Obama vs. Clinton, A Second Thought

Future Hope column, Feb. 2, 2008

By Ted Glick

Three weeks ago in a Future Hope column I wrote about how similar Obama and Clinton are when it comes to positions on issues. That hasn’t changed. But I also said this:

“It may be that if Obama becomes President, the political forces he has unleashed—particularly among young people and the African American community—will come to constitute a progressive political bloc that, by means of independent pressure from below, will make it difficult for him to accommodate to the conservative and corporate interests—with whom he has significant connections—who will undoubtedly lean on him.”

I’ve been thinking more and more about this, and I know that other activists who have the same distrust of the Democrats—distrust based on a great deal of empirical evidence and bitter experience—are doing the same. Last night, for example, I heard Amiri Baraka, a leading radical African American activist, articulate the reasons why he believed the progressive movement should get behind Obama.

Then there was the Obama quote in this week’s issue of Newsweek. Asked what he wants to accomplish by the end of his Presidency, he said “end(ing) the war. . .universal health care . . . and we will have a bold energy agenda that drastically reduces our emissions of greenhouse gases while creating a green engine that can drive growth for many years to come.”

As someone who fasted for 107 days last fall trying to push the federal government to take action on the climate crisis, it was no small thing to read those words.

Finally, there was this insight from a John Pierce, who I don’t know, in an email that showed up in my inbox today. As part of a piece on the Obama candidacy, comparing him to Abraham Lincoln, Pierce said “he [Lincoln] even invited political foes to serve in his cabinet. Because of his policy of ‘keep your friends close and your enemies closer,’ his allegiances were maddeningly unclear. He led by gathering input from all sides, then made decisions based on how far he believed he could push the nation towards change, and not an inch farther. Ideologues thought him weak, wobbly, unsure of himself. Similarly, there’s FDR, a man who entered the White House fully opposed to permanent benefits for the downtrodden, and was won over to that cause by liberal advisors.”

Could Obama be a Lincolnesque or FDR-type figure?

I can see it. I cannot, absolutely cannot see it for Hillary Clinton.

But it won’t happen with Obama unless the progressive movement continues building up its independent, issue-oriented, outside-the-corporate-parties strength.

Lincoln and FDR were elected in times of great national crisis and political upheaval. As those crises deepened and unfolded, they were both pushed by events and movements from below to take steps they had not planned to take prior to their election. Lincoln’s solution to the slavery crisis prior to the Presidency was to send enslaved Africans back to Africa. Yet, two years after taking office and because it was seen as a military necessity to win the Civil War, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

And FDR was President during the decade which saw the greatest upsurge of workers organizing themselves into unions that this nation has ever seen, before or since. That is the primary reason why he undertook the policies that he did.

Obama’s Newsweek quote is instructive. From all that I can see, the three most broadly-based and active mass movements on issues are the anti-war movement, the universal health care movement and the climate movement. Is it a coincidence that he lists these as the three areas where he wants to bring about positive change?

When I got a chance to ask a question of Amiri Baraka last night, it was about Cynthia McKinney, the likely nominee for the Green Party nomination who is also being supported by African American activists working to build a Reconstruction Party. McKinney is the candidate who I am supporting for the Presidency, a strong black woman whose positions on the issues are the best and most reflective of my beliefs. She is not going to take office in 2009, but her candidacy can be a leading component of a multi-faceted, multi-tactical, multi-issue progressive movement that builds all through 2008, that engages in not just electoral activism but nonviolent civil disobedience and other tactics of struggle for justice, peace and clean energy.

Baraka had nothing but positive things to say about McKinney, while standing by his position that the African American and progressive movement should support Obama.

I’m not going to vote for Obama in the Democratic Party primary because I’m a registered Green. I’m not going to vote for him if he’s the Democratic nominee in November. I’m not going to send him any money. But I’ll be rooting for him to defeat Hillary Clinton, and if he does I hope he defeats the Republican candidate.

We’ve been there, done that with Hillary and Bill Clinton in the White House. Obama, despite all of his similarities on issues to Billary, is not the same thing. There are reasons to have some hope for the brother. We should be upfront and forthright with our criticisms, but we should also be open to the possibility that an Obama Presidency might lead to a similar kind of political, social and economic realignment as we saw in the USA in the 1860’s and 1870’s and then again in the 1930’s and 1940’s. If this comes to pass, and if the independent progressive movement gets organized over the coming years into a powerful third force/alliance/party, we may well be at the beginning of a very exciting and historic period.

Ted Glick is active in climate movement, with No War, No Warming (www.nowarnowarming.org) and the Independent Progressive Politics Network (www.ippn.org). He can be reached at indpol@igc.org.