Report on AM1090 Forum: can progressives reform the Democratic Party?

With a sense of guilt and shame, I drove alone the 15 miles to Kent to attend the AM 1090 forum, where the panelists were Thom Hartmann, Randi Rhodes, Norman Goldman, Mike Papantonio, Sam Seder, Ron Reagan and special guest Congressman Jim McDermott.

Turnout seemed lower than in past years but the crowd was as enthusiastic as always, with standing ovations for several of the panelists.

The talks were alternately inspiring and depressing.  I got to talk to some interesting people, including briefly Thom Hartmann and Occupy Seattle spokesman Mark Taylor-Canfield.

Much of the  forum related to the issue of how to convince progressives to support Obama when it’s clear to most progressives that Obama has been a big disappointment.  Almost unanimously the panelists said we need to make sure Obama wins, with the main reason being expressed by two words: Supreme Court.  But several panelists — especially Norman Goldman,  Sam Seder,  and Ron Reagan –also emphasized the corruption of the Democratic leadership and the sellouts of Obama.

What I found most interesting was Norman Goldman’s two strategies for fixing the Democratic Party: (1) infiltrate it and take it over precinct-by-precinct, the way the Tea Party took over the GOP, and (2)  force the Dems to do the right thing by withholding votes and being willing to lose an election or two. The latter approach (which I call the  nuclear option) seems to be, effectively, what happened in 2010, when many disgusted voters sat out the election, and what is happening now with the Occupy Movement, who have given up on electoral politics and the Democratic Party.  That is, a rational Democratic leadership would respond to the low support by turning left.

Jim McDermott’s comments

Surprise guest speaker Rep. Jim McDermott led off with a strong (but longish) speech. He said his main purpose was to “motivate progressives” to get out and vote. Though President Obama hasn’t done as much as we wanted, and though the Republicans thwarted his every move, he and the Dems got quite a bit done in the first two year. Since then the Republicans in Congress have deliberately stopped all productive legislation. A month ago Republican Eric Canter came out and said it: “We’re through legislating.”

McDermott drew big applause when he said he’s in favor of single-payer healthcare. We need to do something about foreclosures; banks should write down principal. We need to reinstate Glass-Steagall. Everyone applauded. (But Rep. Dave Reichert didn’t even know what Glass-Steagall was when asked by an audience member at a candidates’ forum in Newcastle in 2010.)

McDermott mentioned Washington State legislator Bob Hasegawa by name and lauded his work on a public bank. As long as we don’t regulate derivatives, banks will gamble away your money.

He suggested making medical school free in exchange for five years of community service (e.g., as a doctor in a rural community). Same for nurses and teachers. We’ve saddled our students with debt. It all started when Reagan was governor of California. Til he took office college was free in CA.

Nobody thinks the present tax structure is fair, he said. Rich people pay 15% or less on their income or stash their money in the Cayman Islands. (Romney…)

Incredibly, the Republicans have voted six times to repeal the EPA, an agency started by that radical socialist Richard Nixon.

McDermott came back to the issue of the importance of voting in this election. He said he was out door-belling in Snohomish and it’s amazing how many people didn’t know there’s an election. If ya don’t vote, the other guy wins. (Alas, the voting machines may be corrupted.)

On the Courts

There was much talk among the panelists about how corrupt Clarence Thomas is and whether he could be impeached. His wife benefits financially from his rulings and yet he doesn’t recuse himself. Thom Hartmann pointed out that the  U.S. Constitution allows Congress to set the rules by which the Supreme Court operates. (I think he’s referring to: “the Supreme Court shall have appellate jurisdiction, both as to law and fact, with such exceptions, and under such regulations as the Congress shall make.” (source))

The Right has packed the courts.  Mike P. said that conservative judges now hold 72% of positions at the federal appellate level and over 60% at the trial level. He knows because as a lawyer he’s tried cases all over the country.   We need a constitutional amendment to put term limits on judges. And we need to expand the number of Supreme Court justices, to stop the conservative onslaught.

McDermott said the country is going down the drain if one Senator can hold up a nomination or a bill.  When the Senate makes its rules at the start of a session, they should agree to drop the rule that allows that.

