The reasons for the stillbirth of the new progressive era are many and much discussed. There's the death of liberal and moderate Republicanism, the reluctance of some administration officials and congressional Democrats to challenge the banks, the ever-larger role of money in politics (see reluctance to challenge banks, above), the weakness of labor, the dysfunctionality of the Senate -- the list is long and familiar. But if there's a common feature to the political landscapes in which Carter, Clinton and now Obama were compelled to work, it's the absence of a vibrant left movement.__________________________________________
Harold Meyerson, Washington Post, 1/6/10
Alas, it's true. The "left movement"--the true left movement, not the middle-of-the-road "Progressives" nor the loony "Lefties"--is no longer vibrant. We lost our glow long ago, when we decided the worst thing we could ever do to ourselves was to get in the position of being considered Socialists. We even dropped "social programs" from our lexicon lest someone should suspect us of Commie leanings. Then we dropped social programs altogether, just in case.
We either forgot or ignored the real contributions unions had brought us since before our grandparents were young, and turned on them just when we needed them the most. We let the actor Ronald Reagan make the first incision and then stood back, wringing our hands, while the strength of our labor movement slowly seeped away.
Our voices were no more than mere whispers when American jobs by the millions moved to foreign countries. No representative howls from these quarters when American manufacturing and American wages moved toward the downslide while corporate America's profits went soaring through the stratosphere.
We never completely bought the notion that all was right with the world, that our path to prosperity was named "deregulation", that the people in power had even a nibble of a clue, but every time we turned around someone wicked or more cunning was stealing our soapbox. So we shut up. Or so it seemed, for all the good our grousing and complaining did.
For eight long Bushwhacked years, we moaned and groaned and predicted the predictable outcomes. And when they came, we got nothing for our troubles except to be able to utter a wholly unsatisfying "We told you so". Because for eight long Bushwhacked years we, the Liberals afraid to speak our own name, had no real leaders.
Nobody stood out as the one willing and courageous and strong enough to take on corrupt big government and big business (even more dazzlingly corrupt). We've had many voices--many fine voices--like Eleanor Roosevelt, FDR, JFK, MLK, Walter Reuther, Cesar Chavez, Barbara Jordan, Mario Cuomo, Ted Kennedy, Hillary Clinton, Russ Feingold, Dennis Kucinich, Anthony Weiner, Sheldon Whitehouse, Byron Dorgan (Yes, I've heard--but he still has a voice), Elizabeth Warren, Bill Moyers, Rachel Maddow. We've had Molly Ivins, Michael Moore, Jim Hightower, and now Al Franken, who's laughing all the way to the Hill.
But where is the one strong leader leading the charge to help put our country back together again? To take on the jammers and scammers in high places? To demolish the Fat Cats' havens? To get people back to work? To keep families healthy and safe, without poverty looming? For awhile there, we thought it was going to be Barack Obama. For a while, I think even Barack Obama thought it was going to be him. But it isn't. It's clear he's not the one.
No leader. Oh, well. . .so be it.
Wait, that was last year. This year--2010--we're going to have to do it ourselves. We who see ourselves as the perennial, ineffectual caretakers are going to have to make our presence known. Don't answer to "Liberal", I don't care. Call yourselves "Progressives", I don't care. Just do what liberals have always done. Help the poor, feed the hungry, nurture the children, restore human dignity, and advocate, always, for equity and honesty.
This year is the year of the PEOPLE. We are the people. Only we can make it happen. We can't do it alone. We can't even do it with rooms full of like-minded people. In order to be heard, we have to do it by the millions. There are millions of us out of work with nothing but time on our hands. There are millions of us who are retired, with no real schedule, who remember what it was like when the middle class was on top and want that back again. There are millions of us with brain power and skills working at no-hope jobs through no fault of our own. And there are millions of us who are union members who need a refresher course in labor struggles and organized ass-kicking.
2010. The Year of the People. Last I looked, that's us.
(Cross-posted at Talking Points Memo here.)