Being Uncomfortable with Power
by JDF, Mon Oct 12, 2009 at 11:58:00 AM EDT
I have been thinking about writing this diary for a while now. Since Obama's swearing in I have noticed that the rift between right and left has been growing significantly, but much more disturbingly I have noticed a growing rift within our own ranks. I am not speaking of the same rift that existed during the primary, which was certainly a bitter rift from which the wounds have not completely healed, but something different that has happened in recent months.
I have watched and listened as much of the progressive movement, or the left fringe of the party, or whatever term is applied to it by the person speaking, has become increasingly distrustful of, and angry towards, President Obama. I worked for SEIU during the campaign, working seven days a week for months on end, to see Obama win; and I will be the first to admit that my perception is colored by that.
Lately, I have been increasingly angered myself about the attitudes of some on the left whose bitterness seems extreme to me; also, I have become concerned by those who do not show much bitterness but seem to be increasingly cynical that any of the changes we have hoped for and worked so hard for will come to fruition. I myself have some concerns about the way the administration has handled certain aspects of their agenda but I am even more concerned about the direction we, as a party and a movement, may be heading.
I have been trying to hazard out why this is happening, because I have noticed unhappiness, in the extreme, directed towards the administration on every issue. I am sure that some of this is simply because everybody has different priorities and when the administrations does not match up perfectly with those priorities it generates emotions ranging from disappointment to disgust. I do think there is a larger philosophical reason for the level of resentment that has been fermenting in recent months though. I believe, that on a certain level, progressives are uncomfortable and distrustful of anyone who holds power.
This is partially because we have become accustomed to being left out of the process by every leader, even those in our own party. It is partially because we have seen first hand the damage that those in power can do. 8 years of a President like good ole' W will do that to you. It is partially because of the sense, perhaps a good sense, that our ideals are more important than holding on to power.
Now, with the healthcare debate dragging on and the distaste most of us feel for the bills that are being passed and the pace at which everything from this reform, to gay rights issues, to the closing of Gitmo, as well as a myriad of other progressive priorities, have been pushed forward by the administration has left many feeling burned again. I have said many times that I think applying pressure to the administration is good. Obama campaigned on many issues that are close to our hearts and we have ought to expect his follow through on these issues. But I also think that we should be practicing a certain level of patience as well as an understanding that the progressive movement is a BIG movement that encompasses a lot of important, and complicated, issues. We aren't going to see ALL of our priorities realized this year or next. Truth be told we probably will not see all of them realized by the end of Obama's first term or even by the end of his Presidency.
But I think, in our efforts to be responsible and to continue to push for these things we ought to also occasionally take a moment and look at our motivations. We should stop and consider the political realities that surround each issue and how they affect every other part of the agenda. With few exceptions everyone here at MYDD, and in the progressive community as a whole, wants to see the same agenda enacted.
We all want DADT and DOMA repealed. We all want to see Healthcare with a public option passed and signed into law. We all want to see a true end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we all want to see Gitmo closed. We all want to see climate change addressed in a manner that is going to have a positive effect. In addition to all of those things we want to see our economy revitalized, new rules for financial institutions, a better approach to public education, and countless other issues that we all know will make this country and this world a better place. We also all want these things to have happened yesterday. The reality is that government has never moved at that pace and it isn't going to start now just because Obama won and because we have majorities in the House and the Senate. The Senate in particular moves at a deliberate pace and has some "Democrats" who aren't pulling their weight on these issues. We need to keep applying pressure to both the administration and legislators whose votes we need. But we need to do it responsibly.
More importantly we need to look around and ask ourselves if we are being inherently distrustful of power regardless of who wields it. Obama needs to know that we are serious about the things that are important to us, but he also needs to know that, so long as he is working towards those things and being honest with us, he has an ally in our ranks. If the administration cannot trust that we have their back so long as they have ours they have no reason to treat us as an ally, let alone to take us seriously at all.
In addition to the fraying relationship with the administration, and persumably with our legislators, we need to repair the fraying relationship between ourselves. It is clear that there is lingering resentment from the primaries and it is clear that there is lingering resentment between those of us who have different top priorities.
Personally, for me, the biggest priority is healthcare reform. It was the issue I worked on throughout the campaign last year, and it is the issue I think will have the biggest positive impact on our country in the immediate term. I don't think we are going to see a straight up public option this year, mainly because I don't think the votes exist in the Senate. I do think the "opt out" clause that has been discussed recently might be the thing that pushes it through to Obama's desk so he can sign something meaningful. I know some people don't like that idea, but I truly don't think too many states will opt out, and I think that state legislatures that do will pay a steep enough price that the mistake will only be made the first time aroumd. I also beleive that once some form of public option is on the table we will be in the door and will eventually get the complete overhaul we need.
For others the top priority is DADT and DOMA. These are worthy and noble causes that need to be addressed and I believe will be addressed before the end of Obama's first term. What I do not understand is this: with the economy being what it is, and healthcare being such a fight, and with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, why people are so angry, and seemingly surprised, that this is not the number one priority of the administration. I understand and share the anger of the GLBT community over the injustices they have been subjectged to for far too long. I also understand the political realities of these issues and why these are not the top priority of the administration.
I think I have gone on far enough and probably wandered a bit from my central point. We cannot be distrustful of the President simply because he is President, and we should not begin to hate one another simply because we have different views of the administration and view the overarching progressive agenda through different lenses. We need to start having real conversations about our disagreements rather than dismissing eachother as malcontents and "Obamabots." Our strength from 2006 to 2008 was that we were all united by a common foe. If we cannot find our way back to that unity now we are going to face a tough road in 2010 and 2012. It would be a real shame if the minor differences we have served to destroy everything we have worked so hard for.