Paul Wellstone on social changeWe live in Zombie America. There are Zombies on both sides: We have Republican Zombies. These are the people who want to eat the middle class and the poor. The we have Zombies on the other side of the aisle. These are the Zombies who get rabid when people (like me) suggest that Barack Obama doesn’t look like anything resembling a “progressive.” I’m afraid of these Zombies. I’m afraid, first of all, that they will un-friend me on Facebook, leaving me with only a few thousand people to commiserate with. What will I ever do? I’m also afraid that they’ll come up and bite me (like they do on my favorite show, “The Walking Dead”) and turn me into a Zombie who lives in La La Land believing that Barack Obama is indeed a progressive. That prospect scares me even more than being un-friended on Facebook.

I had to laugh at how many newspaper and Internet articles said that Barack Obama laid out his “progressive agenda” during the State of the Union speech. He did? I must have missed that portion of the program because I didn’t hear no stinking progressive agenda. I don’t know how these people define “progressive,” but Barack Obama is not the photo I’d put next to the word “progressive” in my illustrated dictionary. Now, of course, there are many definitions of these subjective political terms.  However, I think the Organic Consumers Association has come up with a pretty succinct list. They say you might be a “progressive” if:

• You think health care is a basic human right, and that single-payer national health insurance is a worthwhile reform on our way toward creating a non-profit national health care service.

• You think that human rights ought always to trump property rights.

• You think U.S. military spending is an obscene waste of resources, and that the only freedom this spending protects is the freedom of economic elites to exploit working people all around the planet.

• You think U.S. troops should be brought home not only from Afghanistan and Iraq, but from all 130 countries in which the U.S. has military bases.

• You think political leaders who engage in “preemptive war” and invasions should be brought to trial for crimes against humanity and judged against the standards of international law established at Nuremberg after World War Two.

• You think public education should be free, not just from kindergarten through high school, but as far as a person is willing and able to go.

• You think that electoral reform should include instant run-off voting, publicly-financed elections, easy ballot access for all parties, and proportional representation.

• You think that electoral democracy is not enough, and that democracy must also be participatory and extend to workplaces.

• You think that strengthening the rights of all workers to unionize and bargain collectively is a useful step toward full economic democracy.

• You think that as a society we have a collective obligation to provide everyone who is willing and able to work with a job that pays a living wage and offers dignity.

• You think that a class system which forces some people to do dirty, dangerous, boring work all the time, while others get to do clean, safe, interesting work all the time, can never deliver social justice.

• You think that regulating big corporations isn’t enough, and that such corporations, if they are allowed to exist at all, must either serve the common good or be put into public receivership.

• You think that the legal doctrine granting corporations the same constitutional rights as natural persons is absurd and must be overturned.

• You think it’s wrong to allow individuals to accumulate wealth without limits, and that the highest incomes should be capped well before they begin to threaten community and democracy.

• You think that wealth, not just income, should be taxed.

• You think it’s crazy to use the Old Testament as a policy guide for the 21st century.

• You believe in celebrating diversity, while also recognizing that having women and people of color proportionately represented among the class of oppressors is not the goal we should be aiming for.

• You think that the state has no right to kill, and that putting people to death to show that killing is wrong will always be a self-defeating policy.

• You think that anyone who desires the reins of power that come with high political office should, by reason of that desire, be seen as unfit for the job.

• You think that instead of more leaders, we need fewer followers.

• You think that national borders, while sometimes establishing territories of safety, more often establish territories of exploitation, much like gang turf.

• You are open to considering how the privileges you enjoy because of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and/or physical ability might come at the expense of others.

• You believe that voting every few years is a weak form of political participation, and that achieving social justice requires concerted effort before, during, and after elections.

• You think that, ideally, no one would have more wealth more than they need until everyone has at least as much as they need to live a safe, happy, decent life.

• You recognize that an economic system which requires continuous expansion, destroys the environment, relies on rapidly-depleting fossil fuels, exacerbates inequality, and leads to war after war is unsustainable and must be replaced. Score a bonus point if you understand that sticking to the existing system is what’s unrealistic.

I love this list, although I don’t necessarily think it’s entirely complete. One thread missing is that safety nets — or as the GOP likes to call them, “entitlements” — like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid should never be cut. First of all, I have a problem with the term “entitlements.” They are no such thing. They are “earned benefits,” since our tax dollars fund these programs. They are not, as the millionaires on the Fix the Debt committee want you to believe, government handouts. Speaking of these programs, Barack Obama’s comments about them during his SOTU address must have gone right over the heads of Zombie America. I’m sure the 1% didn’t miss his comments, though. In fact, I’m willing to bet dollars to donuts that his words were music to their ears. Here’s what he had to say:

“And those of us who care deeply about programs like Medicare must embrace the need for modest reforms [cuts]…”    

“On Medicare, I’m prepared to enact reforms [cuts] that will achieve the same amount of health care savings [cuts] by the beginning of the next decade as the reforms [cuts] proposed by the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles commission.”

In case you don’t know what the recommendations of this bullshit commission consist of, let me enlighten you:

  • Force more low-income individuals into Medicaid managed care.
  • Increase Medicaid co-pays.
  • Accelerate already-planned cuts to Medicare Advantage and home health care programs.
  • Create a cap for Medicaid/Medicare growth that will force Congress and the president to increase premiums or co-pays or raise the Medicare eligibility age (among other options) if the system encounters cost overruns over the course of 5 years.

