Norman Solomon: The progressive caucus: Enabling Obama's rightwing moves?


By Norman Solomon

Norman Solomon is co-founder of and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. He co-chairs the Healthcare Not Warfare campaign organized by Progressive Democrats of America. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” He writes the Political Culture 2013 column.

The failure of the Congressional Progressive Caucus to stand up to President Obama on many vital matters of principle is one of the most important – and least mentioned – political dynamics of this era.

As the largest caucus of Democrats on Capitol Hill, the Progressive Caucus has heavyweight size but flyweight punch.

During the last four years, its decisive footwork has been so submissive to the White House that you can almost hear the laughter from the West Wing when the Progressive Caucus vows to stand firm.

A sad pattern of folding in the final round has continued. When historic votes come to the House floor, party functionaries are able to whip the Progressive Caucus into compliance. The endgame ends with the vast majority of the caucus members doing what Obama wants.

That’s what happened on the first day of this year, when the “bipartisan” fiscal deal came down. Widely denounced by progressive analysts, the bill passed on the House floor by a margin of 44 votes – with the Progressive Caucus providing the margin. Out of 75 caucus members, only seven voted against it.

Over the years, we’ve seen that President Obama is willing – even satisfied – to be rolled by Republican leaders on Capitol Hill. But that’s just part of the problem. We should also come to terms with the reality that the Progressive Caucus is routinely rolled by the president.

A two-step prototype hit the ground running in September 2009 when Progressive Caucus co-chairs sent a public letter to Obama on behalf of the caucus – pledging to vote against any healthcare bill “without a robust public option.” Six months later, on the House floor, every member of the Progressive Caucus wilted under pressure and voted for a healthcare bill with no public option at all.

Since then, similar dynamics have persisted, with many Progressive Caucus members making fine statements of vigorous resolve – only to succumb on the House floor under intense pressure from the Obama administration.

We need Progressive Caucus members who are progressives first and loyal Democrats second, not the other way around. When the party hierarchy cracks the whip, they should strive to halt the rightward drift of congressional legislation, not add to it.

In the new session of Congress, the Progressive Caucus – with 72 members – retains major potential. It often puts out solid position papers like the recent Budget for All. And its leadership includes some of the sharpest progressive blades in the House. Congressmen Keith Ellison and Raul Grijalva just won re-election as caucus co-chairs, and Congresswoman Barbara Lee just became the caucus whip.

Still, none of the more than half-dozen Progressive Caucus leaders were among the seven caucus members who voted against the New Year’s Day fiscal deal – and more serious capitulation may soon be on the near horizon.

Early this month, right after the fiscal deal, the Progressive Caucus put its best foot forward by issuing a “Progressive Principles for the Next Deal” statement that vowed to “protect” Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security benefits. But those programs will be in jeopardy before spring in tandem with votes on “sequestration” and raising the debt ceiling.

The results are likely to be very grim unless members of the Progressive Caucus are truly prepared – this time – to stand their progressive ground. Without an attitude adjustment, they’re on track to help the president betray Social Security and other essential parts of the social compact.

On a vast array of profound issues – ranging from climate change and civil liberties to drone strikes, perpetual war and a huge military budget – some individual progressives in Congress introduce outstanding bills and make excellent statements. But when the chips are down and minority leader Nancy Pelosi offloads presidential weight onto House Democrats, the Progressive Caucus rarely shows backbone with cohesive action.

What we have witnessed so far is surrender in stages – a chronic confluence of conformity and undue party loyalty, with brave talk from caucus members habitually followed by contrary votes on the floor of the House of Representatives. From the grassroots, progressives must mobilize to pressure every member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus to let them know we will hold them accountable

Norman Solomon is co-founder of and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. He co-chairs the Healthcare Not Warfare campaign organized by Progressive Democrats of America. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” He writes the Political Culture 2013 column.


No, really?

Posted by marcos on Jan. 16, 2013 @ 6:55 pm

that bankroll it. Norman Solomon appears to be well-intentioned based on what I have read about him and by him.

