Responding to the Letter to the Left Establishment Regarding Obama

A so-called Letter to the Left Establishment critical of the Obama administration has been circulating for a few days. The letter is a bit odd because if you do not read it carefully, it appears that the people named in the first paragraph, including yours truly, are actually asking people to sign on. In reality the Letter is a criticism of several individuals who offered varying degrees of support to the candidacy of President Obama in 2008. On the grounds of confusion alone the Letter should be withdrawn and the signatories should request that their names be removed.

But what is odder to me is that the Letter has all sorts of implications. The Letter calls upon those named in the first paragraph to criticize the policies of the Obama administration, as if we have not. It implies that we have been silent about major decisions of the Obama administration that have been wrong. It recites a list of decisions, approaches, etc., by the Obama administration as if any of this is new to those of us identified in the first paragraph.

None of this is new. And the authors of the Letter should know that. In fact, if they happened to have been in a cave for the last couple of years and did not keep up with the news, they could have Googled the names of most of the people listed in the first paragraph and found that we have been generally outspoken in our criticisms as well as involved in organizing to put pressure on the administration.

For these reasons i have been trying to figure out what the intent of the Letter actually is.

I am not going to speak for anyone else. In 2008 i reluctantly came to the conclusion that a position of critical support of Obama was the correct stand. “Reluctantly” because i had a number of concerns about Obama, most of which have been realized. Nevertheless i was impressed by the congealing of forces that i believed had the potential to do something progressive in the political realm irrespective of the actions of Obama-the-individual. I actually still believe that this is possible and not too late.

In 2008, i and several others mentioned in the Letter also suggested that if there was no pressure from the Left and progressives on Obama, assuming he was elected, that we would find ourselves in deep trouble. In fact, people used to joke with me immediately before and immediately after the November 2008 election because i would be asked how much of a honeymoon period Obama should receive and my answer was always the same: “24 hours.” I insisted, as did many of my colleagues, that we could not, in effect, give Obama any honeymoon period and that pressure had to start from the beginning. We were correct.

The Letter reads as if those named in the first paragraph have been sitting on their hands or standing at the gates refusing to permit the masses to pass through and challenge Obama. I am not sure whether the authors are standing in some parallel universe, but in this one i see no evidence of that at all. There are differences, some over tactics while others over strategy, among those named in the first paragraph, but precisely for that reason it is odd that the names would all be thrown together as if someone were actually trying to stir up confusion and promote disinformation. I don’t know, but i have actually seen a film much like this before.

So, assuming that there is loving intent from the authors—and i am certainly not critical of the signatories—then i would say, i agree with many of the criticisms they have offered of the Obama administration; i have offered many of those criticisms already; i have been active, as have most of my colleagues, in trying to engage liberal and progressive social forces in the need to both combat the political Right as well as put the pressure on the Democrats; and, guess what? I will continue to, and i am assuming that my colleagues will as well.

Oh, and while i am at it, one thing that the authors of the Letter did not address was the question of the African American electorate. I don’t know about you, but how we handle the question of this administration is particularly dicey when the African American electorate feels, overwhelmingly, that Obama is under an intense racist assault from the political Right (which is, as you know, quite correct). This basic question of the African American electorate and huge portions of the Latino electorate means that our electoral tactics in the coming two years will have to be handled very carefully, even while we put the pressure on this administration and struggle against its defense of warmed over neo-liberalism.

It might have been a good idea, and this is only a suggestion, for the authors of the Letter to have reached out to those mentioned in the first paragraph rather than trying to embarrass us. It certainly would have been more principled, but it would have also made them look less foolish or mis-informed yet well-intentioned individuals (which ever applies) when one examines the actual record.

In solidarity,

Bill Fletcher, Jr.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is co-author of “Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and A New Path Toward Social Justice.” Check out the Youtube interview regarding Solidarity Divided.