How we can hold Barack Obama accountable.

Yesterday I posted about how Barack Obama’s record does not match his campaign rhetoric, or the misperceptions of far too many of his followers.  Today I’m going to explain how we can hold his feet to the proverbial fire, should he win the Democratic nomination and go on to become president. describes how Obama’s constituents got him to do his job as a state senator in Illinois.  BAR Managing Editoir Bruce Dixon writes:

While researching a story on the Democratic Leadership Council for the internet magazine Black Commentator in April and May of 2003, I ran across the DLC’s “100 to Watch” list for 2003, in which Barack Obama was prominently featured as one of the DLC’s favorite “rising stars”. This was ominous news because the DLC was and still is the right wing’s Trojan Horse inside the Democratic party.

The DLC exists to guarantee that wealthy individuals and corporations who make large campaign donations have more say in the Democratic party than do flesh and blood Democratic voters. The DLC achieves this by closely examining and questioning the records, the policy stands and the persons of officeholders and candidates to ensure that they are safe and worthy recipients of elite largesse. The DLC also supplies them with right wing policy advisers beholden to those same interests, and hooks up approved candidates with the big money donors.

Then as now, the DLC favors bigger military budgets and more imperial wars, wholesale privatization of government functions including social security, and in so-called “free trade” agreements like NAFTA which are actually investor rights agreements. Evidently, the giant insurance companies, the airlines, oil companies, Wall Street, military contractors and others had closely examined and vetted Barack Obama and found him pleasing.

I revisited Obama’s primary election campaign web site, something I had not done for a month or two. To my dismay I found the 2002 antiwar speech, the same one which Barack Obama touts to this day as evidence of his antiwar backbone and prescience, which had been prominently featured before, had vanished from his web site, along with all other evidence that Obama had ever taken a plain spoken stand against the invasion and occupation of Iraq. With the president riding high in the polls, and Illinois’ Black and antiwar vote safely in his pocket, Obama appeared to be running away from his opposition to the war, and from the Democratic party’s base.  Free, at last.

Dixon then explains how Obama was held accountable to his constituents:

After calls to Obama’s campaign office yielded no satisfactory answers, we published an article in the June 5, 2003 issue of Black Commentator effectively calling Barack Obama out. We drew attention to the disappearance of any indication that U.S. Senate candidate Obama opposed the Iraq war at all from his web site and public statements. We noted with consternation that the Democratic Leadership Council, the right wing Trojan Horse inside the Democratic party, had apparently vetted and approved Obama, naming him as one of its “100 to Watch” that season. This is what real journalists are supposed to do — fact check candidates, investigate the facts, tell the truth to audiences and hold the little clay feet of politicians and corporations to the fire.

Facing the possible erosion of his base among progressive Democrats in Illinois, Obama contacted us. We printed his response in Black Commentator’s June 19 issue and queried the candidate on three “bright line” issues that clearly distinguish between corporate-funded DLC Democrats and authentic progressives. We concluded the dialog by printing Obama’s response on June 26, 2003. For the convenience of our readers in 2007, all three of these articles can be found here.

Dixon credits these efforts in 2003 for getting Obama to restore his anti-war position on his web site, albeit in a part not as visible as it was before.  But that’s not the only thing Dixon points to as an example of how Barack Obama may be brought in line with actual Progressive policy positions.  Dixon warns of Obama in 2008:

The 2008 Obama presidential run may be the most slickly orchestrated marketing machine in memory. That’s not a good thing. Marketing is not even distantly related to democracy or civic empowerment. Marketing is about creating emotional, even irrational bonds between your product and your target audience. From its Bloody Sunday 2007 proclamation that Obama was the second coming of Joshua to its nationally televised kickoff at Abe Lincoln’s tomb to the tens of millions of dollars in breathless free media coverage lavished on it by the establishment media, the campaign’s deft manipulation of hopeful themes and emotionally potent symbols has led many to impute their own cherished views to Obama, whether he endorses them or not.

But Dixon points out that there are things we can do to force Obama to run to the left, and govern from it should he be elected and sworn in as president.

