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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Progressives call progressives to take a stand

We write in light of deteriorating events in Washington
Excerpt, minor editing, brief comment by Carolyn Bennett

Consumer advocate, political activist and critic Ralph Nader told the press yesterday that he has no  “ax to grind” nor is he “maneuvering for anything.” Nader has run several times for the U.S. presidency.

“I’m not a registered Democrat,” he said, “I just want, as a citizen, to have a rigorous debate on all the matters we’ve worked on for decades — consumer affairs, environmental protection, new taxes, new ideas, new excitement.”

I agree with Ralph Nader’s proposed challenge to the incumbent president and the only thing better than Nader and colleagues’ idea would be the rise of entirely new progressive political parties, independent of Republicans and Democrats, and their launch of strong, ethical, intelligent (in Shirley Chisholm’s words) un-bossed and un-bought courageous candidates with common sense and truly new and progressive ideas.

This is the text of the september 17, 2011 Nader-speerheaded letter campaign laying out why a challenge is necessary and calling for a slate to challenge the incumbent and endorsers of the idea of a serious democratic challenge as the campaign heats up and standards continue to lower in the race for the U.S. presidency 2012.

Dear Colleague:

We write to you in light of recent deteriorating events in Washington, D.C.

Misguided negotiations by the Obama Administration over increasing the debt ceiling willingly put our nation’s vital social services on the chopping block while Bush-era tax cuts remain untouched. Clearly, the situation has reached crisis proportions.

In response, an innovative plan has been developed to reintroduce a progressive agenda back into the political discussion during the 2012 election season.

Consider for a moment two very different scenarios for the 2012 Democratic presidential primaries.


The First scenario: President Obama advances without contest to a unanimous nomination.

There is no recognizable Democratic challenger, no meaningful debate on key progressive issues or past broken promises — just a seamless, self-contained operation on its way to raising one billion dollars in campaign funds.

This scenario is what most observers expect. Mr. Obama will face neither opposition nor debate.  He will have no need to clarify or defend his own polices or address the promises, kept and un-kept, of his 2008 campaign.

The president will not have to explain … why he directly escalated the war in Afghanistan and broadened the United States’ covert war in Pakistan; why he chose to engage in a military intervention in Libya; why he has maintained the [George W.] Bush government’s national security apparatus that allows for the suspension and abuse of constitutionally protected civil liberties — dismissing Congress all the way.

In an uncontested Democratic primary, President Obama will never have to justify his decision to bail out Wall Street’s most profitable firms while failing to push for effective prosecution of the criminal behavior that triggered the recession nor his failure to push for real financial reform.

He will not have to defend his decision to extend the [George W.] Bush era tax cuts nor justify his acquiescence to Republican extortion during the debt ceiling negotiations.

He will not have to answer questions on how his Administration completely failed to protect homeowners’ losing their homes to predatory banks; or even mention the word ‘poverty’ — as he failed to do in his most recent State of the Union Address — even as more and more Americans sink into financial despair.

He will never be challenged to fulfill his pledge to actively pursue a Labor-supported card check; or his promise to increase the federal minimum wage; or why he took single payer off the table after he said he believes in it. The U.S. labor movement, facing an unprecedented onslaught by the Right, will have no opportunity to voice its concerns and rally around a supportive candidate.

The president will not be pressed to answer how he spent four years in office without addressing the ongoing destabilization of our climate or advocating a coherent and ecologically sound energy policy, including defending his position on nuclear power and so-called clean coal.

Nor will he discuss regulatory agency deficiencies in enforcing corporate law and order in an era marked by a corporate crime wave having devastating economic consequences [for] workers and taxpayers, and their savings and pensions.

There will be no opportunity for the Hispanic and other relevant communities to speak out on immigration reform even as the Republicans continue to use it as a weapon of political demagoguery.

Add your own concerns, disappointments, and frustrated hopes to this list of what will surely be left off the table during an express-lane primary. The valid disagreements within the Democratic Party — let alone the goals of progressives — will be completely overlooked.

