The New Blue Media: How Michael Moore, MoveOn.org, Jon Stewart and Company Are Transforming Progressive Politics

Theodore Hamm’s The New Blue Media is an interesting–and inspiring–examination of the progressive media that has arisen in opposition to the Bush administration. Through a comprehensive and critical examination of this new media, Hamm offers an inspiring look that allows one to celebrate gains that have been made and chart new directions.

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Theodore Hamm’s The New Blue Media: How Michael Moore, MoveOn.org, Jon Stewart and Company Are Transforming Progressive Politics is an interesting–and potentially inspiring–examination of the progressive media that has risen over the past several years in opposition to the Bush Administration. In the book, journalist Theodore Hamm explores several prominent progressive media outlets and media figures–The Onion, Air America, Michel Moore, MoveOn.org, the liberal blogosphere, and The Daily Show/Colbert Report–to discuss how they have provided a critical response to the Bush administration.

In the introduction, Hamm frames this opposition in terms of the failings of the corporate media, which he describes as having either endorsed the policies of the Bush administration or silenced progressive voices. He further places the rise of “the New Blue Media” in a larger historical context, briefly mentioning the history of progressive media in the United States.

Each chapter in the book functions as an exploration of a specific media outlet. Throughout, Hamm makes a number of interesting observations. Much of the time, these are made possible by his willingness to be critical. Hamm does not simply write on the state of “the New Blue Media” or praise its creation, instead, he is willing to make criticisms where necessary. For example, in his evaluation of Air America he is highly critical of Al Franken and his support for the Iraq War. Indeed, this is a familiar theme throughout the book, with Hamm being critical of media that simply echoes the partisan line. Hamm is quick to point out the problems that happen when “the New Blue Media” becomes cheerleaders for the Democratic Party, as MoveOn.org did with Kerry in 2004. He is also keenly aware of the potential problems if “the New Blue Media” becomes too entrenched in the Democratic Party establishment. Still, despite its criticisms, “the New Blue Media” also tells of a number of victories, from the blogosphere’s role in electing progressive politicians to the Democratic Party’s recognition of “the netroots.”

Of course, while the book couldn’t possibly address it because of its publication in May of this year, the next several months is probably going to be one of the most interesting times to watch “the New Blue Media.” So much of this media has been built on opposition to the Bush administration that it is very hard to predict how the media will respond to the Obama administration. Will it continue to function as critical, oppositional media or will it become a simple conduit for the Obama administration? Will it act as a means of applying pressure from the left on Obama? At this point–admittedly quite early–the online progressive media has taken a relatively hands off approach to Obama, perhaps waiting for him to get in office. Aside from a few pieces and voices critical of the most obvious Obama appointees, much of the online media has been quite celebratory. Over the next several months, it will be an interesting to see if “the New Blue Media” retains its independence or becomes part of the Democratic Party establishment, much like the so-called Republican “noise machine.”

Overall, The New Blue Media is an excellent book that addresses an important component of the liberal and progressive activism and politics that has arisen in opposition to the Bush administration. Moreover, by looking back on how the “New Blue Media” has functioned over the past several years, it can help us assess its strengths and weaknesses as the country enters a new Democratic period of governance. The New Blue Media should be on the reading list of anyone seeking progressive social change, especially those who are hoping to pursue such change either by working within or with the Democratic Party.

Theodore Hamm, The New Blue Media: How Michael Moore, MoveOn.org, Jon Stewart and Company Are Transforming Progressive Politics, (The New Press, 2008).

Obama Announces More Cabinet Appointees

The Obama administration has announced more cabinet appointees, including Timothy Geithner for Treasury Secretary. Hillary Clinton has also reportedly been picked to be Secretary of State. A debate continues to rage about whether or not Obama’s picks are indicative of the “change” he promised during the campaign.

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Over the past several days, the Obama administration has announced a number of new appointments like Timothy Geithner for Treasury Secretary. He has also reportedly selected Hillary Clinton for Secretary of State.

In the past, we’ve critiqued picks for Obama’s transition team as well as the nomination of Rahm Emanuel, who was key in securing the passage of NAFTA. In this vein, reporter Jeremy Scahill has written a new piece called “This Is Change? 20 Hawks, Clintonites and Neocons to Watch for in Obama’s White House” that is heavily criticizes many of Obama’s foreign policy advisors for being proponents of the liberal interventionism that characterized the 1990s. Scahill argues that Clinton’s foreign policy paved the way for President George W. Bush’s actions in Iraq.

However, there have been some progressives appointed to the transition team. Writing for Mother Jones’ blog, reporter David Corn has highlighted some of them.

