Dump Obama: more urgent than ever

Since I floated the call for a Dump Obama movement, I’ve gotten much helpful feedback.

My original draft, “Time for a Dump Obama movement,” was based on the broad strokes, which I believe are essentially correct.  But I’ve since taken a closer look based both on these responses and from Obama’s contemptuous speech at that infamous $30,000/plate fundraiser.

First, many of the comments, I believe, took my call as something that should be done INSTEAD of what others were already doing.  I was then given alternate approaches, including Vote Green, Dump the Senate, Dump the System, write-in Public Option, Don’t Vote, work the Dem primaries.  Others pointed out that 2012 (when Obama would face a primary challenge) was a long ways off, and I didn’t address what was to be done with the upcoming November elections.  Allow me to address them in no particular order.

I call for a movement.

Not, for instance, an organization or a campaign committee.  People keep saying, you have to have a candidate first.  No, the movement comes first.  Is there any movement already?  That’s a complicated question, since the concept of movement involves a lot of things that can’t be measured like frogs in a pot.  Movements have organizations, members, slogans, actions, demands — even contradictory demands — but they are not reducible to any or all of them.  A movement entails some sense of common identification.  Some sense of motion, of development.  A movement entails some sense of hope, to use a word that has turned to poison but must not be surrendered.

So I would answer, is there a movement?  Yes.  Anti-corporate, anti-political establishment.

But it is very diffuse.  Not highly moralized.  Its goal is not clear.  No tactical focus since the Public Option healthcare fight.  In the 60’s, End the War provided an over-riding goal within which many organizations, issues, strategies and indeed movements worked and contended.  There is no such equivalent today.  My notion is that Dump Obama can provide a common framework for all the suggestions, with Obama not a substitute for the system, but rather as its foremost representative.  It provides a broad tactical focus of the 2012 presidential.  Primary and independent general.  MY preference is to FIRST make a strong run in the Dem primaries.  But I am not the movement, for chrissake!

No candidate?

Several people have argued that Dump Obama is meaningless in the absence of a candidate.

I would not want to discourage anyone from running, or pushing their favorite candidates.  But as a practical matter, the movement must precede the candidate.  Thus in the 60’s, the fact that there was a vibrant and growing anti-war movement was what impelled Allard Lowenstein in 1967 to launch the official Dump Johnson campaign.  It was that ready base that allowed and inspired Eugene McCarthy to throw his hat into the ring.  It was McCarthy’s showing in the 1968 New Hampshire primary that showed Bobby Kennedy that a presidential run was viable.

Ironically, others have argued that a Dump Obama movement fosters the illusion that replacing a single individual will somehow change the system.  They are of course correct.  In fact, this is another compelling reason for working to build a Dump Obama movement before becoming overly focused on any one candidate.

After all, a movement can be built around a candidate.  That is what happened in 2008.  There was a vibrant Obama movement, and when he revealed himself to be a corporate hack — most egregiously in the healthcare debacle — the movement was left high and dry.  It had no solid principles, no organizational vehicle, no tactic, that was not dependent on Obama’s leadership.  Evidence of this was around jobs creation.  After healthcare, unemployment was to be the “next big thing.”  When all Obama offered was a few more tax breaks for small business, the left had nothing to offer, nowhere to go.

And now Obama thinks he can spit in our eye with impunity.

Contrast this with 1968.  McCarthy lost the nomination fight in Chicago.  Kennedy died.  The movement did not die.  The anti-war movement did run up against its own limitations, not the least of which was lacking a plan that extended beyond Nixon ending the war, and a plan on how to move away from the campuses.  So it then died.  It was transformed into a strictly candidate movement — the George McGovern movement in 1972 — and it went down with him.  But it did not die with McCarthy and Kennedy.

This November

Some have noted that I expressed no view on the upcoming elections, and should be more vocally supporting the Greens.  (I did have a post Julia Williams for Congress, Green Independent for Michigan 12 – Reflections for the record.) Good point.  It was something of an oversight, but I do think the hour is late for having much of a left impact in the election tally.

