Blame Ourselves

[I had written this as an update to the last post, but I’ve decided to make it a separate post.]

See Steve M., “There Is More to Politics Than Elections.”

I’ve said this before — repeatedly, I think — but I’ll say it again: the most successful progressive movement of the last 60 years was the civil rights movement, and it didn’t focus obsessively on elections. Get JFK elected and we’ll be free! Primary JFK because he’s not moving fast enough! That’s not what the civil rights movement did. The civil rights movement focused on issues — voting rights, desegregation of schools and lunch counters and buses and bus terminals, and on and on. Any interest in elections was in the service of the movement’s goals; it wasn’t the other way around, the way it always seems to be with lefties today. And there were great successes.

There’s an attitude that all we need to do is elect the Magic Politician, and then we can sit back and relax and everything will be fine. You see the attitude across the political spectrum. On the Right, you see them falling passionately in love with this or that politician — Sarah Palin, for example. They were passionately in love with George W. Bush for a long time, although now they like to pretend they weren’t. Sort of the way you might have felt about that jerk of a boyfriend once you got over him.

Over the past few days on one leftie site after another I’ve seen people claim that if only we had elected Hillary Clinton to the White House things would be so much better, because she is tougher and more progressive. People who think that are clueless about her Senate record, but never mind. The less you know about a politician, the easier to turn him or her into a blank slate to project your hopes on.

Believing the President should be able to fix everything if he really wants to is magical thinking. It’s as if Congress doesn’t exist at all, or else Congress is only a slight inconvenience to a president’s using his unlimited authority to do anything he wants. (Read Kevin Drum’s “Presidential Power” if you haven’t already.)

I’m not saying that President Obama hasn’t made mistakes. But I’m saying that progressives aren’t helping their own cause when they spend all their energy whining about President Obama. Where were we during the stimulus fight? Where were we during the debt ceiling battles?

Sitting on our butts whining about Obama, that’s what.

At the very least, we ought to be doing everything we can do to move public opinion, because ultimately public opinion is the real obstacle to progressive policies. People are getting all of their “education” about political issues from the Right. They’ve been sold on the idea that deficits and government over-spending are the problem, which makes it just about impossible for a President or any other politician to lead them in a different direction.

Progressives ought to be waging an all-out information war to get the public to understand why progressive policies are in their best interest. Instead, we mostly just talk to ourselves.

24 thoughts on “Blame Ourselves

  1. I don’t normally do this, but I’m going to copy what I wrote as a comment on Digbys site yesterday. The comment section there has become unreadable, because there are a ton of trolls, and a lot of people who reflexively blame Obama and the Democrats, but can’t offer anything other than comlaining endlessly about them. Of course there are some great, great commenters there, but they are outnumbered by the others, and I got frustrated with dealing with the negaivism.

    And maha, the language is really rough, so either forgive me, or feel free to delete this. I was going to edit it out for us here, but it’s what I felt at that moment, and I’d had enough.

    Here it is:

    Bich, bitch, bitch, bitch, bitch, bitch, bitch…

    Jesus H. Christ on a Hoveround, do any of you commenters here do anything besides fucking bitch? (And yes, I’m sure that there are).

    I’m sick of listening to you. Sure, we Liberals are screwed. When the fuck has that EVER NOT BEEN THE CASE?
    It’s always been that way!
    Rarely, but steadily, we make some progress. Usually when we fight for something – by taking action. Progress is slow. Deal with it.
    And sitting around and typing comments on a blog ain’t action.

    You want to primary Obama? Fine! Who with? And what are you fucking doing about it?

    You can’t stand the Democratic Party? Fine. What are you fucking doing to change it?

    You want a 3rd Party? GREAT! What the fuck are you doing to start one, or help expand an existing one?
    A motherfucking Liberal 3rd Party ain’t gonna magically appear for ya.

    You can sit here and bitch about Obama, and Quisling Democrats, and the whole world all you fucking want. It won’t change jack-shit!!!
    Do something!

    And don’t question my bona-fides. I’ve been actively involved in Liberal causes, movements, and protests since my first year of college in the mid-’70’s, when the school wanted to drastically change requirements for Majors.
    Sure, we lost.
    But at least some of us fought.
    Most of the student body figured, hey, it affects the kids coming in next year, so why should I give a shit?
    And so the College Adminstration won.
    I’ve kept on fighting since then.

    And I’ve worked on anti-nuke, pro-afirmative action, protesting Iran-Contra, pro-labor, etc. – all the way to today, where I’m working on reviving the dead Democratic Party in my area. Why not a 3rd Party? Why not? Sure. But at least this is a place to start.