Of course, there is still much to debate about Obama’s picks thus far, as Scahill and Corn did recently on Democracy Now.

Right-Leaning Ballot Initiatives Pass Across Country

While progressives are celebrating the victory of Barack Obama, the passage of a number of right-leaning ballot initiatives–including many that attack LGBTQ people–have received little attention.

On Wednesday, progressives around the country were celebrating the election of Barack Obama. After eight years of the Bush administration, it makes sense–not to mention the fact that he has made history by becoming the country’s first African-American president.

However, while there may be some reason to think that the country is taking some small steps in the right direction, there were a number of defeats for progressives with right-leaning ballot initiatives passing across the country:

* In California, a measure passed defining marriage as between one man and one woman. The effort gained the support of West Michigan rightwing funder Elsa Prince.

* In Arizona, voters approved a measure defining marriage as between one man and one woman.

* In Arkansas, voters approved a measure preventing individuals co-habitating outside of marriage from adopting children. The measure openly targeted homosexual couples.

* In Florida, a measure passed defining marriage as between one man and one woman.

* In Missouri, voters passed a measure making English “the official language” and requiring that it be spoken at all government meetings.

* In Nebraska, voters passed a measure banning affirmative action. The measure was promoted by Ward Connerly.

That said, there were a few bright spots for progressives. An abortion ban in North Dakota was defeated, as was a measure in Colorado that would have defined human life as beginning at fertilization. Similarly, voters in Colorado rejected a Ward Connerly funded anti-affirmative action ballot initiative. California also passed a measure aimed at improving the treatment of farm animals.

The Democrats: A Critical History

In The Democrats: A Critical History, author Lance Selfa provides an important critique of the limitations of the Democratic Party as a vehicle for progressive social change.

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With the presidential election season in full swing, everywhere we–especially folks involved in any kind of left or progressive work–turn we are reminded of the necessity of voting for Democratic Party presidential candidate Barack Obama. We’re told that this is “an historic election” and that the stakes are too high to say anything critical about his campaign–which really offers relatively little beyond vague statements about “hope” and “change.” To be sure, there are some interesting things happening this year–the nomination (and likely election) of the first African-American for president by a major party and a lot of rumblings about a campaign that is more “movement” than “campaign.”

However, there is reason to be skeptical of all this talk according to author Lance Selfa. In his new book The Democrats: A Critical History, Selfa reviews the history of the Democratic Party and concludes that the Democrats are anything but a progressive or left party.

While it should be obvious to many Mediamouse.org readers, Selfa reminds readers that the Democratic Party is a capitalist institution. He argues that because of its place as one of two ruling parties in the US, its allegiance is to the business/corporate class, not oppressed peoples. Selfa says that this contradicts the “party of the people” message and shows the limits of the Democrats. He persuasively argues that the Democrats play a critical role in maintaining the social hierarchy in the United States, asserting that the Democrats act as a sort of “buffer” that offers occasional reforms–or absorbs social movements–in order to keep the underlying structures of society intact. Selfa also draws heavily on the history of the New Deal to argue that the Democrats prevented a revolutionary left challenge from taking arising out of the economic situation.

Throughout the book, Selfa looks back into history to show how the Democrats have consistently absorbed social movements by taking up portions of their agenda and diverting energy into electoral means. As mentioned above, he discusses the New Deal, but also the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s and the labor movement over the past fifty years. He also looks at what has came from the Democrats politically since their founding and spends a considerable amount of time on the Democrats in the post-Carter to argue that the Democrats rarely serve as an effective opposition party. In the 1980s, the Democrats offered little opposition to the Reagan agenda, instead they set about establishing a more pro-business orientation. Selfa points to the creation of the DLC to promote more corporate politics within the Party and the support that it got from major corporations. One of the early DLC founders was former president Bill Clinton, who was elected amidst great hope amongst progressives. However, Selfa outlines numerous issues on which Clinton broke campaign promises and ignored the left–NAFTA, welfare reform, healthcare reform, expanded prisons, “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” and the Defense of America Act. Far from enacting a progressive agenda, Clinton took the Party further to the right. He was able to do this because progressives felt they had nowhere else to turn.

Selfa also examines the various efforts undertaken to “transform” the Democratic Party from within. Because progressives often feel as though there is nowhere to turn, there have been various efforts to shift the Party to the left. Selfa examines Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition, the Progressive Democrats of America, and the Democratic Socialists of America as three recent efforts aimed at making this transformation. While the particulars of the efforts are different, in all cases the strategy failed. The insights are important and the history is worth knowing for anyone advocating such an effort.

The Democrats: A Critical History is worthy reading for anyone who is interested in social change. It’s a realistic assessment of the Democratic Party and the prospects for change within it, as well as a reminder that change comes from social movements, not from the Democratic Party.

