announcements or has a national security press conference with a similar line-up behind him. But it's certainly rumored that Robert Gates, a symbol of continuity from both Bush eras, might be kept on as secretary of defense, or a Republican senator like Richard Lugar of Indiana or, more interestingly, retiring Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel might be appointed to the post. Of course, many Clintonistas are sure to be in this line-up, too.

In addition, among the essential cast of characters will be Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Michael Mullen, and Centcom Commander David Petraeus, both late Bush appointees, both seemingly flexible military men, both interested in a military-plus approach to the Afghan and Iraq wars. Petraeus, for instance, reportedly recently asked for, and was denied, permission to meet with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

All these figures will represent a turn away from the particular madness of the early Bush years abroad, one that actually began in the final years of his second term. But such a national security line-up is unlikely to include fresh thinkers, who might truly reimagine an imperial world, or anyone who might genuinely buck the power of the Pentagon. What Obama looks to have are custodians and bureaucrats of empire, far more cautious, far more sane, and certainly far more grown-up than the first-term Bush appointees, but not a cast of characters fit for reshaping American policy in a new world of disorder and unraveling economies, not a crew ready to break new ground and cede much old ground on this still American-garrisoned planet of ours.

Breathless in Washington

Let's assume the best: that Barack Obama truly means to bring some form of the people's will, as he imagines it, to Washington after eight years of unconstitutional "commander-in-chief" governance. That -- take my word for it -- he can't do without the people themselves expressing that will.

Of course, even in the Bush era, Americans didn't simply cede the public commons. They turned out, for instance, in staggering numbers to protest the President's invasion of Iraq before it ever happened, and again more recently to work tirelessly to elect Obama president. But -- so it seems to me -- when immediate goals are either disappointingly not achieved, or achieved relatively quickly, most Americans tend to pack their bags and head for home, as so many did in despair after the invasion was launched in 2003, as so many reportedly are doing again, in a far more celebratory mood, now that Obama is elected.

But hard as his election may have been, that was surely the easy part. He is now about to enter the hornet's nest. Entrenched interests. Entrenched ideas. Entrenched ideology. Entrenched profits. Entrenched lobbyists. Entrenched bureaucrats. Entrenched think tanks. An entrenched Pentagon and allied military-industrial complex, both bloated beyond imagining and virtually untouchable, along with a labyrinthine intelligence system of more than 18 agencies, departments, and offices.

Washington remains an imperial capital. How in the world will Barack Obama truly begin to change that without you?

In the Bush years, the special interests, lobbyists, pillagers, and crony corporations not only pitched their tents on the public commons, but with the help of the President's men and women, simply took possession of large hunks of it. That was called "privatization." Now, as Bush & Co. prepare to leave town in a cloud of catastrophe, the feeding frenzy at the public trough only seems to grow.

It's a natural reaction -- and certainly a commonplace media reaction at the moment -- to want to give Barack Obama a "chance." Back off those critical comments, people now say. Fair's fair. Give the President-elect a little "breathing space." After all, the election is barely over, he's not even in office, he hasn't had his first 100 days, and already the criticism has begun.

But those who say this don't understand Washington -- or, in the case of various media figures and pundits, perhaps understand it all too well.

Political Washington is a conspiracy -- in the original sense of the word: "to breathe the same air." In that sense, there is no air in Washington that isn't stale enough to choke a president. Send Obama there alone, give him that "breathing space," don't start demanding the quick ending of wars or anything else, and you're not doing him, or the American people, any favors. Quite the opposite, you're consigning him to suffocation.

Leave Obama to them and he'll break your heart. If you do, then blame yourself, not him; but better than blaming anyone, pitch your own tent on the public commons and make some noise. Let him know that Washington's isn't the only consensus around, that Americans really do want our troops to come home, that we actually are looking for "change we can believe in," which would include a less weaponized, less imperial American world, based on a reinvigorated idea of defense, not aggression, and on the Constitution, not leftover Rumsfeld rules or a bogus Global War on Terror.

Tom Engelhardt, editor of, is co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of The End of Victory Culture.

© 2008 All rights reserved.
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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Fundamental Political Challenges Facing President Obama and His Administration


The following articles represent a broad spectrum of critical opinion in the general media from liberal and progressive sources regarding what these journalists, activists, and political analysts think should be the top priorities of President Barack Obama's administration and what they think his presidential victory means to the American people who voted for him as well as the huge outpouring of global interest in, and overt support of, his election. In that light I will be personally weighing in on these and related issues in a much longer critical essay of my own which I will post on this publication site next week.



