Why do so many self-described "progressives" not seem to notice that we've been standing outside the political fence for the better part of a half century? The loudest part of the progressive movement seems to like standing outside and shouting at those inside, to see if they'll listen. We hold marches and we parade up and down and we make as much noise as we can, but we don't seem to bother to look up and evaluate the actual progress we're making.
If the screaming faction of the progressive movement would shut up for a second, sit back and evaluate for a while, they would realize that, for at least the last 32 years, the country has regressed, not progressed, which means we're doing something wrong.
I know we have a tendency to blame our bad fortune on the far right, because they're not very bright, and they’re an easy target, but think about it. They're not very bright; why do they keep winning elections and running the government? The reason the country keeps moving right, policywise, is because we’re ineffective as a movement. And it's not because the right sells itself extremely well; it's because we don’t sell ourselves at all. Of course, one reason we don't sell ourselves very well is because the most visible portion of the progressive movemet spends all of their time selling to other liberals. There's this motion out there that we’re not supposed to sell ourselves, because that would mean “selling out,” or something equally silly. Look at lefty bloggers and pundits; their only concern seems to be coming up with the next big thing that's designed to piss you off. They make a much greater investment in manufacturing outrage than actually pushing progressive ideas, because that's what they think sells to other liberals. The problem is, if we're to create a progressive country, we have to win elections and place less regressive officials in policy-making positions.
That means, at some point, we have to stop talking to each other and start talking to THEM, with them being the voters who make the difference in every election swing voters. Most people would agree with liberals on most issues, if we bothered to discuss things with them rather than shout at them about how "stupid" we think they are, because they don't see issues the same way "good progressives" do.
This is the root of the problem. Too many liberals have an annoying tendency to think we’re smarter than everyone else, and that everyone who doesn’t think the way we do is “stupid.” Many on our side are so invested in what we see as the inherent “common sense” in everything we choose to believe, we've developed a tendency to dismiss everything that doesn’t match that. This tendency has led to major animus on the part of the general public toward us on most issues. Eve when they agree with us, they don’t like us.
And can you blame them? If you think about it, we don’t like people who are like that, either. Limbaugh, Beck and O’Reilly are like that, and we excoriate them for it. Why do we excuse it from so many who claim to represent our side of the political aisle.
A classic example of this is the 2000 election. The main reason Gore lost was Ralph Nader, who is one of the worst politicians ever. But it wasn’t the votes Nader received that made the difference; it was his campaign, and the progressives who amplified his message. Out of the gate, he attacked Gore far more than he attacked Bush, and the effect was to transform Bush from a Republican “sacrificial lamb,” into a plausible candidate. Gore just wasn’t “pure enough” for that strain of progressives, so they withdrew support. Ditto John Kerry in 2004. Professional lefties complained to the right for the "Swift Boating," but they never really supported Kerry, which made Bush a plausible candidate once again. If the far left hadn't attacked Gore and Kerry incessantly, Florida and Ohio wouldn't have been deciding factors, and we could have avoided the SCOTUS input completely.
We progressives are supposed to be about making social progress; hence the name. Yet, many of our actions actually stall progress. To paraphrase the great Walt Kelly, via Pogo, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”
To those of you who routinely put down the Democratic Party because it’s not “progressive enough,” ask yourself why most progressives are Democrats. If you claim to care about minorities, why are so many of you working for third party candidates with a snowball’s chance in hell of winning, instead of working alongside minorities to elect the best possible candidates, which in this day and age, are going to be Democrats? Whether it’s intentional or not, the professional left too often makes the progressive movement look like the typical white intellectual who pretends to know more about what it's like to be black or poor than black or poor people do. And since we live in a democracy, wherein the candidate who gets more than half the votes gains power and creates change, how far do progressives think they’ll get when they condescend to the people they purport to be working to help?
See, here's the deal folks; we're supposed to be about progress. We're supposed to be about moving the country forward. Moreover, it's far left progressives who brag about being "political junkies;" how is it possible that a movement being led by people who claim to be "political junkies" can have so little political success for more than a generation?
The answer is simple, as is the solution.
Stop with the negativity. The average swing voter wants to vote for someone who'll solve any problems that come up. They're not invested in "the issues" as much as many liberals are, mostly because they're human, and are a product of their experience. Besides, no one really knows what "the issues" will be over the next 2-6 years. They're looking for a candidate who looks like he or she can handle anything. Most swing voters already know right wing politicians suck, so when our side shouts, "Democrats suck!" they often decide to stay home, which is effectively a vote for a far right Republican. Always remember, the most important strategy for the Republican Party is NOT to attract the most voters, it's to depress turnout, so that the voters they have demonstrate more power.
Also, the whole “my way or the highway” meme pushed by many on the far left is killing us. It's democracy, folks; you're never going to get 100% of what you want, unless you can do the greatest sales job in history. Real progressives work their asses off for whatever they can get, take whatever they end up with, and continue working toward the goal. Blacks and women didn’t get their full civil rights in one bill. Social Security and Medicare didn’t become what they are in one bill, either. The reason so many Americans don't like Obamacare is because too many on our side has helped the right wing trash it. It's a repeat of wht happened in 1994, when we helped "Harry & Louise" trash the Clinton health care plan. Too many liberals complained because it wasn’t “good enough,” and refused to support it. Yet, if it had passed in 1994, we'd have been tweaking it for the last 18 years, and we might have saved most of those 45,000 lives a year who died for lack of insurance, and millions of people would have avoided bankruptcy.
This “all or nothing” attitude has to stop; it’s not progressive, and it's not doing anyone any good. It's never acceptable to toss out a program that brings 80% reform because it's not 100% reform. It can’t be acceptable to retain the status quo, just because the replacement isn’t everything you claim you want. We’re not spoiled rich brats; we’re supposed to be progressives.
Being a progressive is not about whether or not you think Bradley Manning was a hero, or whether the assassination of Awlaki denotes a pattern. Being a progressive is about moving societ forward as much as possible. The loudest portion of our movement has undermined that progress for a really long time now, and it's time it stopped.
It's time progressives were actually for progress, don't you think?