I’ve supported neither Hillary Clinton nor Barack Obama because I didn’t see either one as supporting the middle class and the poor economically. That may be changing.
David Sirota, a blogger who is focused particularly on the corporatization of America, recently criticized Obama, even while admitting that he (Sirota) understood Obama’s shying away from populist rhetoric:
Obama has let Clinton characterize the 1990s as a nirvana, rather than a time that sowed the seeds of our current troubles. He barely criticizes the Clinton administration for championing job-killing trade agreements. He does not question that same administration’s role in deregulating the financial industry and thereby intensifying today’s boom-bust catastrophes. And he rarely points out what McClatchy Newspapers reported this week: that Clinton spent most of her career at a law firm “where she represented big companies and served on corporate boards,” including Wal-Mart’s.
Obama hasn’t touched any of this for two reasons.
First, his campaign relies on corporate donations. Though Obama certainly is less industry-owned than Clinton, the Washington Post noted last spring that he was the top recipient of Wall Street contributions. That cash is hush money, contingent on candidates silencing their populist rhetoric.
But while this pressure to keep quiet affects all politicians, it is especially intense against black leaders.
“If Obama started talking like John Edwards and tapped into working-class, blue-collar proletarian rage, suddenly all of those white voters who are viewing him within the lens of transcendence would start seeing him differently,” says Charles Ellison of the University of Denver’s Center for African American Policy.
That’s because once Obama parroted Edwards’ attacks on greed and inequality, he would “be stigmatized as a candidate mobilizing race,” says Manning Marable, a Columbia University history professor.
That is, the media would immediately portray him as another Jesse Jackson – a figure whose progressivism has been (unfairly) depicted as racial politics anathema to white swing voters.
Sirota’s most recent column says that Obama is finally talking the progressive talk–which gives me some hope that he might even walk the progressive walk:
But with the next round of states overrepresenting for the constituencies Obama has done most poorly among – working-class whites and Latinos – he knows he has to try to thread the needle. He has to try to offer up more full-throated, class-based populism. And indeed, that’s what he’s doing. In his victory speech last night, Obama hammered the North American Free Trade Agreement, previewing a major economic speech today. Here are some excerpts:
“It’s a Washington where decades of trade deals like NAFTA and China have been signed with plenty of protections for corporations and their profits, but none for our environment or our workers who’ve seen factories shut their doors and millions of jobs disappear; workers whose right to organize and unionize has been under assault for the last eight years…So today, I’m laying out a comprehensive agenda to reclaim our dream and restore our prosperity. It’s an agenda that focuses on three broad economic challenges that the next President must address – the current housing crisis; the cost crisis facing the middle-class and those struggling to join it; and the need to create millions of good jobs right here in America- jobs that can’t be outsourced and won’t disappear.
For our economy, our safety, and our workers, we have to rebuild America. I’m proposing a National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank that will invest $60 billion over ten years. This investment will multiply into almost half a trillion dollars of additional infrastructure spending and generate nearly two million new jobs – many of them in the construction industry that’s been hard hit by this housing crisis. The repairs will be determined not by politics, but by what will maximize our safety and homeland security; what will keep our environment clean and our economy strong. And we’ll fund this bank by ending this war in Iraq. It’s time to stop spending billions of dollars a week trying to put Iraq back together and start spending the money on putting America back together instead…
It’s also time to look to the future and figure out how to make trade work for American workers. I won’t stand here and tell you that we can – or should – stop free trade. We can’t stop every job from going overseas. But I also won’t stand here and accept an America where we do nothing to help American workers who have lost jobs and opportunities because of these trade agreements. And that’s a position of mine that doesn’t change based on who I’m talking to or the election I’m running in.
You know, in the years after her husband signed NAFTA, Senator Clinton would go around talking about how great it was and how many benefits it would bring. Now that she’s running for President, she says we need a time-out on trade. No one knows when this time-out will end. Maybe after the election.
I don’t know about a time-out, but I do know this – when I am President, I will not sign another trade agreement unless it has protections for our environment and protections for American workers. And I’ll pass the Patriot Employer Act that I’ve been fighting for ever since I ran for the Senate – we will end the tax breaks for companies who ship our jobs overseas, and we will give those breaks to companies who create good jobs with decent wages right here in America.”
This is really terrific stuff, and I say that as someone who has been critical of Obama in the past for his timidity on issues like trade – issues that make the Establishment particularly uncomfortable.
I recommend reading the rest of Sirota’s comments. And, like him, I hope to see Obama follow through on this encouraging start.