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Ms. Wright Goes to Washington

By Sheryl Wright

Despite their pledge during the 2010 mid-term election campaign to focus on jobs,Republicans have used their majority in the House to push abortion to the front of the Congressional agenda. On January 7, 2011, Congressman Mike Pence introduced H.R. 217(the Pence Amendment).


Bachmann Spiking the Tea

By Karima E. Rustin

One of the many things I look forward to on a Saturday morning  is reading The New York Times. And who do I see prominently figuring at the beginning of the column but Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann (R-MN)...damn, not Bachmann again!


The Politics of Union Envy 

By Sheryl Wright

Neither of my parents went to college, but both were union members—my father in the private sector and my mother in the public. In addition to their salaries, which allowed them to provide a comfortable life for our family, the benefits won by their respective unions


Roundtable: Delegitimizing Obama–The Intersection of Gender, Power & Politics  

Sheryl: Almost 800 days in office and it seems every day is seen as an opportunity for renewed criticism of the President. The latest kerfuffle is around the claim that President Obama’s decision to involve the U.S. in the action in Libya





Entries by Sheryl (6)


Where Are the Jobs?... Republicans Know Government Spending Is the Answer

By Sheryl Wright

Last week, I participated in a Rebuild the Dream/MoveOn Jobs Not Cuts rally at the office of Tea Party Republican Congressman Michael Grimm in Brooklyn, NY. Since the start of the 2011 congressional term, politicians and the mainstream media have ceded to the demands of tea partiers, like Congressman Grimm, who have called for a focus on debt and deficit reduction. In recent polls, however, the American people have expressed the desire that Congress and the President focus on job creation. Contrary to tea partiers’ claims, Republican pollsters attributed the Republican takeover of the House in the 2010 midterm elections to their promise to focus on jobs. So far this year, House Republicans have simply dusted off their failed policy prescriptions of cutting taxes and regulations in answer to the call for job creation, and Senate Republicans persist in their efforts to limit Democratic Senators’ ability to pass legislation that will stimulate job growth.

Congressional Republicans, particularly Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann (MN) who has thrown her hat into the Republican presidential primary ring, continue to attack the Obama stimulus program despite proof that it was successful in saving and creating jobs. For ideological purposes and, perhaps most cynically, to regain control of the White House, Republicans are refusing to support government spending that they know will create jobs. How do we know they know? Rachel Maddow pointed to the several hundred letters that Congressional Republicans sent to the Obama administration requesting stimulus money to fund projects in their home districts which the Republican lawmakers themselves described as jobs creators. She also spoke with Washington Monthly’s Steve Benen about his pitch to the White House to spur Republican support for stimulus spending. In his piece, Benen urges the president to announce that he will provide funding for all of the projects that Republican lawmakers submitted to the White House while they publicy proclaimed that any further government spending was bad for the economy. 

GOP stimulus hypocrisy is not new news. Even though they believed the stimulus bill would create jobs, Congressional Republicans voted against it—unanimously in the House and almost unanimously in the Senate—in order to score political points with their tea party base. During an appearance at a House Republican retreat in January 2010, President Obama called them out on their duplicitousness.

It is beyond shameful that Republicans, in an attempt to make President Obama a one-term president, are willing to lie to the public about what government can do to improve the economy. Unfortunately misleading Republican rhetoric about the stimulus doesn’t just affect President Obama’s reelection prospects; the ramifications go far beyond a single election. By muddling the public’s understanding of the important role government plays in creating an economy which betters the everyday lives of ordinary working people, Republicans are steadily weakening the federal government’s ability to serve all of the people.

Where are the jobs? We need to do our part to let Republicans and the Tea Party know that we know the truth.



Pushing for Progressivism in the Age of Obama  

By Sheryl Wright

November 4, 2008 was a memorable day; I, like many others, never imagined the day would come when I would see a black person elected president of the United States. For the first time in my adult political life, I believed there would be a perceptible shift in the politics of the country. For the first time in a very long time, I was excited about our country’s future. I remember having a similar feeling that better days were ahead when Jimmy Carter was elected president—granted I was only eight years old and Carter, of course, was not the first black president.

