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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

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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

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Friday
May202011

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?

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