Working class heroes, Norman Solomon & Alexis Tsipras
What a shame Paul Krugman didn't just keep on writing Sunday and bring the Austerity disaster right home where we need it argued. His column, Those Revolting Europeans, hit the mark in describing what had happened over the weekend in France and Greece (as well as in Romania, Serbia, Italy, Schleswig-Holstein and in last week's local U.K. elections). But I'm not finding enough Americans connecting the dots between Europe and the U.S. Mitt Romney's and the GOP's agenda is, if anything, even worse than that of Merkel and Sarkozy. They are all creatures of the same bankster-funded oligrachy.
Hollande?s victory means the end of ?Merkozy,? the Franco-German axis that has enforced the austerity regime of the past two years. This would be a ?dangerous? development if that strategy were working, or even had a reasonable chance of working. But it isn?t and doesn?t; it?s time to move on. Europe?s voters, it turns out, are wiser than the Continent?s best and brightest.
What?s wrong with the prescription of spending cuts as the remedy for Europe?s ills? One answer is that the confidence fairy doesn?t exist-- that is, claims that slashing government spending would somehow encourage consumers and businesses to spend more have been overwhelmingly refuted by the experience of the past two years. So spending cuts in a depressed economy just make the depression deeper.
Moreover, there seems to be little if any gain in return for the pain. Consider the case of Ireland, which has been a good soldier in this crisis, imposing ever-harsher austerity in an attempt to win back the favor of the bond markets. According to the prevailing orthodoxy, this should work. In fact, the will to believe is so strong that members of Europe?s policy elite keep proclaiming that Irish austerity has indeed worked, that the Irish economy has begun to recover.
But it hasn?t. And although you?d never know it from much of the press coverage, Irish borrowing costs remain much higher than those of Spain or Italy, let alone Germany. So what are the alternatives?
"In the United States and around the world, the middle class is in steep decline while the wealthy and large corporations are doing phenomenally well. The message sent by voters in France and other European countries, which I believe will be echoed here in the United States, is that the wealthy and large corporations are going to have to experience some austerity also and that that burden cannot solely fall on working families.
"In the United States, where corporate profits are soaring and the gap between the rich and everybody else is growing wider, we must end corporate tax loopholes and start making the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes. At the same time, we must protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Austerity, yes, but for millionaires and billionaires, not the working families of this country."
This determined, strategic electoral activism is the reason that what passes for ?mainstream? GOP positions today-- denying Darwin and global warming while bestowing personhood on fetuses and ExxonMobil-- are more right-wing than 30 years ago. And one can argue that the Tea Party-influenced 2012 Republican presidential frontrunners (including Mr. Etch-A-Sketch) were further right than George W. Bush... who was further right than the 1994 Gingrich ?revolutionaries?... who were further right than Reagan... who was further right than the Republican mainstream of previous decades.
...Unfortunately, instead of implementing a ?remake-the-Democratic-party? strategy, constituency groups like labor and the liberal netroots often function as loyal party operatives, pouring money behind whatever mediocre candidates the Democratic establishment serves up. Some big-spending unions are loath to intervene in primaries?which is where their money and activism could prove decisive in replacing business-as-usual Democrats with genuine progressives.
It should be clear by now that electing Democrats-- even Democratic majorities-- is not enough. In 2009, Democrats held both Congress and the White House, as they did in 1993-94. How?d that work out for us? We got NAFTA, but no Employee Free Choice Act. It?s more than a trivial matter what kinds of Democrats are nominated.
An acclaimed antiwar leader who led three dramatic trips to Iraq in an effort to avert the U.S. invasion, Norman is running in a new, extremely progressive district on California?s North Coast that stretches from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Oregon border. The seat is open due to the retirement of Rep. Lynn Woolsey, a steadfast peace advocate who once co-chaired the Progressive Caucus.
To prepare for this race, Norman paid his dues in local Democratic work. He?s been elected three times to be a delegate from the North Bay to the state Democratic central committee (where he coauthored the party?s ?troops-out-of-Afghanistan? position). In 2008, he was elected as an Obama delegate to the Democratic National Convention-- but he has never refrained from criticizing Obama policies that bolster Wall Street or the warfare state.
Norman may or may not win, but he?s built one of the strongest, grassroots campaigns for Congress ever-- with over 1,000 volunteers and more than 5,000 donors. He?s been endorsed by local elected officials in the district (both Democrats and Greens) as he?s campaigned on an uncompromising agenda popular with voters: tax Wall Street to fund federal green jobs programs; major military cuts; no attack on Iran; enhanced ?Medicare for All?; end nuclear power. The primary is June 5, with voting-by-mail to begin early May.
The good news is that the Solomon campaign raised-- in mostly small, grassroots donations-- an impressive half-million dollars by the March 31 federal filing deadline. The bad (but expected) news is that two corporate-connected Democrats raised $865,000 and $740,000; both will significantly outspend Norman on TV/radio ads. It?s a classic battle of grassroots vs. big bucks. Will his volunteer-based ground game beat the air attack of the moneyed candidates, as Paul Wellstone did when he got into the U.S. Senate after being outspent 7 to 1? (Like Norman, Wellstone had never previously held elected office.)
In a 12-candidate race, experts in the district see Norman as now running second. The frontrunner is the Democratic establishment candidate, a well-funded state assemblyman who has received most of the labor and environmental endorsements-- despite having accepted donations in recent years from companies like Walmart and PG&E that are despised by union and green activists. (The Solomon campaign refuses corporate and lobbyist money.)
These membership groups face a choice in primaries: Do they embrace party regulars and the status quo, or back outsider candidates who want to transform the party... and the country. Several unions have endorsed the Solomon campaign, including the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU). One of the strongest unions in the state, SEIU California, hedged its bets by endorsing Norman, along with the state assemblyman and another elected official in the race. Some progressive unions (like the California Nurses Association) have so far stayed out.
National groups like Progressive Democrats of America and Blue America have backed the campaign from the start. Norman won the endorsement of Democracy for America (founded by Howard Dean) by finishing second out of 200 liberal/progressive candidates in DFA?s nationwide online straw poll.
The Solomon campaign earns free media coverage each time a notable like Phil Donahue, Daniel Ellsberg or Sean Penn comes into the district to campaign. Other progressive leaders have endorsed, including Barbara Ehrenreich, Dolores Huerta, Rep. John Conyers and Progressive Caucus Co-Chair Raul Grijalva. Musician Tom Morello tweeted his support of the ?antiwar, pro-Occupy candidate? to his 200,000 twitter fans. Blogger Glenn Greenwald, known for criticizing both Republican and Democratic politicians, was effusive: ?When it comes to Congressional candidates, it just doesn?t get any better than Norman Solomon.?
The Solomon movement is up against tough odds and big money. But, win or lose, it offers a model-- a campaign that inspires activists and challenges power and the Democratic establishment, a campaign promoting the full progressive agenda without settling for a puny number of protest votes.
It?s the kind of campaign we need to see in communities across the country in the coming years.