Even though I enthusiastically voted for Barack Obama, he was not my vision of the ideal progressive. With Wall Street’s recklessness and continuing excesses, growing health and income disparity, and  rising unemployment, I longed for a nominee who would speak out as forcefully as Franklin D. Roosevelt did when he said of the wealthy elites and corporate titans of his day, “They are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred.” After almost eight years of Republican attempts to undo the New Deal, I wanted a Democratic nominee who was willing to boldly declare the belief and understanding that maintaining a safety net for the American people has legal, economic and moral justifications. That is why I was hugely supportive of Obama's proposal to repeal the Bush-era tax cuts to pay for health care reform, including an affordable public health care option and his declaration that health care should be a right.

Since taking office in 2009, the Obama administration has had many accomplishments, nevertheless the president and his team have failed to craft a message that speaks to the government’s ability to transform our nation in meaningful ways and make a positive difference in the everyday lives of the people. In the summer of 2009, with the Tea Party aligned in opposition to health care reform, Republicans seized the opportunity to paint the proposed legislation as a government takeover of health care. The narrative of government as an intrusive and incompetent force in our lives won the day. In the process, the administration ceded important ground to the Republicans on a number of the issues championed by Obama on the campaign trail; congressional Democrats share in the blame, especially as it relates to passage of the president’s middle-class tax cut proposal.

While Republicans, with some assistance from the media, cast Barack Obama as the most liberal Democratic presidential candidate ever nominated, Obama described himself as a “pragmatic progressive; painting Democratic candidates as the most liberal nominee ever is a standard GOP attack line. Ezra Klein’s Washington Post article details similarities between President Obama’s policy initiatives and those supported by congressional Republicans and recent Republican presidents—suggesting that Obama’s description of himself is more accurate than the Republicans. Under Obama, tax cuts for the wealthy have been extended for two more years. Health care reform minus a public option was signed into law; despite its historical significance and expansion of coverage to millions of Americans, the legislation may or may not move us closer to the progressive notion of health care as a right. Time will tell. For many of us, the policy changes actually brought about by the Obama administration have not always looked like the policies proposed during the Obama campaign.  

Whatever disappointments we may have with the administration, progressive changes in policy have occurred that probably would not have occurred in a McCain administration. I am convinced that claims in 2000 that a vote for the Democrat was no different than a vote for the Republican helped to bring us the disastrous eight-year presidency of George W. Bush. In the effort to push for stronger progressive policies, liberals and progressives who use of over-the-top language to critique the president and his policies—accusing him of being a liar and his administration of being an extension of the Bush presidency—are being short-sighted and irresponsible. Words do matter. It is important to keep in mind the impact of our words, especially when nutty right-wing attempts to delegitimize President Obama have been given so much attention in the media.  

I can remember the excitement I felt in the final days of the campaign each time Obama asked us to believe not just in his ability to bring about change, but also in our own. Perhaps he meant it as more of a warning than a remark intended to inspire, when he reminded us that we were responsible for powering any change that would occur. I’m afraid we did not grasp the magnitude of what he was telling us. Instead of viewing the election win as the initial battle in the fight, too many of us believed the war was won—allowing the Tea Party to step in and seize the mantle of change.

Although I continue to believe his administration has moved too far in their compromises on a number of important issues, I am extremely grateful that Barack Obama is our president. As The Nation’s John Nichols points out, we elected a president who knows what it means to be a progressive; two years, six months, and 14 days after that momentous election day, our job is to make him do what he promised. I have attended rallies, signed petitions, sent e-mails, made telephone calls, and written letters to effect change, but I look to the persistence demonstrated by the men and women of the Civil Rights Movement to know there is more that needs to be done and more that I can do.  

In his article on Obama’s April 11th deficit speech, George Lakoff advises Democrats to pay close attention to the president’s vision of progressive government. In the speech, Obama tells us, “...through government, we should do together what we cannot do as well for ourselves.” What will you do to see the progressive change you want?