    So stop bitching and fucking DO SOMETHING!

    I’m done reading the commenters here, and commenting.
    I still love Digby, and I think David Atkins is a good addition, and a terrific writer with a lot to say.
    I just can’t hear either one of them because most of you are too busy shouting and bitching at them, and at one another, and putting other commenters down.

    So, “Bye.”

    PS: Let the beat-down begin. I don’t give a flying fuck.

    I hit a nerve with a lot of people. I did have some positive responses, and some negative ones. If you want to read them, this happened early on the first thread on Thursday.

    Again, I apologize for reusing a comment. And especially for the language. But, sometimes the NY City kid, and fomer NYC bartender and bouncer, comes out.

    I’ll go wash out my mouth with some soap.

  2. Excellent points, and I’m one who has been known to whisper that Hillary knows what the right is about and has no delusions of ‘bi-partisanship’. The right has been much more effective in sticking to their guns, sticking together, to get their horrible policy ideas across. Even in the debt ceiling debacle, they framed the issue, and dems responded to it. Even in the recent elections (gotta tie WI to this some how), you can see a strategy. What they wanted to accomplish wasn’t going to happen very quickly in Washington, so they went to the states. And it has been effective. In many states we’re fighting for our lives. And in those states the republicans just don’t care if there’s a backlash against them. They will put in their policies and try to make them as difficult to over turn as possible. In WI, we now have the California 2/3 vote on raising taxes. So even if Scooter gets recalled, it will be nearly impossible to undo what he has done. Dems would never do this. I think as Dems we have looked for strong leadership coming from the President to lead us; think FDR, LBJ, WJC. While the right has spent much more time on the grassroots. They have out worked us, their organizations are better. Who’s the equivalent of Grover Norquist on the left? Fox on the left? MSNBC, please. Luckily for us many of the policies the right wants to institute are so abhorrent to the general public that when they try them, they are appalled. But they still go after them. It used to be that talking Medicare and Social Security ‘reform’ would kill you politically. It doesn’t appear as if that’s going to happen. The Reps are much more focused and organized than the Dems; we usually rely on strong leadership from above, which is why I think that many people are hammering on Obama.

    • Excellent points, and I’m one who has been known to whisper that Hillary knows what the right is about and has no delusions of ‘bi-partisanship’.

      Unfortunately, that’s never stopped her from being just as accommodating to the Right as Obama, if not more so. She just doesn’t have any illusions about it.

      What they wanted to accomplish wasn’t going to happen very quickly in Washington, so they went to the states. And it has been effective.

      Yes, and behind those state efforts is lots and lots of BIG MONEY. There are organizations tied to everything from Big Tobacco to the American Medical Association who have sent lobbyists to the states to enact legislation favorable to their own bottom lines. There’s a well-funded organization that invites state officials to big, glitzy conferences and feeds them their legislative agenda, which is how come several states began pushing nearly identical union-busting legislation this year. Note that the Republican Party isn’t behind this, although it is certainly welcoming it.

  3. Jeez, maha, of all of the comments I’ve written over the years, this is the one I wouldn’t have minded being “moderated” by you before it was published! 🙂

  4. You can see this playing out in an interesting way in my household. My wife was the one who put three Obama stickers on her car in 2008, and now she’s the one who’s fed up and disgusted while I’m still defending him. It’s not like I never got caught up in the enthusiasm myself, but I’ve always kept in mind that Barack Obama, like everybody else, is just a person.

    And as President, of course, his ability to act is limited in various ways by the Constitution. I would add to your comments, and to c u n d gulag’s as well, that a large percentage of the things Obama is getting blamed for not doing are actually things Congress hasn’t done. Like I’ve heard some people saying, “Why didn’t Obama raise the debt ceiling last December?” Which only makes sense if you think Barack Obama is the only Democrat in Washington with a functioning brain. As you’ve pointed out yourself, the President doesn’t even have the power to raise the debt ceiling. Why not blame Pelosi and Reid instead?

    Lastly, I’m consistently amazed that so many grownups have such a distorted idea of what the actual options are. Like primarying Obama? When you can’t even think of an actual candidate to run against him? (I can see the bumper stickers: “Hypothetical Ideal Progressive Candidate 2012”.) No, the actual choice next year is between Obama and I’m guessing probably either Mitt Romney or Michele Bachmann. So, in other words, between a smart and competent human being, a windsock, and a raving lunatic.

  5. of all of the comments I’ve written over the years, this is the one I wouldn’t have minded being “moderated”

    Oh, now. It’s the truth said bluntly, and I think that’s just what we need.

