The Dilemma of the Disenchanted Progressive – Part I

by on September 8, 2009 · 15 comments

in Civil Rights, Education, Election, Labor, Media, Organizing, Popular, San Diego, War and Peace

a-dilemma 2

This latest politicization of President Obama’s speech that he gave to school children this morning  was way over-the-top.  It is the latest round of extreme partisanship being carried out by elements within the Republican Party, led by right-wing radio pundits and being promoted and propagated by the mass corporate media.

They mobilized people to call schools and administrators to cancel the address – or organized a boycott of schools or kept their children out of school for the day.  This was ridiculous. The flap they caused was outrageous and clearly unacceptable.

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And that certain schools, districts, principals and teachers have bowed to these extremists is also outrageous and unacceptable. Some schools here in San Diego County opted out of the address.  The La Mesa-Spring Valley School Board held a contentious meeting on a holiday – Labor Day – to deliberate a compromise over the non-issue.

This politicization of a talk to school kids by an American President is particularly hard for progressives to stomach and is deeply troubling.

Yet, progressives in this country are increasingly being placed in a quandary.  A political quandary that finds us uninspired by what President Obama has actually accomplished. It’s even more than that – the lack of inspiration for many progressives is a down right disenchantment with Obama.

But events rush at us, and progressives are being pushed into a sharpening political dilemma. A dilemma of historic proportions.

For while many folks in the progressive camp have become disenchanted with President Barack Obama –   it just so happens that the guy that many of us voted for is now under a huge attack by the right-wing, and he’s under attack for the very things that we voted for and that were represented by him and his candidacy.

This places us firmly on the proverbial horns of a dilemma. Even though we’re disenchanted with Obama, how can we stand by and allow him to be attacked and then isolated by the right wing? For also under attack are many of the things that we stand for and believe in.

This outrageous display of extremism over the President’s address demonstrates with breath-taking clarity the deepening political chasm in this country.

For coming on top of the disruptions and gun displays at town hall meetings that were held across the country, this extremism throws in sharp relief the widening polarization and yes, even civil conflict, taking place in our society.  These are much more than simply opening salvos of  just another chapter in the “cultural war.”

This historical moment – the moment that the right-wing is able to command the terms of each and every issue, coming after the damage of ‘the guns of August’ – reflects this current civil conflict.  This type of social confrontation engulfs every American progressive, even those who didn’t vote for Obama.

Recent polls  show that Obama has lost support among Democrats and young people.  The pollster John Zogby reports that his latest –

Zogby Interactive poll of 4,518 likely voters (conducted from Aug. 28-31) found 48% disapprove of Obama’s job performance, and 42% approve. …

In a similar interactive poll done six weeks ago, 88% of Democrats approved of Obama’s job performance. That percentage is now down to 75%, a significant drop of 13 points. Meanwhile, there is only slight change among Republicans and Independents.

Obama has lost even more support among 18-29-year-old voters, whose approval fell by 18 points over that time.

Other polls are not so drastic, but most agree that Obama’s figures have fallen.

The blogosphere is full of disgruntled progressives, upset for good, solid reasons. Obama’s continuation and broadening of the war in Afghanistan is particularly difficult to swallow for anti-war progressives, with more troops probably on the horizon as the American-supported Hamid Karzai appears to have won by fraud in the recent presidential election.

There are many other reasons progressives have become disenchanted with Obama.

As a candidate, Barack Obama electrified the nation. He garnered early left and progressive support by being the anti-war candidate.  His pledges of health care reform, of governmental transparency, and reining in the abuses of the Bush administration resonated in liberal and democratic circles. Many progressives worked on his campaign, donated to the record funds he amassed, or at least participated in the Primaries and General Election of 2008.

But now, after seven months of an administration seemingly pandering to the right and the GOP,  many of his supporters who are not dyed-in-the-wool Democratic Party activists and who come from progressive groundings, have found that the luster of their American Idol has greatly diminished.

