This is a provocative post – and a disappointed one, written by the highly regarded Editor-in-Chief of RH Reality Check. Do you agree?
I was a soccer mama for Obama.
And depending on the day and the kids in my car, I was a hockey mama or a baseball mama.
But sometime this year, I hung up my cleats. And I think losing me is a big problem for the Democrats.
It’s not because I won’t vote on Tuesday. I will. And it’s not because I am going to vote for some Republican or Tea Party candidate. That will never happen.
It’s not because I am a big-money donor, though I have consistently given thousands of dollars to Democrats, and believe me, this is saying a lot at my level of income as a single, full-time work-for-a-living mom of two kids solidly planted in the middle class. But in 2008 (as in years before), I gave generously to the DCCC, DSCC, Obama for America and the state and national Democratic party. I answered every email from David Axelrod, David Plouffe, Michele and Barack Obama, Tim Kaine and Chris Van Hollen with my credit card and a contribution ranging variously from $25.00 to $1000.00 (no it’s not a typo….I mean $1000.00) at a clip, giving up virtually all discretionary spending that year so that I could put my money where my politics were. It was that important to me.
And it’s not because I am a political power-hitter. I am not and have never cared to be, though some would consider me a member of the “professional left.” I never worked on the campaign to get a job in the Administration; I never thought I’d one day receive an invitation to an Obama wedding. I worked to do what I felt I had to do for my kids and for this county.
Democrats have lost support of many women
But the Democrats have lost me in a more profound way, and I think they should be worried about it because I can safely say that I was one of thousands of people across the country who changed the way other people voted in the last election.
I was a loyal and dedicated team player, and someone who, as a lifelong and passionate progressive feminist, can’t live with herself if she is not doing everything she can. I know for a fact that I brought many independents and moderate Republicans to the polls for Obama. And I am not doing that now.
I live in Montgomery County, Maryland, a blue county in a blue state where a progressive’s vote often doesn’t feel like it has much effect on changing the balance of power nationwide. But I live in striking distance of Virginia and Pennsylvania, and in 2008 I was determined.
I was also panicked. After eight years of George Bush, and deeply fearful of what the future held for my children–climate change, the loss of individual rights, the rise of racism, discrimination and stigmatization in this country, the rejection of science and evidence as the basis for policy, and the potential loss for my daughter–and for all women–of reproductive rights–I literally felt I could never do enough.
So I organized for America.
Deep commitment in 2008
I started by finding a precinct in Loudon county, Virginia that needed help. I spent countless weekends, weeknights, and sometimes weekdays, and countless dollars on gas never counted as “official” contributions, driving out to Virginia to canvass, place door hangars, and talk personally, face to face, with literally hundreds of voters. I made notes, I made follow up calls, I researched answers to call back the undecided; I gave out my personal cell number to anyone who wanted to call me for further info. I phone-banked at centers but more often from home, making countless phone calls on my own dime across the country, night after night, on the MyBarackObama website.
I also brought the troops. I started with organizing my best friends, and at the end had a list of more than 50 regulars who put everything they could into joining me to canvass, make phone calls and work mano-a-mano to convince one voter at a time that we needed change, driving long distances to help turn Virginia blue and even some of us to ensure victory in Pennsylvania. Many of us brought our kids, missing games, parties, and relaxing weekend days at home to do what we felt was needed and to instill in our children the value of participation in a democracy. Later, some of us trained as poll watchers, drove people to polls and helped get absentee ballots in early.
In exchange, I wanted the change I was promised. And I was willing to keep working for it well after the election.
Change is a vague term, and as much as I am an idealist, I am also a pragmatist. I never thought, for example, we would–or even should–precipitously pull out of Iraq or Afghanistan and disagreed with many fellow progressives on their positions on this set of issues. I never thought for a split second that it would be easy for Obama to turn things around after eight years, or that any of it would happen over night.
I certainly never thought it would happen without a fight.
Lost without a fight
But the bottom line is I expected him to fight. I expected him to understand that the change many of us sought was the use of political power for good, that we had delivered this Administration and the Democratic Party massive election turnout and a Democratic House and Senate to lead effectively, proactively, strongly, and vocally on economic change, health reform, climate change, energy use, education, women’s rights, gay rights, science and evidence. This was not wishful thinking–Obama was on the record for every one of these things in the campaign.
Many people (Loretta Ross, Glenn Greenwald, Cenk Ugyur, Rachel Maddow, Melissa Harris Perry to name just a very few) have already articulated the disappointments of progressives, and of progressive women regarding the Obama Administration, including just yesterday in this must-read column by Gloria Feldt at the Daily Beast, so I won’t reiterate them all here.
