Man oh man, I take a break from blogging for a few months, naively assuming that, in these halcyon 100 Days of Obama, all’s now right with the world, that the last eight years were just a bad dream, that my country was never actually run by fanatical, fear-inducing, hate-mongering, BS-spewing, media-manipulating, “with us or against us,” anti-intellectual right wingers, when lo and behold the RNC comes out of the ashes to remind us all just how damned lucky we are that they remain hopelessly, clue-lessly, sputteringly out of control.
And thank goodness for that. Whew.
Still, if the RNC is forgotten they are not yet gone. So if you haven’t seen the latest bit of nastiness out of the Republican Party, and you feel like you could stand 1:24 of hateful creepiness, or if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the economic uncertainty, the flu pandemic, global warming, or any of the other dozen or so serious, historical calamities we face today – or maybe you’re nostalgic for the bad old days of Bush 43 – then have a seat, perhaps poor yourself a drink (because after watching this junk I sure needed one) and take a gander at this load o’ crap.
See what I mean? Now it turns out things aren’t so bad after all. These people who made this video could have been our leaders just now.
Like a lot of people watching the 2004 Democratic nomination, when the “skinny kid with a funny name” stood up to speak, I took notice. Clearly, here was somebody with a sincerity and eloquence far beyond standard political rhetoric. I liked what I saw.
But when this eloquent man said “parents have to teach…children can’t achieve unless we raise their expectations and turn off the television sets…It is that fundamental belief: I am my brother’s keeper. I am my sister’s keeper that makes this country work ” I became transfixed. These were the kinds of words more common for a community organizer, not a national politician. Certainly not a US Senator. They could only come from someone who possessed – and understood – social conscience. This has been absent from our political leadership for long time.
The American left has been splintered and largely ineffective – on a national political level – for a long time, too. Since the end of the Vietnam era. This is what happens when large social movements lack a cohesive ideology. You’ll be hard pressed to find many Marxists or Communists among the progressive community, perhaps rightly so. But a national movement cannot be sustained when it can only define itself by what it is NOT: “Not right-wing,” “not pro-business,” “not racist,” “not pro-war,” “not Bush.”
And we’ve seen the result. The progressive movement – responsible for some of the greatest social achievements in American history – watched as the democratic party continued to shift rightward, appeasing conservatives to the point where Republican dogma – small government; free trade, laissaiz faire – became our conventional wisdom. And look at the mess it’s made.
But things are changing, and of all the eloquence in President Obama’s inaugural, the most thoughtful and perhaps overlooked were these words:
People were concerned that Obama “lacked experience” to be president. When it comes to diplomacy, or acting as Commander in Chief, or running a national government, that’s probably true. But our first 21st century president brings an altogether different kind of experience that surpasses any other president before him: He brings experience born of community organizing. For a country that strives for democracy, this is special indeed.
I think our community organizer president has quietly and with little notice just proclaimed the new American progressive movement, and he did this simply by recognizing a trend already well underway.
He calls it the Era of Responsibility. And what makes this proclamation all the more authentic – and so much sweeter – is that this is nothing new. Progressives have been living this way for a long time. We just didn’t know what it was called.
Many progressives have been living responsibly – even at greater cost and greater effort – for some time. We make responsible purchase choices to buy fair trade and not free trade; we reject factory farming; we support local growers and buy produce that doesn’t poison the earth, or ourselves. We strive towards globalization that creates a just and sustainable world. Progressive moms are embracing natural childbirth options, nursing their children again, while parents turn off the TV, reject commercial media, and let our kids get back to the business of childhood, otherwise known as “free, unstructured play“. We’re disdaining pharmacology as the only option for wellness. We’re building new communities through the co-housing movement. Those who can are investing in socially responsible businesses that consider stakeholders, not stockholders. We’re buying cleaner cars; we’re recycling and “going green”. Progressives have been doing all of these things and much more in their own lives, among their own families, for a long time.
Who knew we were starting a movement? The Responsibility Movement.
President Obama will never be all things to all people. The pundits have been claiming that progressives will be disappointed and conservatives pleasantly surprised by what they believe will be a centrist leader. There’s some truth to this – on a political level. But we’re already passed those worn out paradigms of “liberal” or “conservative”. Progressives can move on. We’ve got more important work to do. The Era of Responsibility is upon us.
