Friday 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.