Friday, September 30, 2011

Fashionable Cynicism Never Won Us A Public Option

These Occupy Wall Street protests are cool, and they tie into a couple of interesting posts from Yglesias and TNC making the point that it is far more effective to organize for change rather than sit back and gripe about Obama.  This is, I think, the main fact of our current political moment.

Prior to the 2008 election there was a ton of energy on the left, first in the anti-war movement and then channeled into Obama's election campaign.  My perception is that after the election that energy largely dissipated when it really needed to keep surging forward.  Some of that was simple exhaustion and a false belief that the battle had been won and that Obama could wave his magic Congress wand and pass his agenda.  Partly it is psychologically easier to be fiercely unified against something than to be for something, particularly if that something (stimulus, health care bill, cap-and-trade, etc.) is the product of political compromises and not 100% to your liking.  Human nature, I guess. 

As an example, I think the Occupy Wall Street protests have been awesome and inspiring, but if they had taken place in early 2009 during the bailouts and (especially) during the Congressional debate over the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, I think we would have ended up both with better policies and a more accurate media narrative that put the blame for the Great Recession on the true culprits rather than the bizarre claims we now get about how the school teachers and cops are are to blame for high deficits (or whatever story it is this week).  Same thing with the health-care bill.

I write this not to absolve Obama or the Dems from the mistakes they did make.  Right this second I'm pretty peeved about Obama's recent cave on ozone regulations (bad policy, bad politics) and the fact that he may have just offed a U.S. citizen without any due process (a scary scary precedent).  Still.  The media loves to build narratives around the personage of the President, but in a democracy the buck ultimately stops with the people.  We need to work to move public opinion in a progressive direction.  The politicians will follow.

The energy just wasn't there in early 2009, and things were moving so fast that it was hard to get a bead on where to best apply popular pressure.  But still, this is what we're supposed to be good at, and the sad fact is that post-2008 the left has simply been out-organized by the tea party -- a bunch of people who as a matter of principle don't really believe in collective action!  Embarrassing!

Yglesias gives a couple recommendations of things to do apart from complaining about Obama on the internet.  I would say it mainly comes down to grassroots organizing in a way that opens up space to Obama's left, and it is nice to see that some of the old energy is starting to return.  I hope it continues.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


Maya Rowan Torgerson Donaghy -- welcome to the planet!  Born 1:40am on 9/12/2011, 3600 grams, 51 cm. More here.