But with Obama himself dumping the left — and then setting us up to take the rap for November’s expected dismal outcome — I do believe we can have an impact on how the election is framed.  If Obama wants us to take the rap, we can in a sense take the credit.  Any Democratic candidate who does not call for the outright rejection of Obama’s catfood commission, who does not swear to oppose any and all cuts to Social Security, and goes down, they brought it on themselves.  Any candidate who embraces any compromise on ending Bush’s (and perhaps now Obama’s) tax breaks for the rich, and bites the dust, deserves it.  These are not radical positions, despite the howls they evoke.  Between now and November, we can make clear that as far as Democratic candidates don’t distance themselves from the unpopular Obama and his unpopular healthcare bill and his unpopular war in Afghanistan, we wouldn’t stop to piss on them if they were on fire.  I’m not saying don’t give them a chance.  Fair is fair.  But the decision is theirs, as far as I’m concerned.

We have to make clear that distancing themselves from Obama is, if nothing else, the best way to save their asses.

Some have said Dump Obama is premature, due to the upcoming election.  But they would support it after the election.  That’s fine.  After the election, it should be time to draw lines in the sand.

Catfood commission?  Line in the sand.  Big red line.  Any cuts coming from that at all?  Dump Obama!

Tax breaks for the rich?  Line in the sand.  If extended, Dump Obama!

Etc., etc., etc.

Can we actually Dump him?

Initially I hadn’t given this much thought.  Didn’t care one way or another regarding whether to call for Dumping Obama.  I simply thought it was time to make a stand with the best we’ve got and make a real fight of it.  But in thinking of this November, I’ve been slightly reassessing that position.  I think, yes, we’ve got a shot.

Allow me a few hopefully not too daring assumptions:

(1)  Life for average Americans is NOT going to improve.

(2)  The U.S. will remain tangled in Middle Eastern wars.

(3)  The Democratic Party will NOT be engaged in massive jobs creation measures.

(4)  Obama will continue his policies of appeasing the right and selling out the left.

(5)  The Democratic base will become increasingly disgusted with the Democratic Party.

In that case, there could well emerge a left challenge, not to save the country, particularly.   But to save the Democratic Party!  Recall that in 1968 one of Bobby Kennedy’s main arguments for entering the primaries against Humphrey was that Humphrey was advocating continuation of Johnson’s war policies.  So Kennedy had to run to prevent Humphrey from dragging down the entire party!  (Which Humphrey indeed did.)

That possibility exists.  If that’s how it came down, such a candidate would be mainstream, i.e., would not be a candidate calling for overthrowing the system.  Such a candidate would enlist many current Democratic Party functionaries we would have no love for.  But it would create an opening.  There could be more than one challenger.  One might try to hew as close to Obama as possible while making a challenge, and a more left challenger could hammer that, with the party base in play.  The back-and-forth between such a candidate (or candidates) and the leading independent presidential candidate(s) would be very interesting, as the challenger would have to try to appeal to the left since Obama would leave no room to operate on the right.

An opening is only an opening.  The left would still have responsibility for how to use it.

The Dump Obama base

The poor, the unemployed, the homeless, the foreclosed upon, are always lamented.  In fact, some of the best laments are found on the front page of the New York Times.  But laments change nothing.  What is needed is organization.  What is needed is mobilization.  Some disparagers of Dump Obama have smugly pointed out that it will turn off labor and will turn off African-Americans, and thus can go nowhere (as though labor were more than 12%).  To the contrary.  Obama’s pro-labor record is miserable, and even the Times has pointed out the enthusiasm gap among labor rank-and-file.  The Black community has been further devastated by Obama’s policies, or lack thereof.  Will women be panicked by visions of Sarah Palin attacking abortion rights, or will they remember those rights being sold down the river in Obama’s healthcare bill?

Business-as-usual is to take note of a drop-off in enthusiasm and turnout among these traditional constituencies.  “None of the above” does not appear on the ballot.  We have to give “none of the above” an actual face and name, and then what would otherwise just be demographic drop-off turns into power.

Can Dump Obama get off the ground?

When I first put this out, I wasn’t sure but figured, what the hell?  Worth a shot.