But to think that somehow the Progressive Democrats of America are going to transform the Democratic Party into a party that represents working class interests confirms Rahm Emanuel's observation that liberals are "fucking retarded." No offense meant to developmentally disabled people.

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 16, 2013 @ 11:59 pm

On another forum I read, they are disgusted with Obama-bot Norman Solomon who has been shilling for his "savior" BO since his first campaign. Some say on that forum that they've stopped reading Norman's articles because he is complicit in the Obama agenda (which he is and the same goes for anyone who voted for him) with his two endorsements of his "savior." (He was also an Obama delegate.)

"Fucking retarded" (and no offense or disrespect intended to developmentally disabled people) is a good start for describing so-called "Democrats." I have as much contempt for so-called "Democrats" as I do Republicans. So-called "Democrats" stand for nothing but party allegiance. At least Republicans seem to stand for "principles." And the hypocrisy in all of this is that this publication gushingly endorsed BO whose policies are to the right of Bush, but they would never have endorsed Bush. I wouldn't have endorsed either of them. I would have endorsed with Dra. Jill Stein and/or Durham/López. They were/are the real progressives. The sheeple would say to that: But they can't win. Question: How exactly are you "winning" with Obama as we enter Bush/Cheney's Fourth Term in office?

Posted by Guest on Jan. 23, 2013 @ 5:16 pm

Obama doesn't have to pander to the left-wing of the Democrat Party because they have no where else to go. They either work with the President or they are condemned to irrelevancy.

Obamfa needs the political center to maintain power and influence. Indeed, had Obama been as left-wing as you claim, he would probably have not won re-election.

It's the same thing with the black lobby. tHey bemoan that Obama hasn't been more pro-active with black issues but, again, why should he? He already has their support and they have nowhere else to go in the end.

Obama needs moderate support to get thigns done. And, given the state of the House, he needs some right-wing support too. Game over for the Progressives, I'm afraid.

Posted by anon on Jan. 17, 2013 @ 7:15 am

It's called "reality".

That hopey changey rhetoric was just for the voters. And the birds.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 18, 2013 @ 7:58 am

is obviously of no value whatsoever.

And that presidents don't "always move to the center" has been disproven again and again so that its repetition here can *only* be attributed to the wanton effrontery of trolls.

*Candidates* always move to the center -- at least it is the conventional wisdom that after winning a primary they seek to look more appealing to the other side -- but what explains their moves to the *RIGHT* after winning general elections?

Might it be that voter's intents are not being respected while corporatists get to call in all their chits from campaign finance bribery?

Presidents always move to the right; Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, G.H.W.Bush, Bill Clinton, G.W.Bush, Obama.

Posted by lillipublicans on Jan. 18, 2013 @ 9:05 am

Nixon moved to the center/left after election which did not assuage the Democrats contributed to his isolation from his Republican base and led to him being vulnerable to impeachment for Watergate related crimes. Nixon was the last president to move to the left.

The Republican Party has moved so far to the right that the Democrats have taken advantage of the breach and occupied that political terrain, abandoning any left/center-left politics to speak of. This leaves us with the Republicans over the cliff, the Democrats as a mix of Bush I and Bush II Republicans. The Democrats appeal to the left during campaigns but govern to the right.

This car only turns to the right. Elections describe how sharp that right turn will be and how fast we'll take that right turn. When the Republicans win, the Democrats make feeble efforts to arrest that change. When the Democrats win, the Republicans push them further to the right so that politics gets more conservative economically when the Democrats win.

Posted by marcos on Jan. 18, 2013 @ 10:09 am

The people consistently show, in rejecting higher taxes, gun control, single-payer healthcare, gay marriage etc. that the majority in the US are nowhere as left-wing as you would like them to be.

That's the reality of governing this country. Initiatives that would sail thru a European parliament get rejected here because of our more individualist, less-collectivist nature. In fact, Europe may be this left-wing precisely because all the individualists and meritocrats moved here.

