I have followed the development of the coming Obama administration closely, and am extremely impressed, but uneasy. I believe that many progressives feel the same way. While Barack has tapped some of the best minds in the country, their ideologies are not necessarily in synch with those of us that worked in the trenches to accomplish the great change that we envision. There are a number of ways that progressives can react to the situation, but the course of action we decide upon is crucial in the present environment.
The easiest course is to have faith that Obama will mold his cabinet to his own view of bold and dramatic change. Before following this course, we must reflect on where the faith-based community has taken this country. Faith, by definition, implies the lack of thought. I am not bashing religion; many people of faith have performed great deeds. What I am referring to is when faith spills over from God to man. Examples are those who were so ecstatic that we finally had a president who was a man of faith (George Bush, as opposed to that terrible sinner, Bill Clinton), and those who had the faith to follow the likes of Jerry Falwell, Ted Haggard, et.al. While faith may well provide a solid basis for one’s spiritual life, it just doesn’t work well in politics. Furthermore, in these times we don’t have the luxury of taking a wait and see attitude. By the time we’re done waiting and seeing, we may well be beyond the point of no return, which is arguable rapidly approaching.
Another easy course of action is to accept the fact that it really doesn’t matter who we elect, because the same beltway insiders will continue to cater to the corporatocracy, and we are screwed no matter who is president. If we decide on this tack, there is no doubt the result will be a self-fulfilling prophecy. The conservatives will certainly be pushing the administration to the right. If our voices are not heard, what choice will the politicians have but to buy into the commonly believed fallacy that this is a center right country. Because of the complacency of the left over the past 30 years, I fear that from where the insiders sit, it really does appear that we are a center right country. If this is true, we have nobody to blame but ourselves.
In my opinion, the only sane course of action is to understand that we have elected a very good but imperfect man as president. He is not as progressive as we would like, but he was the best choice we had. Personally I believe Dennis Kucinich or Russ Feingold would have been better choices, but had no chance in the present environment. Please don’t misunderstand; I am ecstatic over the results of the election. Electing Obama was a huge victory for progressives, but to just sit back and expect that things are suddenly going to be perfect will be a catastrophic mistake. It is time for a massive progressive call to action.
If we don’t make our voices heard, those who formulate “conventional wisdom” will convince the administration that governing from the center (meaning right) is the best course of action. The economic recovery program will consist of tax relief for those who don’t need it, rather than of jobs for those who do need them. Health care reform will look like the Massachusetts plan where those that don’t have health care are fined more than those convicted of domestic assault, DUI, of firearms violations, rather than free cradle to grave coverage for all Americans.
On the positive side, the entire conversation has changed since the economic melt down of October. Now all economists, not just the smart ones like Krugman (who, by the way, should have been Obama’s choice for Secretary of the Treasury) are advocating putting megabucks into infrastructure and energy (easy to translate into jobs). Even that lunatic on MSNBC, Tucker Carlson, mentioned the fact that we may as a society decide that universal health care is a reasonable goal (although he claimed is would cost more money, which is globally untrue).
On the other hand, to illustrate that conservative lunacy is alive and kicking, just last week Joe Scarborough suggested that this generation of Americans was weak because we can’t tolerate a period of 7-10% unemployment. This comes from a guy who, like most conservatives, could not tolerate a 38% marginal tax rate on his income over $357,000. Who’s weak? Obviously, Joe has never been unemployed, or has never cared about someone who was unemployed.
Back to the subject, now that my tirade is over (I’m happier now), I’ll get back to the subject. Progressives have been highly successful in electing the most progressive electable candidates this past year. In addition to Obama, Western PA has replaced fascists Santorum, Hart, and English with moderates Casey, Altmire, and Dahlkemper. While none are as progressive as we would like them to be, at least we now have a seat at the table, and all have demonstrated that they are open to progressive principles. Casey, Obama, and Altmire have supported the employee free choice act, as well as other progressive legislation, and I am confident that Dahlkemper will as well if we let her know where we stand.
The 111th Congress started last week, and President Obama takes the oath of office next Tuesday. Now is the time for progressives to undertake the next phase of our quest to remake the country. That phase is activism. Whether it’s writing letters to elected officials, letters to the editor, blogging, protests, vigils, forums, political contributions, or whatever activities you believe are most effective, it’s time to act. It’s time for change, and that change starts with us. We must change the tone of the conversation to the point where the default point of view is progressive. We have given the Republican message machine a free ride for thirty years. In spite of the fact that a solid majority of Americans are progressive (even though many don’t realize it) the conservatives have controlled the dialogue, convincing the masses that this is a center right country. Even those of us who are not motivated to do something big can make a difference. Speak up when some right-wing asshole mouths off about how the rich already pay most of the taxes. When you are waiting for your car, or in a hotel lobby, tell the owner (or the employee in control of the TV) that Fox News is offensive to you. E-mail your Senator or Representative at least monthly (better yet weekly). Your message doesn’t have to be long or eloquent; just make your opinion clear, as it is largely a numbers game. Only we can change the game, and now is the time.