The inimitable Mark Schmitt has yet another insightful post at The American Prospect, this one entitled “Machinery of Progress.” But it’s the teaser subtitle, “It’s not just about the president. His successes and failures are tests of the progressive infrastructure” that better illuminates his salient point. As Schmitt explains:
…As the administration’s first year in office comes to an end, the most distinctive thing about it is the degree to which people who should long ago have outgrown Great Man theories of history remain transfixed by a single individual. Every success is interpreted as a measure of Obama’s skills and priorities; every disappointment is read as a revelation of his excess caution, naiveté, or other flaws.
…But even world-historical figures color within lines that they do not draw themselves. What presidents, governors, or even legislators are willing and able to do is defined by forces and efforts outside of themselves. And for progressive politicians, those factors include the condition and power of the progressive coalition and its organizations — its ability to generate and refine ideas, as well as its organizational capacity to bring pressure to bear on the political system. Every success or failure can be seen as a measure of the strength or weakness of that infrastructure.
Schmitt then provides a perceptive account of the long years of hard work that went into the coalition movement that put health care in the forefront of the national agenda as exhibit ‘A’ in the case for the importance of establishing a viable progressive infrastructure. This in stark contrast to the absence of an organized progressive movement for regulatory reform, which made it possible for corporate interests to quickly fill the vacuum. As Schmitt says, “no effort had been made to build a constituency for financial reform.”
Schmitt takes no prisoners in his conclusion:
…The success of his [Obama’s] presidency and this Congress will depend on the strength of the progressive infrastructure. If progressives don’t support these structures for policy development and advocacy, further failure will be a self-fulfilling prophecy. And the fault will lie not in our star but in ourselves.
Tough medicine to swallow, but a useful antidote to pointless whining by adherents to the ‘great man’ school of history and change.