Norman Goldman said: the Democratic Party has to stop being nice, stop being decent. It has to fight.

On guns. George Zimmerman is a friggin national hero to many conservatives. After the recent CO rampage, a modest proposal is to treat guns like cars: you need a licence.  McDermott said that every day a (20 – 24 year old) solider commits suicide.

On voting for Obama

Norman: the Supreme Court matters. Don’t throw up your hands and say, “Game over. The right has won. Let’s go home.” (I have heard progressives say that on this website, and at times I feel that way.)   But Norm said: let’s face it. The Democratic Party is Republicans Light.  So Norm allowed Green Party candidate Jill Stein on his show.  We progressives need leverage. Rahm Emanuel infamously said, where do progressives have to go but the Democratic Party? So he throw them under the bus.

The cavalry is not going to save us. Stop looking for heroes.  (Mike P. said this too.)

Norm said there are basically two ways to fix the Democratic Party

  1. Infiltrate the Democratic Party from the grassroots level, starting at local precincts. This is what the Tea Party did in a very systematic and well-planned effort.  Thom Hartmann said that the Concord Coalition of the Tea Party has excellent videos explaining how to do this.
  2. Force the Democratic Party to behave, by withholding your vote until and unless they take progressive positions. (I call this the nuclear option. It may mean allowing Republicans to win an election or two — which would be extremely costly at the national level but might be more reasonable at the local level.)

But someone pointed out that the nuclear option might just fail. Progressives can easily overplay their hand, as happened basically during Obama’s first term. Progressives lost. In other words, progressives had no leverage to force change. Cause they were afraid to act?

(Carol Davidek-Waller has argued strongly that it’s wrong to pretend that the Tea Party is anything other than a Koch brothers-funded, Fox News-enabled astroturf movement. She sites; see also the Wikipedia article on the Tea Party movement.)

Ron Reagan said that the Dems have bought into the GOP paradigm and are compromised. Real Dems would have imprisoned bankers instead of bailing them out. Real Dems wouldn’t have glorified and empowered the military. Real Dems wouldn’t have bought into RomneyCare/Obamacare, which was designed by the Heritage Foundation to enrich insurance companies.    Obama had the chance to bailout mortgage holders and not the banks. Bailing out mortgage holders would have indirectly aided the banks.

Norm: we need to think like the Koch Brothers, long term.  They’ve been playing their game since 1966 when William Buckley kicked them out of the GOP.

Someone (Mike P?) said: Movements are more powerful than parties. Stop thinking about parties. The Women’s Movement and the Civil Rights Movement transcended parties. (Perhaps that’s the model that the nascent Occupy Movement is utilizing.)  Abandon your hope for heroes.  They don’t exist.  Don’t allow parties to take control.

(Hmmm. Maybe we need both. We do need great leaders, like Martin Luther King and Gandhi and FDR. I’m not sure I buy into the idea that we don’t need heroes.)

A questioner asked: why have progressives been co-opted by Obama? Randi Rhodes disagreed with the premise that Obama sold out progressives. Rhodes says Obama tried to do what’s right but Republicans in Congress got in his way. In 2010 progressives were complaining about Iraq, about Afghanistan, about Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell, etc. Now we’re out of Iraq and leaving Afghanistan, and DADT is history.  Randi said we have to be proud of Obama and be willing to smile about him, “like dirty hippies.”

But you can’t blame Congress for how Obama treated the banks, someone said. (I think only someone who is lying or deluded can pretend that Obama is other than a centrist.)

Sam: Obama is not a liberal, not a progressive. NDAA. Banks. Military. We do ourselves a disservice to allow Obama to ruin the Democratic brand.

Sam and Randi got into a shouting match almost, trying to talk over each other, with Randi defending Obama and Sam criticizing him.

Thom Hartmann said that according to Dick Morris, a main thing that Republicans do is to try to demoralize Democrats and progressives. Republican groups pay bloggers to post comments critical of Obama; they encourage progressives to think Obama is the same as Bush.

Ron said in fact the GOP is desperate. Wall Street insiders know the economy is going to collapse. They’re getting as much money as fast as they can and moving it offshore. The end of an empire results in insanity. The rich will grab and stash in the Cayman Islands.

