Kagan in Context: Shafting Progressive Values

Elena KaganIf President Obama has his way, Elena Kagan will replace John Paul Stevens — and the Supreme Court will move rightward. The nomination is very disturbing, especially because it’s part of a pattern.

The White House is in the grip of conventional centrist wisdom. Grim results stretch from Afghanistan to the Gulf of Mexico to communities across the USA.

“It turns out, by the way, that oil rigs today generally don’t cause spills,” President Obama said in support of offshore oil drilling, less than three weeks before the April 20 blowout in the Gulf. “They are technologically very advanced.”

On numerous policy fronts, such conformity to a centrist baseline has smothered hopes for moving this country in a progressive direction. Now, the president has taken a step that jeopardizes civil liberties and other basic constitutional principles.

“During the course of her Senate confirmation hearings as Solicitor General, Kagan explicitly endorsed the Bush administration’s bogus category of ‘enemy combatant,’ whose implementation has been a war crime in its own right,” University of Illinois law professor Francis Boyle noted last month. “Now, in her current job as U.S. Solicitor General, Kagan is quarterbacking the continuation of the Bush administration’s illegal and unconstitutional positions in U.S. federal court litigation around the country, including in the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Boyle added: “Kagan has said ‘I love the Federalist Society.’ This is a right-wing group; almost all of the Bush administration lawyers responsible for its war and torture memos are members of the Federalist Society.”

The departing Justice Stevens was a defender of civil liberties. Unless the Senate refuses to approve Kagan for the Supreme Court, the nation’s top court is very likely to become more hostile to civil liberties and less inclined to put limits on presidential power.

Here is yet another clear indication that progressives must mobilize to challenge the White House on matters of principle. Otherwise, history will judge us harshly — and it should.

For more than 15 months, evidence has mounted that President Obama routinely combines progressive rhetoric with contrary actions. As one bad decision after another has emanated from the Oval Office, some progressives have favored denial — even though, if the name “Bush” or “McCain” had been attached to the same presidential policies, the same progressives would have been screaming bloody murder.

But enabling bad policies, with silent acquiescence or anemic dissent, encourages more of them. At this point, progressive groups and individuals who pretend that Obama’s policies merely need a few tweaks, or just suffer from a few anomalous deficiencies, are whistling past a political graveyard.

At the same time, with less than six months to go before Election Day, there are very real prospects of a big Republican victory that could shift majority control of Congress. Progressives have a huge stake in averting a GOP takeover on Capitol Hill.

The corporate-military centrism of the Obama administration has demoralized and demobilized the Democratic Party’s largely progressive base — the same base that swept Nancy Pelosi into the House Speaker’s office and then Barack Obama into the White House. National polls now show Democrats to be much less enthusiastic about voting in November than their Republican counterparts.

The conventional political wisdom (about as accurate as the claim that “oil rigs today generally don’t cause spills”) is that when a Democratic president moves rightward, his party gains strength against Republicans. But Democrats reaped the whirlwind of that pseudo-logic in 1994 — after President Clinton shafted much of the Democratic base by pushing through the corporate NAFTA trade pact against the wishes of labor, environmental and human-rights constituencies. That’s how Newt Gingrich and other right-wing zealots got to run Congress starting in January 1995.

For progressives, giving the Obama administration one benefit of the doubt after another has not prevented matters from getting worse.

At the moment, U.S. troop levels are nearing 100,000 in Afghanistan.

Massive quantities of oil are belching into the Gulf of Mexico.

The White House has signaled de facto acceptance of a high unemployment rate for several more years, while offering weak GOP-lite countermeasures like tax breaks for businesses.

Nuclear power subsidies are getting powerful support from both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, while meaningful action against global warming is nowhere in sight.

norman-solomanThe Justice Department continues to backtrack on civil liberties.

And now, if the president’s nomination of Elena Kagan is successful, the result will move the Supreme Court to the right.

Progressives should fight the Kagan nomination.

Norman Solomon

Norman Solomon is national co-chair of the Healthcare Not Warfare campaign, launched byProgressive Democrats of America. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” For more information, go to: www.normansolomon.com


  1. Steve Lamb says

    This is tragic. America is losing a true liberal and President Obama’s nominee, who will be opposed by the right as if she were to the left of Stephens is actually a Clintonista corporate centrist. Why did I support Obama instead of Hillary? It seems I got the same thing anyway.

  2. Wiam says

    Highwayscribery, you’re asking us to accept highway robbery. So our credit card statement has more info? Big deal. The 99.999% of Americans who aren’t rich are the ones who fund the federal government. We own this government, we should demand it bail out main street instead of banksters and wall street. Why should we be happy that the banks are prevented from cheating us too much when we could own the d@mn bank?

    Housing crisis? The US government solved the problem during the Great Depression by giving out loans to homeowners. HOLC was a fantastic program that operated about 15 years, ended when it was supposed to, and actually made the government/public money in the process. Obama’s solution? Fund the thieves who took down the entire economy with their greed and dishonesty. Healthcare crisis? The Democratic Party and Dem Presidents came up with brilliant non-welfare programs like Social Security and Medicare that have broad based support and have been hugely successful. Obama’s solution? Re-fund the crooked insurance companies that funded his presidential campaign. Environmental and energy crisis? Obama’s first instinct is to give away the house (in this case, promote offshore drilling for his fat cat oil company supporters) before negotiating energy solutions that protect the environment for future generations.

    When are people going to get it? Obama’s a corporatist and he’s going to continue screwing America’s middle and working class citizens until we make him do otherwise.

    Progressives are asking for too much? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

  3. says

    This editorial could be cut-and-pasted into a flyer from the 2000 Nader campaign.

    And we know what happened there.

    Stop kvetching because in 13 or 14 months progressives haven’t gotten all they wanted. What you did get was numerous, immmediate reversals of Bush environmental policy, a pledge to get out of Iraq and Afghanistan in a discernable period of time, the biggest infusion of public works money since the federal highway system was built, and a complete makeover of our nation’s image into something more wholeseome and organic on the world stage.

    Take a look at your credit card bill for this month and wonder at the disclosure of information now required and consider the protections you now have from these banking pirates.

    And then there is a little thing called health care reform. Or have we already forgotten? The president went to the mat on that one, and it’s going to cost him. On this issue alone he should enjoy our further indulgence.

    The president has not exactly been given carte blance to govern by the Senate opposition, nor were circumstances favorable to a bundle of progressive projects.

    Finally, he was not, like his predecessor, going to govern merely for the people who voted for him. That does not serve the whole country.

    Learn from past mistakes. Have a memory. You may not be getting everything you want, but a presidency should run eight years and be judged en toto.

    As I did a few weeks ago in this forum, I urge progressives to be thankful for what they have, things they didn’t two years ago. And I preach tolerance for conservative Democrats and the swearing off of “challenges from the left,” which carry the scent of Tea Party purity tests during a complicated election season.

    We need these people to maintain governing majorities and to prove that a progressive force can still be a moderate and malleable one.


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