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Barack Obama will not be carrying the Democratic Leadership Council’s baggage in his race to become the second Black person to represent Illinois in the U.S. Senate. The state senator and professor of constitutional law has told The Black Commentator that he is acting to have his name stricken from the “New Democrats Directory,” a list of several hundred DLC-affiliated elected officials.
“I am not currently, nor have I ever been, a member of the DLC,” said Obama, in a statement that substantially reflects a telephone conversation with Associate Editor Bruce Dixon, this weekend. “It does appear that, without my knowledge, the DLC…listed me in their ‘New Democrat’ directory,” Obama continued. “Because I agree that such a directory implies membership, I will be calling the DLC to have my name removed, and appreciate your having brought this fact to my attention.”
The statement caps a three-week public dialogue (see links at bottom of page) between and Obama, a veteran progressive organizer who headed the voter registration and mobilization drive that carried Carol Moseley-Braun to the U.S. Senate in 1992 – the first and only such achievement by a Black woman. Obama faces a crowded and richly financed field of contestants for the Democratic senatorial nomination, next year. African Americans make up about a quarter of the Illinois Democratic electorate.
was shocked to find Obama’s name associated with the New Democratic Movement, an affiliate of what Bruce Dixon calls the “Republican Trojan Horse in the bowels of the Democratic machinery” – the DLC. In a June 19 Cover Story that included a letter from Obama, posed three “bright line” questions to the candidate, “that should determine whether you belong in the DLC, or not.”
1. Do you favor the withdrawal of the United States from NAFTA? Will you in the Senate introduce or sponsor legislation toward that end?
2. Do you favor the adoption of a single payer system of universal health care to extend the availability of quality health care to all persons in this country? Will you in the Senate introduce or sponsor legislation toward that end?
3. Would you have voted against the October 10 congressional resolution allowing the president to use unilateral force against Iraq?
asserted that a “Yes” answer to all three questions would be “anathema” to the DLC, whose leadership “has been unequivocal in their support of NAFTA, opposition to anything resembling national health insurance, and fervently in support of the Iraq war – basic issues of war and peace, life and death, and livelihood.”
Aware of Obama’s consistently progressive legislative record, suggested that the only “honorable option” was that he “publicly withdraw from the DLC.”
Here is State Senator Barack Obama’s response:
Dear Black Commentator:
Let me begin by saying that I’ve enjoyed the dialogue that we seem to be developing on these e-pages, and hope it continues as my campaign progresses.
I also appreciate your desire to focus on specific issues that should be of interest to all progressives, both inside and outside of the Democratic Party. My views on universal health care, the unilateral use of force in Iraq, and NAFTA are in fact what you might expect given my previous history and voting record.
I favor universal health care for all Americans, and intend to introduce or sponsor legislation toward that end in the U.S. Senate, just as I have at the state level. My campaign is also developing a series of interim proposals – such as an expansion of the successful SCHIP program – so that we can immediately provide more coverage to uninsured children and their families.
I would have voted against the October 10th congressional resolution authorizing the President to use unilateral force against Iraq. I believe that we could have effectively neutralized Iraq with a rigorous, multilateral inspection regime backed by coalition forces. Nothing since the end of the formal fighting has led me to reconsider this stance; indeed, the inability of Saddam Hussein to mount even token resistance to American forces, the failure to discover any significant, deployable arsenals of biological or chemical weapons inside Iraq, and the on-going turmoil currently taking place in post-war Iraq, have only strengthened my views on the subject.
And although I believe that free trade - when also fair - can benefit workers in both rich and poor nations, I think that the current NAFTA regime lacks the worker and environmental protections that are necessary for the long-term prosperity of both America and its trading partners. I would therefore favor, at minimum, a significant renegotiation of NAFTA and the terms of the President’s fast track authority.
You are undoubtedly correct that these positions make me an unlikely candidate for membership in the DLC. That is why I am not currently, nor have I ever been, a member of the DLC. As I stated in my previous letter, I agreed to be listed as “100 to watch” by the DLC. That’s been the extent of my contact with them. It does appear that, without my knowledge, the DLC also listed me in their “New Democrat” directory. Because I agree that such a directory implies membership, I will be calling the DLC to have my name removed, and appreciate your having brought this fact to my attention.
I do think a broader question remains on the table. What is the best strategy for building majority support for a progressive agenda, and for reversing the rightward drift of this country?