Soon the US will be like a 3rd world country, with the mass of citizens having no jobs and loaded down in debt.  Multinational corporations will find buyers for their products in India and China.

Even though Romney is so bad that there should be no false equivalency, the Media want a horse race and the accompanying ad money.  The #1 source of ad revenue for some stations is political advertizing, someone said.

Moderator David Postman asked the panelists: who thinks Obama will win in November? Everyone raised their hand except Thom Hartmann, who said he’s unsure; Romney may outspend Obama two to one, and that may be enough to throw the election. [Not to mention voter suppression and election fraud.]

The issue of reviving the draft came up. Randi Rhodes was in favor of it. When young her family had no money and she enlisted to get money for college. But they discontinued the GI Bill. Still, she thinks the military teaches people liberal values: the troops cooperate and work for the group. If one soldier can’t run the 5 miles, the others are responsible. The military is for peace too. They do disaster relief.   Ron Reagan argued vociferously against this, saying that the military is mostly about killing. Sam suggested a civil service corps instead.  Again, Randi and Sam argued about this loudly, to the point where neither could be heard.

Mark Taylor-Canfield

During the intermission I spoke with Occupy Seattle  activist and HuffPost author Mark Taylor-Canfield, who has grace and intelligence in his personality and his bearing.  He said that for many Occupy activists the Occupy Movement is their family. Many of them have no other support group.  They envisage a bottom-up grassroots, leaderless movement to radically change society. Reminiscent of the 60s.  I said that such decentralized, local activism sounds like a libertarian approach. We need top-down electoral politics too. Mark said that he tried to “infiltrate” the Democratic Party. He submitted a resolution of independence from the banks.  He was made to feel unwelcome by his Democratic LD. I mentioned that I too do not feel welcome at the local LD in Bellevue, where a strong contingent of centrists rule and where my criticisms of Obama were regarded as excessive.  (But in fact lots of PCOs agree with me too.)  Mark believes bottom-up will work. A wise foreign activist told him: you need 20,000,000 people protesting in the streets. Then change will happen.  (But won’t that be because the leaders are pressured into acting? I think we need top-down and we need heroes.)

On the history of Bain Capital and Romney

Bush loaded up the country with debt and sold it to his buddies, just as Bain Capital loaded up bought-out companies with debt and extracted the money.

Thom Hartman said that in 1984 the US was funding death squads in South America, where torture was common during interrogations. They were trained by US operatives. They abducted a 13 year old girl and 14 year old boy from the streets and practiced torture on them.  Romney worked for a company involved in this. Romney later formed his own company, which bought a drug rehabilitation company, stripped it of assets (though patients paid $40,000), underfunded and understaffed it til there were deaths and a sexual predator.   This history needs to be known.

Why is Romney insistent on hiding his tax reforms? Did he pay an amnesty fine for overseas tax evasion?

Ron Reagan: the most embarrassing thing may be not that Romney broke laws but that he got away with evading taxes totally legally. If the average people realize how much the tax laws are stacked in the favor of the rich, this will be bad news for Republicans.

Final words: what should we do next?

Moderator David Postman of the Seattle Times asked each speaker to briefly suggest how audience members should help.

Several panelists agreed with Thom Hartmann’s suggestion that we should show up a meeting of MoveOn, DFA, PDA, our local Democratic Party, or the local GOP. Do that at least  once a month.   Mike P. said the mainstream media is dead and we should build our own media. Write a blog, comment on other blogs. “You know more than everyone else.”  Randhi Rhodes said to visit, get a bumper sticker, proudly put it on your car, and freak the fuck out of progressives who complain, “I don’t think Obama has done enough.”

Ron Reagan had the last word.  It’d be smart to go to GOP meetings. That’ll freak them out. Someone (Randi?) joked that we should pack some heat when we go; then they’d respect us more.  Reagan said we’re in the fight of our lives.  There will be real winners and losers. The election will determine whether we’ll continue to spend $1 trillion/year on the military, the make-up of the Supreme Court, the reaction to climate change, and so much else.  We’re in desperate time.

Obama is better than Romney, but how much better? And will he continue to compromise away core Democratic principles?

Leave a Reply