Two days ago, over 90% of the 71 members of the Progressive Caucus in Congress voted to essentially give Bush and Cheney the money they need to continue the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to start one against Iran, until they leave office 22 months from now. Six Congressional Progressives refused to go along with this: Dennis Kucinich, John Lewis, Barbara Lee, Maxine Waters, Diane Watson, and Lynn Woolsey. Two other Democrats not part of the Progressive Caucus, Mike McNulty and Mike Michaud, and one Libertarian Republican, Ron Paul, also voted against it for the right reasons.
Why did the other 65 “Progressives” vote for the Democratic leadership’s flawed bill? Utlimately, it came down to one thing: their calculation that “practical politics” necessitated its passage. If it had been defeated, so this thinking went, it would be seen as a victory for Bush/Cheney and the Republicans and a defeat for Pelosi and their leaders so, under the reasoning that a slice or two of the loaf is better than nothing, they went along to get along, helped along by a variety of threats and bribes.
Given that Bush has made clear that he will veto any legislation that reads as if it will prevent him from doing whatever he wants to do when it comes to the prosecution of his illegal wars, the Democratic hope is that his doing so in this case will dig him and the Republicans deeper into their political hole. Then, as the 2008 election looms, political pressure from Republicans concerned about huge defeats in November will either lead to a change in war policy or those huge electoral defeats, at which point the Democrats would expect to be in control of both the White House and Congress.
There is a logic to this “practical politics” line of reasoning, to be fair. If you accept that the U.S. Congress does not really represent what the U.S. voters want, but instead, functions at best under the Democrats as a kind-of power broker between them and the corporate and other monied interests who hold the real day-to-day power, then taking this don’t-take-principles-too-seriously approach make sense.
The fact is that the Democratic Party is in no way a progressive political organization. It is a coalition that goes from pro-war Blue Dogs and Joe Lieberman on the right of the party to those like the Anti-War 6 on the left. It has been that way for a long time.
Who was the architect of the massive escalation of the Vietnam War in 1965? Democratic President Lyndon Johnson. Who was doing everything they could to prevent the passage of voting rights and civil rights legislation? Southern Democratic Senators like John Stennis and Strom Thurmond. And the examples could go on.
So within the context of “really existing politics,” it is not surprising that a chunk of “Progressives” decided to stand by their leadership instead of standing up for what they say they believe in, the speedy withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. The percentage who voted for continuing the war is surprising, but, then again, it was an extremely close vote.
There’s another aspect to “really existing politics”—the belief on the part of the Congressional Progressives that the progressive movement generally is not organized enough to punish them to any significant degree for their actions. Whether that is true or not remains to be seen.
This—the state of development and organization of the progressive movement—is what we really need to be concerned about if we don’t want to see this same old, same old continue for years and years to come, whoever is in control of Congress.
That is why the U.S. Social Forum (http://www.ussf2007.org) coming up in three months in Atlanta is so important. The people of this country, the mass media who do so much to shape people’s thinking, and those in government at all levels who claim to be about the people’s business need to see that we are getting it together in large numbers and in an organized way.
That is why the initiative recently undertaken toward a major fall mobilization linking the anti-war and climate movement—(http://www.NoWarNoWarming.org) —is such a potentially significant development.
And that is why progressives need to be looking for political options outside the Democratic Party box, why the prospect of a Green Party Presidential candidacy by someone like a Cynthia McKinney, rumored to be seriously considering this option, should be welcomed and applauded.
In a column I wrote a few days after the November elections I said that “the most important thing we need to do is refuse to let Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Chuck Schumer and Steny Hoyer set the agenda for us and what we do. We should be openly demanding what justice, peace and survival call for, organizing ourselves to be effective in pressing those demands on elected officials of both corporate parties.”
We should all take up the slogan that has emerged out of the climate movement for the upcoming actions all over the country on April 14th. We need to Step It Up! The handles to do so are out there. Let’s grab onto them. See you in Atlanta!