Don Hazen is absolutely correct. BTW: 130 million voters participated in the election or 61% of the entire eligible electorate. This is the highest percentage of participating American voters since 1964 and the largest number of total voters in American history. Of this 130 million votes cast 68 million of them (or 52.5%) voted for Obama. Of that 130 million, 43% of all white American voters voted for Obama while African Americans (95%), Latino Americans (67%), and Asian Americans (61%) combined to give 75% of their votes to Obama. Clearly these pro-Obama voters of color and all the rest examined in Hazen's article below were voting for a fundamentally progressive agenda and NOT a conservative one. Don't believe me? Ask them...


Hey Barack, Don't Forget: 'You Gotta Dance With Them What Brung Ya'
By Don Hazen, AlterNet
Posted on November 11, 2008, Printed on November 11, 2008

Barack Obama was elected by a broad array of constituencies, more diverse and less white, than any candidate in American history, and arguably the most progressive. A new majority, sure to grow in the future, has emerged in this election, as minority voters registered and turned out for Obama in record numbers, led by 95% of African American voters, as younger voters become more engaged in politics and voted decisively on behalf of the new president, as union members and gays voted for Obama in high numbers, and as the single women vote, which included a huge share of minority women, came down overwhelmingly for the new president at the rate of 70-29%, (compared with married women who went for McCain 50-47%) creating a huge, record breaking "marriage gap" of 44 points among women.

Furthermore, the decisive Obama victory should put the rest the enduring myth, perpetrated by innumerable media pundits, that the United States is a conservative country. Poll after poll, as well as long-term research, underscores that on every issue, the electorate is far more progressive -- and getting more progressive all the time -- than what people have experienced over the past eight Bush years, and even during the Clinton Administration.

If the Obama administration is going to be in tune with its voters, there will need to be massive policy changes in every aspect of government. The power of lobbyists, corporations, and over represented constituencies, like gun owners, senior citizens, white males, married women, and the wealthy, are by necessity going to need to cede ground to a more populist and rainbow confection that is the Obama coalition.

On the other hand, the pressure of the multiple international and national crises Obama faces is motivating him to staff up as quickly as is feasible. This combined with his penchant for smart, savvy, experienced insiders, is leading Obama to bring in a host of Clinton administration operatives into his administration, with many more on the queue. This early trend is so obvious it lead the New York Times writer Peter Baker to observe that Obama "faces the challenge of building an administration that does not look like a third term for former president Bill Clinton, as Obama reached deep into the Clinton fold naming John Podesta, former Clinton chief of staff to lead his transition team, and former Clinton aide Rahm Emanuel to be his chief of staff, and is said to be choosing between two former Clinton veterans to be his National Security advisor. "

Molly Ivins, the late and revered populist Texas journalists and humorist was fond of saying, "You Gotta Dance With Them What Brung Ya." Time will tell how well Barack Obama knows how to dance with his constituencies. Will he stay true to his change oriented supporters who brought him to his crowning moment, who are ready to do any number of dances with him from the funky chicken to the mashed potato, from crumping to salsa, from the jitterbug to the lindy. Or will the Illinois Senator stick to the old insider dance card and slow dance with those who have enjoyed the fruits of the dance floor for so long?

Of Course, Obama is Obama!

Any discussion of diversity and change in the new Obama administration has to start with the president elect himself. A half-African, half-white Midwesterner with an Arab-sounding middle name, mostly raised by his grandmother in Hawaii 5,000 miles from the U.S. mainland, Obama will be our new president after conducting a campaign that was extraordinary in so many ways. This single event has provided enormous inspiration and hope, not only in the U.S. but also across the globe. The Obama presidency, by its very existence, speaks volumes for diversity, and offers a new reality in the United States, that so many, feeling hopeless for so long, essentially thought was impossible.

Still voters deserve some credit too. In a country known for its propaganda-style media, its large chunks of misinformed and living-in-denial voters, deep-seated racism and huge discrepancies in income and education, it took a near perfect performance from the candidate, and a leap of faith from millions of voters not used to taking chances; many voters did something very different than they had before in their lives. And the candidate performance was near ideal. Obama was the most effective, unflappable articulate candidate in memory, while his campaign was probably the best organized in U.S. history.

So in considering how Obama staffs up and moves forward there needs to be a balance of addressing the crises with dispatch, and the inclusion of his new and younger tribes. And of course it will take time to get a full picture of how is administration will evolve. Nevertheless, the collection of voters who brought Obama to power represents the future of America, and must be engaged in the shifting of our politics. If Obama doesn't treat the aspirations for change in his millions of new and renewed voters seriously by including new and fresh faces in his administration, then there will be enormous disappointment. What follows are profiles of the constituencies whose votes made the difference.

