The dialectics of political realism

There is a lot of criticism – from all quarters – aimed at the Obama administration on the economy recently. For example, during the two Bush recessions, used "underemployment" figures lumped together with unemployment rates to give a more realistic image of the jobs picture.

When Political Affairs writers did that in 2008 and claimed we needed to create about 15 to 20 million jobs quickly to solve the emerging jobs crisis, conservative commentators laughed off our anlaysis as too pessimistic. Left-wing writers even said, there go the Marxists again, predicting the end of capitalism. Today, just about everybody corporate media source uses such analysis, especially to criticize the President.

Nevertheless, the President has and uses an easy response: in this current political climate – the loss at the polls in 2010 and GOP control of the House – little, if any, new political initiative is available to progressive policymakers.

Indeed, Republicans seem intent on blocking any policy the President supports – even when it contradicts their own ideolgoy. For example, when the President proposed recently to continue the payroll tax cut put in place last December for another year, a number of congressional Republicans objected, saying that the tax cut doesn't seem to work. This is from the party of tax cuts. Simply put, they objected because it came from the President.

The President is ready to take realistic steps, i.e. initiatives that meet bipartisan approval and compromise, only if they are possible within the present moment. Former administration economy advisor Jared Bernstein has given an insider's account of how the administration adopted this "realpolitik" outlook.

Political realism is always good advice. I would define political realism as a process of seeking policy implementation under the conditions that are possible in the current moment, considering the balance of political forces in the governmental bodies needed to put that policy into motion (compromises needed to win a voting coalition for passage into law, bureaucracies and institutions needed to put it in motion), public opinion and needs, and energy and enthusiasm of the political coalitions and constituencies outside of government bodies needed to win the policy.

This definition has particular meaning for the working class, or a section of the working class movement. It requires a sober assessment of one's allies within the class and beyond class-based organizations and social movements. It demands a coalitional mentality, one based in real forces not imaginary or invented ones.

It also requires a realistic assessment of what is possible in a given moment and the recognition of dynamism in the social framework (what a dialectician might call the contradiction and complementarity of being and becoming – yawn).

Consider how much the 2010 elections (fueled by the emergence of the media- and corporate-fueled Tea Party) had on the political reality in the country. By any accounting the Tea Party numbers on a national scale never matched those of the peace movement or the post election labor uprisings in Wisconsin and other places, but attention from the right-wing and right-leaning corporate media made them into a real force.

Along with gobs of corporate cash, that force helped change the political terrain in the country after November 2010. The outcome of that election changed what was possible.

The momentum, enthusiasm, and political reality operating prior to 2010 needs to be recaptured. There is a current of thinking in left circles that suggests that can only happen if the President takes steps on the economy they agree with, steps he may personally agree with but which can not actually be accomplished in the current setting and puts him at risk politically for making demands that hit a brick wall and give his administration the aura of ineffectiveness.

Simply put, much of the coalition that put Obama into office, with all of its complexity and goals that extend beyond what is possible in the current political realities, seems to be waiting for the President to do something to make it want to mobilize and energize. I read an Internet post the other day that said in order to win the 2012 election Obama needs to call for a new New Deal – by this the author seemed to mean an economic program that would likely appeal to progressives directly but to few political independents in the center of the spectrum. The idea is a good one, but implementation at present is unrealistic, and it shouldn't be made the condition for enthusiastic support for building the unity needed to defeat Republicans and build Democratic majorities in 2012. The implication is that progressives can only support a 2012 candidate that is going to run a campaign on an economic policy that as things stand right now won't appeal to the majority of voters.

The real issue is how can the coalition that elected President Obama take charge of the movement and change the political realities on the ground – without insisting on movement within the immovable quagmire that is Congress and the national political currents today.

The exposure of the Republican's anti-working families agenda in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan – after Republicans took near complete power in those state governments – teaches the most important lesson. It shows both what happens when Republicans gain power and what can happen when working families build a broad movement against it.

The popular push back against the Republican/Ryan plan to end Medicare signals how protest and organizing and mobilizing can change the conversation, impact electoral outcomes, and force the right to back off.

Here is an interesting article that describes some of the effects of that movement and how it might begin to change the political realities in which new policies, a new New Deal, might emerge.

Sowing the seeds: Can Wisconsin uprising grow nationwide movement?

PAT SCHNEIDER | The Capital Times | | Posted:
Wednesday, June 15, 2011 6:15 am

Some 10,000 people gathered at the “It’s Not Over” rally outside the state Capitol in May to protest Gov. Scott Walker’s political agenda.

It may have been a small crowd compared to those that thronged the state Capitol in the winter, but the “It’s Not Over” rally in May drew
the kind of numbers that would have been stunning in any other year: 10,000 protesters gathered under a threatening sky to raise a collective fist against the political agenda of Gov. Scott Walker.

When Mahlon Mitchell, the first African-American president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin, took the microphone on the steps of the Capitol, he evoked the civil rights movement to call on the crowd to steel its resolve.

That movement transformed U.S. society, but perhaps, Mitchell said, its leaders grew complacent. “They stopped taking it to the streets. They stopped doing what we’re doing right now. I think maybe they lost their sense of moral outrage. We have to reclaim our sense of moral outrage, we have to reclaim our righteous indignation, because this is our time and we are in the fight of our lifetime,” Mitchell exhorted the crowd. “This is our time!” he declared to the loudest cheers of the day.

The analogy with the civil rights movement illustrates the breadth of what’s at stake in Wisconsin, Mitchell said in a later interview. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the civil rights movement’s best-known leader, spoke in support of striking sanitation workers in Memphis the day before he was assassinated there in 1968, but his message was about the fundamental value of every human being.

“This is not just about union rights, it’s about workers’ rights, it’s about the middle class,” says Mitchell, a lieutenant with the Madison Fire Department who has been speaking around the country on the Wisconsin uprising. “This has galvanized the people who were sitting on the sidelines and not involved in politics. They realize now ‘the attack is on me.’ ”

Protests at the Capitol are heating up again, with acts of civil disobedience used to disrupt legislative hearings and bypass security systems. A “Walkerville” tent city on nearby streets stakes out a round-the-clock demonstration against the political proceedings inside. Recall elections of Republican state senators who backed the governor’s agenda are slated. And the bill gutting collective bargaining rights of state workers that started it all works its way through the courts.

But a bigger question is whether the protests in Wisconsin can become a broader fight against policies that squeeze workers’ rights, destabilize the social safety net, and concentrate even more wealth in a sliver of society. Nothing is guaranteed. Yet the uprising has inspired a change in consciousness reaching beyond the state, experts say. And they also say that with strong alliances between labor and other advocacy groups — and the emergence of a progressive vision for the future — the anti-Walker uprising has the potential to kindle a grass-roots movement for economic justice in Wisconsin and beyond.

Such a cultural shift will require determined action by people who desire change fiercely enough to sacrifice for it, as Mitchell told the crowd at the Capitol. “We cannot stop this fight,” he said. “We have to have sustainability; we have to make our voices heard. Our resolve has to be stronger, our pain has to run deeper, our passion has to last longer.”

The rest of the article is here...

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