In case you hadn’t noticed, the transmutation from Cowboy Bush into “Kindler Gentler” Bush is underway. CNNPolitics.com has an interview with a contrite and – believe it or not – likable president where he admits regrets over “saying some things I shouldn’t have said:”
Hm. Who is this friendly fellow? Expect to see a lot of stories like this coming our way as January 20 approaches, as the media recasts the story of the Bush Disaster into “good guy, bad people”.
Of course the reality of the Bush Years is too dark to paint over with an “aw shucks” wink and nod. Because even as he plays it well – the man can portray a kind of charm when he wants – falling for this line ultimately belittles the enormous harm his administration has done to our country.
Most presidents go through positive reassessment. Take LBJ; hated left and right, he now gets credit for his attempted war on poverty and the great civil rights bills he pushed through a reluctant congress. Truman is another one: Derided as a simple-minded political hack during his time, perspective shows that he navigated the post-war period with a fair degree of wisdom and without personal political calculation. Rare indeed.
But this upward reflection doesn’t have to be standard practice. There have been really bad presidents who do not deserve such reassessment. 43 is all of that, and since I like to keep my posts brief I won’t spell it all out for you here. Instead, here’s a ready-made Google search for you. It’s got 1.1 million reasons why. Have at ‘em.
We really need to be careful before we turn the page on the last eight years, even as the media tries to convince us otherwise. This is history that must not be forgotten, otherwise it can be – and most likely will be – repeated.
It’s rare when you know with tangible certainty that you’re in the midst of an historical pivot point. What makes Obama’s astounding election so exquisitely wonderful is that – for once – this is a good and not a tragic event. Usually such milestones are terror-filled moments, like Pearl Harbor, JFK’s assassination, or the one with which we can all relate, 9/11.
So this is special indeed.
It’s not Obama’s election alone that’s so pleasing. So many concepts that have stained our modern political era met their demise on November 4. I’m talking about ugly things like “Trickle-down Economics,” “Southern Strategy,” Identity Politics”, “Family values”, and those enraging – but effective – “soft on” taunts (soft on terror; on communism, on criminals, yadda yadda yadda). Just like that, those nasty attacks that helped elect some of the worst people to office for 60 years simply vanished into thin air, exploded.
And not a moment too soon.
OK, before I get carried away, it’s not Morning in America. We’ve still got ourselves some problems, and plenty of them. For all we know, President Obama might start “triangulating” his way to the center-right, taking with him all of this astonishing joy we found in his election, and breaking a few million hearts along the way.
I certainly hope not. And it doesn’t have to go down like that. There have been good presidents in American history who’ve done good things. No one can be all things to all people. But I think President Obama can do some good things. Maybe even some great things. For the first time in my adult life, I’m willing to gamble on American politics as an agent of social change. For friends who have known me for a long time, this might be a surprise. I’m surprised myself.
Either way, we can certainly revel in the final, long overdue demise of those tried-and-true McCarthy-Nixon-Atwater-Rove attack strategies, tactics which go all the way back to 1948, the Truman presidency, when the first “soft on communism” taunts were used to knock off the remaining New Dealers left in government. And those race-baiting, red-baiting, you-name-it-baiting methods have been used ever since to scare people into voting against their own interests. The old bait and switch. The hoodwink. The bamboozle.
For the first time in the modern era, such tactics are suddenly, wonderfully, out of gas. Dead on arrival. Why? Because a graceful, thoughtful, confident candidate chose to simply rise above the slander. He sidestepped the punches. They never landed. And it could be that they never will again. Partly we have the decentralized New Media to thank, the blogs which so effectively magnified the attacks and showed their implications, like McCain’s embarrassment when the old woman called Obama “an Arab”, or when they shouted “kill him” and “terrorist” at his rallies, or Palin self-destructing in front of Katie Kouric and the millions who watched it on YouTube. Think of it: We could have had George “Macaca” Allen as president-elect right now. The Fourth Estate may have re-emerged in 2008 as the Blogosphere.
And they helped the good guy win for a change. We’ll see what comes of it. But for now, it sure feels pretty damn good.