Galbraith: Where progressives go from here

In a powerful and well-reasoned speech, economist James Galbraith (son of John Kenneth Galbraith, by the way) has strong words for President Obama. He also offers his thoughts on “where progressives go from here” (h/t Digby). It’s a strong piece, well worth your careful read (my emphasis throughout).

On Obama, he says “one could say he has betrayed [our] hopes.” Please check the paragraphs that lead to that sentence; they don’t contain a rant, but a list.

On the future and the Democratic Party, his analysis is excellent:

What happens next? Let’s again not kid ourselves, we have lost a great many seats in the House of Representatives and the House of Representatives isn’t coming back into a Democratic majority in the near future. Simply because of the balance of exposures — the larger numbers of Democratic Senators exposed to reelection in the next cycle, the greatest likelihood is that the Senate will also go Republican in two years time. President Obama has set his course. He has surrounded himself with the advisers of his choice and as he moves to replace President Summers we hear from the press that the priority is to “repair the rift with his investors on Wall Street.” What does that tell you? It tells me that he does not have President Clinton’s fighting and survival instincts. I’ve not heard one good reason all day to believe that we are going to see from this White House the fight that we want, that he could win in two years, or any reason we should be backing him now.

The Democratic Party has become too associated with Wall Street. This is a fact. It is a structural problem. It seems to me that we as progressives need — this is my personal position — we need to draw a line and decide that we would be better off with an under-funded, fighting progressive minority party than a party marked by obvious duplicity and constant losses on every policy front as a result of the reversals in our own leadership.

What should progressives do? He offers a list, including:

it seems to me that we as progressives need to make an honorable defense of the great legacies of the New Deal and Great Society — programs and institutions that brought America out of the Great Depression and bought us through the Second World War, brought us to our period of greatest prosperity, and the greatest advances in social justice. Social Security, Medicare, housing finance — the front-line right now is the foreclosure crisis, the crisis, I should say, of foreclosure fraud — the progressive tax code, anti-poverty policy, public investment, public safety, and human and civil rights. We are going to lose these battles– get used to it. But we need to make an honorable fight, to state clearly what our principles are and to lay down a record which is trustworthy for the future. … We are not going to get these things, but we should have a clearly defined program so that people know what they are.

Why work to do all this? Because “in the long run we need to recognize that the fate of the entire country is at stake. Its governance can’t be entrusted indefinitely to incompetents, hacks, and lobbyists. Large countries can and do fail, they have done so in our own time.”

And finally, about hope (a concern I hear constantly):

We need to lose our fear, our hesitation, and our unwillingness to face the facts. If we thereby lose some of our hopes, let’s remember the dictum of William of Orange that “it is not necessary to hope in order to persevere.”

The president should know that, as Lincoln said to the Congress in the dark winter of 1862, he “cannot escape history.” And we are heading now into a very dark time, so let’s face it with eyes open. And if we must, let’s seek leadership that shares our values, fights for our principles, and deserves our trust.

I present this as one well-reasoned contribution to a discussion we must be having, starting now, if we are ever climb our way — together — out of this mess.

I understand that Iowa is 14 months away, give or take. That’s not much time. I’m not making a recommendation yet; but I am saying that whatever progressives decide to do, we need to decide it soon. I offer this speech as one voice in that discussion.

Yours in perseverance,


Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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