When Barack Obama was swept into the White House last year on a mandate of hope and change, many progressives believed his arrival meant they could finally roll down their sleeves and wash their hands.
But David Swanson was not one of them.
Although he voted for Obama, Swanson, author of the recently published book “Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union,” predominantly about the Bush years, told Truthout that “people have gone through this foolish cycle of expecting an election to change everything and then being disappointed and discouraged that it didn’t.”
What the popular progressive activist had to say about Obama’s first year in office may be a difficult truth for many to swallow.
Progressives have become increasingly frustrated with the White House during the past year over the direction of health care reform, the economy and the fact that Obama escalated the war in Afghanistan against the advice of his ambassador to the country and has embraced many controversial Bush-era policies, such as indefinite detentions, the extension of the Patriot Act and the use of signing statements to ignore laws passed by Congress. Some progressives feel that the president they helped elect has all but abandoned them.
I asked Swanson whether he thought Obama made empty promises and used progressives simply to win an election.
“I think to a much greater extent progressives used themselves,” Swanson said in a wide-ranging interview during a recent stop on his book tour. “The thinking was he’s speaking to his funders and the corporate media and secretly he’s a populist. But if you’re going to be a populist you’re going to be a populist upfront. You’re not going to be better than your promises unless you’re forced to be. And we’re accepting the idea that we should replace a bad dictator with a good dictator and a president should be able to come in and change everything, never mind that the next president could come in and unchange it. So, [the president] is the wrong place to look for a savior. We should be looking to ourselves, to serious organizing at the local level in every district, and pressuring the representatives closest to us, those in the House to impose our will on the president.”
Swanson’s analysis wasn’t entirely critical. He praised a number of the administration’s actions, including the choice of Sonia Sotomayor as Supreme Court justice, and much needed improvements to the Department of Labor.
But the painful reality, as Swanson pointed out during our lengthy discussion, is that on issues of “war and peace, and distribution of wealth and abuses of power and human rights [there are] no changes.”
“We have more troops in the field than ever with Bush and Cheney, bigger military budget than ever, bigger war budget than ever, bases in more countries than ever, [and] expanded use of unmanned drones” Swanson said. “On the big issues we care about it’s a disaster. And you can’t say ‘I’m for this domestic program I don’t care about wars’ because that’s where all the money goes.”
Swanson’s comments should serve as a wake-up call to progressives that much work remains to be done. Picking up “Daybreak” would be a good starting point.
This video was directed and edited by Rob Corsini and the interview conducted by Jason Leopold.