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Progressives AWOL?

By Richard Head
Opinion | September 19, 2010

BASEHOR, Kan. - In the past 12 hours, through a conversation at a party, and a magazine article, I've had confirmation of something that's been bothering me for months.

Last night I sat and talked with a woman whom I've met a couple of times before at parties. While we've never talked politics before, last night we discussed our feelings and attitudes about the current situation with the Federal government, and politics in general. She allowed as how she generally votes for Republican candidates, although she does her homework and votes for the candidate rather than the party. She said that, of all the politicians she could think of, the one who impressed her the most was Bill Clinton. She went on at some length about his intellectual brilliance, policy wonkishness, and command of seemingly trivial details that made the difference in so many arm-twisting sessions with political opponents. And, despite her grave disappointment in his philandering, she still gave him the benefit of the doubt when it came to governing. My response, which I've made numerous times before, is that even the most conservative among the American people would much rather trust a philanderer than they'd trust someone who'd steal their money and tell them it was for their own good--i.e., Republicans. She laughed and said that she agreed.

I told her that, while I don't think I've ever voted for a Republican, I'm truly disappointed in Barack Obama's seeming tone deafness when it comes to what ordinary people think and feel. Clinton's willingness to talk to just about anyone, including the press, also made him seem very approachable. Obama, on the other hand, through his resounding absence from so much of the legislative action during the health care debate, for example, seems to be content to let others take the lead and suffer the negative feedback first. He seems, I told this woman, to act more and more like a typical Chicago politician, including conducting as few press conferences as possible and as many staged photo-ops as possible. I told her that I hated to repeat that right-wing talking point, but that I was becoming increasingly disenchanted with his disengagement from THE main street issue of jobs and the economy.

We talked for some time about the Tea Party movement, its GOP underpinnings, and that it's now quickly grown into something like a "rebellious teenager" who has no respect for its parents. I also repeated a line that Bill Clinton uttered not long ago about the Tea Party when he said, "You can't love your country and hate your government."

And so, this morning, as I was reading the current issue of the Columbia Journalism Review over coffee, I read a telling piece by David Weigel titled, "Tea Party Poopers: How the Left Press Helped Create a Conservative Monster." There's no need to go into all of the gory details, except to make the point that so many on the left, and the left-of-center press in particular, minimized and made fun of the Tea Party without looking into what was really fueling its rise. Weigel's most telling argument about press coverage of the Tea Party was this:

"Here's the irony: liberals made inevitable the coverage (of the Tea Party) in the mainstream media that so angered them. The institutions liberals built to challenge the GOP were, once Democrats were in power, more obsessed with attacking a perceived enemy than with building liberal projects."

My point, I guess, aside from simply lamenting the obvious, is that Progressives have a long way to go to compete with a disciplined right-wing money and image machine. As if to add insult to injury in all of this, I got a call on Friday from a telemarketer working for Emily's List. After about 15 seconds of listening to her pitch she congratulated me on having supported them in the past, to which I interrupted, "I just gave to Emily's List two weeks ago." She seemed flustered and apologized, but before she could go on I cut her off and said I needed to get back to work and that I wasn't in a position to donate again so soon.

As I hung up the phone I just shook my head and wondered, "Would the right-wing machine have let something like that happen?" I doubt it. My guess is that if I'd been one of their supporters the telemarketer would have had every detail about my contribution on the screen in front of her, right down to date/time stamp on the credit card transaction.

Okay, so maybe I'm conflating too many issues. But, on the other hand, it just makes me wonder...


Richard--You've said what I've been thinking for some time. I've been puzzled about the Progressive AWOL behavior since Obama took office. It's as if everyone said, "We won. Now let's go home and drink some fine wine and eat a gourmet meal." And Obama? His recent call for African-Americans to get involved in this election is just a tad late.

I write a lot of letters to the editor, as many as I think I can get printed, and my husband does the same. People thank me for my letters, but when I tell them they can write letters too, what I hear is, "Oh, no. I couldn't," as if it's somehow beneath them to make their views public. Right wingers have no such qualms. Back in the day, left wingers took to the streets and made some noise. Not today. Not even the noise of computer keys typing a letter to the editor. Thanks for your efforts. I plan to continue writing myself. Diane


As a progressive, I will speak only for myself when I say that I am absent. I walked in the rain, I talked myself hoarse, I wrote, I donated money, and I phone-banked in order to get Barack Obama elected. I was also active in helping to gain a majority in 2006. The disappointment that I have felt with the Obama Presidency is second only to the greater disappointment that I feel in the whole Democratic Party.

I waited to see what would happen when Obama was elected. I really didn't have many expectations. We all knew that the Republican Party would stand in the way of progress. What I wasn't quite prepared for was the way the Democratic Party stood in the way of progress. Congress, Senate and the Administration have constantly taken a right of center policy approach. So little has been changed in policy of the Current Administration from the last, you can barely tell the difference. Things might APPEAR different, depending on your perspective, but upon greater inspection and further analysis, nothing much has changed. Obama has taken a hands-off approach in those few measures that the Democrats have managed to pass. Financial Reform hasn't changed much for the working man who was so frequently mentioned by Obama on the campaign trail. Health Reform was a perversion that will end up benefitting the insurance companies and healthcare robber barons at the expense of the working man. We still have governmental surveillance and the administration is working to increase its powers there. We still have rendition and torture and we still have Guantanamo.

I won't listen to excuses of why this or that had to happen or this or that can't happen overnight. The Bush Presidency increased the powers of the President and Obama has not done anything to decrease them. Nor has used the powers that the previous administration asserted to accomplish the things he promised.

I, as a progressive, am absent because progressivism is absent from the Democratic Party. I am reluctant (to say the least) to further support a Party that uses my efforts, money and manpower to attain office and then promptly turns around and gives me the finger. (The FISA vote shortly after Dems achieved majority and the cabinet that Obama put together shortly after achieving the Presidency were both middle fingers to anyone who believes in progressive policy.)

As far as Progressive Discipline, there are two points to make. 1)The Conservative Machine took thirty years to build, grow and come into its own. They have a huge head start. 2) I don't see a Progressive Machine being built--I see one that all to often settles for the status quo and backs the politicians and groups that continue to fail us as a nation. When there is a true progressive machine, I will be glad to jump on board.

Thanks for your article. It is great to hear someone finally admit that there IS some truth to some of the things that conservative Americans are saying. I believe these sort of admissions, from both sides, are necessary to achieving the concensus that will be necessary to ever have a chance of turning this country around.

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