Sep 08, 2009
Needless to say that when you wake up one morning and find yourself the
subject of the lead editorial in the largest conservative publication
on the planet, it is a bit jarring. However, I flag today's Wall Street Journal topline editorial today not because it is about Van Jones and I, but because it makes a genuinely important point for the progressive movement.
After citing my earlier post
about how the firing of Jones "will inevitably create a chilling effect
on the aspirations of other movement progressives," the Journal says
Mr. Sirota is speaking for many on the movement
left who believe they helped to elect Mr. Obama and therefore deserve
seats at the inner table of power. They are increasingly frustrated
because they are discovering that Mr. Obama will happily employ
"movement progressives," but only so long as their real views and
motivations aren't widely known or understood. How bitter it must be to
discover that the Fox News Channel's Glenn Beck, who drove the debate
about Mr. Jones, counts for more at this White House than Mr. Sirota.
Bitter? Not quite. Unsurprised is a better word, really. As I had
been incessantly writing before and after the presidential election
(and indeed, for years before Obama ever announced as a candidate for president),
Barack Obama has ties to the progressive movement, but he is an
inherently cautious - and, at times, frightened - politician. He is
first and foremost desperate to appease his opposition, even if his
opposition is political terrorists who can never be appeased. And
that's especially true as the progressive movement refuses to "make him
do it" - that is, refuses to put real, organized and even unfriendly
pressure on him to deliver.
The Journal is absolutely, and unfortunately, correct - right
now, today's White House officials answer more to Glenn Beck, Blue Dogs
and Republicans than it does to progressive members of Congress and the
progressive base of the Democratic Party that got them into the White
House in the first place. You can see that in the negotiations over
health care and climate change. You can see that in the plans to
escalate the war in Afghanistan at the urging of people like Karl Rove, and the refusal to stop Wall Street bailouts and push real Wall Street reform. You can see that even in who the president opts to give exclusive interviews to. You can, in short, see it everywhere.
Progressives don't just "believe" they deserve a seat at the table - we actually do
deserve that seat, not just because we worked to elect this president,
but because our stance on major issues like the public option, climate
change, Wall Street reform and the war are the majoritarian positions
in America. That's not speculation - polls show that's an empirical
But we won't get that seat at the table unless we demand it. That means the Washington-based progressive groups have to stop kissing the White House's ass and selling out their grassroots membership.
It means rank-and-file Obama supporters have to stop framing legitimate
progressive pressure on Obama as some sort of disloyal desire to see
Mitt Romney elected President in 2012.
It means, as I said in my last newspaper column,
that we have to start thinking and acting like a real movement, and not
just like sycophantic political partisans. If we do that, we'll get
that seat at the table - and more importantly, we'll get the
legislative results Obama originally promised, but now hesitates to
This is going to take real work - and it's not going to be
psychologically easy. As a personal example, my email box has been
flooded with the worst kind of threatening hate mail today and over the
last few days, as the conservative hate machine is keyed up by the Wall
Street Journal's editorial and the CNN appearances I made this week.
And I'm sure that's emblematic of the larger blowback all progressives
are feeling right now as we work in communities across the country.
But that's to be expected. We are fighting for real change,
and if there is one lesson from history, it is that exactly the people
we are confronting today - the right-wingers, corporatists,
Establishmentarians, and status quo devotees - will do everything they
can to intimidate us. We can stand down or stand up - and it's long
past time for the latter.
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