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Rabbi Lerner's Response to AlterNet Commenters

Editor's Note: Last week, AlterNet ran an article that featured a piece by Chris Hedges and another by Rabbi Michael Lerner, titled: "Should Progressives Give Up on Obama?" The article incited lively debate in the comments section and now, Rabbi Lerner, editor of Tikkun magazine and head of the Network of Spiritual Progressives, has penned a response to the article's comments addressed to him by AlterNet readers. It follows here. The dispute between me and Hedges is about what is the best strategy to rebuild a powerful anti-corporate movement, not about whether or not we like Obama’s policies. As editor of Tikkun, I’ve been outspoken in opposition to his war in Afghanistan, his continuation of the human rights violations of the Bush administration, his handing trillions to banks and investment companies rather than creating a national bank to fund social projects and allowing the privately owned banks to be dealt with by the “free marketplace” that conservatives have been praising all these decades, his failure to support Medicare for Everyone (single-payer) health care reform and instead embracing policies that will further enrich the insurance companies and pharmaceuticals, his support of “cap and trade” rather than a carbon tax to stem global warming, his capitulation to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu rather than using American power to end the Occupation of the West Bank, his rejection of the Goldstone recommendations on Israel’s human rights violations in Gaza, his support for firing teachers in Rhode Island for working at a school that did not meet the teach-to-the-test absurdities of No Child Left Behind rather than question the validity of the goals that are measured by that legislation, and the list goes on and on and on. These terrible policies are plenty reason to be angry at the Obama Administration. But they have not provoked a huge outcry, even among those most adversely impacted by those policies. Just last week Tikkun received advice from some leading African American progressives that in their community Tikkun was losing credibility by being so outspoken in critiquing Obama, given the widespread perception in that community that attacks on Obama from whatever corner are really expressions of covert racism. Nor have those who have lost their homes to escalating interest rates on mortgage loans or those who have lost their jobs while the money that could have saved them has poured into the coffers of the rich managed to assemble on the streets of our country to demonstrate their outrage. So when developing a strategy, one must take into account the emotional temper of Americans today including their continued willingness to support the Democratic Party, in no small part because of a perception that had Nader not run in 2000 there would never have been a Bush presidency or a war in Iraq or the irresponsible economic policies that led to the economic meltdown. So those of us who wish to stop the growing corporate dominance of the world and reverse the destruction of the environmental destruction of the planet and the erosion of human relationships and ethical values in our society  that is labeled “the globalization of capitalism” but which I prefer to call “the globalization of selfishness,” need to develop smart strategies to change the consciousness of Americans. I believe that there are three elements to such a strategy: 1.     We need to move from a Left that is identified primarily in terms of what it is against to a Left that is known for WHAT WE ARE FOR.  That’s why we at Tikkun created the Network of Spiritual Progressives with its central demand: We need a New Bottom Line. Instead of judging corporations or government policies or our educational system, legal system, health care system or even our personal behavior by how much money or power the generate (the Old Bottom Line), we need to judge all of this to be effective, rational or productive also to the extent that they maximize love and caring, kindness and generosity, ethical and environmentally sustainable behavior, enhance our capacities to respond to other human beings as embodiments of the sacred and to respond to the universe with awe, wonder and racial amazement at the grandeur and mystery of consciousness and Being itself.  How that translates into specific programs is detailed in our Spiritual Covenant with America at 2.     We need to insist that the best path to “homeland security” lies not in domination of others around the world, but in a path of generosity based on genuine caring for others plus a rational understanding that our well-being depends on the well-being of everyone else on the planet. For that reason, we at the Network of Spiritual Progressives developed a Global Marshall Plan to once and for all end global poverty, homelessness, hunger, inadequate education and inadequate health care—and to repair the global environment.  This is our positive alternative to the defense budget. 3.     We need to build a third party by first organizing a massive progressive voice inside the Democratic Party and then leading it out of that party. Nader could have done that if instead of running as an independent candidate in 2000 he had run in the Democratic primaries for President against Gore, gained the votes of 25% or more of that party’s voters, and then led his constituency out of the Party into an independent force. The Progressive Democrats of American (PDA) and the Progressive Caucus of the House of Representatives are important and impressive steps on this path, but until they actually organize their constituency into a membership-based progressive wing of the party that gets at least 25% of the vote in elections, it is premature for them to split to form a third party or to attempt to transform the Greens from its current political-correctness-dominated politics and its aroma of “we act as though we always will be losers” style to a potentially winning third party configuration. This takes the kind of discipline that would prevent the kinds of personal attacks you can read in the above comments on my article, and the development of an ethos of solidarity among those who share common values but who disagree on strategies and tactics. It is that ethos of solidarity that makes us at Tikkun proud to print Christopher Hedges even when we disagree with him, and to offer criticisms of style without suggesting that there is something fundamentally “off” about those with whom we disagree. Tikkun and the Network of Spiritual Progressives (and no, you don’t have to believe in God to be a spiritual progressive—you only to have to agree with out New Bottom Line stated above) are hosting a demonstration at the White House June 13 to challenge Obama’s policies and to urge him to join the very movement that he helped congeal in 2008 but which he subsequently abandoned. There will certainly be a place for anger at that rally, but our task is not to “change Obama’s mind” but to help people who are being hurt by his policies to feel that it is ok to challenge his policies and the corporate takeover of the world without supporting the vile discourse and racist assaults of the Right wingers or the Tea Party conservatives. We will be crafting at our conference in DC that weekend of June 11-14 two Constitutional Amendments: one that is narrowly framed to overturn the recent Supreme Court “Citizens” decision and to declare that corporations are not persons and money is not protected speech; and a second more broadly conceived amendment, the Environmental and Ethical Responsibility Amendment to the Constitution that will require corporate social responsibility and enforce it. I hope that if you agree with the need for a nuanced strategy that doesn’t dismiss our potential allies in the struggle for a world of peace and justice and love and caring or assault them verbally, you’ll sign up for the conference and come to the demonstration at the White House. -- Rabbi Michael Lerner
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