Tell me who you walk with,” goes the old adage, “and I’ll tell you who you are.” So let’s look at who is walking with Obama.

At first glance, you might get worried because, with some exceptions, these are not the policy people you’d expect to see.

Take Jason Furman: Because of his pro-corporate connections and comments, Furman is the guy who most alarms labor, fair trade activists, and other progressives (like me). Obama’s top economic aide, this thirty-seven-year-old Harvard-educated academic has found nice things to say about the Wal-Mart business model, has supported the corporate trade agenda, and most recently has headed a policy research outfit founded by Robert Rubin, who throttled the populism out of Bill Clinton.

Yet, it turns out that Furman is not quite the corporate snake that some would make him out to be. His background also includes an important stint with the highly progressive Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, where he churned out hard-hitting policy papers on the rising danger of income inequality, the need to raise the minimum wage, the disaster of Bush’s tax cuts, and the necessity of stopping the privatization of Social Security. He’s no populist, but neither is he a sneaky Rubinaut. Furman’s selection has been warmly endorsed by liberal economist and Nobel Prize-winner Joseph Stiglitz, labor economist Jared Bernstein, and populist economist James Galbraith—all three of whom are also on the Obama team.

Dan Carol is a recent addition and a big plus. This fifty-year-old Oregonian is a longtime progressive strategist, a pioneer in Internet organizing, a proponent of grassroots-based policy development, a believer in the politics of big ideas, and an unabashed advocate of making political action fun. (Disclosure: Carol is a friend of mine.) He has now been brought onto the O-team as “director of content and issues.” That’s a fuzzy title, but I do know that he’ll be pushing one of Obama’s signature ideas: a “Green Deal” that would enlist the American people themselves to build a green infrastructure all across America. Such solid, progressive thinkers and activists as Van Jones of California and Joel Rogers of Wisconsin are also enlisted in this exciting aspect of Obama’s campaign.

And let’s not forget Lawrence Lessig, the Stanford law professor who is Obama’s Internet adviser. Until now, an “Internet adviser” hasn’t exactly played a central role on a White House staff, but Obama intends to use the power of cyberspace to advance some of his biggest goals. By enlisting Lessig, a visionary advocate for free public access to the Internet and a renowned defender of the people’s online rights against the grasp of corporate control, Obama has demonstrated his seriousness about advancing the democratic potential of this technology.

There are, of course, many more players who would mold Obama’s White House agenda, including the usual forces of caution, inertia, and recalcitrance dragging him down, ranging from don’t-rock-the-boat Democratic elders to Washington’s army of corporate lobbyists.

The glue for this team is not its uniform progressive credentials, but Obama himself. I know this is risky. I might have to eat these words later, but I think he has a deep core of progressive values, honed by his life experience as a global child and a community organizer.

Ultimately, however, the substance of an Obama presidency—and its degree of progressivity—will be determined by the insistent demands and steady involvement of the energized grassroots constituency that has propelled him this far.

Jim Hightower produces The Hightower Lowdown political newsletter and is the author, with Susan DeMarco, of the new book “Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go with the Flow.”

Add new comment

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.


Forty years ago the UN General Assembly passed a resolution against "hostile environmental modification techniques...

The beauty and the tragedy of everyday life in a war zone.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

Public School Shakedown

Progressive Media Project