The winter solstice of 2009 arrived as a grim metaphor for the current politics of health care, war, and a lot more. “In a dark time,” wrote the poet Theodore Roethke, “the eye begins to see.”
After a year of escalation in Afghanistan, solicitude toward Wall Street and the incredible shrinking health care reform, we ought to be able to see that the biggest problem among progressives has been undue deference to the Obama administration.
In recent months, the responses from the progressive base to the Obama presidency have often resembled stages of grief – with rotations of denial, bargaining, anger, depression and acceptance.
Mobilization of progressive movements to pressurize Obama in the White House and Democrats on Capitol Hill has always been essential. It hasn’t happened. Instead, among Democratic loyalists, reflexive support for the latest line from the administration has made it easier for Obama to move rightward.
In 2010, we should concentrate on generating the kind of public information, vigorous debate and grassroots organizing that could shift the center of political gravity in a progressive direction.
At every turn, progressives should be putting up a fight – not only in all kinds of venues outside the electoral system, but also inside the Democratic Party. Winning elections will require doing the methodical and difficult work of running candidates in Democratic primaries, sometimes against entrenched incumbents.
For instance, that’s what stalwart antiwar progressive Marcy Winograd is doing in her challenge to Congresswoman Jane Harman in the Los Angeles area. Across the country, dozens of strong progressives are running for Congress with a real chance to win. They need our volunteer help and our financial support.
In some Congressional districts with many progressive voters, Blue Dog Democrats are running for re-election without any declared primary opposition so far. That should change.
It’s time for progressives to get out there and fight the good fight in election campaigns. We should do what our conservative and centrist and mushy-liberal adversaries least want us to do. They don’t want more progressives to seriously engage in electoral battles.
This year, left to their own devices, the Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill and in the White House have managed to demobilize the progressive base that swept them into office. The latest nationwide polls are foreshadowing grim consequences; Republicans express far more eagerness to vote in 2010 than Democrats do.
In Washington, the conventional wisdom of top Democratic strategists has run amok, continually splitting the difference with Republicans. All year long, we’ve seen Congress undermine basic progressive principles, whether for health care or peace or economic justice or environmental protection or civil liberties.
Despite the Democratic Party’s leadership, we have a huge stake in thwarting GOP ambitions and in replacing tepid Democrats with progressives. It might be more comfortable to just engage in the politics of denunciation – but we also need to change who is casting votes on Capitol Hill.
Among progressives, in these dark closing days of 2009, there’s a surplus of frustration, anger and despair. Let’s transform those downbeat energies into fuel for the imperative political work ahead.