Ms. Wright Goes to Washington

By Sheryl Wright

Despite their pledge during the 2010 mid-term election campaign to focus on jobs, Republicans have used their majority in the House to push abortion to the front of the Congressional agenda. On January 7, 2011, Congressman Mike Pence introduced H.R. 217 (the Pence Amendment). The House passed the bill, which prohibits the awarding of federal family planning funds to any entity that performs abortions, on February 18th. According to the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, the legislation would effectively eliminate state health departments’ and other public and nonprofit organization administrators’ ability to maintain a public health safety net that provides family planning services to millions of women and men around the country. In response, Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice America and more than twenty other organizations came together for a rally and lobby day to express support for women’s health/family planning programs and outrage at what many saw as Republican political gamesmanship.

It may not have been as dramatic as the Hollywood classic about Mr. Smith’s epic battle in Washington, D.C., but my visit last week to the nation’s capital was an exciting opportunity to participate in a true demonstration of democracy. Having attended the February Rally to Protect Womens Health in New York CityI saw the trip to D.C. as a chance to speak directly to my congressperson about the importance of Planned Parenthood.  

I know women without health insurance who have had to turn to Planned Parenthood for preventive care. I have heard stories from people who, as teenagers, relied on Planned Parenthood for sexual health information. As someone who is not insured through an employer and is responsible for paying the full health insurance premium, I want to do what I can to ensure that Planned Parenthood’s services will be available to me should I ever need them. Republican assertions that government funds are used for abortion are untrue. The abortion services, which are a small, yet vital component of  the  reproductive health services offered, should be readily available to women who want it—like it or not, Roe v. Wade is still the law.

The bus trip down was relatively quiet with the exception of a sprinkling of women chatting with each other; considering the 6:30 a.m. departure time, most people opted to take a nap. As we approached the city limits, the Planned Parenthood staffer assigned to the bus provided a brief overview of what to expect during the day. For the first stop on the agenda, we walked to the National Mall for the Rally for Women’s Health. It was exciting to stand in the midst of a crowd coming together for a common cause. It was equally exciting to see men in the crowd; from 2000 to 2009, Planned Parenthood services to men increased by 103 percent. The list of speakers included a host of federal elected officials and celebrities who pledged their continued support for women’s health programs and Planned Parenthood. I am a little embarrassed to admit that one of the celebrities, David EigenbergSteve Brady, Miranda’s husband in HBO series Sex and the City—was a big highlight for me. Aside from him being my favorite male character on the show, I was moved by his remarks as to why it was important for him to be at the rally.

The second part of the day consisted of lobby visits with our individual congresspersons. I have participated in rallies before, but this was my first lobbying trip. With my trusty lobby day map in hand, I left the rally and  headed over to the Rayburn House Office Building to meet with Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-NY). As I walked the halls, I took note of the doors to the offices of representatives whom I have watched on television—some whose positions on the issues I largely share and others whose positions I absolutely despise. I also noted the many name-tagged people in business attire walking in the halls alongside me and standing in front of the office doors of individual representatives. I started to wonder what right I had to be there; I don’t represent a large corporation or some other monied interest. I am not promising a large monetary contribution or any other form of largesse, except my vote. It’s just me…Sheryl Wright. The more I walked those halls, the more I felt I belonged; I have a constitutional right to petition the government on my own behalf and on behalf of the people I know who have relied on Planned Parenthood’s services. Why should monied and corporate interests have more influence in our government than people like me?

The meeting with Congressman Towns went very well—he has a Planned Parenthood 100-percent, pro-choice rating. In fact, all of the members of the New York City House delegation are rated 100  percent pro-choice with the exception of Republican Michael Grimm, Staten Island’s sole representative. My lobby visit with Congressman Towns was an opportunity to personally thank him, let him know I stand with him in his support of Planned Parenthood, and urge him to be even stronger in his advocacy for women’s health. At the close of the meeting, he thanked my group for coming and told us these kinds of meetings provided a wind beneath his wings. The cynic in me immediately questioned his sincerity, however, it didn’t take long for me to understand; no matter who you are, it is good to know that there are others standing with you.



