The sacking of Shirley Sherrod is emblematic of the mess the Democrats and President Barack Obama have gotten themselves into.
Yes, this is a sad story about race in America, and about a race-baiting charlatan named Andrew Breitbart. But the Sherrod affair also exposes how the White House operates internally, and which voices it really responds to. Guess what? They’re not the voices of those Americans who elected Obama. This fearful administration consistently ignores progressive concerns, while reacting to every right-wing talking point and cowering before the howling of Fox News banshees.
It’s no surprise that the Democrats’ most reliable constituencies are wavering. On August 3, at the AFL-CIO executive council meeting, President Richard Trumka lamely exhorted America’s labor leaders to support Democrats in November. Trumka told his union brothers and sisters, “We know you’re angry. We know you’re frustrated. We know we haven’t achieved everything that we worked for. But we’ve made progress, and we have to keep it going.”
Does that sound like a message that can fire up the base for Election Day? Not likely. The lack of enthusiasm among progressive Democrats is rooted in White House policy decisions. Consider Obama’s current reluctance to appoint Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard law professor who chaired the congressional oversight panel for TARP, to head the newly-created Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection – a watchdog agency that was her idea.
Some in the administration don’t like the feisty Warren. Perhaps Timothy Geithner, who is a creature of Wall Street, and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, who earned $16.2 million during a two-and‑a half year stint as an investment banker, don’t want to upset their pals in the financial industry, a sector in which these two characters will likely find employment should Obama come a cropper in 2012.
The financial industry knows that Warren will stand up to the 148 former federal regulators who since last year have registered as Washington lobbyists. According to an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics and the New York Times, this phalanx of influence peddlers used to work in the executive branch at agencies like the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Federal Reserve. Their job now is to eviscerate the financial reforms passed by Congress in July. Under the new bill, the SEC will develop 95 rules to regulate areas like the trading of derivatives, standards for credit rating agencies and disclosure of executive bonuses.
It’s time the democratic wing of the Democratic Party demands that our elected officials promote a progressive agenda. We urge you to join our friend Sen. Bernie Sanders (I‑Vt.) in his campaign on behalf of Warren. Go to his website (www.sanders.senate.gov), and sign his petition. As Sanders says, the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection needs a director like Warren who is “serious in standing up to Wall Street and providing the consumer protection [Americans] need.”
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Joel Bleifuss, a former director of the Peace Studies Program at the University of Missouri-Columbia, is the editor & publisher of In These Times, where he has worked since October 1986.