Now I’m convinced it can and will.  People are starting to take up the call.  “Yeah, Obama needs dumping,” some say.  Or they comment just “Dump Obama.”  People I have no idea who they are.  Websites I’ve never heard of are picking it up.  Then there are the near-hysterical responses at the very mention of it.  You’re ruining everything, I’m told.  However confident I may or may not feel, the notion strikes fear among those who should feel fear.  They know their hold is tenuous, they know it better than we do.

Paul Rosenberg of OpenLeft devoted an entire diary to denouncing metamars for doing a quick hit on OpenLeft on my piece.  It got 210 comments.  Today I received the ultimate endorsement from Rosenberg, in response to a rather mild comment about trying to hold the Democrats to their principles.

I really have no time for the likes of you, Jeff.  You are probably the most effective force in demobilizing the left so far as building electoral power goes.

I don’t know whether to be honored or pissed.

So someone asked me, did I think Dump Obama was going to go viral.  My answer today:  yes.


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  1. Is the Democratic Party worth saving or possible to save?

    I would answer, in the short run, it will remain a power that both attempts to co-opt liberal ideation without enacting any meaningful change, in the long run, no.  

    This is why Obama speaks with one voice and acts with another.  He may have his own viewpoint and personal reasons for doing so, but it is not just him, it’s a culture, an attitude, that suffuses the entire party, and it’s driven by powerful interests that have taken over the party.

    In the broad strokes the way I see it is both parties are wholly beholden to corporate interests, but the parties are not the same stylistically.  The Democratic Party is no longer interested in civil rights, it is barely interested in income inequality and cares nothing about separation of church and state and the rule of law.

    The Democratic Party is about one thing: Keeping things running smoothly for the interests of the status quo oligarchs.  To that end, it will use devious tactics, lie, co-opt and create false people’s movements for the purpose of ensuring people believe that people’s movements cannot work (witness the latest 10-2-10 thing), and generally do whatever it has to do to remain viewed as the party of the people, until it can no longer.  

    (It is in this light that I few the Coffee Party — a fake, or for practical purposes an ineffectual attempt with a co-optive cooperative-with-those-in-power ideology that works more to ensure people think mass movements cannot work).

    The Republicans — well, we know basically what the Republicans are, the shell of a party, taken over by fascists, the hyper-rich and using ignoramuses as its foot army.

    It is therefore important to attack the Democratic Party at every turn, and look for any way to show and prove, over and over again, that it is not the party of the working man. — since we already know what Republicans are, but it is also important to show how the parties collude to obstruct the people’s will and true change.

    Both parties are united in determining there shall not and should not ever be any competition with them.  To that end they have erected structural barriers to any will of the people or candidates that might not be consonant with the parties or the two party system.

    It is my considered opinion that with the two-party lock, the barriers they have erected, that the ability of the People to enact their will is broken beyond any ability to repair.

    The idea of dumping Obama may feel good, but there are many practical and sociological reasons why I feel this would be a bad idea — at least right now, and something would have to start right now to, in effect, dump him in 2012.  For one thing, the African American community is firmly entrenched that any attempt to do so would be grounded in racism rather than Obama’s corporatism and centrism.  And any liberal mass movement that excludes black Americans simply cannot work.  

    If there is a proper focus to anger, it might more rationally be directed at these barriers the Parties have erected that essentially thwart the people’s will and keeps them the only games in town.

    I don’t think die-hard rank and file Democrats are ready for this view, yet.  It can only be chipped away at, slowly and steadily.  The fake mass movements, designed to fail, that engender suspicion have a deleterious effect on the entire idea of mass movements, but there is a potential focus of anger — that of the shut out effect.  But the anger of the people has to be focused on these democracy destroying effects by both of the parties, not simply the officials who incarnate them.

    • metamars on September 23, 2010 at 11:58 am

    I’ve recently written, in response to some tired, old arguments as to why people should vote for Dems, regardless of their negatives

    And, perhaps most importantly, can we afford eight years while the Repubs impose controls that can never be peacefully overturned?

    To quote Obama, “Yes, we can”. Again, though, you’re asking the wrong question. If the populace doesn’t organize and mobilize, it doesn’t matter whether D’s or R’s control the Federal government – we are still going to get massively screwed.

