Sunday, November 14, 2010

Progressive No More

I've decided that it's time (for me at least) to shed the label of "Progressive". First of all I never really understood what that meant. I always thought that people came up with it when Liberal became a dirty word in politics. I am unabashedly a liberal. I believe that the government should do more for those of us who can't do for themselves. I believe that health care should be a right and not a privilege. I believe that gays should be allowed to marry and be as miserable as the rest of us. I believe that all our children deserve the same quality of education. I believe that affirmative action will be necessary until we no longer exist as a species on this planet. I also believe that having a President in the White House who belongs to the Democratic party is a good thing. 

The so called progressives in this country are climbing over each other to see which one can express more disappointment in what Barack Obama has been able to achieve as President. You see when Obama was elected, he was singlehandedly supposed to take down the Washington DC machine. He alone was going to expose the corporate underbelly. He was going to make the sun shine every day and bring an end to all war and hunger. He was also going to get universal health coverage for all, end hunger, make our schools the best in the world, turn our economy green overnight by ending our dependence of foreign oil, end all discrimination, bring down the corrupt banking system and make sure the Yankees won the World Series every year. Okay, that last one was just what I was hoping. 

The progressives who had worked so hard to get Obama elected, now feel betrayed because all those things haven't come to pass. They point to FDR and LBJ as examples of what can be done by a true "progressive" leader. They seem to forget that FDR came to power with over 70% of both houses of Congress from his party. We were also at the start of Great Depression (which magically did not end over night, regardless of the re writing of history that some would like to do) and people were desperate for an answer, any answer. What those who are so enamored of FDR fail to note is that after his first 100 days in office and even with overwhelming majorities in the House and Senate, he was never again able to pass anything like the sweeping changes he made initially. He also wanted universal health care, but couldn't get enough support for it, even from his own party. Perhaps the progressives of the day were also lamenting the ineffectiveness of FDR. LBJ swept into his second term on a wave of emotion over the slaying of his predecessor. The country rejected the seemingly knee jerk conservatism of Barry Goldwater (all except the deep south states which have remained a Republican stronghold ever since) and gave him a mandate to govern. The Great Society was supposed to bring an end to all discrimination, hunger and suffering. The Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights act, the Medicare act were all part of plan. Of course less than 2 years later the same country that had so overwhelmingly voted for LBJ were ready to tear his head off. And his main opposition came from within his own party.

I don't think it's a bad thing to dream big. In fact big dreams create big results. In Washington DC however, those dreams must be tempered by political reality. All those people who donated money to the Obama campaign have to understand that even though it was a record haul for a candidate, he still got more money from corporate entities than he did from private citizens. That is just the reality of politics. The banks and big business pay for our elected officials. Campaign finance reform would be wonderful, but in reality, the forces aligned against it are just too powerful. This President (and the parties they lead), likes those before him in modern times, are beholden to big corporate interests. The five biggest banks in the country have more capital than the US government. Who do you think wins a stare down between the two? 

This President is never going to be all things to all people. I reject the notion, however, that there is no difference between him and a generic Republican President. I believe that this President's heart is in the right place. I believe that he really cares about the issues of working people. I believe that he is doing all that he can to make sure that the people get as fair a shake as possible under the current conditions. That is what I believe is the difference. Can he affect all the changes that he'd like? Of course not. He is bound by the limitations of his office. I personally think the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are pointless. If it were up to me, I would bring everyone home tomorrow. But it's not up to me and frankly, it's not up to him either. If anyone thinks that managing global military policy is as easy as just ending something that is unpopular, then they are deluding themselves. But apparently that is what "progressives" like to do. I would love America to reject our dependence on foreign oil and create millions of "green" jobs here. But Americans are lazy and cheap. As long as oil is the cheapest way to power our cars, then that is what we are going to use. A "green" economy can't be created overnight. There has to be a demand for it and unfortunately, despite the fact that we are slowly killing our planet, there is none. 