Do the Math

Single Women: "Single," or unmarried women" arguably turned out to be the most significant demographic, in terms of overall votes and high percentage of support in the colorful mix of voters that produced the Obama majority. The big numbers emerging from exit polls ( in this case based upon calculations by the CNN national election pool conducted by Edison/Mitofsky), with the exception of course of 95% of African Americans voting for Obama, was the single women vote going overwhelmingly for Obama by 70-29 exceeding his numbers among Latinos union members, and young people, producing an astounding marriage gap of 44%. Unmarried women -- women who are single, separated, divorced or widowed -- also gave strong support to Democrats in House races, splitting 64 to 29 nationally for Democratic candidate. With unmarried women, Obama he had a 12-million-plus vote margin. If unmarried women voted like married women, he would have lost by 5 million votes. "Unmarried women have changed America, and they are an influential part of the new electorate. This year we can say, unmarried women were heard loud and clear. They voted for change. Now its time for the new administration and the Congress to listen to these women in public policy debates," said Page Gardner, president and founder of Women's Voices Women Vote.

Many single women are minorities, and are frequently low income due to the stresses of being on ones own . In a new Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research poll on what women, married and unmarried, are looking for from Barack Obama's administration, single women in particular say that they're really in need of economic help -- and that they're hopeful that they'll get it from the Obama Administration. 84 percent of unmarried women are "hopeful this election will bring real change to the direction of the country." Fifty percent of unmarried women say they are having trouble making ends meet (compared to 35 percent among married women. 18 percent of single women don't have health insurance, compared to 4 percent among married women. Overall, the leading issues are the economic squeeze issue, particularly in terms of healthcare, but there was also strong support for getting out of Iraq in the survey.

And Women Overall: As Ruth Rosen writes, it wasn't just single women, but women overall who "sealed the deal" for Obama. "As the data in the Week in Review in the New York Times reveals, women constituted 53% of the electorate, while only 47% of men voted. Among those who voted for Obama, 56% were women and 43% were men." And as noted above the number among unmarried women, reaches a whopping 70% voted for Obama. So, yes, the extraordinary female vote and yawning gender gap almost certainly came largely from minority and young women. "But even white, married women, who usually vote more conservatively, went for Obama, though they still constituted a minority of married women voters overall. "

As Rosen adds, "Does this matter? Yes, and here's why. For years, women have been saying that we are invisible in this political culture. The consequence of this invisibility is that our poverty, our economic insecurity, our need for health care, child care, elder care, and equality in wages and training are also ignored." But if Obama is true to the women who brought him to power, that invisibility and those policy failures, should begin to be fixed.

The Non-White Vote: In reviewing the numbers embedded in this election, another striking realization is how much of the Obama election was propelled by non-whites, as a significant majority of white voters cast their ballot for John McCain at the rate of 55-43 . In contrast Obama got virtually all of the American-American voters with 95%, and 67% of Latino voters, as well as 62% of Asian voters, according to exit polls conducted by CNN. One interesting feature of this result was the unreliability of media conventional wisdom, pushed by pundits after the primaries, that Latinos wouldn't vote for an African American when Latino voters went for Hillary Clinton in large numbers. The election clearly proved this to be untrue.

African-Americans: Of Course the 95% of the African American vote going to Obama, Black voters were a powerful pillar in the Obama victory. Early analysis shows that African Americans increased their percentage of the electorate to 13% from 11%, and Latinos to 9% from 8, representing 22% of the electorate. Overall Obama got 19% of that vote. And according to Michael McDonald, an election expert at George Mason University, "It may be that African Americans voted at even higher rates than whites in this election. They will at least be on par with whites." Meanwhile the number of Latinos voting may have increased by as much as 1/3, to mostly vote for a black man.

David Bositis, top researcher at the Joint Center for Political And Economic Studies told the San Francisco Chronicle, "The five states where the Black vote was most important were Florida, Indiana, North Carolina Virginia, and Ohio, because the election outcomes were very, very close, and black turnout increased." Among the states with the highest percentage increase for black voters was North Carolina, which Obama won in a major surprise.

The Hispanic Vote: The Hispanic vote grew in this election and swung even more decisively to Democrats by a 16% increase -- It was 67% for Obama vs. 32% for McCain. In '04 it was 59-40 in favor of Kerry over Bush. According to calculations by the New Democratic Coalition, Hispanics provided the margin of victory in Colorado, Florida, Nevada and New Mexico, while the share of Hispanic voters overall in Colorado doubled, increased by 60% in Nevada, and 30% in New Mexico. Of the 8 states that flipped for Obama from Bush, four had significant Latino voters. It is apparent that -- similarly to Pete Wilson's demonization of Latinos in California helped turn that state dark blue -- the Republicans attacks on immigration helped make these four states more blue. If these trends continue, the Republicans are going to get more isolated.

