A lot of my friends and colleagues — and political journalists and bloggers — have spent a good chunk of time this week debating whether or not Barack Obama is “shifting to the middle,” or how much he is shifting, or whether it’s politically necessary or smart or disastrous for him to do so. You and I might not answer those questions the same way, and could probably have great discussion over dinner or drinks.
But I’ve been thinking more about a different set of questions. What should we expect — or demand — from progressive candidates in an election year? How can we most effectively advance our principles and mobilize our supporters to make a difference in these important public debates?
I think the answers are clear, at least in the big picture. Our role is to stake out our principles, push public officials to do the right thing, and work to hold them accountable for their actions. We don’t always win, and political wrangling sometimes blurs the lines, but I’ll always try to keep us focused on advancing the American Way and protecting the civil rights and liberties we hold dear.
This week, we were sorely disappointed that so many Democratic senators supported the White House-backed intelligence bill, which gave immunity to telecommunications companies who assisted the administration’s illegal wiretapping and which left the door open to further abuse. We, our activists, and our allies pushed hard until the very end, and when many of the people we should have been able to count on voted the wrong way, we said so. Next year we will be pushing for a fix from the new Congress and President — one more reminder that People For the American Way’s work will be important no matter who gets elected.
A few days earlier, Sen. Obama proposed a set of changes to President Bush’s Office of Faith Based initiatives, which has been a practical and constitutional disaster. We took a careful look and commended changes that would strengthen constitutional principles the Bush administration has undermined. But we also drew a clear line against direct funding for houses of worship — and we’ll work before and after the election to make sure that any initiative respects core constitutional principles.
This is going to be an exciting year, and I’m convinced that there will be many progressive victories. Along the way we’ll have disagreements with each other, and with some of our friends and champions. My style is to be direct about those differences, and to work through them in ways that keep our eye on the big picture.
Let me know what you think. I have loved hearing from so many of you in recent weeks. As always, you can reach me at Kathryn@pfaw.org.