After the euphoria of 2008, this is really hard. I thought after Obama’s election, that just maybe the long backlash against the 60’s might be over. I thought I would be spending my retirement years helping to build a revitalized progressive movement.
WAS I EVER WRONG. Of course the rotten economy was a major factor in the Democrats’ losses. But there’s more going on. A segment of the electorate (largely white and over 60 and associated with the "Tea Party") is unsettled by the country’s changing demographics and can’t accept the election of an African-American president, the cultural diversity of 21st century America and the increasing acceptance of same-sex marriage. This segment of the electorate will ultimately lose. But they came out to vote in large number and scored a major victory in 2010.
They claim that this is all about reining in big government. Considering that these very same people did not protest the huge deficits of the Bush administration, I can’t believe that all this anger is just about the deficit. The Tea Party may have cleaned up the overt racism in many of the signs brandished in their 2009 rallies, but their “take back our country” rhetoric has an ugly racially charged subtext.
I’ve been a grassroots political activist for 40+ years. It was one disappointment after another--the tragedy of the sixties generation was to have spent our youth at time of tremendous social possibility and our middle and later years in a time of reaction.
And then came the heady victory in 2008. Well, the euphoria didn’t last very long—-the idiocy of the birthers, the ugliness of the Tea Party and now the Republican resurgence of 2010.
Of course the Democrats bear some responsibility. Some progressives think we lost ground because we didn’t push hard enough for progressive policies. (The defeat of progressives such as Russ Feingold and Alan Grayson tends to undercut that analysis.)
Some think the leftwing attacks on President Obama for compromising overmuch contributed to disaffection with the president and his party. From Nicholas Kristof’s New York Times column, “Give Obama a Break:”
The sourness toward Mr. Obama reminds me of the crankiness toward Al Gore in 2000. We in the news media were tough on Mr. Gore, magnifying his weaknesses, and that fed into a general disdain. So some liberals voted for Ralph Nader, and George W. Bush moved into the White House.
There’s a lesson here.
And from Rachel Maddow who seems to have learned this lesson:
We may have attacked the Democrats in power from the left, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow said last night, but let's take a look at what they've done. She showed a long reel of clips in which she and her fellow anchors reported on bill after bill getting signed.
With a Democratic majority in both houses of congress and a Democrat in the White House, the legislation (watered-down though some may find it) has been coming fast and furious--and although it may have spent a lot of political capital, it's made a difference.
Now she tells us after months of relentless criticism!
We progressives have demonstrated that we can elect left of center candidates like President Obama but we don’t know how to support our candidates once they’re in office. I don’t mean uncritical support. I’m not saying we shouldn’t criticize the President nor try to pressure him to support progressive polices. But there is a way to criticize that acknowledges the real achievements and doesn’t buy into the right wing narrative that President Obama has done nothing right.
This has been rough for progressives--especially for Pennsylvania progressives--a Republican governor, the Republicans in control of both houses of the PA legislature, and a far right wing Republican senator. We’re back to playing defense, most of our energy going into fighting back against the right.
Once again, we’ve got to pick ourselves up and soldier on. Not so easy.