Occupy the White House

We all know the famous story of FDR meeting with a group of liberal activists early in his term.  They made an impassioned plea for their policies, and the President said, “Okay, you’ve convinced me.  Now make me do it.”  This must the progressive mantra for President Obama’s second term: make him do it.

While progressives celebrated in November 2008, President Obama appointed an economic and leadership team that did some good things (the Recovery Act, for example) but in many other cases undermined the promise of the 2008 campaign. And the cossacks work for the Czar.

As I have argued before, Obama is essentially a Rockefeller Republican — a noble enough tradition in American politics, but hardly one that can grapple with the problems facing the country.  Progressives thus cannot expect that President Obama will fight for fairness, justice, and the middle class now that he is safely re-elected.  He will be exponentially, infinitely better than the alternative, which is why I contributed to him and made phone calls on his behalf.  But we should not kid ourselves.  He will not fight for us unless we push him to do so.

Progressives need to fight vigorously against the Village mentality telling him to cave before Congressional Republicans, appoint Wall Street bankers to key positions, continue massive deportations and splitting up of families, violate civil liberties, and neglect the peril to the planet.  That is our job.

Yesterday, The New Republic’s John Judis wrote a shrewd piece distinguishing between the electoral system, where Democrats emerged with a victory, and the pressure system, where the Right still dominates.  Progressives have done amazing work over the last several years to begin to equalize the imbalance, but more work needs to be done.  We will have to dig deeper, make more contributions, write more e-mails (and blog posts!), and work at building a pressure infrastructure to compete with the malefactors of great wealth who distort what remains of our democracy.

Do not trust this President.  Occupy the White House.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

29 thoughts on “Occupy the White House”

  1. at building a pressure infrastructure to compete with the malefactors of great wealth who distort what remains of our democracy.

    I really wish that all of you soi-disant liberals would quit your jihad against unrestrained free speech. For almost four years I’ve been listening to all of you whine and moan about how our pwecious democracy was now a “plutocracy” that was “bought and paid for” by nefarious “oligarchs.”

    Apparently, it’s okay and perhaps even sacred to have a festival of commercialism for say Super Bowl Sunday or for auto dealerships or for beer advertisements but if someone wants to get the message out in trying to persuade his fellow citizens, that person needs to be gagged by law and prohibited from speaking (without the presence of a phalanx of lawyers anyway).

    But, look, we just had another election. Lots of money was spent. Not coincidentally, turnout was high. Some incumbents lost but it was no bloodbath. In the end, we got a similar government to the one we had the day before.

    I honestly can barely fathom why you care so much if some rich people want to dress up and play political professionals anymore than if they flatter themselves that they are polo champions.

    Look, The American People do what they will. From the New York Times:

    “Sheldon Adelson, the biggest single donor in political history, supported eight candidates through super PACs. All of them lost on Tuesday.” – NY Times


    I repeat: what will it take to get you to respect free speech? You progressives, even the kind and smart Harold Pollack, treat the First Amendment the way that Jeffrey Dahmer treated young men in Milwaukee.

    1. Does your idea of free speech extend toward forcing employees to show up in public to support a candidate?
      Does your idea of free speech allow monopolization of printing presses, or teevee time?
      Does your idea of free speech support homogenization of speech in whatever direction rich folk favor?
      Does your idea of free speech support hit lists of opponents?
      Does your idea of free speech extend to blatant deliberate falsities?

      How highminded of you, Chipotle.

      1. Free speech means that people get to say stuff. Yes, buying time on commercial television costs money. So what? Unions and NGOs like the Sierra Club and Greenpeace can collect money from their members.

        There’s no more talk of voter apathy. Turnout is up as is interest in the election. From a consequentialist POV, this is what democracy looks like.

      2. What a parade of irrelevant questions!

        Free speech means that people get to say stuff. Yes, buying time on commercial television costs money. So what? Unions and NGOs like the Sierra Club and Greenpeace can collect money from their members.

        There’s no more talk of voter apathy. Turnout is up as is interest in the election. From a consequentialist POV, this is what democracy looks like.