The media will gleefully cover the media circus that is sure to be the Republican primaries, magnifying every minor gaffe and carefully cataloguing every iteration and argument of the radical right.

The cameras will cover the Democratic side only for orchestrated events — the whiff of scandal — and to offer commentary on how the campaign is positioning itself for the general election.

The summation of this process will be a tediously scripted National Convention, deprived of robust exchange and well-wrought policy. And here the danger is clear — not only will progressive principles past and present be betrayed, but large sections of voters will feel bored with and alienated from the democratic candidate. This will serve neither the president’s campaign nor our goals nor the nation’s needs.


This second scenario would allow for robust and exciting discussion and debate during the primary season while posing little risk to the president other than to encourage him take more progressive stands.

It would also accomplish the critical task of energizing the Progressive base to turn out on Election Day.


A slate of six candidates announces its decision to run in the Democratic primaries.

Each of the candidates is recognizable, articulate, and a person of acknowledged achievement.

These contenders would each represent a field in which Obama has never clearly staked a progressive claim or where he has drifted toward the corporatist right. These fields would include — labor, poverty, military and foreign policy, health insurance and care, the environment, financial regulation, civil and political rights/empowerment, and consumer protection. [The letter ends by asking for endorsements of action and for suggestions of “accomplished people to contact who may be interested in joining the slate as a candidate in one of the following fields: labor, poverty, military and foreign policy, health insurance and care, the environment, financial regulation, civil and political rights/empowerment, and consumer protection.”]

Without primary challengers, President Obama will never have to seriously articulate and defend his beliefs to his own party. Given the dangers our nation faces, that option is unacceptable.

The slate is the best method for challenging the president for a number of reasons:

The slate can indicate that its intention is not to defeat the president (a credible assertion given their number of voting columns) but to rigorously debate his policy stands.

The slate will collectively give voice to the fundamental principles and agendas that represent the soul of the Democratic Party, which has increasingly been deeply tarnished by corporate influence.

The slate will force Mr. Obama to pay attention to many more issues affecting many more Americans. He will be compelled to develop powerful, organic, and fresh language as opposed to stale poll-driven ‘themes.’

The slate will exercise a pull on Obama toward his liberal/progressive base (in the face of the countervailing pressure from ‘centrists’ and corporatists) and leave that base with a feeling of positive empowerment.

The slate will excite the Democratic Party faithful and essential small-scale donors, who (despite the assertions of cable punditry) are essentially liberal and progressive.

A slate that is serious, experienced, and well-versed in policy will display a sobering contrast with the alarmingly weak, hysterical, and untested field taking shape on the right.

The slate will command more media attention for the Democratic primaries and the positive progressive discussions within the party as opposed to what will certainly be an increasingly extremist display on the right.

The slate makes it more difficult for party professionals to induce challengers to drop out of the race and more difficult for Mr. Obama to refuse or sidestep debates in early primaries.

The slate, if announced, will receive free legal advice and adequate contributions for all prudent expenses in moving about the country. The paperwork is far simpler than what confronts ballot-access-blocked third party and independent candidates. For the slate will be composed of registered Democrats campaigning inside the Party Primaries.

This opportunity to revive and restore the progressive infrastructure of the Democratic Party must not be missed.

A slate of Democratic candidates challenging the president’s substance and record is an historic opportunity. Certainly, President Obama will not be pleased to face a list of primary challengers, but the comfort of the incumbent is far less important than the vitality and strength of his party’s Progressive ideas and ideals. President Obama should emerge from the primary a stronger candidate as a result.

