Michael Tomasky has a Guardian U.K. article, “Change is Tough. So liberals can’t just leave it to Obama,” which brings some welcome wisdom to the Democratic expectations game. Actually Tomasky’s subtitle, “For euphoria to give way to disillusionment is premature. Instead, supporters should battle for his healthcare bill,” provides a better indication of his theme, unwound in this excerpt:
…The mood is somewhat grim these days among American liberals. Some feel President Obama has already sold them out. Others are angrier at conservatives and their deliberate lies about aspects of healthcare reform. But even many in this latter cohort think the White House hasn’t been pushing back against the lies hard enough. Either way, expectations are diminished – nerves are fraying, temples are greying.
What a change from just six to nine months ago. During that period, from the wake of Barack Obama’s victory through the first 100 days, liberal optimism was higher than it’s been in this country for 40 years….I counselled that liberals should not delude themselves into over-interpreting the election results. They represented, I thought, a rejection of conservatism (for now), but not an embrace of liberalism. That would come only over time, and only if Obama and the congressional Democrats showed better results for people than Republicans had across a range of fronts. But the more common feeling was euphoria. So now, disillusionment has set in.
If Obama serves two terms, we are a mere 8% of the way into his tenure. That strikes me as a little early for people to be throwing in the towel. So the interesting question of the near future will be: can the Obama movement go from the euphoric phase, in which everything seemed possible, into a more realist phase in which people come to terms with the very difficult and far less exhilarating tasks associated with governing, and the often dissatisfying victories that result from the legislative process?
Tomasky goes on to note a stark contrast between liberals’ “deeply romantic view of political movements” to the “mundane and inglorious work” that was needed to actually pass landmark progressive legislation like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — nine years after Rosa Parks and MLK launched the Civil Rights Movement. Now, Tomasky explains, comes the really hard part:
So now, liberals have to fight hard for something they’re not terribly excited about. A health bill will likely have a very weak public option or it won’t have one at all. But liberals will have to battle for that bill as if it’s life and death (which in fact it will be for thousands of Americans), because its defeat would constitute a historic victory for the birthers and the gun-toters and the Hitler analogists.
I’m hoping Tomasky is wrong that a weak public option is likely the best we can do. But I’m certain he is right that Democrats across the spectrum will have to fight for the Democratic health reform bill, regardless of the public option provision. To sit it out would make a mockery of even the concept of progressive unity, green-light the wing-nuts and encourage all-out GOP obstructionism on every progressive legislative proposal going forward.
Tomasky concludes with a sobering call to the long haul:
This is what movements do – they do the hard, slow work of winning political battles and changing public opinion over time. It isn’t fun. It isn’t something Will.i.am is going to make a clever and moving video about, and it offers precious few moments for YouTube. It takes years, which is a bummer, in a political culture that measures success and failure by the hour. The end of euphoria should lead not to disillusionment, but to seriousness of purpose.
As Tomasky reminds us, the greatest achievements of the Democratic Party have always been measured over years, not months. We should fight like hell for the best bill we can pass this year, and after the decisive vote, begin organizing for stronger reforms without missing a beat.