Journalist and author William Greider is urging the labor movement and other progressives to get tough with the Democratic Party, even if that means putting the party’s majority control in the House and Senate at risk.
Greider, who was at the AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington Thursday to discuss his latest book, “Come Home America,” said that groups that have reliably supported Democrats over the years needed to more aggressively counter the ability of conservatives within the party to “blow the whistle” against reforms that working people are fighting to gain. In saying that, he bolsters the case of progressives who have argued that they must act as an independent force that alternately cooperates with and challenges Democrats, including President Obama.
Greider said that progressives should respond to those southern Blue Dogs and other conservatives by telling the party, “We are going to their districts and talk about what they’re for and what they’re against. Are they for whacking Social Security or aren’t they? Let’s put it on the table. Let’s have an honest debate about that. If that makes people nervous, that’s good.”
“Yes, I am for putting candidates into selected districts who themselves have no great prospects for winning, but who may very well destabilize that safe seat for an incumbent. I’m for that,” he went on to say. “And if that leads sooner or later to Democrats losing their majority control, yes, that’s a real threat. And think about it, Democrats. If you want to do something about it, you can. If you don’t, we are going to try to destabilize your comfort.”
Greider made those comments during a question-and-answer session that followed a 20-minute talk about the themes of the book itself, which he finished just as the current economic crisis was unfolding. The book discusses what he calls the inability of elected officials in both political parties to enact the serious reforms the country needs to not only properly respond to the economic crisis but to address the nation’s other long-term challenges. He says that the key to shaking up the political system is an independent, grassroots uprising.
“We can get to a better place on the other side of the crisis,” he said. “I call it America the possible… But, here’s the killer ‘but.’ It cannot happen unless the people step up in some unorganized, chaotic, unruly, occasionally angry manner, and reclaim their role as citizens.”
That could force the Democratic Party to address its own identity crisis, Greider says.
The Democratic Party is at its testing moment,” Greider said. For the past 25 years it has been wooing the allegiance of both working people and moneyed interests. “It tried to manage that straddle without choosing. Now is the moment where we will find out what side you are on, as they say.”
Rather than allowing Democrats to assume that labor and other reliably Democratic constituencies will be with the party no matter what, Greider says that the message of labor to the Democrats should be simple: “We will be with you if you are with us, and if you are not with us, we will step back and make our own politics.”
Greider, who as Washington correspondent for The Nation has written extensively about the financial system, also is a strong critic of the Obama’s administration’s response to the financial crisis. Asked to respond to a recent speech by President Obama that rebuffed calls from progressive calls to take tougher action to break up and reconstitute “too-big-to-fail” financial institutions, saying that the government’s posture should be to “first, do no harm,” Greider responded, “They are doing harm. They’re doing harm to the future.”
Greider said that Obama sounds as if he wants “to recreate Wall Street as it existed before the wreckage….That is a fallacious goal. You can’t do it….And he shouldn’t do it.”
Instead, “if the president made some personnel changes and came out and said, ‘We are going to have to spend some money on burying the zombies and distributing the parts, but here’s the banking system I want to leave behind four years from now, five years from now, eight years from now, people will be applauding in the streets.”
The public will support a plausible plan for a new and more equitable financial system, Greider said. “As long as they are trying to restore the old order, they will have justified public anger, and they will probably fail.”
America”s Future co-director Robert Borosage offered strong praise for Greider’s book. “He gives you a really distilled, clear and searing look at reality, and lays out the big obstacles or challenges we face, and writes well. And then he lays out public policy alternatives that makes sense, so there is a sense that there are ways out of this hole and a way to move to what he says is a new and better place.”