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Dump Obama: More Urgent than Ever

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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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