Natasha Chart’s Open Letter to Dem Electeds

Natasha Chart, one of my favorite progressive bloggers, has posted a real gut-check of an open letter to Democratic elected officials. In it, Chart eviscerates the do-nothingism of Democratic office holders, who spend their time lying to the base about what they will do for them if elected, then painting corporate victories in office as progressive ones. Chart charges that Democrats must cease demanding the base to stop believing our lying eyes.

What I’m certain of is that if an illusion must be maintained at all costs, it will eventually cost everything.

It’s already cost us affordable health care, and likely much of women’s access to reproductive healthcare, in your proposed insurance reform. Like many other registered Democratic voters, my plan for health care reform, or health insurance reform, whatever, was to get you elected. Because you said you wanted it as much as I did. You had watched your own loved ones suffer, and heard the heartbreaking stories about people made to endure tremendous hardship or even death, at the hands of bureaucratic executioners working underwriting desks at Aetna, Cigna, etc. You told us you wanted to work for us and make the negotiations over reform transparent, because you were on our side.

And even if the bills you came up with are being hailed as must-pass progressive legislation, I think you know you lied to us about what you were going to deliver. You lied. There’s no point pretending it isn’t so, either to myself or anyone else. You just lied.

The stock market isn’t lying about it. Health insurance stocks are up, because the people with a lot of money and power in this country know who won this fight. It wasn’t me. It wasn’t your typical voter. I might not be the equal of anyone in the investor class in your eyes, but I think I at least have the right to as much truth as they do, and they know you lied to me for their sakes. I’m sure they’re very grateful.

I could go on about the bank bailouts, your disastrous bribes to polluters masked by trite pennies thrown at renewable energy, failed promises to the LGBT community, the abandonment of the unions, yadda, yadda, yadda. But why? You started selling us out when you took over Congress in 2006 and you never stopped, not with the trifecta, not with your damn 60 votes, not with the earth-shattering momentum of the most successful small-donor fundraising campaign in the history of the whole *ing world.

Natasha goes on to a place where I wouldn’t go – telling officials to stop actually doing anything, just collect their paycheck and go home. I think there is a step where we push for accountability and the keeping of promises that is too important to skip.

Nonetheless, Chart’s letter is a searing indictment of what we’ve seen out of Democratic elected officials over the past three years. There’s only so far the people whose activism and small-dollar donations carried these officials into office will go when they feel like they’ve been lied to. Now I don’t expect any significant number will flip to the GOP or go join the Tea Baggers, but people suggesting this is a possibility are only insulting the convictions of progressive base activists. Instead, I expect people to tune out, become cynics, and refocus their efforts back into the issue campaigns they care most about.

For a long time I believed, like Natasha, that the best way to accomplish a progressive agenda — spreading human rights, health care, equality, and rebuilding the middle class — was best accomplished through elected strong Democratic majorities. A majority, I thought, was a better vehicle for achieving our goals than stronger single-issue campaigns.  In many ways, the growth of the progressive online movement and the campaign for “More and Better Democrats” is predicated on this assumption. Sadly, we have consistently seen that this is not in fact a recipe for achieving progressive policies.

The alternative electorally is to push for “Better and Better Democrats,” something that has been discussed by me and many others over the past two years. To be even more pointed, progressive change can only be achieved when the blue parts of this country are made bluer. Elected officials need to, at minimum, mirror their districts. No more Blue Dogs in D+20 districts.

The balance between electing real progressives to office and increasing our energies and resources towards the issue campaigns that we really care about is a tough one. After all, environmental and energy policy reform can’t be done blind to the needs of labor law reform.  There must still be a strong enough progressive compass that groups working independently of each other still move in the same direction.

The last issue is simply that for movement issue activism to be successful, elected officials have to be convinced to listen to the base. They have to be committed to keeping their promises from the campaign trail. How can these results be achieved? That’s less clear. Do promise-breakers need to be primaried? Will it help to make examples of turncoats? Or will it only cause the wall between Democratic elected officials and the base to be raised higher? These are tough questions and answers may not be forthcoming without some field testing of different strategies.

Rebutting the Ideological Purity Argument

I strongly agree with both Bob Herbert and Glenn Greenwald, who successfully endeavor to rebut the sophistical argument against progressives who aren’t supportive of the current health care bill as arriving at that position solely or primarily out of a quest for ideological purity.

Herbert and Greenwald both focus their argument on the fact that the Senate’s excise tax, which is marketed as a tax on “Cadillac” plans, is in fact a tax which predominantly will hit lower-middle and middle class workers. Herbert cites the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation as predicting this will affect 20% of households with incomes of $50,000-75,000. As Marcy Wheeler frequently notes, it’s not a Cadillac tax — it’s a Chevy tax and it’s aimed at the backbone of the American middle class, particularly union members.

I believe there are many good arguments to be made in favor of passing a health care reform bill like the one that will likely come out of whatever process is used to merge the Senate and House bills. But pretending that there are no good faith, logical, substantive, or non-ideological reasons to oppose the bill is incredibly dishonest. Hopefully those who are publicly supporting whatever legislation comes forward will take Herbert and Greenwald’s pieces to heart and stop pushing the canard that parts of the Left, particularly the online progressive movement, is only opposing the Senate bill because they are pursuing ideological purity within the Democratic Party.

Weak Sauce

New York Times columnist and frequent Chinese government apologist Nick Kristof has only mustered this Tweet in response to the jailing of Liu Xiaobo for advocating democracy in China.

@NickKristof The great Liu Xiaobo sentenced to 11 yrs by Chinese govt. For shame, Beijing.

Kristof’s column ran today. It was not on the Liu Xiaobo sentencing. He has not had any other blog posts nor tweets regarding the Beijing regimes jailing of Liu for a thought crime.

