A rattled Wall Street. Families imperiled by record foreclosures and rising unemployment. A stymied Congress. A five-year war in Iraq that continues to take lives. The Take Back America conference launched Monday amid some of the most dismal headlines in years, and yet the movement is closer than ever to being able to dramatically change the nation’s politics.
The speakers at the opening plenary session laid out why they have hope that this is the year that will set the stage for a progressive resurgence.
Robert Borosage kicked off the conference with a reference to Sunday’s stunning news that the Bush administration, along with the Federal Reserve Board, orchestrated the fire sale of Bear Stearns to JPMorgan Chase, greased with a $30 billion taxpayer-funded guarantee of high-risk securities.
Borosage noted that the bailout came just days after President Bush cautioned against “overcorrecting” for the “rough patch” that he said the economy had hit. While President Bush was opposing moves in Congress to provide aid to homeowners struggling with the consequences of a deregulated mortgage environment, it turns out that Bear Sterns and other big financial institutions “are too big to fail,” Borosage said. The message, he said, is that “you can gamble with other people’s money…and we will cover your losses”
Meanwhile, the Republican National Committee was rewarded the day of Bush’s speech with $1.4 million in political donations from the business interests who have been assured that even if government stands on the sidelines and allows middle-class homeowners to sink, it won’t allow that to happen to the biggest and the wealthiest.
Borosage said this is just one of the reasons why a massive mobilization of progressive organizations that will be announced at the conference Tuesday is important. The failures of the conservative era are obvious and people are looking for change, he said, but “we have to mobilize to create the change that we want to make.”
“We learned since 2006 that we have to be willing to challenge legislators regardless of what party they are from,” he said.
Building that capacity, he said, not only means thinking beyond the next election but “we have have to expand the bar. We have to continue to expand the vision and develop a reform agenda that’s big enough to face the challenges that we have.”
“This is out time. The conditions are ripe,” Borosage said. “This is our time to take back America.”
Diane Archer, a fellow at the Campaign for America’s Future, announced the launch of Health Care for America Now, an effort to launch a nationwide coalition to reform the health care system.
She compared the effort to the political coalition that brought Medicare into existence 40 years ago over opposition by critics that a government-run health care plan for seniors would not work.
“We have been given a brief window of opportunity to engage the public” in a debate about universal health care. But what the coalition will not do, she said, is to fall into what she called the trap of pitting a single-payer government system against private insurance.
“Our solution is simple as it is controversial,” she said: create an expanded Medicare-type system while allowing people to keep private insurance if they want it.
Van Jones, the executive director of the Ella Baker Center and a leader in the green jobs movement, called for a World War II-level commitment to move to a green economy.
He said that on issues ranging from energy to social justice to the war in Iraq, “the government is on the side of the problem-makers. … We need to get the government on the side of the problem-solvers in this country,” such as the businesses who are pioneering the green economy. But that must be conditioned, he added, on “connecting the work that needs to be done to the people who need the work.”
“We reject the politics of sink or swim” of conservative ideology, Jones said. “We say we are all in this together.”
Donna Edwards, the progressive Democrat who on her second try defeated incumbent Maryland Democratic congressman Al Wynn, said her race was a testimony of what can happen when progressives come together. Her races was supported by a broad cross-section of progressive activists. “We turned a loss in 2006 into a win in 2008.”
She said that “if being a progressive means wanting to have health care for all of us … an energy policy that says we can protect the environment and create jobs … that we never should have been in Iraq to begin with” then she was proud to call herself a progressive.
The need for an independent progressive movement, she said, was made clear after the 2006 election when Democrats who had taken control of Congress with a mandate to end the war in Iraq began to backtrack. “it became the politics of the usual when they came back to Washington.”
“In 2008, the voters get it, and it’s time for members of Congress to get it, too.”
She said that during the conference she will join with a number of other candidates and foreign policy experts to lay out what she called a responsible plan for getting out of Iraq.
But, in the long term, she said that as a new member of Congress she welcomes progressives helping her stay true to the platform that got her elected. “I’m counting on you to have my back in the United States Congress,” she said.