Personally, I think it's good to have the choice. Live in europe if you want high taxes and a nanny state. Live in the US if you want the opportunity to do better thru individual effort.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 18, 2013 @ 10:16 am

Presidential candidates run to the left and win then govern to the right, the people vote for candidates with left/center-left messages, those candidates win, and people get precisely the opposite of what they voted for. Enough of that and hardly anyone who wants anything left of right votes anymore as it is always a waste of time.

Posted by marcos on Jan. 18, 2013 @ 11:36 am

Clinton and Obama. Both adopted centrists positions and the majority of voters were happy with that, else they would not have been re-elected nor even win the Democrat Primary the second time around.

Most Americans are moderates and want a centrist Prez, not a left-wing one.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 18, 2013 @ 12:33 pm

Both Klinton and Obama won with center/left electoral coalitions but abandoned them once in office and governed with the same center right wall street/war/corporate coalition.

Posted by marcos on Jan. 18, 2013 @ 2:53 pm

to wield power. He already ahs them and they have nowhere else to go.

He needs the supprots of moderates and centrists to maintain and project power.

This is politics 101 Marcos. You are too much an ideolog to ever get how thigns actually work in the real world.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 18, 2013 @ 4:25 pm

It may make sense not to vote for presidential candidates, but there are still good reasons to vote. The death penalty was on the California ballot, along with the issue of labeling GMO's, raising taxes, etc. Just imagine...we might have repealed the death penalty by now if some of you nonvoters had turned out instead of tuning out.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 18, 2013 @ 2:09 pm

Do you "believe" in Santa Claus too?

Posted by Joseph Thomas on Jan. 19, 2013 @ 2:05 pm

Nixon moved right. He *campaigned* as a progressive and a peace candidate. That he signed landmark environmental and consumer protection bills over the vocal dissent of his own party does not represent him moving left.

Posted by lillipublicans on Jan. 18, 2013 @ 12:03 pm

No, Nixon said that he had a secret plan to end the war and did just the opposite. He was substantively no further to the right than LBJ on the war.

Contrast this to policies that would be rejected by today's Democrats as hopelessly socialist: wage and price controls, National Environmental Policy Act, Environmental Protection Agency, Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, opening up to China...

lilli, you need to get your political meter checked. It apparently only gives two readings.

Posted by marcos on Jan. 18, 2013 @ 12:29 pm

You still hear people talking about "Nixon's war."

It was a pretty bi-partisan operation from the start. If Nixon had won instead of Kennedy there is a good chance that there would have never been any major involvement in the first place. Nixon would have followed Ike's policies, Ike was explicit that he would not send troops.

Posted by matlock on Jan. 18, 2013 @ 12:42 pm

It ended on Nixon's watch.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 18, 2013 @ 1:39 pm

support your point that he moved left.

Marcos, I refrain from making judgmental snipes at those I typically agree with, but I've noticed that you perhaps overly value your ability -- quite useful! -- to point out the failings in others.


Posted by lillipublicans on Jan. 18, 2013 @ 4:10 pm

Everyone knows.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Jan. 18, 2013 @ 4:26 pm

historians rightly view as being pointless. The country moved to the right after Reagan and we all need to accept that.

The fact that Clinton and Obama took moderate stances on most issues was part of their education in office. This nation does not tolerate socialism any more than fascism. Rather, Americans are hewn from an individualistic, liberal rock that tolerates little in the way of extremism.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 18, 2013 @ 4:27 pm

copied from a third grade corporate published civics textbook.

Which historians do you mean? All of them?

This nation certainly tolerates and encourages fascism in many of the regimes it supports and/or props up throughout the world.

There are about 310 million Americans with beliefs and ideals much more diverse than what you describe in your last sentence.