Union Members: On the union front, the pro-Obama numbers are also very robust. Using exit poll numbers conducted for the AFL-CIO by Peter Hart, we know that 21 percent of voters were union members, or in a union household. Union voters supported Obama 67-30 percent over McCain, even higher in top tier battleground states where the spread was 44%. "Working Americans," part of the new organizing strategy of reaching out to non-union members to be supportive of unions, went for Obama 67-30 concentrated in key states. Despite McCain corralling the majority of voters over 65, union voters older than 65 went for Obama by 46-point margin, while union veterans went to Obama by 25% . For the near future, seventy five percent of union members say Obama's victory gives him a mandate to make major change, and 81 per cent support the Employee Free Choice Act.

Young Voters (18-29): Michael Connery's blog on the web site for the organization Future Majority reports that young voters increased their turnout by 3.4 million, to 53% of the total, close to the youth voters all-time high of 55.4% in 1972, when people 18 and over got the vote for the first time.

The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Research (CIRCLE) found that "young voters favored Obama by more than 2-1, forming a major part of the winning coalition. Overall, voters chose Obama over McCain by a much narrower margin of about 53% to 46%. This gap in presidential choice by age is unprecedented Young people (ages 18-29) represented 18 percent of the voters in Tuesday's election, according to the National Exit Polls (NEP) conducted by Edison/Mitofsky. This is one point higher than in 1996, 2000 and 2004." An interesting electoral map showing what would happen if only young voters were counted shows a vastly blue country, where Obama would get 455 Electoral votes to McCain's 57, and McCain would win only approximately eight states, including Alaska.

Gay People: CNN Exit Polls Showed those identifying themselves as Gay favored Obama over McCain by 70% to 27%, with 4% of the those asked identifying themselves as gay. Lisa Keen writing for the Keen News Service. More than any other presidential candidate before, Barack Obama included the gay community as part of his core speeches to voters, despite decades of conventional wisdom that has held that the mere acknowledgement of gay people could imperil a campaign. Obama acknowledged gay people when he announced his run for the presidency. He did so before national television and church audiences that were considered by some to be reluctant to associate with the gay community. He did so in accepting the Democratic nomination in Colorado, and he did so in his final campaign stops in Jacksonville, Fla.; Columbus, Ohio; and Raleigh, N.C. And he still won. The triumph not only marked an historic moment in American history -- with his election as the first African-American as president -- but a dramatic improvement in the political climate in Washington, D.C., for LGBT people.

Progressive Country

I will leave it up to my colleague Joshua Holland to proved the vast details of how clearly the U.S. is a progressive country, despite the steady drumbeat from the pundit class, in his lead article published on AlterNet yesterday: "America Is a Center-Left Country No Matter How Much the Corporate Media Say Otherwise. The fundamental point is that years of public opinion data from unimpeachably nonpartisan sources show that on issue after issue, the majority of Americans hold progressive positions. And this is true not only of specific policy proposals, but of the fundamental perspectives and approaches that Americans bring to bear on issues.

One case in point from Holland's article: an Election Day poll by the Center for American Progress and the Campaign for America's Future "asked whether Republicans had lost because they were too conservative or not conservative enough. By a 20-point margin, voters chose "too conservative," including independents who agreed by a 21-point margin." So, according to Holland, there's plenty of "hard data showing that Americans lean left on most substantive issues. But it's also a matter of common sense. During the campaign, the Republicans called Obama a socialist, clunkily accused him of being a 'wealth redistributor' and held up Joe the Plumber as an example of the burdens small businesses like Exxon-Mobile and JP Morgan would have to bear under an Obama administration. In other words, they made this election explicitly about ideology, and Obama kicked their collective ass. " So on health care, trade, international diplomacy, corporate regulation, workers' rights, retirement security, environmental protection and most other matters of substance, the country is pretty clearly in the progressive camp."

The Clintonistas

In addition to Peter Baker's NY Times article mentioned earlier, according to many sources, Obama is also contemplating appointing former Clinton Treasury Secretary Larry Summers to the same job, albeit one with enormous added powers due to the financial meltdown and subsequent bailout legislation . The possibility of Summers has already created a full scale brouhaha in the progressive blogosphere, and a petition campaign from the site Open Left against his appointment, under the headline, "No Foxes in the Hen House."

