There is a bit here and I ask you to read it. The title comes from a "senior Democratic official" who told Ben Smith that
We didn't lose this fight. Barack Obama was in law school when this fight was lost.I have some things to tell this person from my heart. That battle is not lost and people fight it every day. You are lost if you believe the battle for American opinion is lost.
I start with a discussion of one progressive critique of Barack Obama's presidency to date.
It would be fair to say that a major part of the progressive critique of Barack Obama is that he too often accepts the political landscape as it is, rather then trying to change the underlying political landscape. In many ways, he has been the opposite of Ronald Reagan, who changed the political landscape to the right. More like Bush I who offered a "a softer, gentler" version of Reagan's war on workers.
The hope-and-change candidate appeared to be a "Reagan of the left" in that he promised to be a transformational candidate. Barack Obama was criticized when he pointed out that Reagan was transformative, but he was right that Reagan was transformative, just not in the right direction. Reagan fucked America and we have been paying that price the last 30 years.
I have been critical at times because President Obama did not seek to change the conversation, even though the Great Recession was a perfect opportunity. Instead, we often ended up with right wing frames and center-right policies (and lots of excuses for why he had to do that). Even the stimulus was full of tax cuts that failed to stimulate and too weak. This came from the start.
Until recently, I retained hope that he would at least be left of center. Now I just don't know. I fear that his "compromises" are consolidating, are completing the Reagan revolution at just a slower pace. He may not want to do so in his heart, but that has been the effect so far.
President Obama often adopts right wing framing of issues and plays the game on their side of the field, making any "compromise" a right of center compromise. We end up with extreme right wing and right of center and all other views marginalized. What was mainstream Democrat in the 80s and 90s is now left wing. And the Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party is dying, being systematically strangled by the DLCers, the "pragmatists" who implement Republican policies while talking "progressive" to get voters, but governing for the investor class.
That's a critique. It does not mean it's correct in all or in part.
The speech Obama gave accepting the DNC nomination is that of a mainstream, even liberal Democrat.
We measure the strength of our economy not by the number of billionaires we have or the profits of the Fortune 500, but by whether someone with a good idea can take a risk and start a new business, or whether the waitress who lives on tips can take a day off and look after a sick kid without losing her job, an economy that honors the dignity of work. The fundamentals we use to measure economic strength are whether we are living up to that fundamental promise that has made this country great, a promise that is the only reason I am standing here tonight.That's a promise of transformation. That's a progressive promise. May not be left, but it is at least left of center.
What -- what is that American promise? It's a promise that says each of us has the freedom to make of our own lives what we will, but that we also have obligations to treat each other with dignity and respect.
It's a promise that says the market should reward drive and innovation and generate growth, but that businesses should live up to their responsibilities to create American jobs, to look out for American workers, and play by the rules of the road. Ours -- ours is a promise that says government cannot solve all our problems, but what it should do is that which we cannot do for ourselves: protect us from harm and provide every child a decent education; keep our water clean and our toys safe; invest in new schools, and new roads, and science, and technology.
Our government should work for us, not against us. It should help us, not hurt us. It should ensure opportunity not just for those with the most money and influence, but for every American who's willing to work.
That's the promise of America, the idea that we are responsible for ourselves, but that we also rise or fall as one nation, the fundamental belief that I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper.
But he has governed as a moderate conservative. Bruce Bartlett, a former official in the Reagan and Bush I adminstrations, described this recently:
Liberals hoped that Obama would overturn conservative policies and launch a new era of government activism. Although Republicans routinely accuse him of being a socialist, an honest examination of his presidency must conclude that he has in fact been moderately conservative to exactly the same degree that Nixon was moderately liberal.Barack Obama: The Democrats’ Richard Nixon?
Conservatives will, of course, scoff at the idea of Obama being any sort of conservative, just as liberals scoffed at Nixon being any kind of liberal. But with the benefit of historical hindsight, it’s now obvious that Nixon was indeed a moderate liberal in practice. And with the passage of time, it’s increasingly obvious that Clinton was essentially an Eisenhower Republican. It may take 20 years before Obama’s basic conservatism is widely accepted as well, but it’s a fact.
Now we get to whether President Obama views the battle as lost. According to Ben Smith at Politico, "a senior Democrat who's long defended Obama on this point about it, and he emails the condensed case for Obama":
We didn't lose this fight. Barack Obama was in law school when this fight was lost.Ben Smith
The role of Democrats should not be to convince people that government is great; it should be to help people reach their potential -- and government is a tool to do that. There has been a strain of skepticism about the government in the American character since the founding. Only the New Deal changed that significantly, but we have been returning to the norm ever since then.
This is the core of the left's critique -- the country doesn't agree with us, so take what political capital you have and use it to convince people to agree with us. But the presidency is not a Brookings lecture series; it's about governing the country and making a difference.
If you view the battle as lost already, then you really won't make a difference. You'll nibble, but we will keep impovishing workers, the class stratification will increase and we will keep going down the odious Reagan Road.
Yet poll after poll shows progressive policies favored. They demonized the word "liberal" but not the policies. As we careen toward a double dip recession, many people are crying out for government action.
Now maybe this "senior Democratic official" (sounds like Plouffe to me) does not really speak for Barack Obama. Maybe Barack Obama really does not believe the battle for American opinion was lost in the early 1980s when he was in law school. Maybe he has hope and believes in real change and will try. Maybe.
So I want to leave open the possibility that this is not Barack Obama's beliefs.
Because if that is what President Obama believes, then I would be "all out." You see, I fought in the 80s against Reagan. I voted and have fought all my life for core Democratic principles.
That battle was not lost. It is being fought every day. And I'm not giving up.
I fight Republican ideas in all their forms.
I'll leave with something by Teddy Kennedy and Jessse Jackson. Those who know me have seen these before. I keep turning back to them because I remember the 80s. I remember watching these speeches on TV and believing.
First, Teddy Kennedy in his 1980 DNC speech. He tried to save Democrats from the centrism of Carter:
For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.And Jesse Jackson:
I understand. I know abandonment, and people being mean to you, and saying you're nothing and nobody and can never be anything.Finally to that "senior Democratic official": Go fuck yourself. We will be fighting long after you retire to K Street. You tell us the battle is lost, but you haven't seen anything yet. We'll bring that battle to you for we will fight Republican ideas even when espoused by Democrats.
I understand. Jesse Jackson is my third name. I'm adopted. When I had no name, my grandmother gave me her name. My name was Jesse Burns 'til I was 12. So I wouldn't have a blank space, she gave me a name to hold me over. I understand when nobody knows your name. I understand when you have no name.
I understand. I wasn't born in the hospital. Mama didn't have insurance. I was born in the bed at [the] house. I really do understand. Born in a three-room house, bathroom in the backyard, slop jar by the bed, no hot and cold running water. I understand. Wallpaper used for decoration? No. For a windbreaker. I understand. I'm a working person's person. That's why I understand you whether you're Black or White. I understand work. I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth. I had a shovel programmed for my hand.
My mother, a working woman. So many of the days she went to work early, with runs in her stockings. She knew better, but she wore runs in her stockings so that my brother and I could have matching socks and not be laughed at at school. I understand.
We must never surrender!! America will get better and better.
Keep hope alive. Keep hope alive! Keep hope alive! On tomorrow night and beyond, keep hope alive!