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Glenn Beck, Obama's White House, and the Progressive Movement

Needless to say that when you wake up one morning and find yourself the subject of the lead editorial in the largest conservative publication on the planet, it is a bit jarring. However, I flag today's Wall Street Journal topline editorial today [1] not because it is about Van Jones and I, but because it makes a genuinely important point for the progressive movement.

After citing my earlier post [2] about how the firing of Jones "will inevitably create a chilling effect on the aspirations of other movement progressives," the Journal says this:

Mr. Sirota is speaking for many on the movement left who believe they helped to elect Mr. Obama and therefore deserve seats at the inner table of power. They are increasingly frustrated because they are discovering that Mr. Obama will happily employ "movement progressives," but only so long as their real views and motivations aren't widely known or understood. How bitter it must be to discover that the Fox News Channel's Glenn Beck, who drove the debate about Mr. Jones, counts for more at this White House than Mr. Sirota.

Bitter? Not quite. Unsurprised is a better word, really. As I had been incessantly writing before and after the presidential election (and indeed, for years before Obama ever announced as a candidate for president [3]), Barack Obama has ties to the progressive movement, but he is an inherently cautious - and, at times, frightened - politician. He is first and foremost desperate to appease his opposition, even if his opposition is political terrorists who can never be appeased. And that's especially true as the progressive movement refuses to "make him do it" - that is, refuses to put real, organized and even unfriendly pressure on him to deliver.

The Journal is absolutely, and unfortunately, correct - right now, today's White House officials answer more to Glenn Beck, Blue Dogs and Republicans than it does to progressive members of Congress and the progressive base of the Democratic Party that got them into the White House in the first place. You can see that in the negotiations over health care and climate change. You can see that in the plans to escalate the war in Afghanistan at the urging of people like Karl Rove [4], and the refusal to stop Wall Street bailouts and push real Wall Street reform. You can see that even in who the president opts to give exclusive interviews to [5]. You can, in short, see it everywhere.

Progressives don't just "believe" they deserve a seat at the table - we actually do deserve that seat, not just because we worked to elect this president, but because our stance on major issues like the public option, climate change, Wall Street reform and the war are the majoritarian positions in America. That's not speculation - polls show that's an empirical fact.

But we won't get that seat at the table unless we demand it. That means the Washington-based progressive groups have to stop kissing the White House's ass and selling out their grassroots membership [6]. It means rank-and-file Obama supporters have to stop framing legitimate progressive pressure on Obama as some sort of disloyal desire to see Mitt Romney elected President in 2012.

It means, as I said in my last newspaper column [7], that we have to start thinking and acting like a real movement, and not just like sycophantic political partisans. If we do that, we'll get that seat at the table - and more importantly, we'll get the legislative results Obama originally promised, but now hesitates to champion.

This is going to take real work - and it's not going to be psychologically easy. As a personal example, my email box has been flooded with the worst kind of threatening hate mail today and over the last few days, as the conservative hate machine is keyed up by the Wall Street Journal's editorial and the CNN appearances I made this week. And I'm sure that's emblematic of the larger blowback all progressives are feeling right now as we work in communities across the country.

But that's to be expected. We are fighting for real change, and if there is one lesson from history, it is that exactly the people we are confronting today - the right-wingers, corporatists, Establishmentarians, and status quo devotees - will do everything they can to intimidate us. We can stand down or stand up - and it's long past time for the latter.

© 2009 Open Left   
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