Would you call this part of a “progressive agenda?” I know I wouldn’t. And when I suggest this to some Obama supporters (particularly on Facebook), I get thrown off pages, insulted and un-friended. Hey, really, I don’t care what these people think of me at the end of the day. I’m simply baffled by the response and want to find out why I get this reaction over a politician, because that’s essentially what he is. He’s just another Washington politician. I have a few theories. One is that anything looks good after eight years of George W. Bush. That could be one reason. Another is that Americans have gotten totally caught up with the fact that Barack Obama is the first African-American president. That could be the case.  Do I think that is a monumental event in history? I absolutely do, particularly in racist America. Am I happy it was Barack Obama who was elected the first African-American president? Let me answer that with another question: As opposed to, say, Herman Cain? Allen West? Sure I am. I also think that Barack Obama is a great orator, and he sounds like a progressive while he’s running for office. My position on this is that it doesn’t matter what he sounds like. It is the responsibility of Americans to look at the reality of their president’s policies and get away from the starry-eyed love affair the Zombie Obamabots seem to be having with this guy. Patriotism isn’t about allegiance to any one person. It’s about allegiance to the country and its basic principles.

That’s not to say there haven’t been improvements, but not enough of them for Barack Obama to be called a “progressive.” Even “Obamacare,” while it has some good points, isn’t really health care reform. In order for the plan to be considered reform, a public option would have to be included. I’d like to remind the Obamabots that President Obama campaigned on a public option when he ran in 2008. He’s a great “progressive talker” when his job is on the line. Yet, the public option is the first thing he coughed up in negotiations with the GOP. Right off the bat, any notion of real reform went out the window. In fact, we can’t claim the mantle of health care reform until we move to single-payer. Period.

“Progressive” leaders do not indulge in relentless drone warfare that perpetuates the death of the innocent, particularly women and children, with little positive payback. Progressive leaders do not have “kill” lists and generate memos that justify the targeted assassination of American citizens — even on U.S. soil — if they are deemed to be participating in “terrorist” activities. Even more frightening is that the executive branch is the judge and jury on such decisions. This isn’t a president who has much concern for either the rule of law or human rights. And “progressive” leaders do not cut backdoor deals with the previous administration vowing to neither investigate nor prosecute blatant war crimes. While I understand that Osama bin Laden is the target of American hatred, this nation would have been better served had he been apprehended, brought back to America and put on trial. I don’t care what Osama bin Laden did (and we don’t know exactly what he did because a real investigation into the events surrounding 9-11 was never conducted). Either way, the idea isn’t to stoop to terrorist levels in the name of “justice.” It is amazing to me that the American people do not find any of this disturbing. These critical transgressions, an affront to our democracy, do not even seem to be on anybody’s radar. I find that positively head-in-the-sand frightening.

On the subject of Wall Street, we’ve not managed to bring one gangster banker or Wall Street parasite to trial for crashing the economy and causing untold damaged to millions of Americans, some whom have lost everything. The supposed reforms that have been enacted by the Obama administration are a joke, frankly. Business as usual continues unabated. This is not “progressive” leadership. In fact, it’s not leadership at all. In an attempt to avoid the sequester, the Obama administration has offered slashing $830 billion in non-defense spending over the next ten years. Most of those cuts will come at the expense of programs for the elderly, disabled, poor, the young and the middle class. In the meantime, the administration is proposing $830 billion in corporate welfare — the exact same amount over the same period of time — to Wall Street’s biggest banks. Apparently, the banks are too big to fail but the American people are too damned inconsequential to save.

Speaking of defense spending, is there a more bloated budget on the planet? I think not. There are two defense programs that we could cut right off the top that would save the nation $435 billion. One is the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program which has been grounded due to a crack in an engine fin. The other is the V-22 Osprey, which has been causing the deaths of Marines for several years but keeps getting funded. Let’s completely ignore the fact that nobody who actually has to use this equipment wants these products. Let’s also ignore the Pentagon’s assessment that they are over funded and could easily absorb some cuts.

No, Zombie Americans, none of this makes Barack Obama look anything like a leader with a “progressive agenda.” In fact, just the opposite is true. I am damned sure that the next defense of the president will be that the GOP is being “obstructionist.” There’s no doubt about that but, frankly, that isn’t anything new. Were you all around when Bill Clinton was president and the GOP, under Uncle Newtie, held the majority? They were obstructionist then as well. If you really want to stop the obstruction, then you’ve got to stop giving in on the agenda. Senator Harry Reid cut a deal with the GOP on what was supposed to be filibuster reform. What thanks did he get? The GOP conducted the first-ever filibuster against a presidential nominee when they attempted to block Chuck Hagel. Sorry to say, you reap what you so. This administration, from top to bottom (because that is the way leadership works), continues to dance with the devil and the devil continues to lead on the dance floor.

It really cracks me up when the GOP paints Barack Obama as a “socialist.” A socialist? You have got to be kidding me. I’m pretty sure this particular accusation is leveled at President Obama because of the GOP’s basic intolerance and racism. There can be no other reason because it’s absurd on its face. Forgive me, Zombie America, but a “liberal” is one step down from a “progressive,” and I can’t even call Barack Obama a liberal. He isn’t. At best, he’s a conservative Democrat. At worst, he’s a moderate Republican. If you want to know what a real progressive looks like, you need look no further than Senator Bernie Sanders.

But make no mistake about it: If this government is to move toward progressivism, it starts from the bottom up. We have to make it happen because the politicians are not going to put us first. That is not in their nature. We have to enact significant social change because we care enough about ourselves to take responsibility for our own future rather than relying on politicians to “do the right thing.” Then we need to elect those who will uphold those progressive ideals.