Lance Selfa, The Democrats: A Critical History, (Haymarket Books, 2008).

Swim Against the Current: Even A Dead Fish Can Go with the Flow

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Too often in progressive/left circles there is a tendency to examine what is wrong with things and not present viable solutions. There is an endless supply of stories that can easily upset most anyone, but there doesn’t seem to be as much of an effort to share stories about what people are doing to make a difference. Swim against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow is a book highlighting the success stories of people who are making a difference.

Written by Jim Hightower and Susan DeMarco, the book is organized into three main sections: alternative economics, political organizing, and examples of personal transformation. In the alternative economics section, the authors begin with the story of Organic Valley Family Farms. Organic Valley Family Farms was born out of the family farm crisis of the 1980s, when numerous small farmers in Wisconsin got together to discuss how they could survive in an agri-business friendly market. These farmers realized that they needed each other and formed a co-op that not only saved their farms, but led to a dynamic model of sustainable farming that provides organic food to thousands of people. One principle they follow that was refreshing to read was that the co-op decided collectively what to do with the profits made off of sales, instead of individual farmers just taking their share.

Another great example of a cooperative model that works is the Union Cab Cooperative. This endeavor got its start when a commercial cab company in Madison, Wisconsin fought an effort by the cab drivers to organize a union. Out of desperation, the cab company shut down its operation in the hopes that the union would be defeated. Not to be outdone by this move, the cab drivers decided to start their own business on a cooperative model that provides a better wage, benefits and a pool of full-time mechanics to keep the vehicles safe and efficient.

The political organizing section features stories on voter registration, the campaign for clean elections, and the living wage campaigns being organized by ACORN. The last section looks at examples of personal transformation, with an emphasis on the religious community’s involvement in environmental stewardship. The example I found most interesting was the conversation of an ultra-right wing evangelical minister in Idaho who became a strong environmental advocate. Tri Robinson historically fit all the stereotypes of an evangelical-conservative, anti-gay, patriarchal, and a supporter of recent Republican administrations. However, Robinson eventually began to think more about his responsibility to the non-human world and before you know it he was preaching sermons on sustainability. The minister’s public declarations in favor of the earth gave members of his church a space in which to voice their opposition to environmental destruction and soon the church was at the forefront of the evangelical environmental movement.

The book is a little light on a larger analysis of capitalism, globalization, and power in the US, but it does remain true to its stated purpose of sharing inspirational stories. Many of people are ones that the authors have encountered while touring in recent years for previous books and campaigns. Another great aspect of the book is that after each of the three sections the authors provide a list of organizations and campaigns to support and become involved in. Those of us who work for change would do well to learn from the importance of sharing similar stories of people taking matters into their own hands and fighting against the odds to create more humane ways of living.

Jim Hightower and Susan DeMarco, Swim against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow, (Wiley, 2008).

Report Claims Majority Support “Progressive” Stands

A new report published jointly by the Campaign for America’s Future and Media Matters for America argues that the majority of people living in the United States support “progressive” policies on a wide variety of social and political issues. The report, titled “The Progressive Majority: Why a Conservative America is a Myth,” analyzes data from a plethora of opinion polls to arrive at the conclusion that the United States is not as conservative as many believe. Despite the prominence of conservative views in the media, the report declares that progressive positions are continuing to gain ground.

A sampling of the report’s findings:

On Health Care: 69 percent of Americans think it is the responsibility of the federal government to make sure all Americans have access to health coverage; 76 percent find access to health care more important than maintaining the Bush tax cuts; three in five would be willing to have their own taxes increased to achieve universal coverage.

On Energy Policy: 52 percent of Americans believe “the best way for the U.S. to reduce its reliance on foreign oil” is to “have the government invest in alternative energy sources”; 64 percent are willing to pay a higher energy tax to pay for renewable energy research; 68 percent of the public thinks U.S. energy policy is better solved by conservation than production.

On the Economy: 77 percent of Americans believe Congress should increase the minimum wage; 66 percent believe “upper-income people” pay too little in taxes; 53 percent feel the Bush administration’s tax cuts have failed because they have increased the deficit and caused cuts in government programs.

On Government’s Role: 69 percent of Americans believe the government “should care for those who can’t care for themselves.” Twice as many people (43 percent to 20 percent) want “government to provide many more services even if it means an increase in spending” as want government to provide fewer services “in order to reduce spending.”

On Immigration: 62 percent of Americans believe undocumented immigrants should be given a chance to “keep their jobs and eventually apply for legal status.” 49 percent believe the best way to reduce illegal immigration from Mexico is to penalize employers, not more border control.