At his first press conference, Obama was pictured with his Economic Advisors, and in terms of those looking for significant change, and less Clintonistas, it was not a pretty picture. Of the 16 advisors in the picture besides Obama and Biden, in addition to Podesta, Emanuel, and Summers, were Robert Rubin, Clinton's other Treasury Secretary and high-level Citibank Executive; Laura Tyson, former head of the Council of Economic Advisors; and William Donaldson, former SEC chairman. Of the 16 in the picture and three people listed as missing the picture, only four were women, including Penny Pritzker his finance chair and heir to Hyatt Hotel fortune, a mere 21% female ratio. There were two African Americans besides Obama, including Time Warner chair Richard Parsons, and one Latino, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. (Roel Campos, former SEC commissioner, was not pictured). Even though it was a meeting of economic advisors, there were no labor leaders present, and only former Congressman David Bonior, who has ties to labor, and Villaraigosa could be considered a progressive. (Former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich was said to be there, but was not in the photograph.) Obama was probably the youngest person in the picture.

Also present were heads of Google, Xerox, and former Fed chair Paul Volcker. Now of course it can be argued that Obama faces the biggest economic crisis since the depression and he needs all the best and smartest help he can get. But a number of the people in the lineup -- particularly Rubin and Summers, are at least partially responsible for many of the policies that caused the financial meltdown. So far, from every indication, Obama is fishing in a very small pool, and almost all familiar faces seem to be popping up.

The Big Picture

The Obama victory was fueled by that largest percent of voter participation since 1968, the year Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy Jr. were assassinated and Lyndon Johnson dropped out of running for re-election because of his unpopular support of the war in Viet Nam. In case you can't remember, Richard Nixon was chosen president in 1968.

Eight million more people voted in this election than in 2004, and the turnout increase was most pronounced in battleground states with large black populations. So the Obama voter clearly represents the growing power of a multicultural country that will look only more diverse as time goes on, and more like Obama, who described himself as a "mutt" in his first press conference, when the discussion turned to the search for a White House puppy.

Progressive voters will have fundamental desires for change on many fronts, borne of eight years of conservative domination during the Bush era. The corrupt and radically conservative Cheney and Bush administration took a no-prisoners approach to virtually every policy area since 2000, shutting out Democrats and transforming the policy and governmental process. Much of government day-to-day business was privatized and a great deal of policy-making ground was ceded to the corporate sector.

Every one of Obama's constituencies -- Progressives, African-Americans, Latinos, singe women, millenials, union members, independents, intellectuals, urban dwellers, Northeast and West-coast residents, and on and on, have been in the political desert, desperate for change, and angry and impotent for the past eight years. One of the reasons an inexperienced, barely-known one-term Senator from Illinois was able to beat Hillary Clinton whom everyone was familiar with, was because Obama ran on the mantle of change, while many felt that Clinton was too much of a continuation of the politics of the past. Thus, part of the irony of filling so many early key positions with Clinton veterans.

Of course there is the overwhelming challenge of navigating the political near term, fraught with mine fields. Virtually every pundit and expert thinks Obama has been thrust into is the most difficult situation facing a president elect at least in 76 years, with Obama's two historical role models being Roosevelt, after Hoover's do-nothing politics led to the great depression, and Abraham Lincoln, who governed with a country lying in tatters, after the huge death and destruction of the civil war.

Nevertheless, no matter how you slice it, the voters who swept Obama into office -- ethnically, geographically, ideologically, gender and age-wise -- are those who have been least represented by the U.S. government over the past eight years. And if the Obama administration were to remotely look like the population that swept him into office, it will need to be very different than anything in the history of American politics, from the Cabinet, to the Supreme Court, from the White House staff, to the thousands of key positions through out the government agencies. Millions of people have their focus on Obama, their expectations high, their desire for change palpable, and their hope for a new era sitting in the hands of the new president. Time will tell what paths he takes, and what he builds for the future.

Don Hazen is the executive editor of AlterNet.

© 2008 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
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The advice Obama should ignore
By E.J. Dionne Jr.
November 10, 2008
Minneapolis Star Tribune

WASHINGTON – Just about everyone is giving President-elect Barack Obama advice based on one interpretation or another of what his victory really means. Obama should be wary of any counsel that the advice-givers had in mind before a single vote was counted.

The worst advice will come from his conservative adversaries, the people who called him a socialist a few days before the election and insisted a few days later that he won because he was really a conservative.

