like many of you, I have found myself reflecting on Senator Obama's
choice of Senator Joseph Biden as his Vice Presidential running
mate. From the standpoint of campaign strategy, I must say that
it was a brilliant decision. Obama, sensing his own vulnerability
on matters of foreign policy - in mainstream circles - picked a
running mate with nearly impeccable credentials.
and we must be clear about this, the choice of Senator Biden clarifies
two critical points: one, that the actual politics of this team
are “liberal/centrist” and not what one would describe as progressive.
The politics are, in other words, well within the mainstream and
certainly within the realm of foreign policy, and yet do not represent
a fundamental break from the past. While I would argue that
there is potential for a break, such an argument is purely
second critical point is that we can now settle the question that
Obama is not a candidate of a social movement. This does not mean
that the Obama candidacy lacks for a mass base. Neither does it
mean that the Obama candidacy has not tapped into significant mass
sentiment for a rejection of the politics of both Bush and Clinton.
What it does mean is that the recent shifts by Senator Obama, plus
the choice of Joe Biden, while making a good degree of sense from
the standpoint of mainstream campaign strategy, do not reflect
a movement toward a new politics.
said, I remain steadfast in support of the Obama candidacy. I do
so because I am clear what the candidacy represents and what it
does not. One does not have to support a candidate only because
s/he represents a fundamental break with the past. Supporting candidates
must be decided based upon an assessment of the moment, specifically,
the overall balance of forces and the openings that can emerge through
the victory of a specific candidate. In that regard, real politics
are not the politics of anger and symbolism, but are the politics
of coalition building with a long-term objective of changing the
balance of power and, ultimately, introducing a new practice of
order to construct a real strategy, we have to be clear as to what
stands before us. Throughout the months of the Obama campaign many
activists - myself included - have cautioned against the deification
of Barack Obama. Not only has the deification been a problem, it
has led to the failure to recognize that receiving mass attention
and gaining mass excitement does not equate with a social movement.
Yes, people are in motion, but the motion is far from clear. They
are looking for something different, but the objectives have not
solidified. Rather, the mass base for the campaign rejects the corruption
of the last eight years, but also rejects the velvet-covered steel
bat of the Clinton era.
This, however, does not translate, for example, into a movement
against neo-liberal globalization. It is a sentiment for change.
This is what distinguishes the candidacy - and its supporters -
from a mass social movement.
on the Left side of the aisle, can build upon this sentiment if
we reject symbolic politics of anger, and, if we are prepared to
actually build progressive, grassroots electoral organizations that
ally with other social movements. With regard to the symbolic politics
of anger, frankly, we should have had enough of 3rd party candidacies
that express our outrage with the two mainstream parties. Of course
we are outraged, but our outrage, whether through third party candidacies
or even many of our street demonstrations, is simply not enough.
If we are really angry, then this must translate into a strategy
based on the actual conditions we face in the USA.
do any of this means building an electoral organization, something
that too many of us shy away from, perhaps because we do not believe
that it amounts to REALLY progressive political work. Lacking organization,
we are condemned to howling in the dark, hoping to get someone's
I would have preferred a more progressive VP nominee. And certainly
I continue to have my misgivings, if not outright criticisms, regarding
various stands that Senator Obama has taken. But I also realize
that in the absence of an organized mass base, Senator Obama,
like so many other liberals, will continue to vacillate and take
stands that invariably cave into the political Right. Accountability
can be demanded when behind the door to his Left are forces that
can change the political balance on the ground, rather than just
being mouths that roar.
Bill Fletcher, Jr., is the Executive Editor of BlackCommentator.com,
a Senior Scholar with the Institute
for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum
and co-author of the book, Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and
a New Path toward Social Justice
(University of California
Press), which examines the crisis of organized labor in the USA.
to contact Mr. Fletcher.