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nellie On December - 13 - 2009

postersFriday night on Vox Populi, I mentioned that I had been posting the HP Bush Years Posters to answer Obama bashers across the net. I believe it was escribicat who asked what the Bush Years Posters were, and I promised to post something about them. It occurs to me as I write this article that there’s more to be said about the posters than just an explanation of what they are and how they came about. They should serve as a blueprint for building our progressive house and putting it in order.

But first a brief explanation.

Back in the day when progressives were determined to change the world, the Huffington Post put out a call to its readers to submit words—words only—that could be incorporated into posters. The words should be one of three types: 1) a name, 2) an event, or 3) a slogan. And these words should, in themselves, capture the nature (HP called it “lunacy”) of the Bush Administration.

The end result was this project.

Each poster is a simple but powerful statement. No narrative, no exposition, no punditry. Just the words. Speaking for themselves. For all of us.

Not only do too many progressives seem to have forgotten most of those words, they seem to have forgotten the agony behind them. More important, they seem to have forgotten the spirit that forged these posters—a determination to set our country on the right path, unstoppable determination to work together to set things right. We were a force to be reckoned with.

And now that we have made the Obama presidency a reality and created a genuine chance to use the same energy not only to put an end to the tragedies documented by those posters, but to push toward an enlightened future—the progressive movement is taking a strange turn. Many are trying mightily to turn the Obama Years into the Bush Years, trading action for anger, determination for depression. When Bush was in office bulldozing us with inhumane legislation, what did the right do? They said “He’s on the right track, but he’s not going far enough.” When the left disagrees with this president, is there a hint of any alliance at all? No. Progressive critics turn on him and make him the enemy. There’s no united front. There’s no push to the left. Just a walk out.

And many don’t even realize how they sabotage their own interests. This from Glenn Greenwald:

There is an important parallel between those who believe all criticism of Obama to be illegitimate and those on the Right who despise him without pause. The latter is every bit as personality-driven as the former: they despise Obama not for any specific policy decisions (often, those are aligned with their ostensible views), but because of personality caricatures they’ve adopted: he’s a narcissistic, vacant, Socialist Muslim and therefore nothing he does is right. That is simply the opposite side of the same coin as those who revere his personality and thus believe that nothing he does merits real criticism.

In my opinion, we give up power when we miscast this president as the last one and disconnect from him entirely. Especially when we do so in an environment where things are actually getting better, where the people we elected are, for the first time in 40 years, working on an agenda that attempts to answer the call progressives have been heralding for more than a century—social change.

At the same time, progressives seem to have stopped working. Before Mr. Obama’s election, candidates were at the forefront—Marci Winograd, Ned Lamont, Sherrod Brown, Al Franken. And now? Now that another midterm election is around the corner, is anything heard about progressive challengers? Anything about brave, new candidates? Maybe I’m out of the loop, but I’ve heard nothing about progressive up and comers. I’ve only heard about moderates.

The fervor with which progressives pursued the words to include in the Bush Posters —the chase after the facts—has also taken a beating. When the climate email scandal broke, only one source I know of pointed out that these emails were ten years old, and that the studies that were disputed in the emails still ended up in the final report. What did the majority of discussion consist of? A rehash of the climate change debate. All we needed were the facts, but we didn’t use them. When the public option is discussed, the topic is either “it’s dropped” or “it’s back.” How does this handwringing help clarify the pros and cons, to sell the program as a good idea. How does it help push for reform?

And where are the issues that help keep progressives in power? Media reform, net neutrality, election reform—electronic voting, IRV, campaign finance reform—these front burner issues that had so much passionate support only a year ago. These issues are no less critical. In fact, they are even more essential now that conservatives are motivated to fight back. But they have all but been abandoned—at least in the public discourse. Instead, bickering, divisiveness, negativity.

Glenn Greenwald, Matt Taibbi, David Sarota, Arianna Huffington, Ed Schultz, Thom Hartmann are making careers out of daily calling out this president for failure. Perhaps they think they are being champions of better thinking, but all they are doing is demoralizing half of the progressive community and alienating the other half. Where are the voices of leadership—to rally us together as a movement?