The older among them declared after the 1980 election that the 51 percent of the vote won by Ronald Reagan represented an ideological revolution, but argue now that Obama’s somewhat larger majority has no philosophical implications.
These conservatives are trying to stop Obama from pursuing any of the ideas that he campaigned on -- universal access to health care, a government-led green revolution, redistributive tax policies, a withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, more robust economic regulation.

Their gimmick is to insist that the United States is still a center-right country because more Americans call themselves conservative than liberal. What this analysis ignores is that Americans have clearly moved to the left of where they were four, eight or 10 years ago.

The public’s desire for more government action to heal the economy and guarantee health insurance coverage, along with its new skepticism about the deregulation of business, suggests that we are a moderate country that now leans slightly and warily left.

But that wariness means that progressives should avoid offering advice based on the assumption that an ideological revolution has already been consummated. They should not imitate the triumphalism of Karl Rove and his acolytes, who interpreted President Bush’s 50.7 percent victory in 2004 as the prelude to an enduring Republican majority.

Fundamentally, ours is a non-ideological nation. Many who would like the government to act more boldly still need to be persuaded of government’s capacity to succeed.

Here again, Obama’s situation closely resembles Reagan’s. Like our 40th president, Obama has been authorized to move in a new direction. If Reagan had the voters’ permission to move away from strategies associated with liberalism, Obama has sanction to move away from conservative policies. Reagan was judged by the results of his choices, and Obama will be, too.

Yet Reagan offers another lesson: His first moves were bold, and Obama should not fear following his example. The president-elect is hearing that his greatest mistake would be something called "overreach." Democrats in Congress, it’s implied, are hungry to impose wacky left-wing schemes that Obama must resist.
In fact, timidity is a far greater danger than overreaching, simply because it’s quite easy to be cautious. And anyone who thinks House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her followers are ultra-leftist ideologues has been asleep for the past two years. As Pelosi noted in an interview in her office last week, her moves have been shaped by a Democratic House caucus that includes both staunch liberals and resolute moderates. She knows where election victories come from.

"We have some fairly sophisticated people here who understand that you win seats in the middle," she said, noting that Democrats did not win their majority in 2006 and then expand it this year "by espousing far left views." The priorities of congressional Democrats, she added, are close to those of the new president.
That’s true, and it underscores the fact that you don’t have to be "far left" to be bold. This is something that Rahm Emanuel, the incoming White House chief of staff and no ideologue, understands. In interviews Sunday on both ABC and CBS, Emanuel made clear that Obama’s overarching priority is to right the economy and that his other objectives fit snugly into that framework.

He sees Obama acting in four areas of concern to a middle class that "is working harder, earning less and paying more." The list: health care, energy, tax reform and education. All are issues on which Obama should not be afraid to be audacious.

The economic crisis, Emanuel said, provides "an opportunity to finally do what Washington for years has postponed." Here, the model is Franklin Roosevelt, who in the 1930s saw the objectives of economic recovery and greater social justice as closely linked.

President-elect Obama can spend most of his time fretting nervously about the shortcomings of past presidents and how to avoid their errors. Or he can think hopefully about truly successful presidents and how their daring changed the country. Is there any doubt as to which of these would more usefully engage his imagination?

E.J. Dionne’s column is distributed by the Washington Post Writers Group.

© 2008 Star Tribune. All rights reserved.

November 7, 2008

The Obama Agenda
New York Times

Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008, is a date that will live in fame (the opposite of infamy) forever. If the election of our first African-American president didn’t stir you, if it didn’t leave you teary-eyed and proud of your country, there’s something wrong with you.

But will the election also mark a turning point in the actual substance of policy? Can Barack Obama really usher in a new era of progressive policies? Yes, he can.

Right now, many commentators are urging Mr. Obama to think small. Some make the case on political grounds: America, they say, is still a conservative country, and voters will punish Democrats if they move to the left. Others say that the financial and economic crisis leaves no room for action on, say, health care reform.

Let’s hope that Mr. Obama has the good sense to ignore this advice.

About the political argument: Anyone who doubts that we’ve had a major political realignment should look at what’s happened to Congress. After the 2004 election, there were many declarations that we’d entered a long-term, perhaps permanent era of Republican dominance. Since then, Democrats have won back-to-back victories, picking up at least 12 Senate seats and more than 50 House seats. They now have bigger majorities in both houses than the G.O.P. ever achieved in its 12-year reign.

Bear in mind, also, that this year’s presidential election was a clear referendum on political philosophies — and the progressive philosophy won.