current list of endorsers in alphabetical order made as individuals, organizational/institutional affiliations for identification purposes only.
James Abourezk: Former U.S. Senator, South Dakota
Gar Alperovitz: Professor University of Maryland, Co-Founder Democracy Collaborative
Norman Birnbaum: Professor Emeritus, Georgetown University Law Center
Dr. Brent Blackwelder: President Emeritus, Friends of the Earth
Ellen H. Brown: Lawyer and Author of Web of Debt
Edgar Stuart Cahn: Professor of Law, University of the District of Columbia, Co-founder Legal Services for the Poor
Pat Choate: 1996 Reform Party Vice President Candidate
Peter Coyote: Actor, Author and Director
Ronnie Cummins: Executive Director, Organic Consumers Association
Charles Derber: Professor, Boston College
Ronnie Dugger: Founder, Alliance for Democracy
John Fullerton: President, Capital Institute
Rebecca and James Goodman: Northwood Farm
Randy Hayes: Director, Foundation Earth, Rainforest Action Network Founder
Chris Hedges: Pulitzer Prize Winning Journalist of the New York Times and Author
Hazel Henderson: Author Ethical Markets: Growing the Green Economy; President, Ethical Markets Media, LLC.
Jean Houston: Psychologist, Anthropologist and Author of The Possible Human and The Possible Society
Nicholas Johnson: Former Commissioner, Federal Communications Commission; Former Administrator, Federal Maritime Commission
Alan F. Kay: Author, Spot the Spin and Locating Consensus for Democracy
Harry Kelber: The Labor Educator
Andrew Kimbrell: Executive Director, Center for Food Safety &
International Center for Technology Assessment (ICTA)
Jonathan Kozol: Educator, Author of Savage Inequalities
Lewis Lapham: Former Editor, Harper’s Magazine
Leland Lehrman: Partner, Fund Balance
Rabbi Michael Lerner: Editor, Tikkun Magazine; Chair, Network of Spiritual Progressives
Samuel Metz, MD: Mad As Hell Doctors, founding member Physicians for a National Health Plan, member of Portland chapter
Carol Miller: Community Activist, New Mexico
E. Ethelbert Miller: Board Chair Institute for Policy Studies
Ralph Nader, consumer advocate, activist
Michael Parenti: Author
John Passacantando: Former Executive Director, Greenpeace USA
Vijay Prashad: Author and Professor, Trinity College
Nomi Prins: Author and former Managing Director at Goldman Sachs
Marcus Raskin
Andy Shallal: “Democracy’s Restauranteur” and Owner of Bus Boys & Poets
Michelle Shocked: Musician
David Swanson: Author, War is a Lie
Chris Townsend: Political Action Director, United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE)
Gore Vidal, author
Rabbi Arthur Waskow: Chair, The Shalom Center
Harvey Wasserman: Author, Solartopia! Our Green-Powered Earth
Cornel West, university professor
Quentin D. Young MD: National Coordinator, Physicians for a National Health Program

Sources and notes
“Ralph Nader wants a primary challenge for President Obama…” (By Mark Z. Barabak),  September 19, 2011, http://articles.latimes.com/2011/sep/19/news/la-pn-nader-obama-20110919

 “Ralph Nader Cornel West Unveil Proposal to Challenge Obama in Primaries— Progressive leaders led by Ralph Nader and Cornel West unveiled a proposal today to challenge President Obama in the Democratic Party’s presidential primaries in 2012,” September 19, 2011, Single Payer Action, http://www.singlepayeraction.org/blog/?p=3032

Consumer advocate Ralph Nader on U.S. President Barack Obama in 2010 — “Nader: I am Looking for Someone to Challenge Obama in 2012” (Thursday, December 9, 2010, by The Hill, Elise Viebeck), http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2010/12/09-6

“He has no fixed principles. He’s opportunistic — he goes for expedience like [William Jefferson ‘Bill’] Clinton. Some call him temperamentally conflict-averse [and] if you want to be harsher, you say he has no principles and is opportunistic. He’s a con man.

“[His] position has been that the liberal, progressive wing has nowhere to go therefore they can’t turn their back on the administration but a challenge will hold his feet to the fire and signal that we do have somewhere to go.”


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