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Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Elliot BenjaminElliot Benjamin is a philosopher, mathematician, musician, counselor, writer, with Ph.Ds in mathematics and psychology and the author of over 230 published articles in the fields of humanistic and transpersonal psychology, pure mathematics, mathematics education, spirituality & the awareness of cult dangers, art & mental disturbance, and progressive politics. He has also written a number of self-published books, such as: The Creative Artist, Mental Disturbance, and Mental Health. See also:



An Integrated Perspective

Elliot Benjamin

NOTE: In this article I am using the term “integrated” to describe an approach that resolves diametrically opposed perspectives, which is consistent with the basic framework of “integral,” but without utilizing the particulars of Wilber's theory of four quadrants, eight perspectives, levels and lines, traits and types, etc. (see my 2007 Integral World essay Integral vs. Integrative).

what might an “integrated” progressive primary challenge to Obama look like?

There is a controversial movement afloat to challenge President Obama in the 2012 Democratic National Primary (see the Common Dreams article Progressives Vow to Challenge Obama in Democratic Primaries at One of the key proponents of this movement is surprisingly Ralph Nader, our country's perpetual third party candidate. Another key proponent of the movement is Black progressive and political activist Cornel West, who works closely with Rabbi Michael Lerner in the progressive political organizations Tikkun and the Network of Spiritual Progressives/. Some highlights of this creative and unusual progressive primary challenge idea are as follows (with all quotes from the above mentioned Common Dreams article):

  1. To form a slate of six candidates, each of which are “recognizable, articulate, and a person of acknowledged achievement,” in at least one of the following fields: “labor, poverty, military and foreign policy, health insurance and care, the environment, financial regulation, consumer protection, and civil, political and human rights/empowerment.” According to Nader, West, and the other forty three notables who endorsed the proposal, these are fields in which “Obama has never clearly stated a progressive claim or where he has drifted toward the corporate right.”
  2. The proposal to challenge Obama in the primaries is motivated by numerous decisions made by Obama that have drawn criticism from the Democratic party, including his decision to “bail out Wall Street's most profitable firms while failing to push for effective prosecution of the criminal behavior that triggered the recession, escalating the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan while simultaneously engaging in a unilateral war in Libya, his decision to extend the Bush era tax cuts, and his acquiescence to Republican extortion during the recent debt ceiling negotiations.” The proposal also refers to widespread disappointment in Obama's decisions or lack of decisions regarding the endorsement of single payer health care, immigrant reform, blatant deficiencies and loopholes in corporate law and banking, nuclear power policies, environmental issues, and more. Readers are invited to add their own “concerns, disappointments, and frustrated hopes to the list,” and therefore I will add Obama's willingness to include Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid on the chopping board in the recent debt negotiations with Republicans.
  3. Without a serious progressive primary challenger, “President Obama advances without contest to a unanimous nomination. There is no recognizable Democratic challenger, no meaningful debate on key progressive issues or past broken promises, just a seamless, self-contained operation on its way to raising one billion dollars in campaign funds....The valid disagreements within the Democratic Party, let alone the goals of progressives, will be completely overlooked....not only will progressive principles past and present be betrayed but large sections of voters will feel bored with and alienated from the democratic candidate. This would not serve the president's campaign, our goals, or the nation's needs.”
  4. The slate of six candidates can “indicate that its intention is not to defeat the president... but to rigorously debate his policy stands....will exercise a pull on Obama toward the liberal/progressive base (in the face of the countervailing pressure from 'centrists' and corporations) and leave that base with a feeling of positive empowerment....a slate that is serious, experienced, and well-versed in policy will display a sobering contrast with the alarmingly weak, hysterical, and untested field taking shape on the right....This opportunity to revive and restore the progressive infrastructure of the Democratic Party must not be missed....President Obama should emerge from the primary a stronger candidate as a result.”