One important part of that strategy - and on this I think we agree - is for progressives within the Democratic Party to describe our core values (e.g. racial justice, civil liberties, opportunity for the many, and not just the few) in clear, unambiguous terms.
A second part of that strategy - and again, I think we agree here - is to stake out clear positions on issues that put those values into action (e.g. the need for universal health care), and to stand up for those values when they are under assault (e.g. opposition to the Patriot Act).
But the third part of this part of the equation – and on this we may disagree – must be to gain converts to our positions. My job, as a candidate for the U.S. Senate, isn’t to scold people for their lack of ideological purity. It’s to persuade as many people as I can, across the ideological spectrum, that my vision of the future is compatible with their values, and can make their lives a little bit better. Thus, while I may favor common-sense gun control laws, that doesn’t keep me from reaching out to NRA members who are worried about their lack of health insurance. I favor affirmative action, but I’m still going after the votes of white union members who oppose affirmative action, because I think I can convince them that it’s Bush’s economic agenda, and not affirmative action, that is eroding their job security and stagnating their wages. And while I may object to the misogyny and materialism of much of rap culture, I’m still going to spend the time reaching out to a hip-hop generation in search of a future.
In other words, I believe that politics in any democracy is a game of addition, not subtraction. And I believe deeply enough in the decency of the American people to think that progressives can build a winning majority in this country, so long as we’re not afraid to speak the truth, and so long as we don’t write off big chunks of the electorate just because they don’t agree with us on every issue.
All of which explains why I’m not likely to launch blanket denunciations of the DLC or any other faction within the Democratic Party. I intend to engage DLC members, just like I intend to engage everybody else that I can during the next year of campaigning, in a conversation about the direction our country needs to take to give ordinary working families a fair shake. In some instances, I may even agree with DLC positions: their insistence on the value of national service, or the need to harden domestic targets like chemical plants from potential terrorist attack, to cite a few examples I just pulled from the DLC web-site, make sense to me. Where I disagree with them – and, as we have already discussed, I disagree with them strongly on a lot of major issues - I intend to let them know, firmly and without equivocation, just why I think they are wrong.
To some, this approach may appear naïve; to others, it may appear that I’m headed down a path of dangerous compromise. All I can tell you is that in my twenty years as an organizer, civil rights lawyer, and state senator, I’ve always trusted my moral compass, and have thus far avoided compromising my core values for the sake of ambition or expedience. Hopefully, by listening to the people I seek to serve, and with the occasional jab from friendly critics like The Black Commentator, I can stay on that course, and ultimately do some good as the next U.S. Senator from the state of Illinois.
State Senator Barack Obama
Candidate for the U.S. Senate
Speaking the same language
is relieved, pleased, and looking forward to Obama’s success in the Democratic senatorial primary and Illinois general election.
There is plenty of room to argue over such things as whether NAFTA is a “free trade” agreement or an “investor rights agreement” – that’s the stuff of the progressive conversation. is not seeking to martyr Barack Obama on a left-leaning cross. Associate Editor Bruce Dixon, who worked with Obama on the 1992 Illinois Project Vote campaign, puts it this way:
As to the senator's larger goal of building a multiracial coalition around a progressive agenda, we think the broad outlines of an answer are quite visible. The core demands of the Black Consensus for universal health care, quality education for all, peace, full employment and economic justice address the needs of rural and downstate Illinois voters just as they do those in the inner city and suburbs of Chicago. Candidates who work to consistently advance this agenda in every community and region of this nation can count on a large and unified black vote as the foundation of a progressive majority. The opportunity is before us.
The DLC holds its “National Conversation” in Philadelphia, July 19. It is a corporate conversation, a racially coded attempt to re-institutionalize within the Democratic Party the ever-roiling White Backlash against Black political expression. Lots of African American enablers will be on hand, drawn by the scent of money. As we wrote in our September 19, 2002 Trojan Horse Watch, “Every African American politician associated with the DLC should be considered suspect, and closely watched. There is no reason for them to be there except to make deals with the party's right wing.”
Progressives will either purge the DLC from the commanding heights of the Democratic Party, or leave it to die like the terminally compromised Whig Party during the years immediately prior to the Civil War.
It’s time to draw some very “bright lines.”
“In search of the real Barack Obama: Can a Black Senate candidate resist the DLC?” by Associate Editor Bruce A. Dixon, June 5
“Muzzling the African American Agenda – with Black Help: The DLC’s corporate dollars of destruction,” by Associate Editor Bruce A. Dixon, June 12
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