Maybe the best way to highlight the importance of that fact is to contrast this year’s campaign with what happened four years ago. In 2004, President Bush concealed his real agenda. He basically ran as the nation’s defender against gay married terrorists, leaving even his supporters nonplussed when he announced, soon after the election was over, that his first priority was Social Security privatization. That wasn’t what people thought they had been voting for, and the privatization campaign quickly devolved from juggernaut to farce.

This year, however, Mr. Obama ran on a platform of guaranteed health care and tax breaks for the middle class, paid for with higher taxes on the affluent. John McCain denounced his opponent as a socialist and a “redistributor,” but America voted for him anyway. That’s a real mandate.

What about the argument that the economic crisis will make a progressive agenda unaffordable?

Well, there’s no question that fighting the crisis will cost a lot of money. Rescuing the financial system will probably require large outlays beyond the funds already disbursed. And on top of that, we badly need a program of increased government spending to support output and employment. Could next year’s federal budget deficit reach $1 trillion? Yes.

But standard textbook economics says that it’s O.K., in fact appropriate, to run temporary deficits in the face of a depressed economy. Meanwhile, one or two years of red ink, while it would add modestly to future federal interest expenses, shouldn’t stand in the way of a health care plan that, even if quickly enacted into law, probably wouldn’t take effect until 2011.

Beyond that, the response to the economic crisis is, in itself, a chance to advance the progressive agenda.

Now, the Obama administration shouldn’t emulate the Bush administration’s habit of turning anything and everything into an argument for its preferred policies. (Recession? The economy needs help — let’s cut taxes on rich people! Recovery? Tax cuts for rich people work — let’s do some more!)

But it would be fair for the new administration to point out how conservative ideology, the belief that greed is always good, helped create this crisis. What F.D.R. said in his second inaugural address — “We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics” — has never rung truer.

And right now happens to be one of those times when the converse is also true, and good morals are good economics. Helping the neediest in a time of crisis, through expanded health and unemployment benefits, is the morally right thing to do; it’s also a far more effective form of economic stimulus than cutting the capital gains tax. Providing aid to beleaguered state and local governments, so that they can sustain essential public services, is important for those who depend on those services; it’s also a way to avoid job losses and limit the depth of the economy’s slump.

So a serious progressive agenda — call it a new New Deal — isn’t just economically possible, it’s exactly what the economy needs.

The bottom line, then, is that Barack Obama shouldn’t listen to the people trying to scare him into being a do-nothing president. He has the political mandate; he has good economics on his side. You might say that the only thing he has to fear is fear itself.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

November 11, 2008

For South, a Waning Hold on National Politics
New York Times

VERNON, Ala. — Fear of the politician with the unusual name and look did not end with last Tuesday’s vote in this rural red swatch where buck heads and rifles hang on the wall. This corner of the Deep South still resonates with negative feelings about the race of President-elect Barack Obama.

What may have ended on Election Day, though, is the centrality of the South to national politics. By voting so emphatically for Senator John McCain over Mr. Obama — supporting him in some areas in even greater numbers than they did President Bush — voters from Texas to South Carolina and Kentucky may have marginalized their region for some time to come, political experts say.

The region’s absence from Mr. Obama’s winning formula means it “is becoming distinctly less important,” said Wayne Parent, a political scientist at Louisiana State University. “The South has moved from being the center of the political universe to being an outside player in presidential politics.”

One reason for that is that the South is no longer a solid voting bloc. Along the Atlantic Coast, parts of the “suburban South,” notably Virginia and North Carolina, made history last week in breaking from their Confederate past and supporting Mr. Obama. Those states have experienced an influx of better educated and more prosperous voters in recent years, pointing them in a different political direction than states farther west, like Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi, and Appalachian sections of Kentucky and Tennessee.

Southern counties that voted more heavily Republican this year than in 2004 tended to be poorer, less educated and whiter, a statistical analysis by The New York Times shows. Mr. Obama won in only 44 counties in the Appalachian belt, a stretch of 410 counties that runs from New York to Mississippi. Many of those counties, rural and isolated, have been less exposed to the diversity, educational achievement and economic progress experienced by more prosperous areas.

The increased turnout in the South’s so-called Black Belt, or old plantation-country counties, was visible in the results, but it generally could not make up for the solid white support for Mr. McCain. Alabama, for example, experienced a heavy black turnout and voted slightly more Democratic than in 2004, but the state over all gave 60 percent of its vote to Mr. McCain. (Arkansas, however, doubled the margin of victory it gave to the Republican over 2004.)

Less than a third of Southern whites voted for Mr. Obama, compared with 43 percent of whites nationally. By leaving the mainstream so decisively, the Deep South and Appalachia will no longer be able to dictate that winning Democrats have Southern accents or adhere to conservative policies on issues like welfare and tax policy, experts say.

