The Left Revolts Against Obama

by on December 13, 2010 · 21 comments

in Economy, Organizing, War and Peace

You can almost feel it in the air. The tension.

There is so much tension right now between President Obama and the American left because of the recent “compromise” on taxes maneuvered by the White House and Congressional Republicans, that you can almost cut it with the old proverbial knife.

Much of the Left – and especially those sectors outside the mainstream Democratic Party – feels betrayed by the President that they helped to elect two years ago.  Left-wingers are very angry because it was the left that made up Obama’s first base, back in 2007 when he swung into the Presidential race as THE anti-war candidate. And now it appears that Obama is more interested in satisfying Republicans than his own left of center constituencies.

Now none of this news, of course, because the mainstream media have been jumping up and down and waving flags drawing attention to this historic split between the Left and the first left-of-center President this century. The corporate press and the Right can hardly suppress their smirks in highlighting divisions among their critics and enemies.

(I forecast this trend over a year ago in my series “The dilemma of the disenchanted progressive” – see here, here, here, and here.)

(And if you’re wondering where we get these terms of “left” and “right”, go here.)

Yet the left is in turmoil. From pissed-off lefties on the street, to working class stiffs, to liberal professionals, to peace activists, angry leftists are trying to figure out what to do. Democrats in the House of Representatives who are feeling very burned are threatening to stall or change the tax compromise when it comes before them, even as the bill cleared a key caucus vote in the Senate.

There have many slights – either real or not – against the Left by the White House over the last while, but it is this tax compromise that has become the straw that broke the donkey’s back.

But the left simmers over unfulfilled campaign promises, like the “public option” that never made it into the health care bill, like the 50,000 combat troops to remain in Iraq, like the fact that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” remains military policy, Guantanamo Bay prison facility remains open, immigration reform has barely moved forward.

One of the biggest areas of the split between Obama and the left is Afghanistan. During the campaign, Obama spoke as if he was going to send more troops there, and despite the left’s support during the campaign, it still opposes this war policy. Not to mention what’s going on in Pakistan.  Not to mention a record-breaking Defense budget.

And now comes the non-fight over the Bush-era tax cuts, and harsh words for the left “purists”, as earlier there had been White House criticism of “the professional left”.

What we have before us is that important sectors of the left are swinging into action and are planning a major demonstration later this month right in front of the White House to protest – not the tax cuts for the wealthy – but the continuation of the Afghanistan war. Civil disobedience and arrests are in the works.  It appears that Obama’s war policies have forced many Americans full cycle – from supporting the anti-war candidate to opposing the war president.

It could be a terrible and harsh irony of history that the first Black American president who is elected because he is against the Iraq war falls victim to the very war – Afghanistan – that he didn’t oppose.  His administration could end up in death throes if the military continue to have it their way.  Afterall, the place is known to be the burial ground of empires. It was becoming bankrupt due to their military adventures in Afghanistan that greatly contributed to the downfall of the Soviet Union.

Today, however, it’s the tax cuts. What looks to be an actual opposition to Obama is building, and much of it’s coming from those leftists who were never enthralled with the first successful African-American Presidential candidate in the first place.

Here are some examples of this revolt:

  • A progressive group, The Agenda Project, flooded the White House phone lines with calls right after the tax compromise was announced, leading protests against a White House they believe is “caving” to Republicans on tax cuts.
  • When angry House Democrats caucused right after the compromise was announced, there were yells of “fuck the president!” and chants mocking the White House. It’s not clear what they will do once the tax cut compromise is in front of them.  Blue Dog Dems and Republicans can probably pass it without their support.
  • Senator Bernie Sanders’ 8 1/2 hour filibuster on the floor of the Senate in direct protest of the tax compromise.
  • For the first time, there is talk of finding a candidate to mount a Primary challenge to Obama from the left;
  • An Open Letter appeal to the “Left Establishment” from calling on them for active support to protest Obama, being sent to well-known lefties like Michael Moore, Norman Solomon, Katrina van den Heuvel, Barbara Ehrenreich,  Tom Hayden,  and Jesse Jackson Jr., plus other high profile progressive supporters of the Obama electoral campaign.
  • Negative articles on Obama on the OB Rag, once-thought to be an Obama stalwart.
  • Protests on December 16th in front of the White House, involving civil disobedience action being planned by Veterans for Peace (to include Chris Hedges, Daniel Ellsberg, Joel Kovel, Medea Benjamin, Ray McGovern, several armed service veterans and others.