Progressives also like to talk of this mythical leader who can turn this all around. Dennis Kucinich has been mentioned by some. Of course he has about as much chance of being elected President as I do and I wasn't even born here. The machine that is Washington DC moves slowly and incrementally. Was health care reform all I had hoped for? Of course not. I mean who would have wanted a money grab for the same insurance companies that have been screwing us for years? Financial reform is fairly toothless, but it is an attempt at trying to control an out of control situation. How would this imagined "progressive" leader have handled a fractured Democratic party and an opposition bent on destroying any agenda he or she set. The Republicans made a calculated gamble that the economy could not be turned around in 18 months and that the people would blame the President for it. So by opposing his policies, even without proposing any of their own, they look like a better option. And amazingly the American people bought it. That's not exactly true, but they did buy the disenchantment with the current administration. They listened to all the naysayers and doomsday prophets and stayed home in droves. Could the mythical progressive prophet have done any better? The people have already shown how quickly they lose faith in their real political "Superman".

I started this by saying I'm not a Progressive anymore. I don't know that I ever was one. I'm just simply a liberal with a firm grip on reality. Perhaps I'm too pragmatic to be a Progressive. Who knows? Those on the left who say that the President should have mobilized his forces to fight for health care or financial reform or gay marriage or whatever, forget the fact that when Barack Obama took the oath of office, he was no longer a candidate of some of the people, he became the President of all of the people. He does not speak only to those of us who supported him or gave him money or voted for him or made phone calls for him or knocked on doors for him, he speaks to all of us. Some may listen, some may not, but he does not have the option to only speak to selected groups. He makes his case to the American people and they decide what their course of action will be. As a liberal, I want more from this administration. I want more from this President. But I know the size of the rock he's trying to push up that hill. I'm a liberal, and I want more. But I also live in the real world.
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Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Chicken Little

Yesterdays election results were about what people expected. The Republicans won the House and the Democrats managed to maintain a slim lead in the Senate. John Boehner will now be the Speaker of the House and the Republicans can start down the road of investigations and subcommittees and the like. However the simple truth of the matter is that even with the election results, not much is going to change. The sky is not going to fall, the world will not stop spinning on its axis and the majority of people in the US will go an as if nothing of importance happened yesterday. That is the basic truth of politics in this country. After the election of President Obama, some got their hopes so unbelievably inflated that there was no possibility that he could meet their expectations. The hangover from the high of victory in '08 has reverberated all the way to last nights election. Here's what I wrote back in November of '08:

If Barack Obama were actually to become the next President of the United States would the country be transformed overnight? Of course not. We face an economic crisis of untold proportion and there is nothing that will make that go away, least of all the election of a new President. The rich will still be rich, the poor will still be poor, the homeless will still be homeless, hundreds of thousands of our troops will still be deployed in the Middle East and our economy is still going to be in very poor shape. The new President is going to be left with multiple issues to deal with from the current administration. An Obama presidency would not mean that our problems would disappear, in fact, the next President is going to face some monumental challenges that no change in policy is going to be able to overcome in a few months. The country would head in a different direction under an Obama administration, but the issues are and would continue to be very challenging for the country.

Last nights results do not do not change my thoughts in any way. Last nights results show what happens when Republicans are energized and motivated and Democrats are not. The Republicans continue to promise what they've always promised and have always failed to deliver. The energy just happened to be on their side this time. The story of fear and hate will always find an audience, it just so happens that the color of president in combination with the color of those coming from our southern neighbor and bad economic times, made the story an easy sell. Perhaps after two years of non action, the Tea Party (read Republicans) will become disillusioned with their leadership as well.

What does this mean for 2012? It's hard to say. If the economy improves, then Obama wins in a cakewalk. If it doesn't then all bets are off. At this point, if I were a betting man, I would put Sarah Palin as the even money favorite to win the Republican nomination. However don't count out Scott Brown or Marco Rubio following the "Obama method" and running for president in the middle of the their first terms in Senate.  The rest of the Republican field is so uninspiring that I wouldn't give the lot of them (Romney, Gingrich, Pawlenty, Barbor, Huckabee) even long shot odds. I personally still think the nomination is sitting out there waiting for Jeb Bush if he wants it.

Anyway,there's no reason to panic over the results from last night. The sky is not falling and thankfully no one person is capable of bringing it down by themselves. That means of course that no one person is capable of making the sun shine all the time either. We would do well to remember that. As we've seen, the wheels turn very slowly in DC, if they ever turn at all.
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