Tuesday, June 09, 2009

the acceptable range of "interesting"

...still makes Obama look very good, granted:
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More essential reading from Mike Lux:

Easily the most thoughtful pieces of all have been two recent pieces by members of the progressive movement themselves (both personal friends, so I'll admit my bias upfront). The first, by Gara LaMarche of Atlantic Philanthropies, was a thoughtful and nuanced discussion of the challenges of both Obama and progressives, and was fairly hopeful in general, both about Obama and about the relationship between him and the movement. The second, by Jane Hamsher of Firedoglake, was a more frustrated discussion of the way progressive leaders aren't challenging Obama enough, and the distancing of Obama from progressives.

From my experience in the Obama transition as the Obama team's liaison to the progressive community, and in all my conversations with folks both inside and outside of Obamaland before and since, the tension between being hopeful about the possibilities and upset that better things aren't being realized will always be there. If managed right by both Obama and progressive leaders, it can be the kind of constructive, creative tension that leads to the kind of big breakthrough progressive changes we saw in this country at key moments in our history- the 1860s, the early 1900s, the 1930s, and the 1960s (the Big Change Moments I write about in my book, The Progressive Revolution). If managed poorly, it can lead to the kind of presidential meltdowns we saw with the LBJ and Jimmy Carter presidencies, and on the Republican side with the first Bush presidency: Presidencies that started with high hopes but ended with destructive conflicts between the base and the presidency, tough primary challenges, and lost re-election hopes.

So far, I'm feeling quite good about Obama's chances for the former.


1. We need each other. Progressives need to understand that our fates for several years to come are tied, fundamentally and completely, to Obama's success as president. If he loses his big legislative fights, we won't get another chance at winning them for a generation (see health care, 1993-94), and early losses will make the Democrats more cautious, not more bold (see health care, 1993-94). If Obama's popularity fades, Democrats will lose lots of seats in Congress. If he loses re-election, Republicans and the media will say he was a failed liberal and run against him for many elections to come, even if his actual policies are more centrist (see Jimmy Carter). But Obama's team needs to understand that they need a strong progressive movement as well, and as Jane alluded to, they haven't generally acted like they do. Without progressives' passion, activism, lobbying, and money, Obama can't win those incredibly challenging legislative battles. Just as Lincoln never would have won the civil war or ended slavery without the passion of the abolitionists, just as FDR never would have won the New Deal reforms without the labor and progressive movement, just as LBJ would never have passed civil rights bills without the civil rights movement, Obama can't win these big fights alone. And he can't win re-election either without the passion of his base: see LBJ, Ford, Carter, George H.W. Bush, and many other presidents for more info on that topic.

2. Obama needs a left flank. It is a natural tendency of any White House to be dismissive of criticism, and to play hardball when people disagree with you. The Obama team should not hesitate to defend itself when being pushed from the Left, but I would caution against playing too hard at hardball. The Obama team needs a vibrant and vocal Left flank, because the stronger their Left flank is, the more Obama seems solidly in the middle. The White House would be well-served to fully support and empower progressive groups, media, and bloggers -- even when they sometimes disagree with Obama.

3. There needs to be both an inside and an outside strategy for progressives. Progressive leaders who get jobs in the administration are sometimes derided as sell-outs, and progressive groups who are not openly critical of the Administration are sometimes criticized as being too cozy with those inside. At the same time, insiders get very worked up about "irresponsible" bloggers and outside activists who they say don't understand the system and the challenges they are facing.

Having been both on the inside and the outside, I see the grain of truth in both sides' perspective, but also respectfully disagree with both sides.

We need progressive people in government, even if the cost of that is that they have to trim their sails on issues where they disagree with administration policy. We need progressive groups in regular in-depth policy meetings with the administration, even if that means they have to soft-pedal their criticisms some of the time to keep that access. And we need outsiders who will push like crazy for doing the right thing now no matter what....

-Mike Lux

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