The Politics of Union Envy

By Sheryl Wright

Neither of my parents went to college, but both were union members—my father in the private sector and my mother in the public. In addition to their salaries, which allowed them to provide a comfortable life for our family, the benefits won by their respective unions provided: a pension upon retirement; a defined number of paid vacations and sick days; an affordable health care plan for themselves and our family; and protections against arbitrary dismissal, unlike many workers today.

With little exception since 1983, union membership as a whole has been on the decline. Disgracefully, right-wing Republicans and so-called citizen activist groups, such as Americans for Prosperity, funded by the billionaire Koch brothers, are pushing for federal and state legislation that would not only further diminish union membership but also restrain, and in some cases destroy, the collective bargaining power of the unions.

At a time when many working people are losing their jobs, losing their homes, and paying more for health care, among other rising costs, Republicans have been ramping up their efforts to stoke resentment toward union workers in order to win support for their union-busting policies—insinuating that union workers are not feeling any pain. Many non-union working people have accepted the bait. They have bought into the notion that union workers—in both the public and private sectors—are spoiled and have not sacrificed enough.

There is one conversation, in particular that I remember from 2009. I was talking to someone who is a progressive about the concessions autoworkers were going to be forced to make as a prerequisite for the Obama administration’s bailout of Chrysler and General Motors. This person believed the autoworkers should be forced to make these concessions and that they were foolish to hold on to the belief that the auto companies should abide by their contracts. My mouth nearly hit the floor—this was someone who takes the liberal/progressive position on almost every other subject. I was stunned. I calmly pointed out that autoworkers had been making concessions for a number of years up to that point in an effort to help save their employers, while CEOs took home millions in salaries and other forms of compensation. Putting aside the question of whether workers should make additional concessions, how are workers wrong to expect their employers to meet the terms of a negotiated contract?

Unions have had positive effects for all workers; when the average working Jane or Joe American fails to recognize the forces behind the anti-union fervor, they are complicit in their own economic downfall. Because you don’t have a benefit that another working person has, that benefit should be taken away from that other working person? Why don’t you work to unionize your workplace and fight for that benefit for yourself?

Harvard economist, Richard Freeman, points to anti-union sentiment among non-union working people as evidence of a sense of hopelessness pervading in our society. The “if I can’t have it, you can’t either” theme in anti-union responses from other working people is a depressing indicator of the success of the Republicans’ and corporations’ cynical strategy of pitting working people against each other. Meanwhile, despite the budget crises in their states that supposedly warrant obliterating workers’ ability to stand up for themselves, Republican governors have continued to dole out tax cuts to the wealthy and corporations.

The protests taking place throughout the country in answer to the union-busting legislation are a heartening response to what is nothing more than an overt attack on working people—both union and non-union—in this country.

In his New York Times op-ed on the importance of organizing, Bob Herbert wrote:

"It’s not just pocketbook issues but the dignity of American workers that is at stake in the confrontations in Wisconsin, Ohio and elsewhere. These confrontations are about so much more than the right of public employees to bargain collectively, as important as that is. This most recent assault on labor is part of an anti-worker movement that has been on the march for decades."

The workers’ presence in the streets is a demonstration of collective self-respect—a necessary sentiment in the fight against what is, in my view, fundamentally an effort to negate the importance of working people within our society.

I believe in the power of unions to do good for working people and their families. I have witnessed it in my own life. Perhaps the protests throughout the country are harbingers of hope-reborn. I sure will be keeping my fingers crossed.



Roundtable: Delegitimizing Obama–The Intersection of Gender, Power & Politics  

Sheryl: Almost 800 days in office and it seems every day is seen as an opportunity for renewed criticism of the President. The latest kerfuffle is around the claim that President Obama’s decision to involve the U.S. in the action in Libya was at the behest of three female members of his staff. Two somewhat divergent strands of thought have emerged from the noise: Obama is not man enough to make the tough decisions without a push from women on his staff, and three wild-eyed war-mongering women are riding roughshod within the administration. Either way you slice it, the result is a picture of Obama as a weak and incompetent president.

Lydia: I'm dumbfounded by the whole discussion. It turns me into a stuffy old man, actually. I keep thinking, this is total poppycock! Codswollop! I guess my inner old man is British today. This is so out of the blue but not unexpected, I suppose. We're closing in on 2012 so it's all hands on deck to make President Obama as unappealing as possible.

