The omitted agenda

Here’s what the Democrats won’t be talking about in Denver

Ralph Nader says voters who think Barack Obama is progressive are only kidding themselves.

Ralph Nader says voters who think Barack Obama is progressive are only kidding themselves.

Photo By Larry Dalton

As the Democratic National Party gathers to coronate Barack Obama at the convention in Denver, it’s worth taking a look at the state of the nation and the world since the party assumed control of Congress after the 2006 election.

As the United States slides inexorably toward what even mainstream economists are calling the worst economic downturn in decades, Democrats and Republicans in Congress have sanctioned bailing out Wall Street financiers to the tune of hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars. While top execs keep their multimillion-dollar salaries, millions of homeowners facing mortgage foreclosures get a few crumbs from Washington.

The U.S. military remains bogged down in Afghanistan and Iraq, where hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians have been killed, along with more than 4,000 American troops. Yet Democrats and Republicans enthusiastically support attacking Iran, a country that bears no threat to the United States.

Anything resembling a national single-payer health plan is out of the question. Energy policy—other than ensuring Big Oil maintains its string of record-breaking quarterly profits—is nonexistent. The list goes on. Some might call these “progressive issues,” but in fact, they’re issues that affect most if not all of us.

Nevertheless, don’t expect to be hearing about these or any other so-called progressive issues in Denver. In fact, the Democrats have cordoned off any sort of progressive dissent in a so-called “protest zone,” blocks away from the Pepsi Center.

“There is no progressive agenda in the Democratic Party platform,” perennial progressive presidential candidate Ralph Nader told SN&R. “With a Democratic-controlled Congress since 2006, there has been no rollback of the Bush-GOP agenda to continue the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

Nader and a slew of the nation’s most prominent political progressives were in Sacramento earlier this month, attending the Peace and Freedom Party’s state convention. Nader won the party’s nomination and will be on the ballot this fall. SN&R took advantage of the opportunity to engage Nader and his fellow progressives, most of whom were profoundly skeptical of the upcoming Obamathon in Denver.

“Corporate donors matter to the party, which serves as a decoy for the voters,” Nader explained. “So we get the American people saying no to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, but the Democrats continuing to approve funding for military operations in both nations. The people say yes to single-payer health care, but the insurance industry says no.”

What are the prospects for progressive politics to fix what ails America if Barack Obama wins the White House and his Democratic Party keeps control of Congress?

Don’t hold your breath.

“Very little of the issues we in the Peace and Freedom Party raise, such as ending U.S. war funding, are covered by the Democratic Party,” said Gloria La Riva, the Party for Socialism and Liberation candidate, who finished second to Nader. “It caters to the rich, who are getting richer. This trend points to the need for an independent progressive campaign to meet the political needs of the population around dinner-table issues of economic security, as inequality and poverty are rising.”

La Riva, a social activist and labor organizer based in San Francisco, ran as a Peace and Freedom candidate for governor of California in 1994 and 1998. She backs passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier for workers to join labor unions. The multipronged crises of rising food and fuel prices and home foreclosures have created an opening for fundamental social change.

Socialist Party USA candidate Brian Moore, a Peace Corps veteran and labor organizer who attended Christian Brothers High School in Sacramento, is encouraged by the number of younger voters actively participating in this election.

“There is a whole new generation of U.S. citizens who are open to radical ideas as solutions to social problems,” he said. “For them, there is no Red Scare factor.”

Peter Camejo, Nader’s running mate in 2004, agreed the current economic crisis is creating an opening for a more progressive politics. But first, the Peace and Freedom Party needs to learn to speak to the masses—a task for which Nader is well-prepared.

“The capitalist class wants anybody but Nader due to his track record of education and reaching out to the public, especially youth,” Camejo said.

The Democratic Party’s refusal to address progressive issues has driven more than a few members from the party. Linda Roberts is a state delegate with the Peace and Freedom Party and a recovering Democrat. She has campaigned for former Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley and the late California Sen. Alan Cranston. Roberts is now running for a seat in the 5th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. She has no plans to protest the omitted agenda at the Democratic National Convention in Denver.

“I think that it is shameful that the party allowed a designated protest zone there [behind a fence and away from the party delegates],” she said.

Dina Padilla of Citrus Heights is the Peace and Freedom candidate for the 3rd Congressional District in the House of Representatives. Reared in a Polish-American neighborhood in Chicago, she was a member of the Democratic Party until 2006.

“Our health-care system has been a disaster for a very long time,” she said. “I find it odd that the Democratic Party is not offering a stance on a single-payer health-care plan and is instead accepting the current model of HMOs and private insurers using the business incentive of profit to decide what care we get and how to spend federal tax money on our health.”

Sacramento resident Karen Bernal is a member of the city’s Wellstone Democratic Club and an officer-at-large for the progressive caucus of the California state Democratic Party. In her view, many progressives are angry with the Democrats’ “abysmal failure” since the 2006 midterm elections to stop the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the Bush administration’s attack on civil liberties at home. Protesting in Denver and electing Obama to the White House are not “mutually exclusive,” said Bernal, who will not be at the DNC. “We have to champion expression of free speech.”

Although many of Sacramento’s more prominent progressives attended the convention, no one told the SN&R they were planning to join demonstrators in Denver. As it stands now, progressive issues remain off the convention’s menu. The only party advocating immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq, a single-payer health system and economic fairness—values supported by Americans in countless opinion polls—is the Peace and Freedom Party.

The Peace and Freedom Party and Nader’s Raiders, comprised mainly of young people, have more than progressive politics in common. Both organizations celebrated their 40th birthdays in 2008.

“We need to focus on raising the public’s expectation levels, attract youth and ending militarism in all of its forms,” Nader said in his acceptance speech.

Nader chose former Green Party president and San Francisco Board of Supervisors member Matt Gonzalez to be his running mate. The tireless campaigner and consumer advocate says progressive Californians seeking to jump-start the political process can start by voting for the duo on the fall ballot to put “a scare into the two parties. Denying voters to them is the only thing the Democrats and Republicans understand.”

Although Nader has polled as high as 6 percent in some national surveys, his former running mate Camejo concedes that Barack Obama will probably beat John McCain to become the next president of the United States. Not that it will make that much difference.

There will be a “honeymoon period,” Camejo said, then “a state of shock due to the realization that zero has changed.”

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