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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

From Euphoria to Real Hope

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.

4 comments on “From Euphoria to Real Hope

  1. tmginnova on

    In general, I’m discouraged by the political news and some of Obama’s missteps. I’m not happy with the deference to the geniuses on Wall St and continuing negotiations with right wingers like Grassley. I agree with the need for a public option (which you may recall is still part of Obama’s health care plan).
    That said, have you already forgotten that in just 6 months, Obama:
    — banned torture (yes, no DC political prosecutions of high officials yet, but doesn’t he get credit for ending this practice where it counts, out the real world?),
    — created the biggest infusion of resources ever into green energy,
    — pushed real limits on greenhouse gasses, rejoining the world community in the process,
    — dropped major Bush anti-env. policies and appointed real regulators (not just industry shills),
    — ended the ban on family planning in our international policy,
    — reinstated the right of women to sue for job discrimination,
    — greatly expanded childhood health care,
    — set up the largest stimulus ever, providing for new jobs in much-needed infrastructure and allowing teachers etc to keep their jobs,
    — carried out his commitment to begin removing combat troops from Iraq,
    — shot down a major weapon system (for the first time in decades),
    — appointed the first Hispanic ever to the high court,
    — etc, etc
    I think it’s important for allies to continue pointing out policy disagreements and fight passionately for what they support. But my fear is that too many libs/progressives ignore major parts of the record, or emphasize one thing (public option, rendition) at the expense of 40 other critical issues.
    Plus, he’s the best we’ve got (it’s nice to have an articulate, calm, informed leader) and the only hope out there that I can see.

  2. Tenacious D. on

    Oh, and one more thing. Legislation like the Great Society and Civil Rights were passed because deeply principled members of Congress fought relentlessly for it, which inspired the rank and file of the movement. Name one deeply principled Democrat in the Senate who’s willing to have a filibuster fight over anything?

  3. Tenacious D. on

    Well said, Kuyper. I am a pragmatic Democrat. I honestly don’t care if it has a public option or not. I just want outcomes. Busting up the regional insurance monopolies would be fine by me. Reimportation of pharma would be a great step forward. Just give me something–SOMETHING–worth fighting for. Show me you will stand up to at least one vested interest. Instead, I get a Rube Goldberg device that Obama admits will cost more–just not as much as CBO says. I’m sorry, but we already pay more on health care per capita than any other OECD nation. Why should we pay a penny more? I have health insurance, and I’ll take my chances. If it costs more, it’s a failure plain and simple. Obama (not Congress!) already promised not to squeeze pharma on prices. Game. Set. Match. If Obama won’t stand up for a safety net that I can reasonably foresee using and he won’t save me money now, why should I care? The only thing anyone can agree on is regulating recission. The Boomers know they are getting older and want another guaranteed benefit that someone else can pay for. Allons, citoyens! Let’s storm the halls of power for higher premiums and more debt my son and I can pay for down the road! I doubt Obama’s plan would cover me if I were injured in street fighting on his behalf.

  4. Kuyper on

    Why would any progressive Democrat fight for a president who is himself “too cool” to fight — or lead — and who passively allows the other side to frame the terms of the debate? Why would any progressive Democrat fight for a president who treats our objectives as bargaining chips to be traded away for nothing? Why would any progressive Democrat fight for a president who thinks we’re expendable, and throws us under the bus at every opportunity in order to appease a political opposition that is unappeasable? And what exactly are we supposed to be fighting for? We get a different message every day, and the president obstinately refuses to state clearly and forthrightly what it is that he wants. And if we do fight the good fight, why should we trust Mr. Obama not to make some back room deal giving away everything we fought for? We’re tired of the manipulation. We’re tired of the triangulation. And we’re sick to death of apologists who counsel patience and talk glibly of three-dimensional chess. If Mr. Obama wants our support he has to show that he is capable of leading — not talking, leading. And he has to regain the trust and credibility that he threw away.


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