Whether the left revolt is real or really a lot of hot air remains to be seen.  House Dems could try to stall the tax bill but be over-ridden by Blue Dog Dems and GOP’ers.  Grassroots peace activists want to see the huge protest crowds mustered during the Bush years.  Left-wing intellectuals are ready to disembark from being close Obama supporters, yet wary of historical precedents of centrist politicians being defeated by the left and the right, only to watch fascists take power.

Plus now this country will see Obama, already vilified by the extremists on the right and their Tea Party allies, get a shellacking from the left, on the net, in blogs, in demonstrations.

Here below is the text of the “Open Letter” to the Left Establishment (please go to the original for all the links at

With the Obama administration beginning its third year, it is by now painfully obvious that the predictions of even the most sober Obama supporters were overly optimistic. Rather than an ally, the administration has shown itself to be an implacable enemy of reform.

It has advanced repeated assaults on the New Deal safety net (including the previously sacrosanct Social Security trust fund), jettisoned any hope for substantive health care reform, attacked civil rights and environmental protections, and expanded a massive bailout further enriching an already bloated financial services and insurance industry. It has continued the occupation of Iraq and expanded the war in Afghanistan as well as our government’s covert and overt wars in South Asia and around the globe.

Along the way, the Obama administration, which referred to its left detractors as “f***ing retarded” individuals that required “drug testing,” stepped up the prosecution of federal war crime whistleblowers, and unleashed the FBI on those protesting the escalation of an insane war.

Obama’s recent announcement of a federal worker pay freeze is cynical, mean-spirited “deficit-reduction theater”. Slashing Bush’s plutocratic tax cuts would have made a much more significant contribution to deficit reduction but all signs are that the “progressive” president will cave to Republican demands for the preservation of George W. Bush’s tax breaks for the wealthy Few. Instead Obama’s tax cut plan would raise taxes for the poorest people in our country.

The election of Obama has not galvanized protest movements. To the contrary, it has depressed and undermined them, with the White House playing an active role in the discouragement and suppression of dissent – with disastrous consequences. The almost complete absence of protest from the left has emboldened the most right-wing elements inside and outside of the Obama administration to pursue and act on an ever more extreme agenda.

We are writing to you because you are well-known writers, bloggers and filmmakers with access to a range of old and new media, and you have in your power the capacity to help reignite the movement which brought millions onto the streets in February of 2003 but which has withered ever since. There are many thousands of progressives who follow your work closely and are waiting for a cue from you and others to act. We are asking you to commit yourself to actively supporting the protests of Obama administration policies which are now beginning to materialize.

In this connection we would like to mention a specific protest: the civil disobedience action being planned by Veterans for Peace involving Chris Hedges, Daniel Ellsberg, Joel Kovel, Medea Benjamin, Ray McGovern, several armed service veterans and others to take place in front of the White House on Dec. 16th.

Should you commit yourselves to backing this action and others sure to materialize in weeks and months ahead, what would otherwise be regarded as an emotional outburst of the “fringe left” will have a better chance of being seen as expressing the will of a substantial majority not only of the left, but of the American public at large. We believe that your support will help create the climate for larger and increasingly disruptive expressions of dissent – a development that is sorely needed and long overdue.

We hope that we can count on you to exercise the leadership that is required of all of us in these desperate times.

The letter is signed by many prominent “establishment” leftists.

