I’m a liberal. “Progressive” was adopted because the right had made the word “liberal” radioactive and activists didn’t want to fight to change the persona. So, they simply adopted a new name. That’s fine, but it’s indicative of the battle, though there are strains of liberal fight in the movement progressives, seen in the economic and health care battles, but also from those who believe Obama’s words on terrorism yesterday could have been written by conservatives, which isn’t exactly shining a liberal light. Hey, but John F. Kennedy wouldn’t embrace the word either until he needed liberal firebrand Eleanor Roosevelt, so this is nothing new. It does point to the larger problem on the left, which can be better understood by looking at conservatives. The right never gets embarrassed about the tactics they use to get ahead or the labels they employ. Consider the Tea Partiers. Progressives have a natural tendency towards self-righteous earnestness and just aren’t good at scorched earth. The right, Tea Partiers, conservatives and Republicans, are experts in the tactic, especially when they’re fighting for power, as they are now, and once they get it they know how to use it. The left, progressives and Democrats, don’t. They need to learn or lose it, even if it’s their own who take them down.
Lots of discussion right now about what’s going wrong politically, especially after Obama’s first year, looking at what has and has not been accomplished by the Dem majority. Meyerson wrote a piece this week, to which I responded. Don Hazen writes the intro for Alernet’s discussion, which is followed by Les Leopold and Bruce E. Levine articles on the subject.
Alternet’s headline reads: Are Progressives Depressed or Too Privileged to Produce Social Change? Or Are We Just Failing to Organize Effectively? From Hazen:
Are progressives collectively depressed and incapable of action, depleted by the relentless corporate machine? How much of progressive inaction is a consequence of how comfortable the progressive elite is, and the gap between affluent progressives and younger, less prosperous progressives; especially those who do not work in the nonprofit sector? [...] Like most important debates, there is no one truth, and Leopold and Levine both make important and provocative arguments. On the one hand, resources are not going to be more fairly distributed and corporations are not going to be held accountable unless there is more effective mobilizing with both grassroots pressure and in the electoral arena. But at this point what is the path to change? Especially when disenchantment with Obama seems to breed cynicism and withdrawal, rather than anger and action? …
In Bruce E. Levine’s article, “Comforting the Afflicted, Afflicting the Comfortable”, responding to Les Leopold, Levine writes the following:
The good, smart people I know who are caught up in this state of helplessness are not moved to action by lectures about the history of successful movements and advice to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.
I wonder how Mr. Levine then accounts for the entire right-wing radio juggernaut, with Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity’s daily “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” rants leading a horde of people who kept Bush-Cheney in office in ’04, and have now coalesced into the Tea Party contingent that is doing exactly what Levine, but also Leopold, rail isn’t happening on the left.
He can’t, because the left is stuck in word quicksand instead of seeing what’s right before their eyes.
I am surprised that Les minimizes the value of small victories: “Levine’s analysis offers a way forward that involves building ‘morale’ through ‘small victories.’ That’s not good enough. The pursuit of the little ball right now, I believe, is a colossal organizing mistake.”
While Les, thankfully, sees some value in small victories, he feels we have more important needs. He says, “We need more information, more truth, and I intend to do all I can to share what I can with you.”
Obama for America did the work, the activism, the organizing, which resulted in Barack Obama and many more Democrats being put into power. This is not a small victory. Clintonites helped make it happen, working diligently to bring 18 million aboard, most of whom did it gladly. This wasn’t a small victory either. Nothing was more important than getting a Democratic president and Congress, which Americans across the country did, mostly in reaction to the misadventures of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. But yet just one year later Democrats are as restless as they are worried and disaffected; disappointment too lame a word for the power of many people’s anger at what’s not manifesting under total Democratic rule.
Les Leopold responds to Bruce E. Levine:
Take the 2000 election that Levine uses as an example. The response from the Democrats and the Republicans was quite different. The Republicans flooded Florida with their top dogs who participated actively in the recounts. I can still recall Bob Dole glowering as he challenged every Democratic hanging chad. The Republicans also concocted faux demonstrations by flying in staff.
Meanwhile the Democrats relied on the legal process even though they could have organized massive demonstrations all over Florida. What did Al Gore, the leader of the entire party, do after the Supreme Court decision against him? Nothing. He meekly accepted the results and moved on. He refused to call us to join him for mass protests at the steps of the Supreme Court because he believed in the judicial process, however flawed. He refused to rock the system because he was so much a part of it.
You weren’t there and neither was I because of choices made by Gore and the Democratic Party, including its major constituent organizations. But I find it difficult to blame us or the American public for Gore’s lack of will. You know full well the Republicans would have fought to the bitter end. (Why don’t they suffer more from abuse syndrome?) …
Leopold also addresses the point I’ve been making for months, while progressives across the spectrum make fun of Sarah Palin, as well as the Tea Party activists:
The Tea Party folks got it together in a hurry, but progressives seem at a loss.
The obvious comes from one Alternet commenter:
Posted by: Perry Logan on Jan 7, 2010 2:52 AM
How can any discussion of the morale of progressives ignore the fact that we have just been betrayed by the Obama Administration? Earth calling progressives. We did organize. We did rise up as a group. It was just a few months ago–remember? And then we got shot down! We are ignoring the elephant in the room. …
Though I’d take issue with the word “betrayed,” as Barack Obama was never what people scripted, at least not in ideology or policy prescriptions. We’re seeing through health care Obama’s true political north, for good or ill, which isn’t close to “socialism” or anything similar, regardless of the overlaid “socialism” tag from the right. But Perry Logan has it right: the organizing was done, people rose to elect Democrats, but then they decided not to deliver, and aren’t worried about any consequences for their ineptitude and inaction.
Tea Party people are “bootstrap activists” who don’t care if they take down the comfortable, to use Levine’s terminology and suggestion that they need to be afflicted, with Republican politicians scared of the wrath of their base, because Tea Party activists and other conservative brethren are loud and helped out by an entire network of radio hosts singing their praises and backing their cause all day long across this country.
The rebellion on the right also comes at a moment in history where conservatives have nothing to lose.
There’s no one more dangerous.
As for the left, they’ve got all the power and put people there who believe their supporters have no place else to go. Besides, what’s so wrong with being in power? Beats the alternative, right? Not if the people who put you there aren’t getting their share of the rewards and glory for their grunt work, with the policies being floated by the politicians they helped elect not close to what was fought to achieve.
Levine’s got it right: afflict the comfortable. After all, the people in power who are leading us nowhere can’t stay there if we don’t follow.
In a highly developed society, the Establishment cannot survive without the obedience and loyalty of millions of people who are given small rewards to keep the system going: the soldiers and police, teachers and ministers, administrators and social workers, technicians and production workers, doctors, lawyers….They become the guards of the system….If they stop obeying, the system falls. – “A People’s History of the United States,” by Howard Zinn
Buy some bootstraps.