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 18, 2013 @ 5:05 pm

Our interests come before those of the people of the countries which we need for one reason or another. That's how statecraft works. The president of the US is elected to represent the interests of the United States - not of anyone or anything else. Those are the hard facts. I would demand the impeachment of any president who was found to be acting in the interests of either another state or a people other than the American people.

The president of France acts in French interests, the president of South Africa does the same. So does ours.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Jan. 18, 2013 @ 5:25 pm

Do you ever go to middle America and ask them?

Didn't think so.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 18, 2013 @ 5:32 pm

in middle America. I travel there at least once a year, often more. I have worked in the trades for many years with travelling workers from all over the United States.

You, not I, made the blanket statement about American ideals and values.

How often do you deal with working class people as equals rather than as employer/employee or served/servant?

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 18, 2013 @ 9:33 pm

Republicans and non-progressive democrats are a majority of elected officials nationwide.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 19, 2013 @ 8:05 am

The guy who bullied on HUAC, who went toe to toe with Kruschev turned into the guy who impose wage and price controls and who opened up to China.

That is now Nixon moved to the left.

Posted by marcos on Jan. 18, 2013 @ 6:27 pm

(Or at least it can be said that he early on made much use of red-baiting to advance his career.)

Though so much is true, it actually doesn't relate to the troll's original comment which is what I was responding to. My point was that "presidents do not always move right" after being elected.

Because --once again -- that is a flat-out lie.

(In fact, I'm hereby proposing we make a list of the ten biggest lies that the trolls here tell again and again, and offer that as one of my nominations. I think I'll come up with at least a couple more in short order.)

Why do they tell this lie? It is part of the constellation of lies which basically claim that democracy is fine and that nothing about it has been undergoing a metamorphosis completely counter to the interests of the American people.

Posted by lillipublicans on Jan. 18, 2013 @ 10:34 pm

so it follows that a right-wing ideolog will be forced to the center - same with a elft-wing ideolog.

Americans don't like extremists and ideologs on either side. They want moderates and centrists, not fascists or socialists.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 19, 2013 @ 8:07 am

It sounds like the more familiar concept that "everybody gets less idealistic with age"; hence the surface credibility, but you can't just make stuff up and claim to speak for the American people.

Americans certainly don't like the *word* "Socialism" but poll after poll shows they like a government which has resources to help them deal with catastrophic sickness and old age. They like a government which protects the poorest people from corporate depredation. In short, the like everything about socialism but the name.

Just to correct my earlier mistake and make my meaning absolutely clear: previously I meant to write that the big lie is that "all presidents move to the center" but the *truth* is that all presidents in my lifetime have moved *right* after being elected.

Claiming that G.W.Bush's backing away from his rash and obnoxious and idiotic and otherwise DISASTROUS plan to privatize Social Security -- a plan which he sprang on a shocked and disbelieving American people who had just narrowly re-elected him unaware that he was going to push for it -- a claim that his abortion of that plan represents him "moving to the left" is puerile nonsense.

Posted by lillipublicans on Jan. 19, 2013 @ 8:56 am

the Tea Party wouldn't have gone from nothing to winning the house back from the Dem's in just 2 years.

And if you were right, the Dem's would never have rejected the "public option" and single-payer care.

The support you claim just isn;t there - Americans distrust bureaucrats running healthcare.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 19, 2013 @ 10:13 am

insurance company bureaucrats run the healthcare system. The assumption underlying your comment that elected representatives carry out the will of the voters is false.

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 19, 2013 @ 10:23 am

of people that run Muni should be entrusted with life-or-death decisions.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 19, 2013 @ 12:30 pm

"the fact is that we still need a warrant"

If the American people had known the truth that the New York Times editorial board was keeping secret, Bush would have LOST in 2004.

Another way in which the Republicans can only win by deceiving the American people.

Posted by lillipublicans on Jan. 19, 2013 @ 12:27 pm

Just look at Debra Walker, Mirk etc.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 19, 2013 @ 12:50 pm

"All politicians lie; all politicians are the same, etc."