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Goatskull December 13, 2010 at 7:07 pm

Ahh politics. My favorite thing I love to hate.


avatar Molly December 13, 2010 at 9:44 pm

Ah, c’mon Goatskull, you wouldn’t be here at this blog unless you loved politics. Admit it! The understanding of politics is one of the most basic human endeavors.


avatar bodysurferbob December 13, 2010 at 9:17 pm

could it be that most americans are neither left nor right? so they don’t identify with either side. politics actually turns them off. they just want to pay the bills, get the kids through (sports, college, daycare), have some time to themselves and their families, and basically aren’t involved in change one way or another.


avatar Molly December 13, 2010 at 9:31 pm

bsbob – Sure, they’re not involved in politics until their President is assassinated or impeached or prevented from taking office, their son/daughter arrives home from Vietnam/ Iraq / Afghanistan in a box, and their spouse loses their job cuz of outsourcing to China/ Poland / India. Not to mention that their 401K tanked, they’ve racked up thousands of dollars in debt, can’t afford their mortgage or sending their surviving children to college, and then they get really really sick cuz they have a non-existent or crummy health care insurance. Sure bob, they’re really not involved in politics.


avatar Goatskull December 13, 2010 at 10:39 pm

I think it’s fair to say that IS how many Americans think. As bad as things are., not every one is expierencing the thing you mentioned. If and when they do then maybe they will change their tune. Even then, you’d be surprized at how many still don’t identify themselves as liberal or conservative.


avatar Goatskull December 13, 2010 at 10:54 pm

Another case in point of the very apathy many or at least some Americans have despite the effect politics have. I work as civilian employee for the Navy at PSD Point Loma up on Catalina blvd, not far from ft. Rosecrans. Most of the military personnel I work with have no opinion about politics, the wars we’re in, nor do they care about any one els’s opinion. Granted a lot of them are just kids in their late teens/early twenties.


avatar bodysurferbob December 13, 2010 at 9:35 pm

molly, there you go, off on another rant. but i will skip responding to the hyperbole and perhaps enhance your point that despite americans non-politicalness (if that’s a word – whoops, guess not b/c spellcheck doesn’t recognize it) they are deeply affected by politics.


avatar Molly December 13, 2010 at 9:42 pm

bob, Yes part of my point is that despite Americans seeming indifference to politics, they are constantly and continually being affected by the political struggles going on around them. The people are ruled over by the power elites whether the people understand that or not.


avatar dave rice December 13, 2010 at 10:05 pm

Naive optimism is what fuels the fire of a progressive. We want to find compromise with conservatives, who I think many of us, having them as family members and friends, try to see as fellow American patriots with a skewed vision of national priorities. But when our president attempts to negotiate key issues in good faith, he’s met by a legion of individuals who want nothing more than to wage a civil war against the 50% (give or take) of the country that they see as less than human, undeserving of the titles American, patriot, or often even citizen.

Case in point – health care ‘reform.’ From what I understand of the final product, I have no more access to care than I did before, I have no government option to turn to for help unless some misfortune should find me nearly destitute, and soon I’ll be punished for not being able to afford care by having an extra tax levied against me because I don’t pay a private corporation to hassle me out of pursuing any treatment I might actually need someday. Does this really sound like a liberal Utopian policy, or a brilliant back door conservative scheme to encourage employers to stop offering benefit packages to non-union workers and further shift tax burdens from the wealthy to the working lower and middle classes? Yet some people still count this disaster as an accomplishment of some sort.

In my opinion, a ‘tax cut compromise’ would involve extending benefits to 98% of all Americans and 99.9% of the ones that actually work for their money. It might even include throwing a bone to the richest of the rich by bumping the inheritance tax exemption from $1M to, say, $6M, in exchange for increasing the cap on wages subject to Social Security deductions. And let’s face it, a death tax doesn’t result in a little ol’ country boy losing the farm that’s been in the family for generations, it results in some billionaire’s kid having to take out a second mortgage on one of the estates, or maybe even consider selling the villa in Italy to cover the ones in France, Cabo, Florida, and Malibu. A ‘compromise’ does not involve giving one side everything they’ve asked for – I’d think a more proper term for that would go along the lines of ‘being steamrolled.’

