What Do Progressives Need to Do Now?

Official photographic portrait of US President...

Official photographic portrait of US President Barack Obama (born 4 August 1961; assumed office 20 January 2009) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first thing, I think, is to “hold your nose” as they say, and vote for Barack Obama.  Tom Frank has written:

Well, if you’re like me, you’re resolved to voting for him because he’s not Mitt Romney and he’s not Paul Ryan. He does have some things to his credit that you cannot diminish. He ended the war in Iraq; that was really good. People like me often forget that when we’re tallying up all his failings and [talking about] how he didn’t go far enough with this and that. But he did end the war. That’s a big, big deal. Now Mitt Romney can’t send more troops there; he can’t get that war going again. That’s a very important thing. He got some form of national healthcare passed. He didn’t go far enough; he brought all kinds of headaches on himself that he didn’t need to do; he played it very poorly — but he got something passed. And that’s also huge.

Frank likes the idea of third party candidates and third party endorsements as something to work toward, but…

…those are very hard to build in the current legal situation, [with] the way elections are run in this country. The way things are set up now, a third-party candidate in an election is just a spoiler.

And so I agree, voting for Obama is called for in this election.  From an Integral perspective, check out the argument made by Terry Patten in The Integral Case for President Obama:

Like you, most likely, mainstream American political discourse doesn’t speak to my sensibilities—and I’m fervently committed to raising the level of our public dialog.  That’s precisely why, even though I’d rather engage a trans-partisan politics, I recognize that the path to evolving consciousness and culture today is by leaning in as a “partisan”.

I’ve created IntegralObama.com to offer integral evolutionaries an opportunity to support the re-election of President Obama by speaking with a single voice. Why Obama, again? And why should we, as “integral evolutionaries,” pool our support?

…I know there are those of you who will feel that the current administration is guilty of the same “politics as usual” as the Republicans and that perhaps your support would be better given over to Libertarian, Green, trans-partisan, or non-partisan efforts. I sympathize with this perspective, but at the same time I can’t help but consider the lesson of the 2000 race, when many well-meaning, intelligent folks abandoned Al Gore in favor of Ralph Nader, effectively handing the presidency to George W. Bush. If there’s one thing that’s become painfully clear over the last 12 years, I think it’s this: it’s incredibly difficult to accomplish constructive change as a President, but it’s terribly easy to make disastrous mistakes.

Obama has proven himself to be a pragmatic modernist centrist, someone we can count on to lean toward constructive change, even if not galvanizing progress at the pace we would have hoped.


OK, so you vote for Obama. Then What?

Pointers from Tom Frank

1.  If Obama is re-elected, approach his 2nd term with the realization that progressive voices have become irrelevant. Tom Frank wrote, “the only honest way for progressives to assess the experience of these past four years is by coming unflinchingly to terms with our own futility and irrelevance. We reached a historical turning point in 2008, all right. We just didn’t make the turn.”

2. Build strength outside the Democratic party.

3. Look to join or start some sort of social movement to push from the left.

4. That social movement might consider calling for a revival of a lively third party to dismantle the current two party monopoly.

5. Overcome the academization of protests. “…one of the problems is that these movements always — somehow — get sucked into the academy. They get taken over by people who are absolutely determined to not speak in a way that is comprehensible to average Americans. In fact, [these are] people who have enormous contempt for average Americans. The whole idea of the left is about empowering average people, and you can’t do that if you despise them.”

6. Recognize the legitimate role of government. “Occupy tended to be pretty unsophisticated about the state. They sound like libertarians, frankly, when they’re talking about the state. If you want to do something about Wall Street in this country, there is only one power that can do it — and that’s the state, obviously. That’s government. And government did perform that role for a long time.”

7. Figure out how to talk about the economy. “Until the day Democrats learn how to speak meaningfully about The Issue — the flagrantly rigged casino of American life — plenty of voters will continue to buy what Paul Ryan is selling,”

Read More: David Daley’s interview with Tom Frank at Salon.com: Obama’s Made Left “futile and irrelevant”


Van Jones: Support Obama and the Democrats and do not rely on them either.

In Van Jones’ new book Rebuild the Dream, he writes:

“Too many of us treated Obama’s inauguration as some kind of finish line, when we should have seen it as just the starting line. Too many of us sat down at the very moment when we should have stood up… I say Obama relied on the people too little, and we tried to rely on him too much.”

“The Obama administration had the wrong theory of the movement, and the movement had the wrong theory of the presidency. In America, changes comes when we have two kinds of leaders, not just one. We need a president who is willing to be pushed into doing the right thing, and we need independent leaders and movements that are willing to do the pushing.”

