Tuesday, March 23, 2010


My email batch today included angry condemnation by some of my fellow leftists of the new Health Reform Act and everyone who supported Sunday’s historic vote. Laura Bonham of Progressive Democrats of America (PDA), of which I’m a member, called it “A Kafka Moment” and bitterly attacked MoveOn for congratulating the Democrats who voted for it. Ralph Nader and Chris Hedges scorned “craven Democrats”, especially attacking Howard Dean. This was an echo of the attacks on Dennis Kucinich for “folding” when he announced he would vote “yes”.

That’s certainly not the way I see things. The times call for militancy and resolve, but not for a nasty war against anyone who sees today’s momentous challenges from a broader perspective than do Bonham, Nader and Hedges. I can’t support PDA in an assault on MoveOn. Nor can I conceive of a significant American left if Dennis Kucinich, Al Franken, Barbara Lee, Barney Frank, John Lewis and Bernie Sanders just sold us out by favoring a “yes” vote on the final bill.

Is it possible to see two realities at once? Is it possible to be highly critical of limitations and compromises in the new legislation and yet to see it as an advance? Is it possible to recognize a flawed process, with serious shortcomings, and still acknowledge that in its final stage Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi did a praiseworthy job of advancing health care as a basic right and beating back the violent ultra-right counter-attack against the results of the 2008 elections?

It had better be possible to see the whole contradictory reality as we go on from here. It’s never been more necessary to fight hard on a host of vital issues, yet never more necessary to bridge gaps and hold a progressive majority together. Whatever the Administration does or doesn’t do, holding back on critical struggles is not an option for leftists and progressives — not on ending the wars, fighting for immigration reform, universal health care and jobs programs, or fighting cuts in education and social welfare. While pushing vigorously for the President and Congress to live up to the promise of change that swept the 2008 elections, we have the responsibility to do everything we can to defend and extend what’s positive and hopeful. We cannot dismiss for a single moment that a rightist and racist cabal has targeted the Obama presidency, trying desperately to reverse the historic opportunity to change America for the better. This vigilante crusade aims not just at a return to something like a Bush/Cheney regime, but something far further to the right that’s closer to fascism.

I’m glad the Health Reform bill became law and not Obama’s “Waterloo” as the GOP projected. The majority can do a lot better and the door is open. It might have been slammed shut not just on health care, but on any possibility for progressive headway in the next several years.


  1. Thank you, Professor Wofsy. I first heard your lucid political statements when I arrived to the U.S. in 1964 (to Berkeley, which I left in 1975). It is heartening to see that you have not changed. This is exactly the realist common sense that the "pure left" needed to hear and it was necessary to give. We do not need any brand of "crazy" , not even "our own," in such perilous times. Alas, I also agree with you that the right-wing reaction is veering closer to fascism. After all, they do no longer accord legitimacy to the electoral process, which in their eyes should only serve to put them in power. And then all criticism based on empirical reality ends.

  2. Dear Leon,
    It lifts my spirits to read your wise commentary 40 years after we last met. I was making a referral to David (of a friend with dysdiagnosed autoimmune disease), when I encountered your blog.

    Keep up the good work,
    Mark Saifer