There is a civil war going on in the Democratic Party; a party that has defined itself by past milestones such as the New Deal, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the Civil Rights movement. Civil wars are always the worst kind; they are family matters and everyone knows all the most vicious things to say or do to undercut their housemate-enemy.
What makes it more awkward is that eventually we'll all have to live together again, or a split will occur that will make future reconciliation difficult.
The civil war right now seems to be for the direction of the Democratic Party-- where it is going, its heart and soul, and what it is going to stand for, not just for 2012 but beyond.
This is encapsulated right now in how people feel about one man in particular, the President, Barack Obama.
More after the falafel.
I started out rabidly pro-Obama. I've worked Democratic Party campaigns in Idaho, of all places, so you can imagine what a Sisyphean task that can be. I stood outside in a line that literally wrapped around the block of the Center on the Grove in 2008, eagerly waiting to cast my pro-Obama vote for the Idaho primary. Easily 75% of the people there were pro-Obama; the Hillary faction was small but vocal and admirable in the face of such overwhelming odds.
There were so many of us in line that they had to turn away literally over a hundred people. The building had literally reached its maximum safe capacity. Most people filled out paper ballots and walked off, a handful of us who were Democratic Party stalwarts from the 2006 elections pressed against the door demanding to be let in. I was one of about a dozen last-minute entries that were able to get in, and that was because I was recognized by some of the party leaders inside. I had run as a Democrat for County Clerk in an election, and served briefly as a campaign manager for one of our few Democratic State Senators.
I'm not recounting this to show what a Democratic Party Studmuffin I am. I am saying that my devotion does not come from nowhere, and it is not a whim, nor is it shallow. It means something to me, to look back at the list of Democratic accomplishments, and plant myself in the garden bed of those ideals.
I did not vote for Barack Obama just because I wanted an anti-Bush. I did not vote for Barack Obama because I wanted to bask in the novelty of America's first African-American President. If all I wanted was a sense of novelty, I had a rich palette to choose from in 2008; we could as easily have had our first female President or... painful to think it... our first Vietnam Vet President and female Vice President.
I voted for Barack Obama because I was tired of the American worker being treated like a disposable commodity. I was tired of "patriotism" being used as a vulgar display. I was tired of the environment being shat upon by callous greedmongers.
Barack Obama is not a symbol or a token or a box to check for the annals of history. He is a man, and he puts his pants on in the morning the same way I (and the rest of us) do. He is not sacrosanct, and if he does something that I feel is deserving of legitimate criticism, I will voice my criticism... and I would hope my colleagues and comrades in the Democratic Party would at least have the respect and decency to consider my criticisms fairly rather than just dismiss them out of hand as anything from mental illness or a lack of conviction or being a "closet Republican".
See, when someone touts the President's accomplishments, I listen and agree. I know President Obama has done a lot for our country and our society. Under no circumstances do I dismiss what he has done.
But it is precisely because he has managed to accomplish a lot (many times thankless, unseen victories) that I feel dismayed that he has also allowed so much to slip by without so much as a word of protest-- or, in the most recent case of the EPA regulations, without even bringing the topic to a discussion, much less a fight. A pre-emptive folding of the cards.
If W. Bush had said, "we can't afford stricter environmental regulations because it would cost too many jobs", people here would howl with outrage. And yet now, people dismiss Barack Obama's decision on EPA regulations since "we need the jobs" (I've seen that in some comments). Why does one man get a pass, when the other gets pilloried? What matters-- ideology, or the environment? If a Republican approves the erosion of the environment, why is it an outrage; but when a Democrat does it, it's excusable?
So my problem is not that I want to tear Obama down. I don't.
My problem is when he is undeservedly praised for actions that would get anyone else sharp criticisms.
This is a man who ran on the promise of better environmental stewardship; who vowed to stand up to the banksters and corporate interests for the little guy. He told us, flat-out, that the Bush Tax Cuts were unjust, and that he would raise taxes on anyone making more than $250,000.00. He said he'd walk the picket lines with people, if need be (I was willing to see that as rhetoric; a sitting President walking a picket line would be a security nightmare and too easily dismissed as theater by opponents).
I never expected miracles, but I did at least expect what he said-- or for him to at least try. A batter who declines to step up to the plate and at least try to swing doesn't even give himself the chance to strike out... and he certainly doesn't do his team any favors in the process.
Social programs, environmental responsibility, and worker's rights are some of the foundations that the Democratic House at New Deal Avenue are built upon. These foundations are being eroded, and the man we chose to be the building super doesn't appear to be trying to shore them up. If we're going to abandon these foundations, and praise the man anyway because the windows are clean and the paint is fresh, and that's "good enough", then what are the Democratic Party's new foundations going to be? Are they something we can be proud of? Or will we look back at this and say, well, the windows were clean and the paint was fresh, so it was okay? That sounds too much like the old, "...well, at least the trains ran on time" saw.
It is precisely because I respect our core ideals that I ask questions and point out shortcomings. I understand the President will have his defenders, his glass-half-full types who are satisfied with "good enough", but there are also those who see the "Emperor" undressing and wonder when someone will point out he no longer has on any clothes. I do this to shore up the dignity of what the "Emperor" stands for, not to ridicule him and drive him under.
When some of us criticize the President, we get called a "hater", a "basher", traumatized by childhood bullying (in other words, mentally ill) or a closet Republican. Why are these the only choices we have? Why are the only roads we're allowed to travel are either unswerving and unquestioned devotion, or being "the enemy"?
That "unswerving loyalty or stigmatization" mindset actually sounds more like the GOP's standard operational procedure. I reject that framework and insist that there is a right to disagree, to question, and to bring up valid criticisms when they arise.
Asking "why is the President letting a core Democratic Party foundation wither?" is not the moral equivalency of asking asking "why is there a Kenyan Nazi in the White House?" The former is a valid question by someone concerned about the direction the Democratic Party is taking. The latter is an example of an actual "hater". That people cannot tell the difference is profoundly troubling.
So, yes; I am a Democrat and a Progressive, and I not only expected more but I think we deserve more. And we have the right to question and criticize. Yes, I'll vote for Obama when the time comes because, as I've said before, the alternative is worse-- but that means that Obama has become a "lesser of two evils" candidate and that is not something to be proud of. That is "status quo" when I was promised "change".
And I have a right to gripe about that. I also have a right to be treated with some measure of respect, even if some of you disagree. You're free to continue disagreeing. But hater, basher, mentally ill, and GOP spy? Those sound like the comebacks of people who have no real arguments.
Thank you for your time.