    OTOH, if the public did get organized and mobilized, it wouldn’t matter whether they did it by running winning candidates on D, R or other ballot lines (i.e., a third party.)

    While the need for getting “organized and mobilized” seems self-evident, the question of the details of how exactly do we organize was always a bit mysterious. I’ve never been intimately involved in electoral politics – my arguments regarding electoral politics have followed from high level considerations. These being: that the public’s will and best interests are obviously not getting served, that cooperating and negotiating vote blocs seem like the most powerful way to approach developing electoral muscle, and that supplicatory models of democratic participation don’t work. We really need to fire the bastards.

    However, the recent series of blogs by Rayne at FireDogLake have helped to answer questions I had about what it means to be organized (beyond vote blocs, which don’t exist in even primitive forms, yet, AFAIK). In particular, the post

    The Angry Left: A Starter Map for the Road Ahead

    Basically, I’m arguing that having fully staffed (with volunteers) organizational groups of the sort that Rayne indicates is a huge milestone to aim for, even if one that you don’t want to emphasize on first encounters. (Obviously, the breadth and even detail, limited as they are, of Rayne’s piece far exceeds ‘Dump Obama’)

    So, assuming that ‘Dump Obama’ is the opening move of a chess game, and having a powerful set of organizations ala Rayne is the late middle game, what should the early moves following ‘Dump Obama’ be?

    I say:

    Raid the unions for volunteers, and make Obama’s (expected) degradation of Social Security the premier argument as to why it is necessary to have a Dump Obama movement.

    Of course, by “raid” the unions, I don’t mean to ask them to leave their union. It’s union leadership that I don’t trust, by and large. (Why aren’t they screaming bloody murder?)

    So really, I am arguing to go after their members to essentially usurp their electoral efforts. If the leadership comes on board, fine and dandy. Otherwise, the heck with them. They don’t own their members, and we are not trying to interfere with their bargaining relationships with their employers.

    Union members that have been politically active already know a lot about what is in Rayne’s roadmap. While her roadmap might scare away a typical newcomer to a Dump Obama movement, politically experienced union members will take it in stride.

    Indeed, Dump Obama might be an easier sell to such experienced union members, since they will more clearly see that you are not aiming for just an electoral flash in the pan, and in fact are looking to create something that builds electoral muscle over the long term, and in a manner that they can partly recognize.


    You and I have recently argued as to whether organizing poor people or middle class people is more effective. FWIW, Ralph Nader has recently come down on my side of the argument (though he exaggerates the case). See Chris Hedges recent article Do Not Pity the Democrats, wherein he quotes Nader.

  2. parties as we’ve known them during most of our lives. These factions fight each other for control of government.

    These factions manipulate the masses. These factions are friends of the powerful, and the only parties they live for are the cocktail parties. I’m not joking.

    Their first allegiance is to the permanent economic stimulus that routes public money directly into their friends pockets: The Military Budget.  It is not 35% of our annual budget, it is really over 50%. If you take our 680 billion and add in cost overruns, the DOE expenditures on nuclear weapons maintenance, the 16 spy agencies, military pensions and the cost of servicing war debt, along with other stuff I can’t even think of, we see the monster that is really devouring the democracy.

    Tons of this money end up on Wall Street and the Financial Sector. This stimulus is now an essential part of our basic economy. In studying history, I don’t see a return to

    rationality when the democracy turns into a metastasizing empire. HALF OF OUR ANNUAL BUDGET!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    At the present, I cannot wrap my arms around any kind of

    political movement. This country has a broken cultural gyrostabilizer. Out of the haze maybe I can see the formation of small, humanistic communities popping up all over the country and uniting intellectually and spiritually. And even that sounds a bit romantic.

    Our culture has no spirit, no soul, no heart. Shit, it can’t even deal with the human body eg. healthcare, sexuality and rights for socioeconomic equality without having to recognize a litmus test for heterosexual purity.

    Dumping Obama sounds good, but I wouldn’t want to lose my friendship with my only intellectual soulfriend who is black and 70 years old. I really have no perspective at the moment. I despise Obama and the Democrats, but I can’t put anything practical together right now.  

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