But I will say the following:
I did expect him to take action, not to spend months–in fact nearly two years–vacillating between preemptive compromises with a Republican party that set out on November 3rd, 2008 to destroy him before he even took the oath and continuous pleading with them to give him “their ideas.” I think we already knew what those ideas were.
I did expect him to outline powerful and bold positions on the economic stimulus (yes, bolder and more expansive), health reform (yes the public option) and in all those other areas where he is on the record as promising change.
I did expect him to mobilize the millions of voters in the database we’d all created to get those things done, not to hand everything over to the Senate and House, allowing scattered “Democratic” factions and outliers like Bart Stupak and Ben Nelson to dominate the debate and derail important legislation.
I did expect him to put John Boehner, Mitch McConnel and the rest of the wrecking crew in their place, making them compromise with him, instead of the other way around. I did expect him to makeunequivocal statements against the growing violence, including the kind that has killed esteemed physicians like Dr. George Tiller, and to fight back against the characterization of gays as making a “lifestyle choice.” I did expect him to respect religious diversity and to demand that everyone in the country do so.
I did expect unequivocally progressive choices for the Supreme Court. And, I expected them to realize how desperately little time we have to fix some of the problems confronting us.
Finally, I did expect him to actually realize that it was progressives who not only voted for him as individuals, but delivered the vote to him across the population, by working assiduously and tenaciously to solidify independent voters and cross-over Republicans whose votes carried him to victory. I further expected the Administration to call on us, command us, to fight in support of a clear agenda for change.
Instead, this Administration not only failed to do much of any of the above, it has also vilified people like me by calling progressives the problem. It has locked out progressives in meetings and in the press. And it has catered slavishly to the religious right.
And while Obama stayed silent, equivocated and pre-emptively compromised away the rights of my children, gay children, Latino children, and black children, status-quo politicians in leadership, like Chris Van Hollen, my own Congressman, gave away the store by supporting people like Bart Stupak and undermining those like Jennifer Brunner.
I would not in the end have been so distraught at the many giveaways that eventually happened if the good fight had been fought en route to getting there.
But I am unapologetic about the fact that I want more progressives–more progressive women, blacks, Latinos, gays, and other unrepresented groups–in Congress and in power. I am unapologetic about the fact that I feel the Democratic party is in a crisis of long-term leadership–not intellect, but leadership–and that it is still largely controlled by the old-boys club, albeit slightly less white, and by too much corporate money itself. I am unapologetic about my passion for fixing the long-term issues that confront this country and frankly I do not care to keep people in office any longer if they can’t figure out that they are less important than the need for change itself. I am unswayed and even cynical about the recent sudden rash of outreach to women voters this past month. I voted for commitment to real, sustained change in the public conversation and in public policy, not for someone to change the drapery at midnight.
What about the progressives?
I don’t think whether dedicated progressives vote on Tuesday is the real issue. I think what progressives have not been motivated or felt called to do in the months leading up to Tuesday is the problem. If the Dems lose big on Tuesday, it’s not because they are too liberal. It’s because they not only fail to be progressive in the truest sense of the word–to make and fight for forward progress–it’s because they fail to even appreciate what kind of leadership is needed to make that progress and how urgently we need to think about the importance of fundamental change no matter the compromises necessary to the re-election calculations of any one particular politician.
In the end, if even someone as committed as I am has to ask if all the work we did came to nothing, and if somone like me, mom of two from the suburbs, is painted as part of the problem, what is the point? In the end, if I elect people who run as pro-choice, pro-evidence, pro-human rights progressives only so far as it takes to get me to the voting booth, why use scarce time and money getting them elected? I realize “big things” got done. But I am highly skeptical of the way they were done and whose best interests were at heart both in the process and in the outcome. I am not and have never been one to say something is better than nothing before you wage a fight for what you need.
Because we are apparently part of the problem, and because the campaign promises made apparently had an expiration date of January 20th, 2009, a lot of people like me have been unmotivated to go out and change the vote for the Democratic Party writ large. I’ll vote without question. I have been giving money directly to specific candidates such as Joe Sestak, Julie Lassa, Elaine Marshall, Michael Bennett and others, though my checkbook is closed for now to the DCCC and DSCC. And I will be making calls for GOTV this weekend and Monday for particular candidates and with Planned Parenthood, doing everything I can to help them out.
But I haven’t spent the past couple of months recruiting other people to the playoffs on behalf of the party.
And for that reason, I think the Democrats should be worried about the cleats hanging in my very ordinary closet.
This post first appeared at RH Reality Check.