Sunday, August 3, 2008

A note to some familiar names who have signed an open letter being sponsored by The Nation

I am a longtime reader of The Nation magazine, which is one of the oldest progressive publications in this country, with some wonderful writers among its usual contributors (my particular favorites: Calvin Trillin and Katha Pollitt) . It did not surprise me unduly when the magazine all-but-endorsed Senator Obama back in January. It does interest me though to see that The Nation seems to be experiencing some (sort of?) buyer's remorse. Now The Nation is sponsoring an "Open Letter to Barack Obama, " a letter "...calling on Barack Obama to stand firm on the principles he so compellingly articulated in the primary campaign." Full text of the letter here.

The letter makes me sad. It is sad that people who willingly supported Senator Obama when he seemed to them to be a genuine progressive apparently now are having to learn the hard way that Senator Obama was never the most progressive candidate in the Democratic field of contenders. It also makes me sad because whoever wrote the letter seems a bit confused as to the principles Senator Obama articulated - compellingly or otherwise - when the primaries were happening.

For example, the letter lists universal health care as one of the positions that Senator Obama once "embraced." Senator Obama never embraced, put forth, or supported a plan for universal health care. He consistently argued for a health care plan that might be called sort-of universal - except for the fact that when it comes to health insurance a plan is either universal or it is isn't - almost universal is not universal.

The signatories to the letter so far include many people whose work I know and admire , including, among many others, Katha Pollitt (check out her latest column about Senator Obama, "Flocking to Faith"), historian Howard Zinn, and writer Studs Terkel. I have no idea if these signatories realize that the Democratic Party still has a real opportunity to nominate a candidate who has consistently supported fully universal health care, a candidate who has always had and continues to have a "commitment to the rights of women, including the right to choose abortion and improved access to abortion and reproductive health services" and a "commitment to improving conditions in urban communities and ending racial inequality, including disparities in education through reform of the No Child Left Behind Act and other measures" (two other items on the list the letter says Senator Obama embraced during the primaries). That candidate is Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.

I certainly understand the prudence of trying to write flatteringly to somebody who potentially could be our next president (although if recent polls indicate anything, Senator Obama is ever-less likely to be that, should he become the Democratic Party's actual candidate). I also appreciate the strategy of trying to keep or inspire a would-be Democratic president committed to progressive ideals. But there would be nothing inconsistent in doing this with regard to Senator Obama while also supporting equal opportunity for a proven progressive Democratic would-be President such as Senator Clinton. The writers of the letter could show such support by learning about The Denver Group and making a contribution to support its efforts to keep the Democratic Party democratic, for example, or, if they have not done so already, donating to retire Senator Clinton's primary debt. They could even sign another open letter, this one by The Denver Group urging Howard Dean to make sure that Senator Clinton's name is placed in nomination at the convention in August.

If Senator Obama is as genuinely progressive as The Nation and its open letter's signers hope he is, he would not take any of these actions amiss. True progressivism allows for pluralism. Common sense progressives accept the fact that until The Democratic Party holds its formal nominating convention, the Democratic Party has not yet selected a candidate to represent it in the general election. Pragmatic progressives, who appreciate the prudence and strategy displayed in The Nation's open letter, would want the opportunity for the Democratic Party to increase its odds of nominating a candidate who can win this fall.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Nation has been an of many in what was the progressive press. But what I can't decided is, were they duped? Because a simple check of Obama backers would have sent up red flags to any actual progressive. But perhaps they were so eager to stick it to Hillary, they just didn't care.

Also may I say this letter is pathetic ? Why is the progressive response so often to beg their tormentor to stop?. The biggest pill for them to sallow is to admit they were wrong....oh no can do, so they publish this scolding letter. The result? They look even more foolish . If Obama reads it at all, it will be for laughs.

