For the past few weeks, I have been blogging about the significant progressive change that President Obama and the Democratic Congress have brought to our country and why progressives should be enthusiastic about getting involved in helping to protect our Congressional majorities in November. While many progressives have responded with shared enthusiasm, others have said that they are staying home because they are upset that President Obama has so far failed to achieve or fight enough for some specific progressive goal or because they feel that certain legislation is too moderate or corporate.
I share some of this frustration. I too would have preferred to see things like a public option in the health insurance reform plan, a larger stimulus bill, and climate legislation, and wish that President Obama had fought more for all of those things. However, to sit on our hands six weeks before an election because we as progressives have not gotten everything we want out of this Administration is self-defeating.
Now, the typical response to folks who are planning to sit on their hands is to point out that the Republicans would be immensely worse. This is undoubtedly true. Conservatives today are largely beholden to ideologies that benefit only the wealthiest of Americans at the expense of the rest of us, and the Republican party has been taken over by unqualified radicals who have absolutely no interest in or ability to effectively govern our country.
But this response only goes so far because mere opposition to Republicans does not grow or motivate the progressive movement. In keeping myself motivated to fight for progressive, I try insteadto focus on three basic points:
• Progressive change is a long, ongoing struggle: Many of us were euphoric when Obama won the 2008 election. But it was on one victory in a much longer, harder battle to achieve fundamental economic, social, and political reform. True progressive change rarely comes in a moment or two; instead, it is almost always the culmination of a long, hard battle that builds on previous victories and fights through setbacks. For example, the legal strategy that led to the official illegalization of segregation with the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954 was created and launched by Charles Hamilton Houston in 1929, and involved a series of cases over 25 years that slowly chipped away at legal segregation. Similarly, the battles for the right of workers to unionize, equal treatment for women, and basic rights for gays and lesbians took decades of struggle that continue to this day. The key to such struggle, however, is that people continue to fight and build on victories, rather than expecting immediate change and throwing their hands up in disgust when it does not occur. It can be frustrating at times, but if we abandon folks who are fighting for our side whenever there is a loss, setback, or compromise, as some seem to be doing with President Obama and the Democrats in Congress, progressive change will never come.
• Progressive Change Requires Us All To Be Involved: Whenever I am disappointed by some progressive compromise or setback, I ask myself what I did to fight for the progressive position. Did I contact my elected officials? Write a letter to the editor? Organize rallies? Talk to my family, friends, and neighbors and urge them to get involved? Progressive change is often opposed by a well-funded and well-connected opposition that can only be overcome if we are all involved. If I am not doing my part, then I am not in much of a position to cast aspersions on our President for failing to go to the mat over some particular policy.
• Progressive Change Requires That We Celebrate and Reward Progress: We progressives are very good at criticizing our elected officials when they let us down, but not at praising them when they do good things. This is problematic for two reasons. First, it makes us feel like we are always losing, which is no way to motivate or grow the progressive movement. Second, it makes elected officials less likely to take tough votes for us, as the resulting praise for such a vote that the politician deserves often never comes. While we should always be pushing our elected officials to do better, we could also use more celebrating of victories and less focus on every perceived defeat.
I believe that President Obama and Congressional Democrats have achieved significant progressive victories over the past two years that provide real, positive benefits to the American people. If you or a loved one has an illness, the health insurance reform bill will help you afford insurance and ensure that health insurance companies can no longer deny you coverage. If you are a student struggling to pay for college, student loan reform has nearly doubled the amount of federal aid available and reduced the burden of paying student loans back. If you are working to get out of debt, credit card industry reform and the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will prevent your credit card company from jacking up your interest rates and limit the ability of payday lenders or credit counseling companies from taking advantage of you.
None of these reforms were perfect, and there is still much more work to do. But the progress that we have achieved so far, and our need to achieve even more in the future, is exactly why we should all be working to protect and expand our progressive majorities in the November elections, instead of sitting on our hands and letting it all slip away. I hope you’ll join me in the fight.