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Ten Commandments for Progressives after the November Defeat
Obama has not pushed for a real progressive agenda, so electoral losses are not a rejection of progressive policies. A caring society is possible.
By Michael Lerner
1. Don't let the media frame this as a defeat of progressives. Had Obama embraced and fought for a progressive agenda, even if he had passed none of it, he would have entered the 2010 elections as the champion of the huge idealism of the American people that was elicited in 2008 and which would have led the Democrats to an electoral sweep in 2010. Being seen as fighting for the needs of ordinary people -- never letting anyone forget for a moment that he had inherited the mess that Republican and pro-corporate Democrats had created, positioning himself as the champion of those who resented the Wall Street and corporate interests -- his popularity would have grown; he could have won a much bigger victory for the Democrats in 2010, and that would have allowed him to actually legislate the policies of a progressive vision.
Had Obama refused to give more money to the banks and Wall Street unless equal or greater amounts were allocated for a visionary New Deal-style program for jobs and a freeze on mortgage foreclosures; had the Democrats refused to fund the escalation of war in Afghanistan; had they advocated for "Medicare for Everyone" instead of passing a plan that forced 30 million people to buy health care, but puts no serious restraints on the costs that insurance companies or pharmaceutical can charge; had Obama fought courageously for a carbon tax and ended the bargain taxes for the wealthy; had the Democrats insisted on stopping the harassment of immigrants; had the Obama Administration called for a national effort to overturn Citizens United, such as the ESRA -- Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Had Obama set up public forums at which his supporters could give him public feedback and used the web creatively to allow his supporters to weigh in, and had Obama consistently spoken honestly to Americans about the constraints he was facing and who was putting pressure on him to do what -- there would have been no electoral defeat. It wasn't the progressive agenda that got defeated, it was the corporate-military accommodation of the Democrats and Obama who couldn't address popular outrage, not only at the economic problem, but at the way we had been manipulated in 2008; and the humiliation many felt at having allowed themselves to hope that someone in politics would fight for what they said they would fight for.
2. Challenge the elitism in the Left. Whenever you hear someone saying that it is the stupidity or reactionary nature of Americans that led to this defeat, remind them of why, absent any other voice that they would encounter expressing their outrage, it was rational for Americans to be attracted to the right-wing voices that were expressing that outrage (albeit with programs that will actually make things worse). When Americans thought they had a chance at progressive change, they voted for it in 2008 -- so they are neither stupid nor reactionary.
3. Challenge the religo-phobia in the Left. As long as the progressive world seems to be aligned with those who think that anyone who believes in God must be either stupid or at a lower stage of psychological development, we will get nowhere with an American public sincerely committed to a spiritual worldview. Allow yourself to explore the various spiritual progressive communities and movements that currently exist.
4. Do not demean those who disagree with us. Act as though every person, no matter what their politics, is created in the image of God or deserves fundamental respect, and only challenge their ideas and policies, but without attributing bad motives to them. And do not demean your own leaders -- stop the back-biting and competition that so often drives the most creative thinkers and activists out of the movement! Make the progressive world focus more on taking care of each other in its meetings and public events.
5. Take time every day to rejoice in the grandeur and awesome mystery of the universe -- and remember that the world is filled with loving people who would be there with us if they knew that we took love as seriously as we take critique.
6. Build a unified political movement that calls for A New Bottom Line in American society so that instead of judging institutions, legislation or policies rational or productive only to the extent that they maximize money and power, they are judged by how much they maximize love and caring, kindness and generosity, ethical and ecological behavior and awareness, and the extent to which they tend to encourage us to be more caring toward each other and the earth and more able to respond to the universe with awe, wonder and radical amazement at the grandeur of being and consciousness and to experience true gratitude at being alive.
7. Build within the Democratic Party an opposition to the corporate-oriented leaders of that party, from Steny Hoyer and Nancy Pelosi to Diane Feinstein and Charles Schumner. Create a spiritual progressive caucus in every city. Run candidates in the primaries against that leadership -- follow the example of the Tea Party in their effort to move the Republican party to the Right.
8. Build outside the Democratic Party a separate political party that talks about love, kindness, generosity, and The Caring Society -- Caring for Each Other and Caring for the Earth. Let that party be based on the notion of A New Bottom Line as expressed in Commandment Six. Let this party talk explicitly about building a world that supports love and generosity! Stop speaking the language of the bureaucrats and the technical manipulators -- start speaking the language of the heart. End the time in which Democrats believe that progressives have "no place to go" and hence will support their corporate-oriented candidates no matter how far they are from progressive ideals.
If the Greens are able to transform themselves to a party that puts love and caring and the language of the heart at the forefront of its public identification, rather than a primarily technocratic, issues-debating, hard-nosed "realistic" from the left, policy-but-not-love-generating social force, then it could be this. But at the moment it is not, and it may be easier to create something new than to reform the inner workings and political culture of the Greens,
9. Create a United Progressive Fund so that all the different progressive organizations stop competing with each other for funding and instead allocate according to how many people belong to any given progressive organization.
10. Don't be realistic! The powers that be in the media, politics and economics define "realism." The most important changes in our country have come about because people were willing to fight for what everyone supposedly knew to be "unrealistic" (e.g. ending segregation, ending ten thousand years of unchallenged male supremacy and sexism, legitimating gay and lesbian lives, building an environmental movement, and the list goes on).
Realism is idolatry -- believing in God is believing that there is some Force in the Universe (some of us call it God) that makes possible the transformation from "that which is" to "that which could and should be." Support a Global Marshall Plan to once and for all end global poverty, hunger, homelessness, insufficient education or health care -- and pay for it through a Tobin tax on all international financial transactions of over $1 million. End the domination of money in politics and challenge the irresponsible environmental policies of corporations -- through the ESRA -- the Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Follow these ten commandments and the progressive forces will finally be able to reshape this country before it is too late. If you wish to help us do this, please join and help create a local chapter of the Network of Spiritual Progressives here. But if you like these ideas but don't want to work inside our organization, then bring these ideas into whatever organization you are already part of and insist that they debate these ideas, align with us in our campaign for the ESRA and for our proposed Global Marshall Plan, and insist that they develop the kind of broad strategy we are presenting here.
Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun magazine, a Jewish and Interfaith Critique of Politics, Culture and Society; chair of the Network of Spiritual Progressives, and rabbi of Beyt Tikkun Synagogue.
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