On the eve of President Obama’s address about health care, he appears to have abandoned the public option.  For many progressives, this is why they voted for him. There still seems to be an overabundance of secrecy in government and many of Bush’s abuses haven’t been discontinued or investigated; there’s fear of a White House too cozy with bankers and banks; there’s environmental policies that are sobering, there are gay rights activists upset – the list goes on.

This is a particularly frustrating, angering, and exasperating moment for the disenchanted progressive, the progressive who has become disenchanted with the tempo and actual accomplishments of a president who promised much during an earth-shaking campaign but who doesn’t have much to show to the progressive community for its support.

Yet just as our frustration and disgust with Obama has us reaching for the the Tums, our last summer month of quiet was turned into accounts of the disruptions, gun-toters, unruly behavior and even violence at town hall meetings held by Congressional reps across the country.  The anger, the lies, the deception and manipulation, the ignorance – and the potential for even darker action – has us getting pissed off even more at the right.

And now this latest issue with Obama’s school speech. It infuriated us.

What now is clear with this – is that the right is intentionally politicizing every issue, every minor misstep by the Obama administration.  The right caused Van Jones, an environmental advisor, to resign a few days ago.  He had initially been called a “czar” – a green-jobs czar.  But he had signed too many petitions and had called Republicans too many bad words to remain.

And the corporate media is giving this politicization and its hard Right initiators all the attention they want.  Controversy and conflict sells.  This is clear. The mass media is controlled by corporate owners who need this controversy because it fits their profit-driven agenda.  But not all controversy is treasured by the mass media. Just contrast how the press has played up to the town hall disruptors and gun-toters – really just handfuls of people – with how the corporate media ignored thousands of demonstrators who opposed the Iraq war.

From Congress to the street, the Right is on the move against Obama.  Progressives, disenchanted or not, cannot stand idly by.  And we won’t.

Part II will address the racism of the right-wing campaign, what progressives can do, and why this is important for Ocean Beach.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Abby September 8, 2009 at 12:27 pm

Let ’em keep their kids at home and in the dark. It’ll make it easier for the smart kids to take over in the future.

Besides, now we know which kids have insane parents to avoid.

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avatar annagrace September 8, 2009 at 12:50 pm

A fine piece of analysis Frank. Solid journalism. Wish I had done it… Thank you.

Joan Walsh also has some similar thoughts:

“I don’t know if anyone in the White House really knows the depth of the despair and anger such a move [elimination of the public option] would trigger in his base — which many dismiss as hardened lefties with no place else to go, but which I know first-hand includes older voters Obama cured of their cynicism, and younger voters who believe they can change the world. The only thing sadder than living in a world where Obama gives insurance companies a windfall of taxpayer dollars for their corrupt, inefficient racket, is thinking about the disillusionment among the people who worked their asses off for him through 20o8. If Obama betrays them, he’ll regret it — as a human being as well as a politician.”

And you are right. We can’t stand idly by.

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avatar mr fresh September 8, 2009 at 12:53 pm

the adoration of wingnuttia by the corporate media is just another manifestation of the death throes of the press as we now know it. they’ve hung their credibility on that hook, so to speak, and will pay the price as time goes on.
more disturbing are the underlying forces behind the current reactionary activism. they say they are anti-abortion, but the real motivation is anti birth control and the subjugation of women. they say they are against the president speaking to students, but the real issue has everything to do with secular nature of educational system. and they say they are anti-socialist, but the fear behind that is that all these old white guys will soon be in a minority.
victory for those folks will make this country look a lot more like North Korea (which is at its core almost puritan) than the USA of old they all so dearly long for.

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avatar annagrace September 8, 2009 at 1:14 pm

Mr Fresh- Nailed it! I am not sure however that Fox News is in its death throes…

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avatar Dave Sparling September 8, 2009 at 2:08 pm

Very well written read Frank. The war between intelligent humans and the ignorant conservative right wing born more than one timers is going to make all other wars seem like a piece of cake.