No. The ultimate destination of that lie is corporate dictatorship. All *Corporations* are the same. All *Corporations* lie. They are hardwired to do so under the practical impetus of fiduciary duty and the universal principle of CYA.

Politicians -- potentially! -- answer to the people. Reactionary trolls don't like that at *all*... unless they've tricked the people into asking for debasement and servitude first, anyway.

Posted by lillipublicans on Jan. 19, 2013 @ 1:06 pm
Posted by Guest on Jan. 18, 2013 @ 12:34 pm

(more undeclared) wars against neighboring countries *and* ordered the dropping of three times all the the tonnage of bombs that were loosed on the Germans in WWII. He did that all on the working man's dime, as it involved turning the early boomer's Social Security surplus into a kitty for the defense industry under the "Unified Budgets" of 1969 and onward.)

(Incidentally, the Japanese industrial might which later cam to decimate the U.S. automakers was also built up through military expenditures related to the Vietnam War as Bell Helicopters were being made there, etc.)

Posted by lillipublicans on Jan. 18, 2013 @ 4:48 pm

gel with your attempt to divert attention from the fact that it was Democrat Presidents that escalated that war.

But we're getting better at this. We lost the Democrat war in Vietnam, but won the GOP wars in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan. Bush(2) and Obama all presided over military victories.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 18, 2013 @ 5:35 pm

"The U.S. midterm elections in 1974 brought in a new Congress dominated by Democrats who were even more determined to confront the president on the war. Congress immediately voted in restrictions on funding and military activities to be phased in through 1975 and to culminate in a total cutoff of funding in 1976."

Posted by marcos on Jan. 18, 2013 @ 7:16 pm

having to pay its enemies to switch sides, and withdrawing most of its troops because the Iraqi government wouldn't give the US military immunity from prosecution for its crimes. And the US is losing the war in Afghanistan.

Nixon didn't exactly end the Vietnam War. He presided over US troops leaving, but the war didn't end until the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese defeated the South Vietnamese in 1975. JFK, LBJ and Nixon all escalated that war.

In fact, what happened in Vietnam is likely similar to what the end of the Afghanistan war will be.

Bombs Not Bandaids, the program preferred by warmongering trolls.

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 18, 2013 @ 9:42 pm

Afghanistan. But almost everyone exccept the most rabid right-winger accepts that the Democrat war in Vietnam was a total loss. Why? Because we couldn't hold the territory and because we lost so many men.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 19, 2013 @ 8:13 am

Really? So the 2003 war resulted in the emplacement of Ahmed "George-Washington-of-Iraq" Chalabi as president and was completely paid for with Iraq oil revenues? Weapons of mass destruction were located and destroyed? The Gulf region was stabilized?

Who knew.

Posted by lillipublicans on Jan. 19, 2013 @ 9:02 am

safer oil supply and military assets in the ME to keep tabs on Iran and Syria.


Posted by Guest on Jan. 19, 2013 @ 10:15 am

We attacked them and now take their oil, what could possibly go wrong "in the out years?"

Posted by marcos on Jan. 19, 2013 @ 10:06 pm

It seems the objectives of the 2nd war with Iraq and the war with Afghanistan were open-ended and ill-defined and both are ending in a miasma of recrimination and confusion. The 1st Gulf War was begun under the aegis of the UN to expel the Iraqis from Kuwait - and that succeeded.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Jan. 19, 2013 @ 10:05 am

wars. We have military assets both to the east and west of Iran. We have air bases on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan. We are in a better position to influence and control the entire region, protect the Gulf and support Israel.


Posted by Guest on Jan. 19, 2013 @ 10:18 am

one million dead, warmonger troll, on your way to the military enlistment office.

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 19, 2013 @ 10:43 am

the removal of Saddam, the suppression of Iran and Syria, and the neutralization of AQ in the ME?

Posted by Guest on Jan. 19, 2013 @ 12:33 pm


Posted by Joseph Thomas on Jan. 19, 2013 @ 2:20 pm