Change, deep structural change, does not originate in a parliamentary setting. It is a pure illusion that democracies solve their conflicts in the austere halls where elected representatives of the People engage in high minded debates. The same rules that dominate Wall Street also prevail in Congress: Greed and Fear. Greed makes politicians vote for those who can fund their campaigns. Fear makes them vote, sometimes, the other way. Only a Movement can bring change to the country. We elected Obama to be the leader of that Movement, but it seems he didn't think it was necessary once he got elected.
Change comes from a Movement, a genuine political movement that begins with exasperation, becomes aspiration and finally triumphs in acclamation. But a Movement, any Movement, needs Leaders (in the plural.) One Leader did not the New Deal make. It took many Leaders, spread out throughout the country. Today barely anyone remembers the labor leaders that marched before and with Roosevelt and sometimes even against him. (I like the history of John Lewis president of the United Mine Workers of America from 1920 to 1960, who had the guts to lead the miners into a strike DURING WWII. If you look him up on Wikipedia you will get a seriously distorted image of the man.)
Certainly One Leader did not make the Civil Rights Movement. Abortion did not come about because of a quirky decision by the Supremes. It was the Women’s Lib that created it. Attention to AIDS and money for AIDS research was not negotiated in a Senate committee. It was ACT UP that forced the issue and got the money. When the Movement peters out, you have debacles like the ERA (and why can’t Obama-Pelosi-Reid bring that out TOMORROW?); and, tragically, the gay-marriage issue. No Movement, no marriage, or, the humiliating, frustrating, infuriating one-step-forward, two-steps-backward minuet of patchwork legislation.
Look now at the Conservative movement. They can list their leaders all the way back to the corrupt plutocrat Goldwater. Their totem is Reagan but with him they can list dozens of others. The same is happening with the Tea-baggers: look around and you will be able to identify dozens of leaders, wrapped in the same flag. That is a true movement. Demented, immoral and harboring sadistic impulses, but a true movement. It is also a small-minority movement. But because it is a true movement it enjoys the attention of the geese-media (as per Orwell’s "1984,") perennially chasing sensationalism for the sake of sensationalism: thus its message gets amplified until it fills the halls and the ears and it drowns out everything else around.
Where are our Leaders? Obama in some of his most important speeches, namely the acceptance speech one shining night in Chicago and at the inauguration, underneath a thick sheet of banalities, clearly revealed he understood that change comes only for a Movement. In those speeches he said to me he would create the Movement. His campaign was the second moment of a movement, the first one being Howard Dean’s campaign four years earlier. And we flocked to him, and not to Hillary, because he promised us a Movement and he promised us he would be the Leader of the Movement.
But he forgot to ‘develop,’ to train others to be leaders with him. Can you call Pelosi and Reid leaders? Where are the other Leaders of the Movement? Axelrod? Rahm? Did he really think he could do it by himself? Instead, he distance himself from Dean, the only other true and tried Movement Leader?
And so it goes. Obama forgot about building the Movement, about enlisting others to become leaders. Maybe he even forgot about the Movement. He plunged into being an administrator, he put his faith in Congress and, of all places, in the Democratic Senate. In the meantime the embryonic movement that had elevated him to the Presidency was left to whiter. I am not surprised that in Mass. the turnout was disappointing particularly in the minority areas. Those voters showed up at the polls in November 08 because they were sucked in by the turbine-force of the movement, but when the tropical storm failed to become a hurricane and suck them more and more and possibly forever deeply into the vortex, they found themselves on the margin, again. And so they stayed home.
Personally I barely vote Dem. Most of the times I gravitate towards third-party candidates, left-leaning libertarians (not to be confused with anarcoid wingnuts usurping the same label,) green candidates and generally individuals who usually fail to get more than .9% of the vote. But that’s OK. With Dean first and Obama later I really thought the Movement had a chance. Who knows? Maybe it still does. But for sure I ain’t going to fork out any more bucks to support Dem candidates in some far flung district in Nebraska just because one of the too many blogs I read daily tells me to. I am going to renew my subscription to "The Nation" and "Mother Jones." I find them unreadable, but at least I know they don’t think policy comes before politics.