I tried not to use the term “emo progressive” for a long time, but it’s the least offensive thing I can think to call these know-it-all, mostly white, politically doltish clods who tend to throw a monkey wrench into the progressive movement every chance they get. Some progressives are abusing the term, and calling people “emo” who don’t deserve it, but there are many who do. And they have to be stopped.
I am a proud liberal. I have always been a proud liberal/progressive, and I probably agree with even the most progressive people in the country on about 90-95% of all issues. The problem is, they think politics is about wishing, wanting and demanding, and I know for a fact that its about using the tools at our disposal to GET what would make this county a better place. The simple act is, I understand how politics works and I want us to be politically successful, and many liberals seem to be perfectly fine with espousing rhetoric and little more. Hence the term “emo progressive.”
I think it’s laudable when progressives add five progressives to Congress. But if their rhetoric causes so many Blue Dogs to lose, and hand the House over to teabaggers, they’re missing the reality of our politics. Progressives have power if they’re part of a majority. They have absolutely no power if they in the minority. They have to be part of the majority to be effective. That’s why getting rid of Blue Dogs in 2010 wasn’t a positive political move, especially when they were replaced by teabaggers, and gave the GOP a majority. If you were crowing after that happened, you’re not exactly politically astute.
About 41 years ago, when I was 14, I was licking my wounds after the grim defeat of George McGovern, just like most liberals. But I worked for Democrats, mostly local, in 1974, and two years later, I immersed myself in the Carter campaign, working on youth strategy (the 18-year-old vote was still new-ish) and helping get him elected, which was a great relief after eight years of Nixon and Ford trying to satisfy the emerging Republican right wing while also trying to fix the economy, which was experiencing double-digit inflation and stagnant wages at the time.
But I noticed something else in 1974 and 1976; certain groups of (mostly white) liberals had largely abandoned the Democratic Party in both elections, and started doing their own thing. They left the Party in droves, and resorted to shouting at the Party and demanding things from it, sounding much like kidnappers demanding ransom. They stopped voting, too, or they voted for third parties, which is essentially the same as not voting. But they didn’t just stop there. This group of white liberals also trashed Democrats mercilessly, and refused to even defend even the good ones, like Jimmy Carter. These were people with means, so they were able to get themselves heard, and Instead of supporting the forward-thinking Carter, and working against an ever more radicalized GOP, they actually inadvertently (?) helped Reagan win election in 1980. Then, they stood by as Reagan trashed as many programs for the poor as he could, including job training programs, and said practically nothing as he blew up the deficit so that he could reduce taxes on the rich and build a military machine that was nothing short of obscene. The same thing happened in 1984 and 1988. When the “right candidate” didn’t win the Democratic nomination, these (mostly white) liberals abandoned Mondale (who was pretty liberal) and Dukakis (who was VERY liberal, because they didn’t say all of the right things.
Now, in fairness, Reagan had a lot of support in 1984, and Mondale was probably never going to win. But then I think about it; if this group of loud, demanding liberals had advocated for the poor, working classes and minorities as they had in the 1960s, would Reagan have been that strong? It’s a valid question? How did we go from having a Democratic supermajority in 1968 to losing the Senate and the White House in 1980 to an increasingly radicalized Republican Party in 1980, and getting absolutely killed by a party that was decimating the poor and trying to roll back minority gains in 1984?
And it’s continued ever since. In 1988, Dukakis was a good candidate. In reality, his positions were roughly the same as McGovern’s, and McCarthy’s years earlier, not that anyone was bothering to look. He ran a crappy campaign, in part because the emo progressives couldn’t be counted on for support, and he had to triangulate to make up for the loss of votes. The choice was between Dukakis and Bush; was this really a difficult choice? Not only did these liberals refuse to support him, they often made themselves sound like the right wing, with all of the cries of “wimp” and the fun they made of the infamous helmet. It wasn’t the infamous Willie Horton ad that killed Dukakis; it was the lack of support from a small number of very loud, very strident (white) liberals, and their tendency to help the Republicans drive down turnout, which is the GOP’s main electoral strategy. They know 80-90% of their minions will show up every election, so all they have to do is make sure as few of everyone else shows up, and they have a shot at winning. Too often, we help with that effort. The same thing happened in 2000, 2004 and 2010. It actually would have happened in 1992, as well, if not for the gift of Ross Perot and the fact that only about 70% of the GOP “base” showed up that year. That’s why the entire Republican Party now follows the crazies, no matter what.
