Jane Hamsher on progressive activism:
The Bush administration and their wars gave fuel to the progressive movement in this country, no doubt. I was personally at a loss during the primary battles — from a movement perspective, I understood our job to be to hold fast to our principles and reward candidates for hewing to them and make them compete for our support.
What happened instead was that progressives divided into camps and started projecting progressive opinions onto candidates who had never expressed them, and fought relentlessly to establish a huge gulf between two candidates whose political records were largely indistinguishable. The progressive movement became subverted into a cult of personality on both sides from which it has yet to emerge, sucked in by a media complex that really doesn’t know how to cover an election or interpret politics in any other way.
More problematic is the way that progressive leadership is sitting things out, which is what Naomi Klein is addressing. Some may feel they have to — if the membership of their organizations are not interested in challenging the administration, many feel they can’t move without splitting them. But it’s a self-reinforcing problem. If the usual progressive validators aren’t saying anything, people don’t perceive that anything is wrong. And it becomes extremely difficult to generate enthusiasm for activism.
But Obama does bear some responsibility for the current state of affairs. The administration has consistently moved to distance itself from progressive leadership, refusing to even meet with the Progressive Caucus until recently. They have also consciously corralled progressive organizations and sought to strictly control their messaging. Media Matters and the Center for American Progress may have been important voices in the progressive movement at one time, but they’re little more than arms of the White House now, playing a zero sum game with Republicans who really don’t matter. When Democrats control both Congress and the White House, nobody needs the GOP’s help to pass legislation.
I understand that nobody wants to be on the outside like they were during the Bush years, but the price of a few cocktail parties at the White House — and the threat of lost donors — is buying a lot more than it should. There is some weakening around the edges, particularly among intellectuals concerned with finance issues (like Klein) and unions staring down a series of broken promises (like Gerard). Some predicted that Afghanistan would cause a split, but I never bought it. It’s probably going to take a big, stinging Congressional defeat — like Employee Free Choice — before any of the progressive institutions feel they must declare themselves independent of the White House and focus their energies on movement values once again.
I think this is a terribly important post. I don’t know what Jane was saying in real time, but you all know that is what I have been saying. The 2008 Democratic primary is going to keep political science students busy for a generation. I still can’t believe something that absurd could even exist. But even the hardest of hard core Hillary supporters are now for the most part giving Obama the same free pass his pathetic sycophants are. All of this despite how far out of his way Obama has gone to disassociate himself from the mainstream of his party. Just this week, Obama named two more Republicans to his administration, one to an arts (!) position, and one to be Army Secretary because of course Democrats can not be trusted with national security-type positions. He is actively working against liberal Democrats trying to run for the Senate in New York and a real Democrat trying to run against fake Democrat Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania. I really have no idea why the gay community hasn’t openly revolted over the broken promises and outright neglect with which Obama has treated them, unions as well.
For the last year, on the rare occasions that I allow myself to be pulled into political discussions, it always comes down to “well, would you rather McCain and Palin were in the White House?” That’s not valid anymore, and if you find yourself saying it, remember, suicide isn’t just for celebrity masturbators. The election is over, and the choice isn’t between Obama and McCain, it’s between making Democrats do the right thing, or allowing them to be just slightly less destructive than the Republicans who preceded them.
Media Matters and CAP, as Jane writes, are as stuck in the past as the people they wish to influence. I don’t care what the latest Rush Limbaugh travesty happens to be, nor am I interested in the breathless headlines Think Progress gins up about Dick Cheney or to drive traffic. Bad policy is still happening, and it’s not the Republicans who are proximately to blame. It’s time to wake up and realize that Democrats in Congress aren’t going to automatically do the right thing. It’s also clear that Obama doesn’t want to fight for what’s right. So you can accept all this in the spirit of “hey, at least he’s not Bush,” or you can stop tolerating this nonsense and start applying some pressure. Yes, it would be nice if the progressive leaders and A-list bloggers got off their asses and started to lead, but hey, cocktail parties. Now I’m pretty openly dismissive about all of this Web 2.0/social networking stuff, but it seems to me, it’s easier than ever to organize and at least be heard by this administration. Unless you think they’re doing just fine…