Read More:  By Chris Dierkes at Beams and Struts – A Short Book Review: Rebuild the Dream


Terry Patten on Integral Politics

(R)evolutionaries should consider evolution’s own strategy of activism. What is that? Evolution tries all strategies at once. There are many valid forms of activism and many time horizons for action—from the immediate near term of this election cycle to the “long now” of a forward-thinking evolutionary timescale. Certainly, an integral political practice must include both (and the full spectrum of) timescales, seizing upon the “urgency of now,” while also working diligently and patiently for the long-term good. And we may shift our focus back and forth, zooming in and out, depending on where we feel most called. The same holds for our activism within the “system” and outside of it.

…In the long-term, I believe we must create a truly integral evolutionary moment, including an integral political party—and I would support these efforts (in fact, an integral political party has already been founded in Switzerland). But in the immediate term, there is no real integral option—at least not in the US. When we look at our realistic options, I believe we have a better chance of integralizing the Democratic party than the Republican party, at least at this point. That’s why I’m supporting Obama in this election.  If he wins, it serves a double purpose. It potentially breaks the fever of the doctrinaire right-wing regressive lurch that has seized the Republican party in the last few years, and brings both parties closer to a pragmatic center. That’s the hope.

That said, we must each integralize the contexts in which we already find ourselves—whether Democratic, Republican, Libertarian, Socialist, or none of the above. Our ultimate goals can be served only if we become engaged, if we actively transform the level of dialogue from the grassroots up. And this, in my view, is a matter of practice. Whether we practice within established politics or outside of it, we can all be working to raise the level of the discourse.

Read More: The Integral Case for President Obama, by Terry Patten


2 comments on “What Do Progressives Need to Do Now?

  1. Iaato says:


    “I voted today. …
    I voted for peace and justice and sanity
    In an insane world of violence and injustice.
    I voted.

    I voted for clear streams, rivers, and seas;
    Bright stars in a cedar-scented night-sky;
    Whale-songs heard in unpolluted oceans.
    Not for the lesser of two evils,
    But for the greatest good for the greatest number—
    For nothing less, I voted. . . .” –Corseri, Nov. 5, 2012

    • davidm58 says:

      Hi Mary,
      Thanks for sharing this well-written poem. I appreciate the sentiment, and I share the goals. Pursuing the greatest good for the greatest number is a great goal to always keep front and center (though one might want to consider refining that “the greatest depth for the greatest span” ala Ken Wilber). A part of me resonates with those who are supporting candidates like Jill Stein with an uncompromising vision for the world they want; however, I think in politics more than anywhere else, one has to think politically…tactically.

      Therefore, I think Rebecca Solnit has it right in We Could Be Heroes:

      “…So here I want to lay out an insanely obvious principle that apparently needs clarification. There are bad things and they are bad. There are good things and they are good, even though the bad things are bad. The mentioning of something good does not require the automatic assertion of a bad thing. The good thing might be an interesting avenue to pursue in itself if you want to get anywhere. In that context, the bad thing has all the safety of a dead end. And yes, much in the realm of electoral politics is hideous, but since it also shapes quite a bit of the world, if you want to be political or even informed you have to pay attention to it and maybe even work with it.

      …There is idealism somewhere under this pile of bile, the pernicious idealism that wants the world to be perfect and is disgruntled that it isn’t — and that it never will be. That’s why the perfect is the enemy of the good. Because, really, people, part of how we are going to thrive in this imperfect moment is through élan, esprit de corps, fierce hope, and generous hearts.

      …One manifestation of this indiscriminate biliousness is the statement that gets aired every four years: that in presidential elections we are asked to choose the lesser of two evils. Now, this is not an analysis or an insight; it is a cliché, and a very tired one, and it often comes in the same package as the insistence that there is no difference between the candidates. You can reframe it, however, by saying: we get a choice, and not choosing at all can be tantamount in its consequences to choosing the greater of two evils.

      But having marriage rights or discrimination protection or access to health care is not the lesser of two evils. If I vote for a Democrat, I do so in the hopes that fewer people will suffer, not in the belief that that option will eliminate suffering or bring us to anywhere near my goals or represent my values perfectly. Yet people are willing to use this “evils” slogan to wrap up all the infinite complexity of the fate of the Earth and everything living on it and throw it away.

      I don’t love electoral politics, particularly the national variety. I generally find such elections depressing and look for real hope to the people-powered movements around the globe and subtler social and imaginative shifts toward more compassion and more creativity. Still, every four years we are asked if we want to have our foot trod upon or sawed off at the ankle without anesthetic. The usual reply on the left is that there’s no difference between the two experiences and they prefer that Che Guevara give them a spa pedicure. Now, the Che pedicure is not actually one of the available options, though surely in heaven we will all have our toenails painted camo green by El Jefe.

      …There are really only two questions for activists: What do you want to achieve? And who do you want to be? And those two questions are deeply entwined. Every minute of every hour of every day you are making the world, just as you are making yourself, and you might as well do it with generosity and kindness and style.

      That is the small ongoing victory on which great victories can be built, and you do want victories, don’t you? Make sure you’re clear on the answer to that, and think about what they would look like.



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