In 2008 progressives across America were basking in the warm glow of the nation’s first black president. A breeze of Democratic victories had blown through Congress and the long, dark night of the Bush era had given way to the rising sun of the Democratic super-majority. A Democratic executive branch and a bicameral legislative branch teaming with enough blue fruit to overwhelm any red agendas devised by the defeated and deflated Republican party. The progressive tree was blooming in the new era sun and progressives across America were able to relax.
Were the conservative, right wing Republicans relaxing? Were their minds changed and their hearts quiet? Was their spirit broken and did they skulk away quietly, tail between their legs in acceptance of America’s new direction of a liberal and populist agenda? Does the phrase 2010, mid-term elections answer that question?
Shortly after the 2008 election, the general public was struck with the reality of the total economic collapse of the American banking system, the bottom dropping out of the stock market and the the real estate bubble bursting. Frightening and confusing terms like “derivatives,” “toxic assets” and “ARM loans” were brandished by the talking heads on the cable news networks and the true inheritance of the new electorate was made apparent and they reacted accordingly. President Barack Obama consulted with his cabinet, with economists and stepped up, proposing a Keynesian stimulus package that stalled an economy in free-fall. No need to further recount the history of so recent a period in history; one in which wounds are still in various stages of recuperation and rehabilitation.
Suffice it to say, the Republicans were quickly seeding the sky with storm-clouds. The population, just moths before filled with warm, sunny hope was scared. And rightly so. Jobs were lost in record numbers. Income was falling while prices were rising and the conservative, Republican agenda was ready and mobile with a new and radical group of flashy and simple politicians called the Tea-Party. They catered to the three Gs of right wing, fear-mongering: God, guns and gays. They tied these social-issue weapons of mass distraction to the real, pressing issues of the day and (quite neatly and effectively) laid blame for the Nation’s rapid decline, both socially and fiscally, on the President and his socialist administration.
It worked like a charm. The 2010 mid-term elections were a cyclonic victory for conservatives. The super-majority was blown away and the House of Representatives was owned by the Tea-Party influenced Republicans. Surely the less than honest messaging of voices like Eric Cantor and the less than heartfelt tears of men like John Boehner are worthy of blame for the GOP sweep. Not to mention an entire cable news network dedicated to promoting untruth, injustice and the Glen Beckian way. But just as important to consider is the lack of preparedness and distracted complacency of the Democrats.
Obama promised to reach across the aisle and compromised in spite of having the power to push through any progressive agenda the Democrats and their constituencies wanted. The Democratic message was convoluted and tried too hard to explain why and how and, in a stagnant economy, it is nearly impossible to use economists to prove a negative and certainly impossible to win an off year election on that message. There was no “Go! Fight! Win!” There was no message of solidarity and spirit.
The 2012 elections were a very positive message for progressives. The light shone through the clouds and, once again, the Democratic agenda allows for a deep breath and an enjoyment of the light of populist understanding. But only for a few moments. In this administration, there can be no room for error. There can be no time for compromise. There can be no sacrifice of agenda in exchange for good faith because the anti-progressive movement, given an inch, will take a mile.
In a lesser known speech, Franklin D. Roosevelt wrote:
“… Until the Democratic Party [through this convention] makes overwhelmingly clear its stand in favor of social progress and liberalism, and shakes off all the shackles of control fastened upon it by the forces of conservatism, reaction, and appeasement, it will not continue its march of victory.”
The progressive movement, if it wants to survive and burn off the cloud-cover of the remaining storm, it must not rest on this victory. The election may be over but the great work just begins. The middle class must stand together. Unions must double their efforts. Progressive politicians must dissent, speak up and speak well. They must not merely make their voices louder, but also their arguments better. The 2014 mid-term elections are just around the corner and, if the issues embraced by the the majority this year are truly issues of importance to those who voted, the progressive campaign must begin immediately. The preservation of Medicare and Medicaid as we know them and the expansion of affordable healthcare to everyone and the taxation of the wealthiest while regulating the disenfranchisement of the working class by those same wealthiest – these and many more progressive agendas need to be reinforced and protected a little more every day.
The work is not easy. Nor should it be. Frederick Douglass, a true American champion of freedom, once said, “Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the the awful roar of its many waters. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” Progressive Democrats want social justice, but they also want to be nice and expect that if they are nice, so will be the other side.
Although often mistaken for one and the same, there is a difference between what is safe and what is comfortable. And, if progressive Democrats believe that there is safety in American solidarity over the opposition’s beliefs in safety being individual financial insulation at the expense of those less fortunate, then progressive Democrats need to be willing to fight, to throw comfort to the wind and to keep on keepin’ on.
At a rally in Boston’s Dudley Square last week, a congregation of labor and activists reminded one another of what the power of unity can do: hello Elizabeth Warren, goodbye Scott Brown. Hello Barack Obama, goodbye Mitt Romney. “E pluribus unum” has been proven by the American voters to be a preferable national ideal to “sic semper tyrannus.” But, like any dream, ideal or hope for a nation , it requires foresight, strength, perseverance, blood and sweat. It takes a will to fight. Progressive Democrats remember, “When we fight, we win.”