        1. It seems that Chipotle doesn’t want to discuss how blackmail from employers and the wealthy can be used to limit free speech. For me, that says everything about exactly what Chipotle wants free speech to be – i.e. limited to the groups and causes he approves of. Which, of course, isn’t free speech. I’ll respect Chipotle’s arguments when I see him making them honestly and with a regard for the facts, rather than blustering in an abstract and ideological way, while ignoring valid counter-arguments to his point of view.

          Freedom, Chipotle, is found in taking responsibility for one’s speech and actions, not in ranting away while ignoring reality and dismissing the concerns of others and trying to minimize their free speech by doing so.

          1. This is not a rhetorical trick. I have no idea what you’re talking about with regard to blackmail. I mean that literally.

            I’m talking about a bunch of rich guys, and other groups of citizens who are not exclusively made up of the rich, getting together to air a lot of commercials to lobby their fellow citizens to accept their position. This seems to me to be the core of 1st amendment free speech. You know, “petitioning your government for redress,” etc.

          2. Chipotle, it means getting fired because you have a bumper sticker on your car supporting a candidate that your employer doesn’t like. Or being forced to support a candidate or risk being fired:

            “Yes, we were in fact told that the Romney event was mandatory and would be without pay, that the hours spent there would need to be made up my non-salaried employees outside of regular working hours, with the only other option being to take a pay cut for the equivalent time,” the employees told Blomquist. “Yes, letters have gone around with lists of names of employees who have not attended or donated to political events.”

            The First Amendment only protects you against interference by the government; it does not protect you against interference by private parties that hold economic power over you. Which, for most working Americans, is the far bigger and more critical constraint.

    2. Jezebus, where to start. Without the chops of many in the RBC, the immediate response is there are, and have always been in this country, some limits on “free speech.” America’s veneration of this abstract borders on (and often crosses over into) fetishization, yet even here we’ve frequently as a society determined that the right to “free speech” can and will be weighed against the effects of same. When the effects are deemed to be of net detriment to society, then “fee speech” can be and is limited. So to pretend these limits don’t exist is juvenile. Maybe in a sophomoric libertarian utopia, disconnected to any sense of responsibility to people and world around you, any expression of any kind, regardless of effects, is considered the highest good. We don’t and never will live in such a two dimensional world, thank god.

      And honestly – do you really, actually believe that Mr. Zasloff referring to the observable distortions of our political system by unlimited cash and influence – which is just getting started, will only get much more distorting over time, and is opposed by an emerging bi-partisan consensus – is in any way similar to a sociopathic murderer? Because if you do, this is a very good example of why Republicans have lost the popular vote in every presidential election the last 24 years, except one. You may actually believe this tripe, or it may be low flying agitprop; either way this kind of sweaty, ridiculous hyperbole is losing, and will continue to do so.

      1. The interesting thing about Chipotle’s tirade was that I never suggested doing anything to shut down the malefactors of great wealth. I advocated building up an infrastructure to compete with them. But that’s what is occurring in the remnants of the Conservative Mind: any suggestion of resistance to plutocratic domination will be met with hissy fits declaring the End Of The Republic.

        1. Speaking for myself, I’d be as comfortable as Milton Friedman with severe gags on corporate speech on matters beyond their articles of association. It’s one thing for oil companies to advocate tax subsidies for drilling (and you can make an argument that as disembodied slaves they should have no such right); another for them to give money to general political campaigns, and agitprop to create doubt on matters of public policy.

        2. Speaking for myself, I’d be as comfortable as Milton Friedman with severe gags on corporate speech on matters beyond their articles of association. It’s one thing for oil companies to advocate tax subsidies for drilling (and you can make an argument that as disembodied slaves they should have no such right); another for them to give money to general political campaigns, and buy agitprop to create doubt on matters of public policy.

        3. “remnants of the Conservative Mind” — you stay classy, Professor Zasloff. FWIW, I’m not a Conservative.

          Your complaint about “plutocratic domination” that has been shown to be, uh, not all that dominant within the past 72 hours is what drives me bananas.