    I can understand the urge some people have to find a personal explanation for Obama’s less-than-stellar 2 1/2 years, but that approach ignores the forest for the sickly trees. The political landscape is poisoned, has been for decades, and no president would have the power or the options to clean up that poison. Hillary well could have been even less effective, since the Right’s derangement toward her is older and deeper and more creative even than its derangement toward Obama.

    Issues over idols is right; action over whining even more so. I think it was Mark Knopfler who once wrote in a Dire Straits song: “When you point your finger ’cause your plan fell through, you’ve got three more fingers pointing back at you.”

  6. Hee. I remember Malcolm X’s opinion of party politics. He figured *both* sides were against black folks, just Democrats were more polite about it.

    (He also learned, near the end of his life, that it didn’t have to be that way, and was then murdered. A predictable emotional response to that is to punch a brick wall, which, alas, hurts one’s hand and does nothing to the wall, and leaves Malcolm still dead and his transformation all too frequently unremembered.)

    Where was I? Oh, yeah. Yes. Values, over people. And get people excited. The reason right wingers love Bush and Palin is not because of who they are but because they reflect the things they’ve been taught to value.

    I’ll admit it – I got a bit goofy over Obama because he’s *brilliant*, competent, and while I’ve mis-predicted what he’d do, I think I can understand *why* he did those things. Which means, he has principles, just not necessarily the ones I agree with.

    (For example: I think the Telecoms should not have received immunity. Politically, it could have been hugely damaging for the Telecoms to be sued. When he collapsed on Telecom immunity, I lost my last glow of idealism for him.)

    But there’s a tricky path to walk here. On the one hand, yes, push *values*. And don’t let a politician go just because there’s a D after the name.

    On the other, let’s not do the Republican’s slime work for them. Obama is willing to let people remain kidnapped in Guantanamo because he can’t afford the political hit of fighting for them. Okay, but *he* didn’t put them there. And, Congress did hold a vote to refuse to fund any transport to the US mainland.

    Am I bitterly disappointed that there are people who may still be held in isolation (a form of torture – and any rightie who says otherwise, let’s hold a little experiment someday), and in any event, in violation of our founding principles, that *all* people are worthwhile, and neither kings, nor badass nations, determine what’s right to do to others?


    But Obama is a million times better than Inhofe who thinks it’s okay to hold people who’ve done nothing because, hey, listen to the *menu*! People like Inhofe believe that a menu with nice sounding names – and maybe one that represents tasty food – is more valuable than some pathetic ephemeral idea like “freedom”.

    So, yeah, I’ll be furious that Obama wouldn’t do the right thing. But I also won’t let that tempt me to the dark, despairing inaction that gets worse people put in his place.

  7. “Note that the Republican Party is not behind this”
    Absolutely right, the organization that is talked about mostly here in CheeseCurdLand is ALEC. And they are not associated with the RNC or state republican parties. I can’t think of anything like this on the left. They write model legislation that legislators then take and introduce verbatim. Many of the similar bills introduced into recently turned republican states are identical, identical down to the typos. MoveOn, and feel free to correct me here, is mainly concerned with GOTV and information, not writing model legislation. Help me out here but I can’t think of another liberal organization with national implications.
    They’ve got the money, the think tanks and Fox. The only thing they have against them is their ideas are so horrible that people recoil in disgust when they pass them. But sometimes, that’s not even enough. Was talking to a republican friend of mine, who doesn’t like Walker either, say that in terms of Walker’s future, if he gets recalled it’s almost a Boyscout badge. He’ll get the million dollar contract at Fox and be considered a hero for standing up to all of those union thugs, it’s win/win as far as he’s concerned. And I think he’s right.

  8. Just to share a thought… I saw Obama on the Oprah Winfrey show a while back, and she asked him whether he was a bit too ambitious in his hope to change the tenor of acrimony in Washington politics. He said his hope hadn’t changed except for the amount of time needed to accomplish that change. He also described the role leadership as the ability to tell a story to the American public of where we need to go as a nation. So by his definition I can deduce that he does “get it”.. and I can also see where he’s fallen down on his own understanding.

    This is not an Obama bash..just sharing an observation.

  9. c u n d gulag – You’ve reminded me of a very important point, that democracy is not a spectator sport. Thank you for the much needed wakeup call!

  10. I’ll go wash out my mouth with some soap.

    Gulag…Wash your mouth out with some Scotch Whiskey..It’s way worse than soap.

  11. One of my theories is that the left got so used to complaining about Bush that we’ve moved our habits onwards to this president. We’re used to seeing the president as A) all-powerful, B) something to complain about, C) and The Other.