I’ll be curious to see if Kristof uses his large microphone of the New York Times’ opinion page to condemn the Chinese government for jailing Liu. I don’t expect he will and his silence should be yet another black mark upon his reputation.

Havel on Obama, China & Tibet

The Wall Street Journal has an interview of former Czech president and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Vaclav Havel. In it Havel speaks about Obama’s handling of China and the Dalai Lama and the elemental mistakes he is making in his policy towards Tibet and appeasement of China. After comparing Obama’s early dealings with China to French prime minister (and Munich architect) Edouard Daladier, he talks about his own efforts to outreach to the Dalai Lama and China’s response.

Politics . . . means, every day making some compromises, and to choose between one evil and another evil, and to decide which is bigger and which is smaller. But sometimes, some of these compromises could be very dangerous because it could be the beginning of the road of making a lot of other compromises, which are results of the first one, and there are very dangerous compromises. And it’s necessary, I think, to have the feeling which compromise is possible to do and which, could be, maybe, after ten years, could be somehow very dangerous.

I will illustrate this with my own experience. Two days after I was elected president, I invited the Dalai Lama to visit. I was the first head of the state who invited him in this way, directly. And everybody was saying that it was a terribly dangerous act and issued their disapproving statements and expressions. But it was a ritual matter. Later, the Chinese deputy prime minister and the foreign minister came for a visit and brought me a pile of books about the Dalai Lama and some governmental documents about what good care they have taken of Tibet, and so on. They were propagandist, fabricated books, but he felt the need to explain something to me.

I had a press conference with this minister of foreign affairs. And he said, “It was wonderful, meeting, because we were speaking openly. Mr. Havel gave me his opinion, and I explained the opinion of our government. I gave him this book, and he thanked me for it.”

This was unbelievable! Why did they feel the need to explain their point of view to the leader of such a small nation? Because they respect it when someone is standing his ground, when someone is not afraid of them. When someone soils his pants prematurely, then they do not respect you more for it. [Emphasis added]

Havel is right to criticize Obama’s tepid behavior when it comes to China and Tibet. He and Secretary of State Clinton have both tacked towards appeasing China with regard to Tibet and human rights, while extracting no concessions in return. Rather than standing their ground — the ground of America’s respect for human rights, freedom and democracy — Obama and Clinton have shown their fear of China and negotiated with themselves. Not shockingly, China has not budged an inch. Havel is a smart enough person and accomplished enough world leader that when he says Obama has “soil[ed] his pants prematurely,” listeners should pay attention. Havel knows what he is talking about and his critique should cause thoughtful reflection within the Obama White House and at Foggy Bottom.

China: Liu Xiabo Sentenced to 11 Years for Thought Crimes

Leading Chinese political dissident Liu Xiaobo was sentenced by the Chinese government to 11 years in jail for “inciting subversion of state power”; additionally Liu is banned from speaking or writing about politics at all for two years. Liu is one of China’s most high profile advocates of free speech and democracy. He was on trial for his role as a leading author of Charter 08, a courageous document released a year ago calling for the end to one-party rule and other liberalizing political reforms. It was signed by thousands of leading dissidents and intellectuals inside China, including Tibet’s most vocal advocate for freedom from inside Tibet, Woeser.

The jailing of Liu for a thought crime is yet another sign that economic growth and access by western multinational corporations has not liberalized the Chinese Communist Party nor sped realization democracy within China.

The State Department has a standard, milquetoast statement out, but nothing from Secretary of State Clinton nor President Obama. Human rights hasn’t been high on the agenda for the online progressive movement this past year, but Clinton & Obama’s handling of China when it comes to human rights has been one of the biggest disappointments during the first year of the administration for me personally.

Uygur: “Shake him off his foundation”

I think Cenk Uygur’s post on Huffington Post today is a really important marker that people who are about the progressive movement and moving the Democratic Party to the left should read. After conceding that Obama is, more than anything else, a cautious politician who will naturally move to the center in any debate, Uygur moves to how the progressive base should be responding.

The next time Obama pushes a corporate agenda, progressives have to knock him upside the head. Deny him. Or as the kids would say, send his shit. And make a big stink out of it. Draw everyone’s attention to how far right Obama is and how out of whack he is with the American people.If that scares you and you start to worry about damaging a Democratic president, you’re never going to win at this game. You’re never going to get the policies you want. They don’t listen to reason, they listen to power.

If you don’t move the island, the rest is futile. You have to shift the ground underneath them. And the only way to do that is to create such a strong and aggressive progressive movement that they cannot help but notice it – and respond to it. Move the center and you’ll move Obama. And he’ll move the country. There is no other choice.

I think this is pretty important analysis. Obama isn’t going to move to the left on his own – doing so would mean he’d have to fight with conservative and centrist Democrats to make them do something. He is averse to that sort of action. Instead, he has to be made to understand that the progressive base’s support is plastic and will shift away from him if he continues to ignore it. The surest way of demonstrating this is for progressives to create a space for him to occupy more to the left – to move the Overton Window and create enough space for him to move without having to actually fight for it himself.

Uygur thinks the best place to do this is in the fight for financial regulation and I think he’s right. The added bonus is that beyond the Democratic Party being to the left of Obama on it, the entire country is already substantially supportive of serious regulation of Wall Street.  There will be real opportunities here; hopefully leaders on the left seize them and try to force Obama to the left for the good of the country and his presidency.


The Senate is set to vote on final passage of the health care bill, which should pass with something less than 60 votes. Separate from everything else, I’m glad that this is finally happening. A step in a long, long process…and hopefully one that doesn’t represent the final product of the health care bill.