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avatar nunya September 8, 2009 at 4:40 pm

Thank you Mr. Gormlie :)

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avatar Dickie September 8, 2009 at 6:27 pm

A provocative but very concrete analysis, Frank, like I always expect from you . . . thanks. I look forward to that very important part 2. Up here in Shasta County the County Board of Educ. sent out a directive to not show the speech today so it could be reviewed. My wife Ellen (also a one-time OBcean) who is president of her district CTA (teachers’ union)did not hear of this until she got to school this morning. Fortunately HH that I am, I was able to tape it for her at home. They claim they got protesting phone calls from families. Wingnuttia is pretty strong around here. We heard there will be a Tea Partier organizational meeting in town Thursday. Plus it was 34º last night . . . Brr-r-r-r . . . take me to the Beach.
Wingnuttia: did you make that up Mr. Fresh? I really like it! and your characterizatrion of them as well.

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avatar Monty Kroopkin September 8, 2009 at 8:23 pm

Frank,

This is a very important subject for progressives to be paying attention to. Some of us are NOT at all disillusioned, because we were NOT illusioned in the first place. I am talking about a minority of the population, but still an important part of the community. I am talking about people who voted not for Obama, but for candidates of the Green Party, or Peace & Freedom Party, or all the other even smaller parties of the left. I am also talking about the people who don’t vote at all because they believe political elections and political institutions are not the primary arena in which progressives should organize and contest power, but rather that the economic institutions are that primary arena. We don’t air these strategic differences in public nearly enough. But the differences exist and have existed for generations. And it does everybody a large diservice if the left does NOT have this conversation, in public, on an on-going basis.

So, part of the left is seeing exactly what we predicted we would see under an Obama administration. I count myself in this camp. This does not mean I would have preferred to see McCain elected. It does mean that it is no surprise that a Democrat president has to be pushed, HARD, from the left for anything much of value to ever get done. Federal funding for stem cell research? OK, no trivial check mark in the plus column. Lots of other examples of check marks in the plus column, if we bother to look and bother to talk about it. But major positive changes, like the adoption of Social Security, have only happened when the left has been out in the streets in huge numbers and organized enough to attend ALL the important hearings and meetings and so on.

One thing we are all seeing, also, is the right wing of the corporate elite pumping very large amounts of money into whipping up racist, fascist fervor amongst very poorly educated parts of the population. These people include parts of the working class and unemployed, as well as some small business owners. The lunatic ragers are still a minority, but it is a minority being cultivated, watered and fertilized by the corporate press. The harvest will be full blown fascism, in a modernized form which will be far more dangerous than anything we have ever seen in history, UNLESS the progressive community gets better organized and stops it. One thing we need to do a lot of is to target the corporate press. The boycott of Fox News advertisers is along the right lines. We need much more thinking and action against the reactionary campaigning that the corporate press is engaging in. It is not just about ratings and selling more advertising by blowing controversies out of proportion. There is a large amount of conscious corporate class interest showing, along with the large amounts of funding for right wing groups and causes.

And we need to NOT be shy about expressing opposition when harmful policies are advocated by ANY politician, regardless of what political party they belong to.

Those parts of the progressive community who ARE disillusioned, present another huge danger. If they stop trying to organize for changes we need, if they withdraw from the field and allow the right to run rampant without strong opposition, we will all be in very bad shape. It is exactly because of this sort of danger, of disillusionment of large numbers of progressives who lack a solid grounding in the history of how long and how hard fought important changes have been; it is exactly for this reason that some on the left are highly critical of working through the Democratic Party (or even ANY political party). If the organizing doesn’t educate people to expect set backs and right wing counter-attacks and to expect to have to sustain the efforts, even across generations, then the organizing can even disarm us. So now, we have the challenge of not only beating back the right wing lunatics, we also have the challenge of convincing a large number of Obama voters that their job has only barely started. To his credit, Obama, who I do believe has a grasp of history and social movements, did clearly say on election night, it is up to all of us to make the changes.

