Who will pressure Barack Obama to implement progressive policies?

Ralph Nader on Democracy Now! put President-elect Obama’s victory into perspective for Americans:

Well, obviously we all congratulate Barack Obama. We wish him well. But the precursor to his election has not been very encouraging, and he has repeatedly taken up the positions of the corporate supremacists, not just his latest vote for the $700 billion Wall Street bailout, but a whole string of votes and policy positions. He opposes single-payer health insurance. Well, the HMOs and the insurance companies do, too. He wants a bigger military budget. So does the military-industrial complex. His idea of a living wage on his website is $9.50 an hour by 2011. That would make it less than it was in 1968, adjusted for inflation.

He matched McCain in the third debate, belligerent””belligerency for belligerency, toward Russia, toward Iran, more soldiers in Afghanistan, supporting the Israeli military repression and occupation and blockade of Gaza and the West Bank. And virtually nothing about 100 million poor people in this country. That’s why I really fault him, that he played the Clinton linguistic game by talking constantly about the middle class and not mentioning the word “poor.”

And we expect more of him. And I don’t think he has a public philosophy of where corporations must operate in this country. How? Under what rule of law? Under what regulation? Under what vulnerability to litigation in the courts? He’s proud of tort reform, supports the nuclear industry, supports the coal industry. So we’re really talking about just more of the same, in terms of the corporate domination of Washington.

I detected no concern, no quaking of concern, among the drug industry, oil, gas industry, nuclear, coal industry, Wall Street, over his probable election in the last few weeks. Usually, when they’re really worried about a politician, they will issue warnings. But Barack Obama has raised far more money than John McCain from Wall Street interests, corporate interests and, above all, corporate lawyers. And the question to be asked is, why are they investing so much in Barack Obama? Because they believe he’s their man. So, prepare to be disappointed, but keep your hope up.

Ralph Nader, November 5, 2008 on Democracy Now! (audio, high-quality audio, video, transcript)

Add to that, continued presidential support for the death penalty (the change from Pres. Bush being that Obama recognizes that it was used to kill innocents and the death penalty doesn’t have the intended effect of stopping crimes for which capital punishment is used), and I remain fearful about what that means for death row inmates (DN! has been following Troy Anthony Davis’ case). It would be better to send a clear signal that the death penalty isn’t just costly and does nothing to reduce certain crimes, the more compelling reason to reject it has to do with killing people being ethically unjustifiable and offering no room for making mistakes. We simply aren’t going to teach people not to kill while we continue to carve out an exception for the state.

I remain concerned about what Obama’s policies will amount to for the nation’s poor. I don’t see serious change for the better so long as health insurance companies are allowed to control health care policy. I don’t recall anything in Obama’s policies addressing homelessness, and I don’t think a 90-day reprieve on making mortgage payments for those who are close to eviction will seriously reduce the eviction rate after the 90-day window ends. Sending more American poor into war isn’t going to help either (as Sgt. Matthis Chiroux points out, Obama is not an anti-war candidate: “I’m very excited about what an Obama candidacy””or Obama presidency, the kind of racial unity it can bring, but I’m worried that people in this country believe he is truly going to be an antiwar president, and he’s not. He’s very far away from that. He’s got plans to leave troops in Iraq. He wants to expand the war in Afghanistan, go into Pakistan.”). Locally, I’ve already seen anti-war efforts decrease just like they did when Sen. John Kerry was the Democratic party candidate and the national anti-war campaigners were unwilling to challenge Kerry’s pro-war message—he’d manage occupation better than George W. Bush.

My friends who supported Obama’s campaign tell me that progressives will challenge him after they give him their support (vote, time, money) and get him in office. I find that strategy to be wholly unwise if your goal is to really help people in need because there’s no clear mechanism for making a candidate follow your advocacy if a candidate knows that they have you in their back pocket. Corporations surely don’t behave that way, they only pay to help campaigners when it’s clear that there’s a deal before the election.

I hope that the good feelings and celebrations going on now change into real progressive political pressure. From what I can tell of Obama’s policies, funding sources, and voting record, he’ll need a lot of pressure to do what’s right by those most in need.