Monday, November 10, 2008

Fixing the Constitution: Obama will only go as far left as the left pushes him

Late last week, Digby had a good post on a topic everyone's hot on right now: How far to the left or the right will Obama govern?

The answer, which I consider especially smart even by Digby standards, since I've been saying much the same thing since last spring: Obama will govern just as far to the left as he's pushed into doing by the left itself, and probably not much farther.
In the current political world, I believe that Obama and the Democrats need a strong left wing that is out there agitating in order that we can continue to build popular support and also give them a political excuse to do things that the political establishment finds too liberal. Being cheerleaders all the time, however enjoyable that is, is not going to help them. Leaving them out there with no left wing cripples them.

One of the problems for Democrats has been that there has not been an effective progressive voice pushing the edge of the envelope. Therefore, when they inevitably "go to the middle" as politicians often feel they must do, the middle become further and further right. It is my belief that one of the roles of the progressive movement is to keep pulling the politicians back to the left, which often means that we are not being publicly "supportive," in order that we really do end up in the middle instead of farther to the right than the country actually is. […]

So, everyone needs to relax a little bit about the blogosphere criticizing Obama and the Democrats. We are necessary. If all Obama has is the Villagers and the right defining what change means, then those are the parameters within which he will have to operate. He needs us to "make him do it."

I'm sorry if that's a buzzkill, but things move fast in politics and there's no time to waste. The mandate is being defined as we speak. We can't just sit back and bask in our glory while the villagers are busily narrowing Obama's options.

Don't get me wrong; he's not off to a bad start, at least as far as his talking game goes:
Transition advisers to President-elect Barack Obama have compiled a list of about 200 Bush administration actions and executive orders that could be swiftly undone to reverse White House policies on climate change, stem cell research, reproductive rights and other issues, according to congressional Democrats, campaign aides and experts working with the transition team.

That's all good. And he'll also need to hit the ground running on beginning to reverse the economic damage that the Bush administration has inflicted on the nation.

But there's something missing here. Conspicuous by its absence, one could say.

Here's a hint:

We're not America again until our basic Constitutional liberties and the rule of law--over which Bush and Cheney have run roughshod--are restored.

The ACLU has a good starting point, in its agenda for Obama's first day, first 100 days, and first year in office.

Day 1:
1. Stop torture and abuse.
2. Close Guantánamo, and restore the rule of law for detainees
3. End and prohibit the practice of extraordinary rendition.

Those are pretty hard to argue with. Obama's starting to make the right rumblings about closing Guantánamo, but the legal and constitutional pig's breakfast that the Bush administration has made of the Gitmo prisoners' status is not going to make it go as easily as it sounds. There will be plenty of temptation, and plenty of encouragement from tough-on-terrorism wannabes, to drag his feet on this one once the ugly complications become apparent. We can't let him do it. Shut Gitmo down.

First 100 Days:

1. End warrantless spying on US citizens.
2. Rein in ever-expanding and error-ridden watch lists.
3. Rescind the "Ashcroft Doctrine" undermining the Freedom of Information Ac.
4. End government monitoring of political activists.
5. Order the DOJ to resume civil rights enforcement by the Civil Rights Division.
6. Suspend the Real ID Act pending congressional review.
7. Rescind the abortion gag rule on foreign aid.
8. Ban all workplace discrimination against sexual minorities by the federal government and its contractors.
9. Implement a moratorium on the death penalty until the issue of racial disparities has been addressed.
10. End the practice of government-sponsored religious discrimination known as the "faith-based initiatives."

Of these, I'd move #7 up to Day One. The Reagan/Bush era restrictions were rescinded by Clinton on his first day in office. Bush 43 reinstated them again on his first day in office. Obama needs to show he's serious. Day One.

The list of constitutional protections to establish or restore for Obama's first year in office is a long one--too long to include here, so check it out at the ACLU's site. Many of the ACLU's Year One recommendations address the growing encroachment of government and corporate databases--some illegal, some error-ridden, some involving constitutional issues that no one's paying attention to--on our privacy.

Some of these are things Obama can do with the stroke of a pen on an executive order. Many will take the cooperation of Congress, so it can be an early chance for Democratic congressional leadership to take their newly-increased majorities out for a test-drive and see what they can do.

It's great that we've elected Obama. Now we have to make him do what needs to be done, and for that he has to have us in his grillwork. Obama was not elected by the center, and certainly not by the right. We need to make sure, in the famous phrase of Molly Ivins, that he knows he has to dance with them what brung him.

(Image via Mike Luckovich.)

1 comment:

Chuck Butcher said...

I don't disagree with your agenda, my question goes to the over-arching issue of the Constitution. How does that inconvenient 2nd feature?

The 4th was a bugaboo for Bush, he stomped all over it for political capital and convenience. Is that the approach to the 2nd? Is the approach to be the same as the 4th with the "unclear" language out? I'm not trying to start a fight, but when Constitutional issues rise their head what I am used to seeing is that it only regards the current group's pet issues rather than the entire body of work.

It is too early to see what an Obama approach on the 2nd will look like, but there is a lot of noise already.