Nichole: I take your point Lydia that the focus is developing critiques of Obama in preparation for the 2012 presidential field--note Newt Gingrich's own flip-flop on Libya--now we have former Green Party Presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney arguing that Obama is, as she characterizes it, attacking an exemplar of direct democracy and government responsibility. At what point do we get politics out of politics?  At what point do we break ranks with people who are obviously being disingenuous in their critiques of those who are situated differently in their politics?  I may not be clear on what the issue is, but it seems that if a country's leader is using the full force of the military to bomb and shoot citizens who are peacefully protesting, then something needs to be done.  Some collective action to protect unarmed citizens needs to be taken.  I mean, seriously--children were being killed trying to escape Gadhafi's forces.

Lydia: I think a more appropriate question pundits and critics should have been asking, which Ted Koppel has, is why Libya and not Sudan, Congo or Ivory Coast where millions of innocents have been killed? What determines where we put in our armed two-cents, as it were? Is our involvement in other countries' civil wars ultimately proven to be aid or a detriment to the very people we were seeking to help? I don't know that there is a right answer to any of these questions. It seems to prove, more than anything, the truism, you're damned if you do, you're damned if you don't.  

Nichole: Lydia, I agree with you; McKinney raised that argument in her polemic as did Louis Farakhan over the weekend at a conference on Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement. Although both McKinney and Farakahn seem completely out of it in terms of what Gadhafi represents at this moment in time.  Wack-a-doodle is very appropriate in their context.  One of the other points that caught our attention though regarding this construction of Obama as hounded by the harpies, is the very troubling gender dynamics at play.  How do we talk seriously about human rights and political engagement without creating these misogynist and sexist straw men?

Lydia: I fear that as long as women are under-represented in politics and positions of power, it will continue, unabashedly.

Sheryl: I am behind in the discussion and I have quite a bit to say. Please bear with me…

Both of you are right to say that this is in preparation for 2012. I would add the thing about this instance is that the right-wing is now choosing to come at Obama using misogynistic stereotypes as their weapon. “Obama as more woman than females on his staff” is a new tack in their never-ending attempt to delegitimize him. During the campaign and to this day, right-wingers have used “Obama as the undercover scary Muslim” to question his legitimacy. They really have been up to this since before Obama was even elected. Now that he is president and they want to prevent him from being re-elected, it has been an almost nonstop endeavor. They really can’t help themselves. They know that turning him into the other has some potential political benefit.

Aside from the clearly misogynistic and sexist nature of the meme that is being presented, one of the other  absurdities is that this question is being debated in the national media. Jeanne Cummings’ analysis of the media coverage hits the nail on the head:

“…What bothers me about the reporting on this particular story is that, really, what you had was the secretary of state going up against the secretary of defense, and the U.N ambassador going up against Homeland Security. Basically, these are women, yes, but these are women with titles that matter…And it‘s in that capacity that they were making their cases.”

On to why Libya and not Sudan, Congo or Ivory Coast: I heard someone asking the same question on the radio today. I think to try to answer that question highlights the conflict between our security interests (oil, Al Qaeda, stability in the Middle East, etc.) and the importance of respect for the human rights of all people. As has been the case with a number of other Obama administration actions, I am ambivalent about the decision to involve the U.S. in establishing a no-fly zone over Libya; however, I agree that Obama would have been criticized no matter what he decided to do.

As for the comments from Cynthia McKinney and Louis Farrakhan, I have heard others make similar comments. When does it become absurd for someone to make such statements in support of Gadhafi? Some really, really awful things have been done all over the world in the name of the American people, but does that justify the actions of a Gadhafi? I think McKinney and Farrakhan greatly diminish any credibility they may have on any other issue when they continue to try to prop up someone who is clearly doing wrong. 

Now the politics of it all: it is interesting that Republican opponents of President Obama and his administration find it necessary to attack not only his policy decisions but also to attack him personally; I wonder if they realize the negative political implications for the large number of voters who do not identify with or as a wealthy, white, Christian male.