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avatar left-leaning moderate September 8, 2009 at 9:15 pm

Nice article, Frank. I’ve been getting ornery on this subject the last few days, so here are some thoughts on the general topic…

Opting to keep your kid home over what turned out to be a rather Republican speech is about sixteen different kinds of stupid, but it is also people’s right as parents.

The fact that there was a national discussion about this speech is silly, but what is particularly troubling to me is how easily some right-wing moonbats on the fringe can knock progressives off message. Whether we are talking about politicians or citizens, I just see this as a failure of leadership.

I think one tragedy taking place right now is that progressive politics in this country has fallen into a deeply-ingrained trap over the last 40 years or so where it became so comfortable as a counterculture backseat driver that it forgot what to actually do behind the wheel.

I don’t know if that sounds cold, but why do so many progressives out there have an encyclopedic knowledge of what Rush Limbaugh think about everything? Who cares about that guy?

Progressives need to forget about the right-wing moonbats and talk right over them. Inspire. Inform. Steamroll. Lead.

Do whatever they need to, but by all means stop letting the yahoos dictate the terms of the discussion. They are getting bled each and every time that happens. It doesn’t even matter what the content is, as long as the moonbats can keep people talking about progressives in a negative light.

You know, Bill Clinton often spoke of how he liked to get attacked because it gave him a chance to get his platform across. Regardless of how one felt of him as a politician or person, he was just very effective in this way.

We all saw it a million times. Someone would ask him about some scandal or smear, and he would get that narcissistic smile on his face and say, “My opponents would have you believe this, but what is really important right now is to tale about my program for suchandsuch, which will do a, b and c…” and he’s off for the next 5 minutes pushing his agenda.

Somehow, I just think that the progressive movement needs to take a collective page out of that book and find a way to stay on point while inspiring people to believe in what they are actually trying to do.

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avatar annagrace September 8, 2009 at 10:04 pm

Well done Monty. While I have never sat out an election, I have been incapable of voting the straight Democratic ticket. The first time I voted it was for Shirley Chisholm. When do you think we’ll ever have that kind of opportunity again? And I voted for Nader that fateful election… So yes, the left is hardly a homogeneous group and you are right that the opportunities to hash things out publicly are as necessary as they are limited.

I feel that we have lost significant ground in two areas- one economic and one social. Remember when apartheid breathed its last breath because of the boycott of investments in S. Africa? Our City Council supported that, which meant that none of the City’s investment funds could be directed to S. Africa. Remember socially responsible investing? That has gone by the way side where it counts- on larger, municipal levels. My modest personal savings and the money my employer and I put aside into a pension account are invested in those same corporate entities that we are railing against. I, via my money, am inextricably entwined in that horrifying immoral mess. That’s a problem for most of us, to one degree or another and it is a problem for the left.

The social issue is that I have found that my hardworking, often poor neighbors in City Heights are finding support and comfort in the myriad storefront evangelical churches here. They were mobilized to go door to door to drum up support for prop 8. So they are politicized. But the message is anti-gay, anti-reproductive choice and conservative. These are the very people who historically would have been part of the left and shaped the left. The left is simply not present and relevant in a consistent way in these working class/poor communities. I personally don’t think we’re worth our salt if we don’t reclaim that presence.

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avatar Molly September 9, 2009 at 8:07 am

Monty – you don’t get points by not working for Obama’s historic election and then wagging your finger later and saying ‘I told you so!’ By not working for his election, you miss the mark of the time.

The number of progressives who voted for Nader, the Green, Peace and Justice are such a tiny fraction of the over-all progressive vote, that they are fairly irrelevant, but it looks like they also will feel the fallout of an energized right.