Through their own shortsightedness, progressives are handing momentum and management of the important issues over to the moderates. And for that reason, we are getting moderate compromises rather than progressive reforms. Unless progressives stop and take stock of their own ineffectual behavior, organize, find better discourse, and motivate our ranks, we will lose a moment that comes perhaps once in a lifetime. We will lose the chance to stake our claim as a force to be reckoned with.

17 Responses so far.

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  1. choicelady says:

    Progressive slippage is taking a HUGE toll on those of us still working on issues. We all discussed a couple of weeks ago that people forgot that Obama said change is up to PEOPLE, not to him. Well, I believe that wholeheartedly and work day and night to accomplish what I can. But I AM demoralized by the armchair so-called progressive critics who not only trash Obama but also trash those of us still working.

    Friday I got bamboozled into what I thought was supposed to be a discussion about health care but turned into a debate about the congressional plan vs. single payer. The person who invited me to drive 8 hours round trip, is a smug “progressive” who set me up as the fall guy because we believe we’re obligated to be involved in the discussion about what’s on the table, never mind that we totally agree single payer would be much better. So I got trashed and diminished by him in front of an audience (small, thank God) for not being “too good” to support working on the outcomes. Most of what he told the audience about the plan was WRONG, and I was quite careful to lay the blame on the media, not on him, but it was clear he had brought me there to show how bogus I and my organization were for trying to craft a good plan instead of sniffily dismissing it because it’s not single payer.

    The fact that he’s still alive is testament to my basically good nature. I am still furious, but more to the point, I’m scared because he was NOT the only one who thought they were ‘too good’ to be engaged.

    How we lost real progress is because for too many, it’s an issue of narcissistic superiority. Saw it all through the 60s, and here we are once again. We cannot sustain real change if we wash our hands of the hard work it takes to dig in an insist on what we want.

    And it is those armchair critics who are giving support to the tea bag folks through their contemptuous dismissal of this president and congress. They’d rather whine than work. And that’s the death knell of a democracy.

    • SueInCa says:

      I agree with you, especially your last paragraph. Do you mind if I ask what group or organization you are involved with? I sure hope you were able to at least get to some of the people in that audience. The guy who set you up should be ashamed but it is pervasive in this society this idea of me me me

    • escribacat says:

      What’s easy about this other guy’s position is that he doesn’t have to actually make it happen. At this point, it’s fiction so he can paint it in any rosy terms he likes. Without actually lifting a finger, he gets to be the hero with the best solution that everyone wants.

    • nellie says:

      choicelady — that’s where my thinking is going on this. People like you who are out in the trenches aren’t writing smug editorials about how the president is failing. You’re doing the work to make sure a progressive agenda has a chance to succeed. As someone who is also in public service, I know the hard work and dedication you’re talking about. I also know the realities of time and compromise that must be dealt with in order to make things happen.

      If these left wing pundits really cared about pushing the agenda to the left, they wouldn’t spend so much time creating the false narrative that nothing is being done or that this administration is intractable.

      Thanks for another excellent post. I always enjoy reading what you write.

  2. boomer1949 says:

    nellie,

    You changed your upload. I get it.

  3. escribacat says:

    Thanks for the article, Nellie. I don’t even recognize the HP you link to in your post. It made me quite sad to see that.

    It seems to me that the energy shown in those posters is now being used against the current administration. Perhaps the “spine” of the progressive movement is not actually “progress,” but “contrariness.” It’s a lot more exciting and sexy to seek out conspiracies and faults and “betrayals” and “cracks” than it is to plod through the actual legislative process, to help shepherd new bills through with all their warts — mundane details (many pages), compromises, buy-offs, tricks.

    The negative progressive reactions to the way things are going are emotional responses, and they can be tied to just a few emotionally-charged issues and phrases: bank bonuses, Wall Street bailout, Gitmo, war crimes, surge in Afghanistan, public option. How easy is it to get people worked up over those issues? Huffington and Taibbi and the others are just taking the easy road. This is the low hanging fruit here. It’s a guaranteed winner. The much duller and more tedious route is the actual process of trying to turn this giant aircraft carrier of a nation around and get it headed into a new direction. That is not an emotional process. It is duller than hell and full of ugly compromises and deals and all the other junk that has to happen when you’ve got a country as big as ours with a spectrum of beliefs and ideals as broad as ours.

    The fact is, we progressives are not the majority. A good third of the nation calls itself conservative and another third comprises those “swing voters” that Adlib so admires. Those folks will swing whichever way the MSM tells them to swing. In my opinion, it’s a miracle we got our guy into office at all.