This progressive primary proposal idea has been criticized from all sides (see the comments on the proposal in the above referenced Common Dreams article). Moderate progressives are concerned that a primary challenge to Obama could fracture the Democratic party, wither his basis of support, and consequently increase the chances of a Perry, Romney, or Bachmann being our next president. Radical progressives are outraged that this primary challenge is not designed to “win,” and consequently they view this as an empty challenge without any power to accomplish its goals. They see no reason why Obama would take this kind of primary challenge seriously and agree to debate the candidates, and they do not think there would be any significant media attention drawn to this kind of “facade” progressive primary challenge.

I have been quite taken up with the whole issue of a progressive primary challenge to Obama for quite some time now, and I can appreciate both sides of the concerns and criticisms of this proposal. But what might an “integrated” progressive primary challenge to Obama look like—one that offers an alternative to the multitude of deep disappointments with Obama's presidency as described above, but one that does not play havoc with the devastating prospect of a tea party candidate becoming our next president?

Having discussed the Nader/West proposal at my recent Rebuilding the American Dream local Maine meeting the other night, it was disappointing to me to hear the negative responses or lack of interest in supporting the proposal. But the reasons for the disinterest of my group were both informative and revealing to me. There were no concerns expressed along the lines of the moderate progressive criticism that this could result in the Republicans winning the next presidential election. As one astute political scientist in the group explained it, a “serious” progressive challenger to Obama would be viewed by most “middle Americans” as a “fringe group from the left” and consequently would have no effect on how they voted in the presidential election. This made sense to me, and if anything I would think that the danger would be more that some people switch their vote from Obama to a third party candidate, which would help the Republicans in a similar way to what I perceive as the Nader/Bush/Gore fiasco of 2004.

My Rebuilding the American Dream group's lack of enthusiasm to the proposal was for the second reason; they said it was not a “serious” challenge because its intent was not to “win.” They said that it would get virtually no media attention, and would not be taken seriously by Obama, who would not bother to enter into debates with the candidates. And this I can understand; it makes sense to me. Ideally we would have Bernie Sanders as a “serious” Democratic progressive challenger to Obama, fusing the growing revolutionary “occupations” happening all over the country: New York, Washington DC, Boston, Los Angeles, Chicago, etc., along with the Rebuilding the American Dream movement, MoveOn.Org, and numerous other liberal/progressive political organizations. But this is not going to happen. Any potential “serious” progressive primary challenger to Obama, inclusive of Bernie Sanders, Dennis Kucinich, and Russ Feingold, have in no uncertain terms declined the role. Even Ralph Nader has stated that he has no intention of running for president this time around.

So where does this leave things? We are back to square one—it looks like there will be no “serious” Democratic primary challenger to Obama in 2012. But what is the next best possibility? I believe that this Democratic progressive primary proposal spearheaded by Nader and West is the next best possibility, and that it represents an “integrated” progressive primary challenge to Obama. I understand and agree that it lacks power and impact on being taken seriously by Obama and the media. But it is not “nothing.” If between one and six progressive candidates were to finally step up out of the woodwork, at best we would have some kind of public arena for debating the crucial issues that so many progressives are deeply disturbed about in Obama's presidency.

But if nothing else, perhaps it would fuel young people to become more excited about politics and the upcoming 2012 national election, and may stimulate Obama to take progressives more seriously, as he finally has appeared to have done with his Buffet tax proposal, though of course much more needs to be done in this direction. I believe there is a potential to fuse the revolutionary forces that are finally taking shape across the country in the growing “occupations” of young people. I am all for a “serious” Democratic primary challenge to Obama, but given that one does not appear to be on the horizon and time is running out, I advocate for this “integrated” Nader/West proposal to at least promote “some” kind of central focus for a progressive agenda, without contributing to the fiasco of a possible “President Perry,” and an opportunity for public debate on the monumental issues that have alienated and enraged many former Obama supporters, including myself.

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