My letter to President-Elect Obama

OK, Mr. President-elect, I supported you and worked on your behalf and donated money, and voted for you and encouraged others to vote for you. I defended your policies and decisions during the campaign, and I disagreed (respectfully, but forcefully) when I thought you were wrong… and accepted your decision after hearing me out, and continued to support you as the best man for the job.

So now you’re on your way to White House. It’s been a long campaign and I’m sure you’re tired, but Mr. President, respectfully, there are some things I have to tell you now. Yes, now, before the celebrations have died down, and three months before you’re even sworn in.

One of the very few upsides to the incompetence and malevolence of the Bush/Cheney Administration has been the rise of the new progressive movement. The mistakes of the past eight years has galvanized the opposition, from the grassroots up, and we have taken advantage of new technologies to organize and communicate effectively. We have used that organization to try to pull our leaders to the left on policy after policy; to oppose Cabinet and court appointments detrimental to the progressive cause; and to reward leaders who are already pursuing laws that will help all Americans and the world.

Simply because we now have large majorities in Congress, and a popular, intelligent and effective leader in the White House, do not expect the progressive movement to become silent. One key trait that distinguishes liberals from conservatives is the fact that liberals demand accountability from all leaders, regardless of whether they have a D or an R (or a G, C or an ID after their name (Sen. Joe Lieberman’s days in the Democratic Caucus are numbered – but that’s not a concern for you, Mr. President-Elect).

I don’t have to tell you that the country, and the world, is in a bad way. You have acknowledged that, many times. In fact, your honest speaking about the troubles we are all in together is one of the things I most respect about you, and I firmly believe that that plain speaking was the key to your victory. Sen. Clinton had the popularity and the Democratic nomination was hers to lose – and I believe she lost it because she never spoke about the one major issue on American minds in the early part of this year: the war in Iraq and the tarnishing of our country’s reputation.

Remember, sir, how just 14 months ago, when you spoke in Portland, how your stump speech specifically did not mention the two disastrous wars, in Iraq and forgotten Afghanistan? I’m glad that you did eventually add that to your presidential campaign. I believe it was the key to your victory.

But now that you have prevailed, and have begun the difficult task of transitioning from campaign to governance, now is the time for me, and all Americans who care about the direction of this country, to state for the record what our goals are.

And in another move that pleasantly surprises me… you have created a place for us to speak, and for you to communicate and listen. That gives me great hope.

In fact, it hasn’t even been a week since your victory and I have already used the communication tool you’ve presented to give my thoughts on potential Cabinet appointees. Unfortunately, as these things go, my thoughts are negative ones: I am firmly against appointing Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. to any position that requires rational thought and trusting the research and science before making policy decisions, because of his virulently anti-science stance on vaccinations, when rumors arose that RFK, Jr. may be considered for heading up the Environmental Protection Agency or the Department of the Interior; and likewise, I am against the appointment of Lawrence Summers for the Department of the Treasury, since he is elbow-deep in the deregulation that led us to the massive failure of the investment banks that we have seen in the last few months.

But I am not entirely negative on your choices so far, and I do not intend to protest every single choice. I have good reason to believe that choosing Rahm Emmanuel for your Chief of Staff is an excellent pick; Rep. Emmanuel’s personal politics, particularly on trade issues, are too centrist for my progressive tastes, but when he explicitly states that the Obama Administration is not going to tie policies needed to immediately help our flagging economy to Bush-requested trade pacts with other nations, that’s incredibly encouraging. President Bush is the least popular president in the history of polling, and his help is not needed to move us forward.

It is also very encouraging to read that your staff have been planning for months what will happen after the election. The fact that the New York Times is reporting that you are preparing to undo as many of Bush’s policies as quickly as possible, makes me realize that you were not just campaigning competently, that you had your eye on the next steps, as well.

With all that in mind, then, as one of your constituents, supporters, and advocates, I present to you my own personal top priorities for your administration, in order of their importance to myself and to our great nation:

  • Close the illegal prisons and “black sites” that hold our political prisoners. Close Guantanamo Bay, close Bagram, close Abu Ghraib, and any others that the public does not know about. Stop torturing. Stop it, and vigorously pursue criminal charges against those who implemented them and allowed them to continue. I realize that your colleagues in Congress may hold some culpability, since many of them, like Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid, were ranking Minority members of various committees in the early years after 9/11. But remember how I said I, like other progressives, want accountability from all my leaders? Mine may be an extreme position, I understand that. But I still wish my voice to be heard. Stop the torture, close the political prisons. Not doing so may in fact be a war crime for your administration, not just the one that implemented it. And they represent an enormous stain on America’s moral high ground.
  • Likewise, vigorously prosecute any and all crimes committed by the previous administration. You have stated, during the campaign, that you might do this. I hope that your campaign’s statements were not just rhetoric.
  • Rescind the offensive extra-Constitutional powers contained in the Patriot Act and last year’s FISA Amendment Act. I know that the progressive movement has butted heads with you on this before, and that you went back on your earlier campaign promise to oppose any law that included retroactive immunity. But since you supported that bill and it was signed in to law by President Bush, new revelations have come out about abuses by the intelligence agencies violating the law. Whistleblowers from the NSA have come forward to explain that they and their fellow agents were routinely violating the privacy of Americans, including the most intimate conversations, without any national security pretext for tapping and recording those calls and emails. This surprised approximately no one who has been paying attention, and the knowledge that this has been happening, in violation of both the previous FISA laws, but also the amended FISA laws, does harm to our national security and our status in the community of nations. Repeal and restore the laws that served us well for three decades prior.
  • End combat operations by American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Pursue diplomacy and social change as a means of combating terrorism; an example would be Michael Moore’s suggestion of bringing clean drinking water to the over a billion people in the world who do not have it. The $10 billion that would cost is a fraction of the cost of putting our troops in harm’s way and killing or injuring thousands upon thousands of others. Remember, again, that prior to the economic meltdown in October, this was the most pressing issue on American minds. It is still just as important as it was before. Bring our troops home.
  • Lead through Congress and sign the Employee Free Choice Act into law. Organized labor brings democracy to what is otherwise a dictatorship (though some employers may be tyrants and others benevolent, non-union workplaces are still subject to the whims of those at the top). Strengthen the Federal Labor Relations Authority to bring more accountability to our industries. Union workers are, largely, progressive workers.
  • Use the $700 billion bailout money to directly help homeowners keep the houses they tried to purchase. Repeal the flawed bankruptcy bill passed in 2005 that forced people to continue paying usurious credit card debt but walk away from the roof over their head by removing sensible bankruptcy protections for them.
  • Create a new public works program to re-build our infrastructure and create new jobs. Invest in alternative fuels and at reducing carbon emissions.

Your stump speech talked of compromise. A true compromise is when everyone gets at least something they wanted. And no one gets anything they didn’t ask for. I could add more, but those will do for now. Everyone will have their own list of policies, but these are the most important as I see them.

And thank you, President-Elect Obama. This is truly an historic moment for our country and the world.