  4. Emerald1943 says:

    Wow, Nellie! You knocked my socks off with this one! Great post!

    Please understand that I was not necessarily bashing President Obama when I wrote my comments this morning about the “reckoning”. It’s interesting to see those posters that Arianna had that pointed out a number of issues that I mentioned in my post…like the war crimes, Brownie in New Orleans, etc.

    I still am a rabid supporter of the President. I just hope that he will pay more attention to the progressives who helped to put him into office. And thank DOG for Al Franken!! :-)

  5. boomer1949 says:

    Hi nellie,

    I remember adding my two cents to that call. I couldn’t wait to see the final results plastered on billboards, on the sides of buildings, converted to picket signs for protests, showing up on tee shirts @ CafePress. Could have happened too, or at least some of it could have.

    How quickly she turned or just wanted to stir the pot, don’t you think? Another pretend progressive, flapping her jaws in the breeze, and for what? Short answer: money. Longer answer: it was all about the money to begin with.

  6. kesmarn says:

    nellie, how do you do it? Another terrific article.

    I like your sentence: “Perhaps they think they are being champions of better thinking, but all they are doing is demoralizing half of the progressive community and alienating the other half.”

    I would add: they’re also giving “aid and comfort to the enemy.” I know, I know, I shouldn’t, in the interest of bipartisanship, refer to “them” as the “enemy.” But--frankly--“they” would never be so kind to us as to give us such a credible script and platform from which to attack THEM.

  7. AdLib says:

    BRAVO!!!

    Very well said.

    It is sad that so many are so easily and quickly seduced away from advocating and lobbying for change by the self-serving desire to merely judge and complain.

    How much more productive would all of these folks be if they invested themselves in advancing the Progressive causes they believed in instead of just attacking Obama for not having already implemented them in his first year?

    What is their goal and priority? Seeing these things happen or announcing whether their expectations of Obama have been satisfied or unfulfilled?

  8. Kalima says:

    “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

    Mahatma Gandhi

  9. javaz says:

    Another excellent article, nellie, and you are correct for the most part.
    Al Franken is still a leader and vocal champion of progressive causes, as is Alan Grayson.

    But who does the MSM focus on and report?
    Teabaggers, Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, and just recently there was an article proclaiming that John McCain has emerged as the vocal critic of our president. (that is news?)

    We do need media reform, but as I’ve written before, it’s impossible to achieve that reform when the MSM is owned by 4 or 5 corporations and whose side do corporations, including the Murdoch empire, choose?
    The Republican side because they are pro-business and against workers’ rights, unions, health care, etc.
    Republicans stand for war, and corporations make a ‘killing’ off war.

    The right likes to say that the majority of Americans listen, watch and read conservative news, such as Fox, since Fox has the highest ratings of all media outlets.
    Of course Fox has the highest ratings.
    Ever drive across country and listen to the radio in rural areas or watch TV?
    Rush Limbaugh is on 3 different stations in rural areas, and there are rural areas that do not have digital TV, but are still airing analog, and the only station in some areas still broadcasting in analog is Fox.

    How do progressives compete with Murdoch’s empire and corporations?

    If it weren’t for the Internet, I would never know about the progressives in Congress or the Senate since they don’t make the news, unless a person has cable or satellite, which we do not.

    • nellie says:

      I really appreciate our progressive members of Congress. They are the stalwart voice of reason these days. I had forgotten about Grayson — he’s also a freshmen member, is that right?

      I especially appreciate people like Bernie Sanders, who manage to make a case for progressive reform without saying that the president has betrayed his supporters. Sanders continues to try for a united front. That’s what I think helps us. You’re right about the media — they will do whatever creates the most disruption.

  10. Kalima says:

    Hi nellie, I’m getting a little sleepy and lazy too. I’ve given my opinion on this very subject as I personally see it from a distance on K7’s recent post, and will try to repeat it again in my morning, please forgive me, it’s been a long day. Good night and good day, have a good Sunday.

    KK

    • nellie says:

      Good night, KK. I read your post on K7s article. I think these thoughts are on a lot of our minds lately. I’ve been working on this post for a couple of days.

      Have a peaceful rest. I look forward to speaking with you again.


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