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avatar Monty Kroopkin September 9, 2009 at 6:03 pm

Molly,
Folks like myself did not wait until after the election to voice our opinion about what was likely or not likely to result from electing a Democrat. We said it all along. Did you read or hear any of McKinney or Nader’s campaign speeches? The same corporate press that is now fomenting right wing organizing also censored all the rest of the political parties right off the broadcast waves and print pages. Again, this is a reason why we need strong alternative media. You don’t get points for saying a segment of the population is “tiny” when our message is being actively censored out of the public conversation. Even Democrats who support a single-payer plan have been protesting Obama keeping single payer advocates (including important elected leaders of his own party) out of his circle of advisers.

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avatar Monty Kroopkin September 15, 2009 at 7:36 pm

Truthdig has published a piece that flows very nicely with the conversation we’ve been having about the expectations of progressives, and about what we all need to be doing. Here it is:

Stop Begging Obama and Get Mad
Sep 14, 2009
By Chris Hedges

The right-wing accusations against Barack Obama are true. He is a socialist, although he practices socialism for corporations. He is squandering the country’s future with deficits that can never be repaid. He has retained and even bolstered our surveillance state to spy on Americans. He is forcing us to buy into a health care system that will enrich corporations and expand the abuse of our for-profit medical care. He will not stanch unemployment. He will not end our wars. He will not rebuild the nation. He is a tool of the corporate state.

The right wing is not wrong. It is not the problem. We are the problem. If we do not tap into the justifiable anger sweeping across the nation, if we do not militantly push back against corporate fraud and imperial wars that we cannot win or afford, the political vacuum we have created will be filled with right-wing lunatics and proto-fascists. The goons will inherit power not because they are astute, but because we are weak and inept.

See the rest of the article here–>

Chris Hedges spent two decades covering wars in Latin America, Africa, Europe and the Middle East and is the author of “War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning.” His latest book is “Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.”

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avatar Frank Gormlie September 16, 2009 at 9:46 am

That’s right Monty and Chris Hedges – we are the problem – it’s all our fault. Hmm yeah!

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avatar john October 8, 2009 at 8:00 pm

Good rant, Frank, and the obstructive nature of far right ne’er do wells is indeed disturbing. However, and I guess this is more to Monty than you, when his four or eight years have passed and we look back at the possible (I’m still hopeful) lack of “change” or the loss of “hope”- or even now, looking at your disillusionment and the plummeting polls- it would be a bit disingenuous to blame right wing pundits for standing in the way of the nation’s progress.
While they may factor in, the issue may be more a case of falsely believing Obama was cut from a significantly different cloth than those who preceded him- or if he was, that the dark grey machine of the federal government, and the corporate elite controlling it behind the scenes, was something a positive ideologue could ever accomplish anything good with.
We have over three years left to deliver a verdict, expecting a loss and declaring the villain responsible may actually play into their hands quite well. I ignore the stupid, that includes Rush and anyone questioning Obama’s citizenship who obviously can’t find a real issue to stand upon. In this instance while I was angered at tactics of Bush’s war critics in years past, they have a leg up on the right so far for actually pursuing an issue, (albeit often with Sheehan-esque positions of ignorance) rather than senseless obstruction of policies over sheer hate. Even if Obama’s birth certificate is questionable, if you understand the concern of the founding fathers in the constitution, you’ll find the point in 2009 is moot.
Finally,to Frank: what I said about Obama in another thread was not that Obama was worse, either by person or performance, than another Bush would be. The context was that assuming he is the same Washington politician that we always get, the inevitable outcome is worse for us as a nation because those who would be watchdogs for every misstep of another Bush, are placidly content for similar offenses as they stick their head in the sand convinced change was happening and all is well. A situation I often describe as “he serves the same koolaid but in a more appealing flavor and color, thus they drink it faster than ever” (when if it was bush koolaid they’d spit it out) He’s better than another Bush for levelling the playing field between rich and poor. He’s better at arresting the loss of civil rights. He’s not actively reversing all Bush’s transgressions, however, and we can see that as ( I) expected the realities if actually being CinC definately tempered his antiwar rhetoric precluding immediate pullouts. (that’s all I’ll say on foreign policy here) I hope the hard core supporters realize he’s still a politician and hold him to standards they would if there was a R after his name.

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