No less a luminary than Dr. Michael Eric Dyson last month asserted that the time to pressure Obama to cut the military budget would not come till after the election when, as he said “we have a seat at the table.” We think this is transparently wrong. Obama responded to our calling him out in 2003 because he was still in an election campaign, and needed every vote he could get. The day after the election, he could have ignored us with relative safety, just as Cheney and Bush ignore their approval ratings in the twenty and thirty percent range the last three years and more.

But in 2003 Obama was a mere mortal. Now corporate media have made him a rock star, Joshua, a prince on his way to a coronation. Those who raise questions about Obama’s commitment to a progressive agenda will have to struggle to be heard. That’s just the way it is. They may even have to be impolite at times. That’s just the way it is too. Rock stars, royalty and the uncritical adulation they require make little room for polite criticism or democratic discussion.

Third party runs for the presidency have sometimes succeeded in exerting leftward pressure on Democratic presidential candidates. The best example is 1948, when Henry Wallace campaigned for president on the Progressive Party ticket with Paul Robeson at his side defying Jim Crow laws in dozens of states. It was this credible threat on the part of the Progressive Party to peel Black voters away from the Democratic party which led Truman to issue his election year executive order de-segregating the armed forces.  This year, Cynthia McKinney and Ralph Nader have both declared their intention to explore presidential candidacies this year outside the Democratic party. Both have exemplary records of public service. Neither is a hater. Both are agitators in the best sense of that word.  If Barack Obama, or for that matter Hillary Clinton is to be the Democratic presidential nominee, it’s time they felt the heat to line up with Democratic voters, rather than with the DLC and the party’s biggest donors.

Similarly, in the increasingly unlikely event that Hillary Clinton becomes the Democratic nominee, pressure may be exerted upon her to run to the left on policy issues.  But simply adding public pressure is not enough.  In order to hold the next president truly accountable, we absolutely must make sure to elect actual Progressives to Congress in enough numbers to successfully challenge the power of the DLC and the Bush Dogs.  Incumbents such as Dennis Kucinich need our help to get re-elected, and establishment politicians such as Nancy Pelosi, Rahm Emanuel, and Steny Hoyer must be voted out of office in favor of Progressive challengers such as Cindy Sheehan.

Serious electoral challenges may actually be enough to convince some DINOs to do their jobs;  Iowa’s Leonard Boswell belatedly signed on to impeachment efforts against Dick Cheney after the primary defeat of Maryland’s Al Wynn by challenger Donna Edwards, and Wynn himself had been forced to move leftward following Edwards’ previous challenge in 2006.  Democrats who still refuse to move forward on impeachment and ending the occupation of Iraq, and especially Democrats who remain firmly opposed to true health care reform and fighting poverty, must be voted out.

With more actual Progressives in Congress, there is a better chance of passing badly needed legislation to help Americans, and of repairing the damage inflicted by eight years of Bush-Cheney neoconservative policies.  Think about it: if the Congressional Progressive Caucus were to succeed in passing HR 676, a single-payer bill that would cover every American under Medicare, do you really think a President Obama or President Clinton would dare veto it, knowing the political consequences of doing so?

The mission from here on out must be the following two-part strategy: turn up the heat on the Democratic presidential candidates to run to the left on policy issues, and more importantly, vote out complicit and capitulating Democrats in favor of Progressive fighters.  Only then can we begin to make Barack Obama be the agent of change he claims to be.


  1. The mission from here on out must be the following two-part strategy: turn up the heat on the Democratic presidential candidates to run to the left on policy issues, and more importantly, vote out complicit and capitulating Democrats in favor of Progressive fighters.  Only then can we begin to make Barack Obama be the agent of change he claims to be.

    What many folks don’t realize is that for many politicians, policy stances are not necessarily static, and that concerted pressure can indeed bring about more and better change.

    I’m obviously not talking about corrupt, money-besotted corporatists (they need to be just voted out), but for many others we can indeed hold their feet to the fire to make their campaign rhetoric more closely match their governing reality.

    Mind you, I am under no illusions about Obama’s centrist inclinations, but I also think that his relative youth and his 1st hand experience with community organizing give make him potentially more receptive to Progressive causes than the older, more entrenched candidates.  

    Its up to us to move Obama in a more Progressive direction and give him the impetus to be the great leader he obviously wants to be.  

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