          So little do you and the other members of the RBC value liberty that you’re willing to limit it even in the absence of any ill consequences. It leaves me with my jaw on the floor.

        4. Not only did JZ not suggest trying to shut down the malefactors of great wealth, there is nothing in what he wrote above to indicate that he was even talking about their ability to run lots of television commercials. Among the tools with which they distort our democracy, television commercials rank near the bottom in effectiveness.

    3. Citizens United or not, the right wing did get its ass kicked soundly this year. (Not, I’m sorry to say, here in Arkansaw, but generally nation-wide.) Turns out there are better weapons than unlimited cash.

      1. We could have done so many other things with the couple billion dollars that had to be raised to fend off the crazies in this election cycle.

  2. Jonathan’s point is exactly right. NOW is the time to put the pressure on the White House. Obama has nothing to lose, no re-election to maneuver towards, strong progressive majority in the Senate (yeah, limited utility, but will shift the narrative). Give Pelosi what she needs for 2014, and light a fire under our cautious, deliberate prez.

  3. I agree with this, but “making him do it” needs a better definition. Loudly calling him a sell out is not a productive approach, unless your goal is to ensure that he doesn’t do what you want. That mostly builds a narrative that Obama is weak and doesn’t have support.

    It’s better to target the issues. Make him do it by changing the environment he operates in.

      1. “Do not trust this President” does not sound like giving him cover, it sounds like a talking point for the other side.

    1. Yes, target issues, but also work on strengthening the coalition.

      One thing that should be top priority, and does not need political bargaining, is doing what is needed to make the full implementation of ACA go smoothly. No hacks need apply. Aside from all the other reasons for doing that, a successful start will have a positive effect in 2014, and a stumbling start will create losses.

      Another is immigration reform. The Republicans are staggering under their weakness with Latinos. Push the advantage. They either go along or lose more ground.

    2. NCG is right; it is what I meant. But Michael is right as well; we DO need to more precisely define what we mean by “making him do it.” I hope to write a little more about that over the next few days. A lot of it might be staking out positions early and trying move the national conversation. I cannot claim to have any particular pathbreaking ideas for changing the environment, however; if it were that easy, someone would have done it already.

    3. No, no, a thousand times no.

      All of this, every bit, is priority no. 2.

      There are, what 40-50 federal lifetime appointments to the most powerful judiciary on the planet where Obama hasn’t even mustered the energy to put forward a name.

      HE may be done with politics, but politics is not done with us, and for all his many virtues and failings, if he fails us in this, then he fails us in everything. Forget issues for a minute, and think like a party who plans to be around and doing stuff for a while. JOB ONE IS, by December 1, submitting a name and having a backup ready for every open seat in the judiciary, and extracting a blood oath from the GOPsters, announced on tv, that each one will get an up or down vote in the judiciary commiittee and, for those who emerge, on the Senate floor, by February 1. Or no deal on “the fiscal cliff.”

      No more hostages. If the Mcconnell’s thugs want to explain things to their corporate masters, fine.

  4. Overall, it isn’t a matter of occupying the White House, but winning control of Congress, reforming the Senate – and then making sure that Democrats live up to the promises they have made. Until you can control the purse and legislative power, talk of occupying the White House is just gesture politics. Sorry, but this needs to be said from the start, before we go off into fantasy-land. After all, where is Occupy now? Where are the bones of Weland now, and who knows now where they may be?

  5. @ Katja – Thank you for putting specific details on some general accusations. Those things that you mentioned sound legitimately problematic. AFAIK, though, they have nothing to do with Citizens United which, I maintain, was a liberty-enhancing court decision.

  6. It’s pretty obvious – unless your thinking is rigidly biased or predisposed to an ideology set in stone – that money in politics gives a few people more of a voice than everyone else. That is not democracy. That does and has promote oligarchy. Oligarchy doesn’t just exist, it holds sway, even through the 2012 election. Free speech is not for sale, nor are corporations people. So, there are legitimate ways to look at the issue besides your opinion. Your opinion is only that, an opinion, which can be overturned by legislative action and/or a constitutional amendment. Enjoy your oligarchic rule, if you can keep it, your highness.

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