Speaking without a microphone, clearly tired from five previous speaking engagements that day, an anti-war icon from the 60’s clearly engaged a predominately college-aged audience in St. Paul. A founder of Students For a Democratic Society (SDS), co-defendant in the classic trial against political dissent, The Chicago 8 (or 7 after the racist Judge, Julius Hoffman, bound and gagged Black Panther leader, Bobby Seale, and then removed him from the courtroom), former California state legislator, and author, Tom Hayden is travelling the country helping build a movement to hold our next President accountable.
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Hayden clearly supports and expects Barack Obama to be elected as our new President a month from now. But the way he started his address Wednesday evening at Metro State startled me. Having cut his political activist teeth in the deeply segregated South in the late 50’s and early 60’s, Tom Hayden announced that 50-60 years ago we never could have imagined where we are today. Well into the struggle for Civil Rights, it was illegal to even conceive Barack Obama. It was against the law in several states for inter-racial marriage; now we are on the threshold of electing a mixed-race politician to the highest office in the land!
Even though Hayden has endorsed and is working diligently for Obama’s election, he was frank (if understanding) about his differences with the campaign and his candidate’s positions. He scoffed at Obama’s bluster about tracking down Bin Laden by increasing troop strength in Afghanistan and putting military and diplomatic pressure on Pakistan. Hayden believes there is no way the U.S. can win militarily in either country as the British learned so graphically over the past two centuries.
Make no mistake, Hayden thinks Al Qaeda is a threat to both the U.S. and Europe – but our present strategy of killing others to try to decapitate their leadership has only increased the number of recruits for that movement. Instead of “treating them [Afghanis, Pakistanis, Al Qaeda] as evil incarnate”, we need to explore what are their grievances? Yes, the occupation of Palestinian areas by Israel is a factor; so is having U.S. troops in the holy land of Saudi Arabia. But why do so many Afghanis and Pakistanis hate us? Hayden pointed out that U.S. foreign (non-military) aid is less than one-half the amount today than when JFK was President. In referring to the notorious Bin Laden, Hayden claimed, “You don’t have to be in a cave to plot attacks on the U.S.” and went on to say that such attacks can come from anywhere- even from someone in this auditorium!
Hayden described the Machiavellian tendency of politicians doing “whatever needs to be done” to maintain incumbency (be reelected). He used the analogy of a military commander in battle – if one sees their right flank as being exposed or vulnerable, you move more troops to that side. Obama ran as a clear anti-Iraq War candidate but in running against John McCain, he needs to “shore-up” any vulnerabilities he may have on his right flank. We should not expect Obama to take some of the positions those on the political left want him to with only one month to go until the voting. But what Obama will need after the election is a strong progressive movement to steer him and his policies toward a more progressive agenda.
President Franklin Roosevelt ran as a fiscal conservative but labor unions and other strong voices for change pushed him to make policy changes that became the New Deal. Lincoln did not run on a platform calling for the end of slavery but the abolitionist movement pressured him to change his position. It becomes our task to push, encourage, and demand that Obama reassess his announced strategy of more military troops in Afghanistan.
Obama already knows the inherent unfairness and corporate bias of NAFTA and other “Free Trade” agreements – but the progressive forces need to urge President Obama to renegotiate trade agreements so that more than just investor profit is considered – like environmental protection, labor and civil rights, and the will of the people over rapacious global corporations.
Hayden described the collapse of “finance capitalism” that has been manifest in the past several weeks as a huge challenge facing us. We are like dinosaurs, he claimed, looking at the extinction of much of our society if we don’t find creative remedies. We need another New Deal and we will have to democratize these economic discussions. We can’t expect those “experts” who got us into this mess to decide our way out. We will need real oversight of whatever is put into place and find who is qualified to do it? We need to get money flowing again quickly –How can we do that? Hayden suggested an immediate cut by one-half of the Iraq War budget to free up $80 billion and closing of the Bush-created tax loopholes for the rich and corporations to get another $80 billion freed up. Then we use that money to relieve the foreclosure crisis by renegotiating the home mortgages which threaten so many families. Hayden reminded his college-age audience, “This is about the affordability of your future.”
We can’t wait until the third week in January to begin this process, Hayden concluded. “Obama must start planning how to address this crisis on November 5th and sit down with President Bush to have policies in place before the inauguration. And we in the peace and progressive movements will have our work cut out for us in holding that new and necessary vision in front of our new bi-racial President. When questioned about “stolen elections” in Ohio and Florida over the past eight years, Hayden predicted that the most significant problem we’ll face this election is having enough machines and polling places to accommodate the huge numbers of voters who will turn out to support Obama. Then, after the election, we can work to replace the anachronistic Electoral College and other election problems we face. Now is not the time to let up and, although tired, Hayden is ready to continue to contribute to making this a more just and peaceful society.