    Being a progressive, a liberal, hell anyone with a strong set of beliefs in making the world truly better means get off your butt and get to work. Or get on your butt and think up a plan then get to work. But it’s up to each of us.

    There’s no divine perfect leader, no savior, coming for us. There’s also no devil or demon out there to curse us forever. There’s just us, and if we believe a man to truly be a savior we’ll be disappointed, and if we think the devil always wears a given face we’ll be surprised.

    So it’s back to each of us – together.

  12. Swami,
    Funny you should mention it. But I’ll wash it out with bourbon instead when it’s time.

    IT’S TIME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  13. Was talking to a republican friend of mine, who doesn’t like Walker either, say that in terms of Walker’s future, if he gets recalled it’s almost a Boyscout badge. He’ll get the million dollar contract at Fox and be considered a hero for standing up to all of those union thugs, it’s win/win as far as he’s concerned. And I think he’s right.

    Now, here’s what I don’t agree with. Getting union people riled up? Yes, that’s a merit badge. Getting nasty stories written in the press? Yes, absolutely. To be viewed as everything wrong with the world? Whoo, yeah, so long as he stands up for wildly radical ideas that are now called “conservative”.

    But – *losing an election*? And more importantly, letting people see that they have the power to do something, when Republicans step way out of bounds? No. That will cost him.

    Giving the people the idea that they can fight back is a big no-no for Republicans, I think.

    That’s just MHO, worth twice what you paid for it (as long as you haven’t actually, you know, *paid* for it.)

  14. I can’t comment, these days my “train of thought” tends to be like the guy in this video. So, I’ll spare you the blather. The comments have been very worth reading and the tidbits, interesting, so thanks. I am used to progress being a slow and frustrating process, but, the time since the swearing in of the new congress and governors has been incredibly destructive. It’s like the Republicans/baggers have signed on to a suicide pact, with no “opt out”– Somehow, we’ll keep on keepin’ on.

    I found this mildly amusing, I hope no one finds it offensive. Right now, I’ll take any laughter I can find. In another day or so, its about time to buy a bottle of cheap bourbon and check out the damage to the retirement accounts with a few close friends.

    Well, anyway, I am supposed to be building a henhouse, instead of playing on the internet. Fortunately, it’s raining!

  15. In true Badger fashion, washing mouth out with beer. Swearing a lot causing me to do more washing.

  16. I don’t see progressives sitting on the side whining anymore; I see them going into overdrive to build the infastructure to do just what you said. We may not see it going on because it hasn’t yet made it into the national debate. But they will.

    • I see them going into overdrive to build the infastructure to do just what you said.

      I’ve been hearing that for ten years. Where is it? I see lots of organizations like Moveon in which progressives talk to each other, but I don’t see the kind of infrastructure that changes public opinion.

  17. I’m fond of calling this habit the Clark Kent Theory of Politics.

    To one section of the voting public, the primaries are a game show where the object of the game is to figure out which candidate is Clark Kent, which is to say, secretly Superman. During the ’08 Democratic primary, people fought tooth and nail not over whether Clinton or Obama had better policy positions, but over which candidate if elected would prove to be Superman and hence able to solve the world’s problems in a four-year time frame.

    It was inevitable that Obama’s win would be followed by the revelation that he was not in fact Clark Kent after all. So instead of appreciating that Obama was faced with a problem that could not be solved in four years or less, some people began thinking back to the game show and wondering which of the contestants really was Clark Kent. Maybe Superman was really Hilary Clinton after all. Or Mike Gravel.

    Of course, if you take it for granted that none of the candidates was actually Superman, the whole idea just seems silly.

    Regarding your quotation, it’s worth noting that the one of the biggest policy successes of the last ten years has been the gay rights movement. The progress that has been made has largely been a result of the fact that gays were marginalized so completely as a political force that they had to resort to grassroots action to get anything done at all. Wherever the movement has changed the focus from encouraging ordinary people to be more open-minded about gays to complaining about what Obama has done lately for the the movement, it has started running into trouble. This is no accident.

  18. goatherd, Is Hardy a Plant City boy?
    He kind reminds me of a guy I worked with several years ago.

  19. Just gotta mention: You asked, “Where were we during the stimulus fight? Where were we during the debt ceiling battles?” Consistently to the left of what Obama wanted and was working for, and ignored by his administration as “fringe leftists”. Obama has always been a small-c conservative, his pretty speeches notwithstanding.

    • Consistently to the left of what Obama wanted and was working for, and ignored by his administration as “fringe leftists”.

      Wow, did you ever miss the point. Thanks for being what’s wrong with progressivism.

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