Obama acts entirely within the tradition of mainstream African American political strategy and tactics. The epitome of that tradition was the non-violence of the Civil Rights Movement, but goes back much further in time. It recognizes the inequality of power between whites and blacks. Number one: maintain your dignity. Number two: call your adversaries to the highest principles they hold. Number three: Seize the moral high ground and Number four: Win by winning over your adversaries, by revealing the contradiction between their own ideals and their actions. It is one way that a oppressed people struggle." - Tom Schade
For progressives, for Obama supporters, it's been a difficult couple of years. After the vicious, endless attacks with which the right hounded President Clinton, we expected dark days. And we got them. In this case, we faced an established right-wing propaganda messaging machine and well-funded organizations ready to aim Main Street anger over the Bush Recession onto president Obama. Let's face it: the left has been completely unprepared to handle the magnitude and effectiveness of the anti-Obama, anti-progressive assault.
The sausage making of health care reform and the Republican-created debt hostage negotiations were as stomach churning as a SAW sequel. Right-wing messaging is still supported by its multi-billion-dollar think tank and media empire. Together, they successfully created the Tea Party, rebranding Bushism into something even uglier and potentially more destructive.
With the political powers so strongly against our president and progressivism, it is important for us to realize, finally, just who this president is. Only then can we turn back Tea Party dementia, dispel the disease of lefty doubt and infighting, and get to work saving this country from utter conservative devastation.
Want to understand President Obama and turn this mess around? Follow me below the fold...
Who is President Obama?
It's maddening, isn't it? Progressives spent years, working tirelessly, to elect a brilliant president, and now we clearly feel betrayed. As Jesse Lava notes, President Obama promised two, conflicting personae on the campaign trail. One, was, of course, the conciliator we have all come to despair over. But let's not forget the other 2008 Obama we were promised, the TRANSFORMER.
...But there was another Obama that many have forgotten ever existed: Obama the Transformer. This was the Obama who wanted to curb special interest influence and keep lobbyists and other powerful factions from dominating our politics. This Obama openly admired Ronald Reagan for achieving major change in a way that Bill Clinton never did. This Obama said that at key moments in history, the U.S. has a chance to make fundamental policy shifts, and 2008 was one of those moments.
Where is this guy? Where is the transformative president who would take on the special interests and make Washington work for the people again? He is clearly nowhere to be seen, and we lost much when that Obama failed to appear on the world stage. Still, there is a critical third Obama who lives within the heart of the "conciliator", and who must be understood if we are to see the way forward.
Obama the Moral Compass
Obama the Moral Compass is alive and well. The following quote from Tom Schade makes it clear:
Obama acts entirely within the tradition of mainstream African American political strategy and tactics. The epitome of that tradition was the non-violence of the Civil Rights Movement, but goes back much further in time. It recognizes the inequality of power between whites and blacks. Number one: maintain your dignity. Number two: call your adversaries to the highest principles they hold. Number three: Seize the moral high ground and Number four: Win by winning over your adversaries, by revealing the contradiction between their own ideals and their actions. It is one way that a oppressed people struggle."
Viewed through the spyglass of the civil rights heritage, Obama remains a cipher, but he is a cipher who can be understood. Obama reaches for the highest moral ideals we share. He is the nation's moral compass, 100% focused on doing:
a. What is in the absolute best interest of the nation.
b. What can be done.
It is the critical issue of this last point from which progressives MUST now take their cue. Obama is dedicated to "achieving great things". Thus, his efforts to turn the debt hostage crisis into a "Grand Bargain". The problem with "what can be done" is that we live in a pluralistic republic of democratic politics. If Obama had absolute power he could spend all of his time doing what is absolutely in the best interest of the nation. He doesn't. Instead, he has to bend to the moveable "true north" of congressional power and public opinion in order to Get Things Done.
Pulling Obama's Moral Compass back to Progressive True North
The progressive quandary is this: conservatives both in and out of power are relentless in promotion of their absolutist ideology, yet progressives in power are amenable to discussion and compromise. This results in the Obama Effect, wherein we watch establishment Democrats calmly hoping for dialog, while Republicans will say anything, do anything to get their way. The right has seemingly digested Rules for Radicals and transformed it into a national political juggernaut. Meanwhile, the left is still impotently protesting outside of the G8 every few years and electing Blue Dog Democrats.
While peaceful protest is clearly not enough to move the debate, violent uprising or violent protest is against our beliefs, un-American, and is a proven loser of a strategy. Thus, the only solution is to learn from the right and pursue a national and international policy of systematic infiltration of government at every level by those devoted to true progressive principles. This is the only way to counterbalance the extreme rightward lurch in the American political power equation of the last 30 years.
What have you made President Obama do today?
We all remember this:
During the first year of the Obama administration, there was a historical anecdote that was exceedingly popular on the Left. It went something like this: amid the Great Depression, a prominent labor leader goes into the White House for a meeting with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The activist lays out an agenda of urgent changes that need to be enacted. Roosevelt responds, “You’ve convinced me. I would like to push forward these changes. Now go out and make me do it.”
As President Obama took office, this was a heartening tale. The vast electorate which had elected the president, we believed, could be directed towards forcing a truly progressive agenda to help overcome the devastation of 30 years of conservative hegemony. Instead of that movement, we got a fairly prosaic and anemic organization called Organizing for America, which was overwhelmed by the Koch-Funded, FOX-stoked, right-wing phenom known as the "Tea Party."
The pathway forward for progressives is, then twofold:
1. Pursue a national effort to bring true progressivism to every level of government. This includes local Democratic party structures, school boards, city councils, and especially Democratic party nomination contests for every federal office.
2. Undertake coordinated, non-violent, national protests and actions in favor of progressive policies and against the excesses of conservatism.
These activities must be constant, 24/7/365. They must continue between elections and across periods of governance. They must impact elections. They must impact national dialog on policy. In short, progressives must get engaged and stay engaged.
In order for progressives to get the President we thought we elected, we have to act forcefully, without rest, and with a sharp focus on victory. If we want President Obama to enact progressive legislation, we have to demand it and cover his left flank from the inevitable hyperbolic right-wing attacks. We have to elect true progressives everywhere, and we have to demonstrate the power of progressivism in the streets. Aligned with the Progressive True North, Obama's Moral Compass will resurrect Obama the Transformer. Efforts like the Coffee Party, and Van Jones' American Dream effort, are already organizing towards the transformation we need, but we have not yet seen the willingness of the left to set aside division and unite in common cause.
In order to emerge victorious, progressives must take the streets and hold the offices. Only by pressuring President Obama before, during, and after 2012, can progressives claim the future and relegate Tea Party zealotry to the scrapheap of history where it belongs.