Five Thoughts on Managing Expectations for Pessimistic Progressives
On Dec. 11, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 4173: The Wall Street Reform and American Consumer Protection Act. The House legislation is intended to address the systemic risk in the financial services industry. It specifically includes language strengthening government oversight of the financial derivatives market, and creates the Consumer Financial Protection Agency.
The bill must survive the Senate before becoming law, but getting it out of the House was a significant accomplishment. If not for the legislation, itself, but the fact that not a single Republican voted for a bill intended to get a grip on Wall Street could prove politically useful for Democrats down the line.
One would think that this would be cause for celebration on the left. However, as Nate Silver posted Dec. 12, the response from the left, “particularly the online left,” was surprisingly lacking of enthusiasm.
Nate Silver, FiveThirtyEight.com, posed the question, Dec 12:
Silver finds it curious that those on the political-left are having trouble recognizing positive economic news when it occurs:
…there seems to be extreme reluctance among the left, and particularly the online left, to praise any economic successes achieved by the Congressional Democrats and the White House.
I do not expect Democrats, certainly, to be cheering the roughly 35 percent run-up in stock prices that has been achieved since Obama took the Oath of Office (we can pose an interesting counterfactual about whether Republicans would be touting the bull market if the roles were reversed). There have, however, been some other successes…
Careful not to appear too optimistic, Silver offers his objective analysis of the lowly state of present economic affairs and finds that the Democrats haven’t performed perfectly, but that their performance has been “pretty good.”
Be sure to read Silver’s post for his grading of the Democrats on “three policy imperatives that emerged from the economic crises of last year.”
For our purposes, let’s return to the original question: why the pessimism from the left? Is it health care reform battle fatigue? Or, rather, is it something less specific; for instance, have some on the left been persisting under a set of unrealistic expectations? I’m hardly qualified to answer such questions, but since progressive positions are the ones I find most agreeable, I’ll venture a guess that its the latter.
The 2008 campaign season and the hard fight to get Barack Obama elected, in which the disparate progressive movement played a significant part, has left us with a hangover of sorts. For me, what was most frustrating about advocating for Obama was refuting the accusations of idol worship from opposition on the political right.
When I think about it now, it seems silly. Obama was merely a secondary target of the meme, his supporters were the primary focus. But the notion that Obama walked on water was ephemeral; I, honestly, know of no one who actually viewed candidate Obama in this manner. Now, it appears some progressive factions want the president to, not only to walk on water, but to do so while juggling chainsaws left by his predecessor.
I don’t wish to overstate the matter. For many on the left, optimism is still exists. But, for those who’ve abandoned it, here’s a few random thoughts on managing expectations:
- We shouldn’t suffer under the delusion that, because the Democrats enjoy majorities in both houses of congress, there exists a rubber stamp for progressive initiatives. Remember that in order to achieve those majorities the Democrats ran conservative candidates; additionally, even if the entirety of congress were Democrats, passing laws of any consequence would still look like herding cats.
- All of the time and effort that went into ensuring Obama’s victory was not misspent in any way, shape, or form. Keep in mind, though, that for our efforts what we got was a pragmatist. But this is not a bad thing. Pragmatists are uniquely suited for cat herding.
- Don’t forget that our political opposition fights dirty and is incredibly well resourced. Their skill in crafting perception is very effective among low information voters. If you need a reminder of how effective they can be, read Joe Conason’s Oct. 5 Salon post, “The vast right-wing conspiracy is back.”
- Our fight is about swaying the political center, and it’s a marathon, not a sprint. The two party system is the present reality of the American political landscape. That reality dictates that whomever is able to sway the vast political center will retain the reins of government. But, controlling the reins can be a frustrating task (recall #1 on cat herding), and it can also be fleeting. Should progressives be inclined to overreach beyond the comfort zone of the center, they’ll likely have to forfeit those reins at the behest of a center-dominated electorate, drifting to the right.
- Every bit as frustrating is the speed at which Washington moves. Pardon the cliche, but it truly is a marathon, not a sprint. Even if the Democrats are able to maintain their majorities for years to come. Just undoing the damage done by the Bush administration will be ongoing long after Obama completes his second term.
This list could go on, but you get the point. If progressives wish to continue to have a positive impact, they’ll have to manage their expectations; a measure of acceptance that what they believe to be politically righteous is not always politically achievable… yet.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not suggesting that those on the left should refrain from vociferously advocating for their numerous causes. The voicing of opposition to escalating the war in Afghanistan, and advocating for health care reform, to name just two, go beyond advocacy, existing as moral imperatives for today’s progressives. What I am suggesting is that when progress is made — like the passage of HR 4173 — it shouldn’t be ignored.
As Nate Silver concludes, “…you may have a robust recovery by the middle of next year, but with neither the White House’s conservative nor liberal critics willing to give them much credit for it. Voters may stay away from Democrats as a result, pushing the country toward more conservative economic policy and ensuring that liberal critics of the economy aren’t lacking for greivances any time soon.”
Image via flickr.com user - K3nna, via CreativeCommons.org