I won’t even go into the continued ‘nation-building’ war efforts ongoing – mainly because things are so dicked up that I can’t fathom an acceptable solution. The cheapest would probably be to tuck tail and bitch out on any effort we’ve put forth abroad, but that will do as much for our global standing as if we’d effectively invited bin Laden to a White House summit on how best to appease his ragtag band of crackpots. In a countless number of other ways, I feel entirely let down…and glad I can proudly say that although I’ve voted religiously since 18 (actually more than religiously, as I’ve only been to church a few times in the past decade and not at all since I got divorced and no longer had to appease my Catholic mother-in-law), I didn’t vote for a single one of these slimy bastards launching the bandwagon off the cliff.


avatar Kind Vegan Jon December 14, 2010 at 6:46 am

Dude lost me with his ridiculous offshore drilling proposal. Even with the Dems controlling Congress Obama has gotten nothing progressive of substance accomplished. If I’d wanted someone in office whose mission was to appease the GOP, prop up corporate interests, and continue waging mindless war, I’d have voted for McCain. I knew better than to confuse ‘hope’ with expectation — but even so this progressive is disappointed. Good catch on the Miami Herald editorial cartoon.


avatar Real Liberal December 14, 2010 at 7:26 am

All this racism never came out before, now I bet his own party hates Obama because he’s black.


avatar Shane Finneran December 14, 2010 at 2:20 pm

I hate your comment because it’s stupid!


avatar Patty Jones December 14, 2010 at 2:38 pm

Real, get real, or get lost.


avatar tj December 14, 2010 at 7:31 am

Too many uninformed Democrats love Clinton – our countries greatest sell-out ever.

Clintons support for foolish Republican initatives, like Gramm/Leach/Bliley (deregulated the GREEDY Wall Street Banksters), NAFTA & PNTR (export USA jobs) destroyed our & the world economys.

Obama wants his piece of Clintons “success” – sell-out (typical lawyer) – get EXTREMELY rich from greatful special interests – & to top it off – be generally well respected, to loved even, by the unknowing masses.

Such a deal. (if lightening strikes twice in the same spot, that is – lol.)

It really matters little who we elect – they will ultimately serve the Banksters – who control the $$$ for their own greedy gain – general welfare be damned.


avatar Seth December 14, 2010 at 9:03 am

Remember when the Left pushed aside a much more seasoned and capable Hillary for Obama during the primaries? That was awesome. ;-)


avatar dave rice December 14, 2010 at 1:39 pm

More seasoned and capable in the realm of national politics? Check.

So incredibly polarizing a personality that she would’ve driven a bunch of undecideds into Republican arms? Unfortunately, also check.


avatar Seth December 14, 2010 at 4:46 pm

She is definitely polarizing, but in my recollection, she was decisively more popular among more centrist voters than Obama. It’s possible that she may not have energized the base enough to get the filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, but how much was that worth in the end?


avatar Frank Gormlie December 14, 2010 at 2:09 pm

I don’t recall the left doing that. It was the voters in the Democratic primaries – obviously not all leftists. Just cuz you’re a Dem, doesn’t mean you’re of the left. You’ve heard of the Blue Dog Democrats?


avatar Seth December 14, 2010 at 4:58 pm

True that, Frank. I’m not saying I am bitter about it as a Hillary voter, because I do like Obama, but I feel like it is fair to start asking if we should have sent Hillary instead. That would have been a daily topic with Obama supporters if she had won, I think. At the end of the day, I don’t think it is a learn-on-the-job kind of gig, as we have seen with any number of administrations of inexperienced Presidents (from JFK to Carter to Bill to W). There was a window of opportunity in the first two years that might not have been fully realized as Obama struggled with his training wheels. JMO, of course.


avatar Shane Finneran December 14, 2010 at 2:23 pm

Seth, you saw who Obama dragged out in support of his tax compromise, right? Bill endorsement of the compromise leads me to believe Hillary endorses it, too. Though who really cares? As a friend put it on Facebook: “If I wanted to hear from a Clinton again, I would have voted for one.”


avatar Seth December 14, 2010 at 4:54 pm

I did notice that he called in Dad to sell his tax plan compromise. It was kinda crazy, especially when he interjected to say that he had holiday parties to attend and basically left Bill to be President for the rest of the day. That was actually pretty stunning, IMO.

I do like Obama, though. Never felt he was very liberal. As someone said in the campaign (Chris Rock? Bill Maher?), he is the “first black Clinton”. I think he is a very bright guy who reads the tea leaves correctly, and has accomplished more than people realize, but his political skills have to be somewhat of a disappointment by this point. With essentially the same ideology, Hillary was under no pretense that there needed to be some illusion of bipartisanship post-2008 election. DC is giving Barack a big kick in the ass that Hillary, at this stage, would have been giving to other people, IMO.


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