Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Preparing for Victory

From Derek Shearer's commentary on The Huffington Post:
I have expressed myself already that to win the election Obama needs to sharpen his economic message and deepen his economic agenda, and there is no need to repeat the obvious. However, I strongly advise that progressive groups should be planning for victory, as well as working hard to elect Obama.
It is often during Transition periods between administrations -- in late November and during December -- that key decisions are made about personnel and policy, usually out of the view of the media and after public interest in the campaign has greatly diminished. This was certainly the case in Clinton's first term, and even in Bush's when he decided to bring in Don Rumsfeld to counter the influence of the more centrist Colin Powell.

I ran the Labor section of the Transition for the first Clinton term and saw first hand how unprepared the labor movement was for winning and then governing. They had no serious candidates for key positions in a Democratic administration -- even for Labor Secretary (and they got someone who didn't believe strongly in labor unions!) -- and no forward looking agenda for economic reform. Other progressive and public interest groups were just as bad. Ralph Nader had all but endorsed kooky Jerry Brown in the primary and spent most of his time personally attacking Bill and Hillary Clinton. He then behaved badly in his meetings with new White House staff, and gave no thought to lobbying for the appointment of progressives in the administration. As a result, the influence of the labor movement and progressive groups both on the inside and the outside of the Clinton administration was marginal at best. There is a lesson here for the major labor unions like SEIU and AFSCME that are going to go all out with their members and their treasuries to elect Barack Obama, and for groups such as Public Citizen, Moveon.Org and others, especially environmental organizations.

Yes, by all means, do everything you can to elect Obama and a Democratic Congress -- but devote some staff time and strategic thinking to planning for after the victory. Personnel determines policy more than campaign speeches and position papers,so have a list ready on November 5 of qualified individuals who might be considered seriously for top positions in government and for whom you will lobby the Obama administration to appoint. For example, at least one economist on the Council of Economic Advisors should be a labor economist; progressive economists should be appointed not only to the Labor Dept, but more importantly, to the Treasury Dept and to the Office of the US Trade Representative; pro-consumer and labor experts should be appointed to leadership positions on all regulatory bodies. And have a reform agenda of executive decisions and priority legislation in hand. Line up sponsors and advocates in the Senate and House, and start pushing the agenda with the White House the day after the Inauguration. To neglect these tasks and fail to think strategically about winning makes all the hard work in the fall to win the election only feel hollow later.

After all, as the candidate himself said, "We are the ones we have been waiting for." Not the one, but the ones.

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