Please read this post by the BooMan. It explains a lot of what I’ve been saying for a long time. And it takes us back to the futility of perpetually bashing Barack Obama for not breaking out of old the status quo.
We’ve got a status quo that even a president can’t break out of, folks. It’s bigger than him. We could bring back FDR himself, and in the current political climate, he’d be just as hogtied.
I’m not saying that President Obama is above criticism; not at all. I’m saying that we’re never going to get the president we want in the current political climate. Even a candidate blazing with the most fiery passions of populist economic progressivism and liberal values would be reduced to cutting draconian deals over abortion and tax cuts even to implement a few mildly progressive tweaks.
So, perpetually screaming that Obama has sold us all out or is no better than Bush is pointless and infantile. Grow up and face reality. It’s the system, stupid.
The BooMan writes,
The truth is that our government is set up to frustrate change. Our election laws and our media landscape create a lopsided political playing-field where those who already have huge amounts of money can pretty much guarantee that they continue to get more of it and everyone else gets less. We can make arguments. We can try to move the Overton Window, but what is actually achievable in Washington DC is extremely limited. There really isn’t much sense in making a lot of promises that we can’t keep. The only times the Democrats have been able to make breakthroughs have been brief interludes when we had enormous majorities. Right now, we have a small majority in the Senate and we don’t control the House. Basically, in this situation, almost nothing can be accomplished, and even less can be accomplished on our terms. This is the context within which the president must perform. …
… I stopped being very idealistic when I finally got around to making myself understand our system of government. I don’t get disappointed by a whole lot because my expectations are so low. I see a real threat out there. I see a threat to our way of life and to all humanity, and it stares me in the face every single day. That threat isn’t coming from Barack Obama or the Democratic Party. It’s coming from the other side of the aisle. And insofar as the Democrats are failing to meet the challenge (and they are failing) the real culprit is deep and structural and ingrained in our system and in our laws.
You may have noticed that the right is engaged in this fight on a structural level. They go after the people who register voters. They pass laws making it harder to vote. They attack the unions. They attack MoveOn.org. They go after anyone in the media, be it Bill Maher, Keith Olbermann, Phil Donahue, or Dan Rather who expresses any skepticism about the right. They built their own cable news station and took over the radio spectrum. They make it so corporations can give unlimited money anonymously. They are coming after us with real aggression, trying to make it impossible for even middle-of-the-road Bill Clinton-style Democrats to get elected in this country. If we want to defend ourselves and ever see real progressive change in this country, we have to fight on this structural stuff. In the meantime, we’re playing defense. And we can’t do much more than that.
So, I’m obviously troubled and concerned about our country and the future, but I am pretty clear-sighted about what our limitations are and why we have to settle for so little. Our problems are not one man’s fault. One man cannot fix them. But we also need to remember that we have one man standing between where we are now and an immeasurably worse situation. I think about that every day, too.
I will say it plain — any liberal seriously thinking about backing a primary challenge to Obama or a third party challenge to Democrats in in 2012 needs to haul his head out of his ass, and fast. If the goal is to make progressive change possible in the U.S., we need new grand strategy that involves attacking the systemic barriers to change.
Elections are important, too. But electing progressive candidates and sending them to Washington, and expecting them to change the system for us, is a little like hiring one knight after another to slay a knight-eating dragon. The result is a well-fed dragon. What else were you expecting?
I know some of you will start screaming about how we still need to throw all the bums out and send a whole new crew to Washington. OK, go ahead and send a new crew to Washington, and watch them all turn into dragon chow. And if we could magically create a brand new progressive third party to replace the Democrats, in a matter of months they would be indistinguishable from Democrats. Dragon Chow.
The question is, how to we break down the system? It has to happen from both the inside and outside, I think. Change from the inside means continuing to support the more progressive Democrats. But change from the outside requires popular support. Instead of complaining about Obama’s pandering to the mushy middle, we need to work on the mushy middle.
For example, Steve Benen writes that Paul Ryan’s constituents in Wisconsin are not happy with his plans for changing Medicare. However,
As Greg Sargent explained, “These folks are worried about doing away with Medicare as we know it, but they are grappling with whether or not this will be necessary to put the nation on firmer fiscal footing.”
Right. Reading the piece, it seems these folks want to do the right thing. They’re uncomfortable with an extreme overhaul of Medicare, but they’re willing to listen to what’s “absolutely necessary.”
But the point is, the privatization of Medicare isn’t “necessary” at all. It won’t even lower health care costs. Paul Ryan’s plan is ostensibly about debt reduction, but even that’s a charade — he’s going after entitlements and other domestic priorities while slashing tax rates for the rich.
I doubt very many of Ryan’s constituents are hearing the facts about the Ryan plan. How do we reach them? Some progressives always argue that “average” voters are idiots and we can’t expect them to know what they’re voting on. But if that’s true, why are we even trying to preserve a representative republic? The basis of the system we say we are trying to preserve is based on the notion that We, the People, are in this together and making decisions collectively.
In the U.S. there always seems to be an Idiot Block that amounts to one-fourth to one-third of voters. But that leaves us with a lot of voters who don’t focus on politics much but who could be educated if we could reach them. So how do we reach them? And what else can we do to break the system? That’s the discussion we ought to be having on the blogosphere, not whether Obama should be “primaried.”
Update: This is what we need to build on.