The first thing you should know is, this group of emos is relatively small. But they are very loud, and they have the leisure time and the mean to sit in Manhattan parks and make people think they represent “real” progressives, even though they don’t. “Real” progressives have a wide variety of views on many issues. Liberalism isn’t one thing, and it doesn’t occupy one position on the political spectrum. Liberals are working people, women, minorities, and they have different backgrounds. They work for a living, and they worry about their jobs. They sometimes take low-paying jobs that no one else wants. They work on assembly lines, they work in group homes and they work in hospitals and they work in boardrooms. Most work for those corporations we’re all supposed to hate, because emos tell us we’re supposed to. But these loud, obnoxious, white liberals pretend to speak for all liberals, even though they have no idea what the average liberal – or for that matter, the average American – actually cares about.
Seriously, take a good look at the “liberal blogosphere” on a given day. They’re all about “outrage politics,” which does little more than, well, outrage other liberals. Unfortunately, most voters are not motivated to vote by outrage. If these folks would bother to lift their heads out of the liberal blogs, and stop working to impress other like-minded liberals and maybe start advocating for the people they pretend to care the most about, they would realize that almost no one except them gives a damn about ALEC, the Koch Brothers, drones, Snowden, or any of the myriad diversions the right wing throws out there to distract us. These are not serious issues to people who actually vote. You know how to fix all of it? Get the most votes and change the law. Get a Democratic majority and advocate for changes that make such issues moot, and you have a winner. Advocating for major changes with the current Congress in place is akin to asking your goldfish to do a backflip. .
See, we live in a democracy. And yes, white liberals who think you know everything, I know; it’s actually a democratic republic. That’s a distinction without a difference. Bottom line; those who get the most votes wins and gets to make policies and laws. Those who come in second and third don’t “send a message.” In order for progressives to “send a message” by not voting, they have to first demonstrate a record of voting for a while. The reason the Republican base is so strong is because they always show up to vote in droves. They “sent a message” ONCE by not voting, and Bush 41 lost an embarrassing election, and now, they have power. Emos always refer to themselves as the “Democratic base,” but that is purely laughable. In 2000, they spent the entire election trashing Gore and pushing Nader to get 5%. They demonstrated their lack of political savvy by failing to realize they could have easily gotten Gore elected AND gotten Nader his 5%. Instead, the attacked Gore (whom they now look on as a hero) incessantly, and then blame the Supreme Court for the defeat. Uh uh. Bush Jr. was a stiff; there is no way it should have been close enough for them to steal. It was possible to trash Bush, promote Gore and also vote for Nader. Unfortunately, emos look for “purity” in Democrats, while demanding nothing from Republicans. How is that “progressive”? In what way is holding Democrats to a high standard, while demanding no standard whatsoever from the Republican nutbars in any way “progressive”?
It’s depressing that most liberals, including the poor, black and brown people, women, and immigrants, are being stymied by a small, mostly white, college-educated professional group of self-described “progressives” who have zero political skills but tons of leisure time to write newsletters, blog and march against things they demand we care about. They are loud and strident, but they have no clue what the average American considers important. Even now, after nearly 40 years of ineptitude (how can we be losing elections to the whack jobs in the right wing? How could it even be close?), they don’t seem to have the slightest idea what the average American cares about.
Take right now, for example. Except for a few stray articles about fast food worker strikes, most of the liberal “blogosphere” is all about nothing that matters. The economy continues to drag, and unemployment remains over seven percent. Many of the unemployed are in their sixth year of unemployment. What do you imagine are the most important issues to a majority of Americans? They’re worried about job security, and finding a good job with decent pay. They’re worried about energy costs, especially the price of gas, which is pretty much permanently above $3 per gallon now, which is difficult if they can’t afford a new Prius. They’re worried about inflation, especially when it comes to food prices, which are rising quite a bit recently, in large part because of the push for alternative, grain-based fuels. (Ahem!) They’re worried about health care costs, which are finally being brought under control, but which still have a rough few years ahead. They’re worried about education, and crime and, whether you like it or not, terrorism. After 34 years of an inordinate amount of right wing influence in the government, there is a significant amount of insecurity out there, and that has to be addressed. You can’t just call people “stupid” because they don’t know what you’ve convinced yourself you know, and write them off, and be successful, politically.
