Bullshit Philosophy

Half-assed political and religious commentary from a cynical left-winger

“Common Purpose” and the co-optation of the progressive movement

Posted by Kevin on April 22, 2009

Probably the thing that disgusted me the most about the 2008 election cycle was how many so-called “progressive” organizations seemed to be basically just appendages of the Democratic Party. It’s not a new phenomenon, of course, but I hadn’t realized the extent previously. Even now, many of the campaigns of groups like MoveOn are framed around “supporting President Obama’s agenda.” There really isn’t much of an independent progressive movement in this country, which is why we’re having so much trouble gaining traction on any number of issues.

If you doubt that all too many “progressive” organizations are slaves to Obama and his corporatist agenda, this article from Ben Smith at Politico should dispel any illusions you had. It describes a group called “Common Purpose,” which brings together “the top officials from a range of left-leaning organizations, from labor groups like Change to Win to activists like MoveOn.org” and White House officials. The purpose is message coordination, which is not something to which I’m inherently opposed, but it’s evident that in the present instance it’s a mechanism for keeping “progressive” groups toeing the White House line.

It’s not hard to tell how successful Common Purpose and similar groups have been in stifling progressive criticism of Obama. The major “progressive” organizations (to my knowledge at least) have largely ceded anger over the increasingly kleptocratic bank bailout to conservative teabaggers. And Jeremy Scahill reminds us that they’ve similarly sold out on Iraq and Afghanistan:

“…groups like the Center for American Progress and MoveOn, which portrayed themselves as anti-war during the Bush-era, are now supporting the escalation and continuation of wars because their guy is now commander-in-chief. CAP has been actively pounding the pavement in support of the escalation in Afghanistan, the rebranding of the Iraq occupation and, more recently, Obama’s bloated military budget, which the group said was “on target.” MoveOn has been silent on the escalation in Afghanistan and has devoted substantial resources to promoting a federal budget that includes a $21 billion increase in military spending from the Bush-era.

As another example, Smith’s article describes how several groups – including the Campaign for America’s Future and USAction – backed off from a campaign against the Blue Dog Democrats and the Evan Bayh faction in part at the urging of the White House: “The White House, however, was in the midst of discussions with members of the congressional Blue Dog caucus, and objected to the slogan, which was promptly changed, and the page describing the drive is gone from CAF’s website.”

“What is clear here is that CAP and MoveOn are now basically psuedo-official PR flaks targeting ‘liberals’ to support the White House agenda,” says Scahill. Why are the “progressive” groups doing this? As Jane Hamsher argues, they enjoy the illusion of having the ear of the President and they fear retribution if they don’t go along:

There’s a big problem right now with the traditional liberal interest groups sitting on the sidelines around major issues because they don’t want to buck the White House for fear of getting cut out of the dialogue, or having their funding slashed. Someone picks up a phone, calls a big donor, and the next thing you know…the money is gone. It’s already happened. Because that’s the way Rahm plays.

So what should we do about it? I don’t exactly know. I suppose some could argue that we need people like them working inside the system, but I’m not really convinced that it’s actually accomplishing anything in the current environment besides tarnishing ourselves by propping up the kleptocrats and giving their ideas a veneer of respectability. It would seem to me that one thing we need to seriously consider is whether to stop supporting the organizations involved with Common Purpose and similar groups who are selling us out to Obama and other Establishment Dems – i.e. stop donating money to them, unsubscribe from their email lists, stay away from events organized by them. I’ve already done that with several groups, such as MoveOn and Democracy for America, that I became disgusted with during the campaign because of their cheerleading for the Dems.

These “progressive” groups’ coziness with the Obama administration is the exact opposite of what needs to happen if we want to bring about real change. Currently, the pressure only seems to be coming from one direction, with Obama having every incentive to avoid radically restructuring the system. Instead of providing a fig leaf for status quo Democrats, we need to as Naomi Klein argues, “stop hoping and start demanding.” There needs to be an independent progressive movement focused not on electing Democrats, but on creating conditions under which whoever is in office has to implement progressive policies if they want to stay there.

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2 Responses to ““Common Purpose” and the co-optation of the progressive movement”

  1. Just to add an organisation that’s relevant to this discussion, the “Human Rights Campaign”. I HATE that organisation, their goal is quite explicitly to get Democrats into office, when it’d be much more worthwhile to empower the GLBT community directly, independent of any political party. If GLBT rights are tied entirely to the Democratic party (assuming that the party even cares), then it’ll all fall like a house of cards when the Republicans swing back into power.

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