Thank you for all your efforts and excellent writing

almost universal is not universal.


paper doll

August 4, 2008 at 3:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The letter is obsequious, placating, subservient, and pathetic. Signers of this letter say they're going to hold Obama "accountable." Of course, this is preposterous, since they aren't holding Obama accountable for what he's already done. Just exactly what does it mean to hold Obama "accountable?" It means don't vote for him in the first place. He isn't even the nominee yet; he remains the "presumptive" nomineee until Superdelegates and delegates cast their vote. Apparently, co-signers to this pathetic letter are suffering under the delusion that Obama has already been elected. And, pray tell, what will they do to hold him "accountable" once he is the President? Send more tepid, obsequious, subservient and pathetic letters begging for his pardon for the sin of holding him "accountable" with a stupid letter?

Honestly. These people embarrass me.

August 4, 2008 at 7:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What is interesting is the professional progressive response, such as the Nation, to being mugged, is always to talk about a fight that will happen...they will hold Obama accountable ah...someday.

It's never, we fight now . I have seen this throughout the eight years of Bush where the Dems give in , or even help the GOP, but say oh but next time we will fight!! In fact we are saving our strength for that fight by giving in now! However next time never happens and finally the Dem base is saying enough with this scam. We saw what you did to the Dem candidate who was/is fighting NOW ! Really, have you ever seen a Dem elite fight anyone but another Dem who wants to fight the GOP? That's the only time their fangs come out.

August 4, 2008 at 11:27 AM  
Blogger jbjd said...

Obama and universal health care? What?

Reading your remarks as well as 'the letter,' I recalled a segment on a talk show in which the 'expert' discussed how best to respond to an attempted abduction. 'Do whatever it takes not to get into the car.' He was asked, 'But what if your attacker promises if you do what he asks, he will let you go?' The man was incredulous. 'The guy is about to kidnap you; what makes you think he wouldn't lie to you, too?'

I am interested in reading your theory as to why these brilliant minds who signed on to this letter - you listed 2 of my favorites - still fail to grasp the contrivance that is all things Obama.

August 4, 2008 at 1:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

jbjd said...

....why these brilliant minds who signed on to this letter - you listed 2 of my favorites - still fail to grasp the contrivance that is all things Obama

I'm guessing because that would mean admitting they were wrong and the clinging bitter bible gun lover types were can do...
does not comput.

August 4, 2008 at 5:13 PM  
Anonymous libbygurl said...

Thank you for your excellent comment on this pathetic and embarrassingly obsequious letter by these supposedly brilliant minds in The Nation. Early on, I knew they would get into trouble by declaring they'd support NO candidate who was NOT anti-Iraq war. Then BH0 claimed he was anti-Iraq War bec. of a speech he gave to an anti-war crowd in Chicago, which was not even documented to have actually taken place. So The Nation's pitiful editors hooked their wagon to BH0's shiny new star, and they have clung to him with desperation through all this amazing number of flips and flops. It's no surprise that it's come to this for them - they painted themselves into a corner by that early 'anti-war' declaration, ignoring all the other equally important issues that affect all Americans in their daily lives.

Clearly, their hatred of all things Clinton blinded them to the fact that EVERYTHING in that list of theirs is part of Hillary Clinton's own proposals - all stolen and rehashed - badly - by the BH0 camp. So they're reduced to pathetic beggars pleading with their chosen candidate to return to these principles he allegedly held.

As someone else said, the only way to hold politicians accountable is through one's vote - and I imagine that BH0, if he even deigns to read this miserable letter from The Nation, will scoff at it, and laugh heartily at the signers for their incredible gullibility in buying his fake and shoddy wares, swallowing them whole, hook, line and sinker.

None are so blind as those who will not see = like these Kool-Aid guzzlers. What a sad, sad day it has been for the once-respected and truly liberal magazine that is a pale shadow of its former self. The Nation and I parted ways the day they made that silly, immature declaration about the sole criterion that would determine which candidate they would support in this election.

I do wonder if Vanden Heuvel and co. will be humble enough to take your wise advice, Heidi. I doubt it, since they've never been known to admit they were wrong in something so important as that. Humble pie is hard to swallow.

Thank you again for all you do to keep the Democratic Party democratic and truly Democratic! Looking forward to more ads before Denver! Keep up the great work!

August 4, 2008 at 5:25 PM  
Blogger G. said...

Gore Vidal signed that letter! He's supposed to be a cynic! Have we ever seen such a silly season?

August 5, 2008 at 2:11 AM  

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