It was a cold February night when I got together with Irene to watch Obama’s first budget address to Congress. Irene was a drop-dead gorgeous woman whose beauty was matched only by her intellect. I had met her at a party a few days earlier, and already I was crazy about her.
I was also crazy about Obama. I had worked on his campaign in the fall of 2008 in my native Western Pennsylvania. Obama was a community organizer who believed in listening to people and using the power of people’s voices to shape history. I had such hopes for where our relationship would go in terms of changing this country.
On that cold February night, I was burning with excitement for both Irene and Obama. I didn’t know if I was in love with Irene, but I was certainly in love with Obama.
But by the time the cherry blossoms were blooming in early April, though, Irene had dumped me and I was starting to wonder if Obama was bailing on me too. I was disappointed about things ending with Irene, but told myself not to worry, that there would be other women.
Obama was another matter – you can’t exactly go to a bar and pick up a new president.
Perhaps I was blindly in love, or perhaps I was suffering denial. Whatever it was, I ignored those early red flags – getting in bed with Wall Street, stacking his cabinet with Wall Street insiders and not returning the phone calls of the progressive advisers who had played such a big role in the campaign.
My heart first sank during the fight over the cram-down provision, which would have allowed families to reduce their mortgage payments. It was something we fought hard for during the campaign. President Obama asked House Democrats to give up on cram-down provisions in order to make Republicans happy. He didn’t even try to put up a fight.
But then, Obama would make a speech and I would fall in love with him all over again.
Obama gave his health care speech on the floor of the House, and he reminded me of the spark I felt for him when he said, “We did not come here to fear the future; we came here to shape it….”
I felt our bond reconnected. We were doing what we had promised to do – fighting for the American people.
My memory of the campaign and my ideal of Obama made me want to cling to the hope of him being the man I had thought he would be.
But each time I was elevated by his rhetoric, the pang of disillusionment brought me crashing back to the floor, knowing that his words were just the sweet lies lovers tell each other to get in bed.
He backed down from his promises to “shape the future”; he let the public option die without putting up a fight.
I felt the same rage against Obama that a lover feels towards a lover who lied about having an affair. Except Obama’s lies were more hurtful than those of any lover, because I had never loved a woman as much as I had loved this president.
I drank heavily, I slept around, I protested with former Obama staffers in front of the White House. I even hung around with Bernie Sanders in an attempt to start seeing other people, but he was just a senator from Vermont, not the dashing, young president I had longed for.
Finally, I remembered how I recovered from Irene.
The key, though, to being able to overcome the pain of any breakup is forgetting the other person and remembering that you have your own life, your own ambition, your own sense of self. To realize that in the end, we only need ourselves.
The progressive movement has so much beauty, intelligence, creative, hard work and dedication.
The real beauty of the health care fight was how hard progressives fought for the public option. The public option was dead for a long time – the president and Rahm Emanuel didn’t want it to go anywhere. And we put it on the table and kept it there for 10 months. We fought a unified, well-disciplined fight where nobody broke ranks on giving up the public option for nearly a year.
I think we have to stop worrying so much about this president, accept him for who he is, and start focusing more on what we do as a movement independent of the president.
We in the blogosphere are sometimes guilty of what Chris Matthews described as “back seat bitching.” We fail often to articulate the progressive vision of a movement based on dignity, respect and equality. Instead, we focus our effort on complaining, and we become reactive instead of proactive.
Ever been on a date where your date spends all of the time complaining about an ex? … Yeah, get what I mean? It’s not that attractive.
We allow Obama’s new lover, Rahm Emanuel, to triangulate against the left in order to demonstrate their independence to the corporate lobbyists and political pundits that he is sleeping with now. We need to change the political dynamics of this country that creates two divided camps that allows the president to triangulate. We need to bring the teabaggers over to our side.
We have got to start talking to new people in new ways if we ever hope to attract anyone. We could attract those frustrated white working-class people who voted for Obama out of frustration with Wall Street in the fall of 2008 who are now attracted to the Tea Party movement over that same frustration.
We view Tea Party activists by highlighting a few crazy racists, but those few are a fringe minority in their movement, just as the anarchists burning cars are a fringe minority in our movement. Tea Party followers are mainly working-class folks who, with some serious dialogue and trust building exercises, we could win over. Have progressives even thought of renting out a space in Nashville to talk with Tea Party activists fed up with the Tea Party being dominated by big corporate forces and GOP hacks?.
We need to get in shape if we want to attract some new people. We need to get out, to go door to door throughout this country, organizing an army of activists to talk to these mainly working-class voters who are frustrated with the president.
And who knows, maybe by attracting enough support for our agenda, we will make Obama come calling for us again.
A few months ago, I was running in Rock Creek Park, out of breath, and I began to walk. All of a sudden I felt a hand on the small of my back. It was Irene!
We hadn’t talked in months. We began to talk and laugh, and developed a good friendship that bore fruit for both of us in achieving our goals.
Likewise with Obama, when he announced tough rules reinstating key bank regulations of Glass-Steagall, it sent shivers up my spine, as Irene’s hand had on that crisp autumn day.
Progressives can still work with him. However, we need to stop waiting for Obama to include us, and focus on becoming the dynamic, proactive movement that makes him want us. If we can through grassroots organizing win these voters to our ideas, Obama will have no need to triangulate against the progressive movement in order to win “moderate voters'” support.
It starts by setting the tone in the blogosphere. We can’t be going out on dates complaining about our ex-lovers like a bunch of “back seat bitchers.” We need to actually drive the car by leading the effort to bring new voters into our movement through the aggressive community organizing that attracted so many of us to Obama in the first place.
Getting dumped is okay, it’s a part of life. Like Woody Allen said at the end of “Annie Hall”:
This guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, “Doc, my brother’s crazy; he thinks he’s a chicken.” And the doctor says, “Well, why don’t you turn him in?” The guy says, “I would, but I need the eggs.”
Well, I guess that’s pretty much now how I feel about relationships; they’re totally irrational, and crazy, and absurd, and … but I guess we keep goin’ through it because we need the eggs.
Love, like politics, is full of joy, deception, happiness, disappointment, excitement and quite often despair, but in the end – we need the eggs.