That could spell the end of the so-called Southern strategy, the doctrine that took shape under President Richard M. Nixon in which national elections were won by co-opting Southern whites on racial issues. And the Southernization of American politics — which reached its apogee in the 1990s when many Congressional leaders and President Bill Clinton were from the South — appears to have ended.

“I think that’s absolutely over,” said Thomas Schaller, a political scientist who argued prophetically that the Democrats could win national elections without the South.

The Republicans, meanwhile, have “become a Southernized party,” said Mr. Schaller, who teaches at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. “They have completely marginalized themselves to a mostly regional party,” he said, pointing out that nearly half of the current Republican House delegation is now Southern.

Merle Black, an expert on the region’s politics at Emory University in Atlanta, said the Republican Party went too far in appealing to the South, alienating voters elsewhere.

“They’ve maxed out on the South,” he said, which has “limited their appeal in the rest of the country.”

Even the Democrats made use of the Southern strategy, as the party’s two presidents in the last 40 years, Jimmy Carter and Mr. Clinton, were Southerners whose presence on the ticket served to assuage regional anxieties. Mr. Obama has now proved it is no longer necessary to include a Southerner on the national ticket — to quiet racial fears, for example — in order to win, in the view of analysts.

Several Southern states, including Arkansas, Louisiana and Tennessee, have voted for the winner in presidential elections for decades. No more. And Mr. Obama’s race appears to have been the critical deciding factor in pushing ever greater numbers of white Southerners away from the Democrats.

Here in Alabama, where Mr. McCain won 60.4 percent of the vote in his best Southern showing, he had the support of nearly 9 in 10 whites, according to exit polls, a figure comparable to other Southern states. Alabama analysts pointed to the persistence of traditional white Southern attitudes on race as the deciding factor in Mr. McCain’s strong margin. Mr. Obama won in Jefferson County, which includes the city of Birmingham, and in the Black Belt, but he made few inroads elsewhere.

“Race continues to play a major role in the state,” said Glenn Feldman, a historian at the University of Alabama, Birmingham. “Alabama, unfortunately, continues to remain shackled to the bonds of yesterday.”

David Bositis, senior political analyst at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, pointed out that the 18 percent share of whites that voted for Senator John Kerry in 2004 was almost cut in half for Mr. Obama.

“There’s no other explanation than race,” he said.

In Arkansas, which had among the nation’s largest concentration of counties increasing their support for the Republican candidate over the 2004 vote, “there’s a clear indication that racial conservatism was a component of that shift away from the Democrat,” said Jay Barth, a political scientist in the state.

Race was a strong subtext in post-election conversations across the socioeconomic spectrum here in Vernon, the small, struggling seat of Lamar County on the Mississippi border.

One white woman said she feared that blacks would now become more “aggressive,” while another volunteered that she was bothered by the idea of a black man “over me” in the White House.

Mr. McCain won 76 percent of the county’s vote, about five percentage points more than Mr. Bush did, because “a lot more people came out, hoping to keep Obama out,” Joey Franks, a construction worker, said in the parking lot of the Shop and Save.

Mr. Franks, who voted for Mr. McCain, said he believed that “over 50 percent voted against Obama for racial reasons,” adding that in his own case race mattered “a little bit. That’s in my mind.”

Many people made it clear that they were deeply apprehensive about Mr. Obama, though some said they were hoping for the best.

“I think any time you have someone elected president of the United States with a Muslim name, whether they are white or black, there are some very unsettling things,” George W. Newman, a director at a local bank and the former owner of a trucking business, said over lunch at Yellow Creek Fish and Steak.

Don Dollar, the administrative assistant at City Hall, said bitterly that anyone not upset with Mr. Obama’s victory should seek religious forgiveness.

“This is a community that’s supposed to be filled with a bunch of Christian folks,” he said. “If they’re not disappointed, they need to be at the altar.”

Customers of Bill Pennington, a barber whose downtown shop is decorated with hunting and fishing trophies, were “scared because they heard he had a Muslim background,” Mr. Pennington said over the country music on the radio. “Over and over again I heard that.”

Mr. Obama remains an unknown quantity in this corner of the South, and there are deep worries about the changes he will bring.

“I am concerned,” Gail McDaniel, who owns a cosmetics business, said in the parking lot of the Shop and Save. “The abortion thing bothers me. Same-sex marriage.”

“I think there are going to be outbreaks from blacks,” she added. “From where I’m from, this is going to give them the right to be more aggressive.”

Ford Fessenden contributed reporting.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company