Sunday, August 23, 2009

The First Four Theses Against Progressives

Talk about being fed up--the big names of the journalistic left have been firing at the Obama administration with everything they have. Paul Krugman, Glenn Greenwald, Frank Rich, and Digby all speak with one mouth even as they condemn President Obama's approach to health reform. Obama's "weak" and getting "rolled" by the blue dogs and their corporate allies. Obama's betraying progressives on health reform the same way he betrayed progresives on the financial bailout and secrecy. Obama's going to abandon the "public option" and turn health reform into a bonanza for the health insurance companies. Obama's betraying the "progressive base" that drove him to victory over Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries and John McCain in the general election. Finally, progressives condemn Obama for losing the initiative because he's not as ideological and partisan as they are.

Actually, I should say as partisan as "we are." I count myself as a progressive blogger, read the better-known progressive bloggers, and admire their smarts, passion, and talent. I also agree with them on most issues. Like Greenwald, I'm disappointed that Obama has maintained most of the secrecy policies of the Bush administration. Not unlike Krugman, I think the bank bailout is a set-up for the next financial crisis, and want to see Obama aggressively employ the tax system to reduce wealth differentials. Yesterday, I blogged yet again about the criminal culpability of Dick Cheney and the other major figures of the Bush administration. I also want to see socialized medicine in the United States just as much as Dennis Kucinich or anybody else on the left.

But I'm also starting to think that progressive commentators are way off base about the Obama administration. Worse, there are certain ways in which the progressive commentariat is making it more rather than less difficult to enact fundamental health reform.

In other words, I'm starting to get fed up with some of the rigid ways in which progressives are fed up with Obama.

Here's my four theses on progressives.

1. Progressives Are Not "the Base." The Democratic Party has a diverse voting base among largely white progressives, African-Americans, Hispanics, gays, and union members. Those progressives who view themselves as "the" Democratic base are deluding themselves. Obama won the nomination primarily by appealing to moderate and conservative Democrats in caucus states. Obama won the election because he was able to keep moderate and conservative Dems in the fold while appealing to independents. Progressive Democrats may have been necessary to Obama's victory, but other Democratic constituencies were even more necessary. Just like the Republicans, Democratic progressives have a hard time internalizing the extent to which minority support was crucial to Obama's victory.

2. Progressives are One-Trick Ponies. Progressives are primarily playing the defensive role of maintaining the “public option” as part of Obama's proposals. That means attacking the Obama administration, Max Baucus, Ben Nelson, the Blue Dogs, Tom Daschle, the mainstream media and anybody on the Democratic side who's wavering on the public option. By they're so focused on that one point that progressives are doing very little if anything to actually promote the public option concept to the broader American public. Maybe I'm missing something, but I find almost nothing in TPM, HuffPost, or other progressive outlets about how the public option would work, what kind of federal agency would be set up, why (beyond "it won't need to make a profit") the public option would drive down costs, and why the public option doesn't necessarily lead to "socialized medicine." The Obama people have tried to discuss the public option, but their ideas are falling on deaf ears in the progressive as well as the mainstream media.

3. Progressives keep the health care debate "white." Outside the Obama people and the Congressional leadership of both parties, the three main poles of debate are the right, the Blue Dogs, and progressives. Outside that one guy with the AR 15 in Phoenix, the right is monolithically white; the Blue Dogs even more so. Needless to say, progressives aren't that white. Bob Herbert, Eugene Robinson, and Clarence Page come to mind as well-known op-ed writers who are progressives. Pam Spaulding of "Pam's House Blend" also gets considerable play on the big progressive blogs. But the fact is that African-American, Hispanic, and gay perspectives only have token representation (if that) in the progressive media and there are times when I think the progressive media is about as interested in minority views and interests as George Bush was interested in astro-physics. The health care debate has become a debate among the white population and the progressive media bears significant responsibility for keeping the health care debate "white."

4. The Progressive Media Has No Self-Awareness. It almost goes without saying that progressive outlets like Media Matters, ThinkProgress, HuffPost, and TPM are saturated with media criticism. This is so much the case that well-traveled media figures like Chuck Todd and Jake Tapper are probably better known in some progressive households than in their own. But the progressive media shows almost no awareness of its own growing impact. There's no little or no analysis in the progressive media of its general significance as a media voice, it's impact on specific issues like health care or torture, which progressive outlets have preponderant influence, or what influence the progressive media has on the mainstream media, the Obama administration, and the Congressional Democrats. In other words, the progressive media shows almost no self-awareness. By comparison, conservative media shows like Limbaugh's and Hannity's are bastions of self-understanding.

1 comment:

jinchi said...

By they've so focused on one point, progressives are doing very little if anything to actually promote the public option concept to the broader American public.

This has been a complaint of mine for a while now. The larger progressive blogs are focused almost entirely on "death panels", "tea baggers", Nazi references and the latest rant from Michelle Bachman or Glenn Beck. They spend most of their time "debunking" Republican myths instead of making the case for reform.

But I disagree with you on the issue of the public option. This is the first time that liberals really have begun to make a case and demonstrate some passion for the issue. Let's hope they build on that.