Yet, what are the main stories in most liberal blogs? ALEC, the Kochs, and story after story about how horrible everything is. We’re all being spied on! Our banks are stealing from us! Obama’s killing US citizens! Reid didn’t kill the whole filibuster! Oh, yeah, and a handful of high profile Republicans are dipshits. Except for a few stories about how other people are dealing with low wages, there’s nothing positive. There are no suggestions as to how we deal with our problems. There’s no mention that, as long as we have Republicans in charge of the House, and with a filibuster-able minority in the Senate, we’re not solving any problems. Meanwhile, every time there’s a bill that emos like that loses by, say, 53-47, they will focus their ire on the 3-5 Democrats who vote against the bill (which would have passed if Democrats had 60 votes), rather than lament the fact that Republicans voted en masse against the bill.
Our problem in 2010 was that we only had 58-59 Democrats in the Senate, and we needed 61-62. But the vitriol coming from high-profile progressives was almost 100% anti-Democrat. Now, voters already think the Republicans are nuts. If they’re being told ad nauseam – by both sides – that Democrats suck, too, why would they vote. And sure enough; voter turnout, which was the highest since the 1960s in 2008, fell to below average, even for neocon-era elections. And instead of a House that passed 375 bills in the 111th Congress that were blocked by Senate filibuster, we were left with the most useless GOP Congress in history and an even smaller Senate majority. And yet, the emos congratulated themselves for defeating so many “Blue Dogs.” Seriously. Even though it was teabaggers who beat the Blue Dogs. In what way was that progress.
Here’s the deal…
We have a lot of things that need to be done. We have to fix Obamacare. We have to raise the minimum wage, and relieve the wage disparity that’s killing us. We have to build out our infrastructure, create jobs, and make sure workers are no longer taken advantage of. We also need to make the transition into a new world where solar, wind and other renewable energy sources dominate, and we use a whole lot less oil and gas. In fact, we can transform factories that build weapons into factories that build solar panels and wind turbines and kill two birds with one stone. And we have to work hard to figure out how to stop terrorists without violating anyone’s rights, as best we can.
But we cannot do any of that with the current Republicans in charge. It is politically stupefying that anyone would think culling the herd in the Democratic Party would come before getting a Democratic majority. That’s the first thing, period. Get a supermajority of the friendliest political party and THEN you try to perfect the representation. Politics is about process, and keeping the worst elements out of the government is the first step. That means getting the most voters on our side.
The vast majority of voters want to vote for hope and competence. Yes, competence. They’re not looking for a superhero, they want someone who can figure out what the problems are, and fix them. They’re not concerned about methods, whereas “emo progressives” are obsessed with them. Look at the reverence with which they talk about “single payer.” The GOAL, folks, is to get everyone insured and to make sure everyone has access to medical care. “Single Payer” is one way to do that, but it’s not the only way. In fact, we’re 37th in the world in health care outcomes right now, and of the 36 countries that are ahead of us, only TWO of them have a single payer system, and neither of them is in the top 15. And yes, we do need a public option at some point. But a public option isn’t the goal. Voters want to feel good about the Affordable Care Act; they don’t want the new health insurance system to add to their anxiety about life in the United States. So, when you go on and on about that damn website, you’re actually helping the crazy Republican Party continue to control the government. That’s NOT progressive.
We can create a progressive majority in the United States, but we have to understand that revolution ain’t happening. We have the tools to change everything right now. It’s called democracy. The people have all of the power. What we have to do is harness it. If you’re engaged in any political activity that doesn’t include getting a Democratic supermajority in Congress, a Democrat in the White House and a Democratic majority in all 50 state houses, you’re being half-assed about things. And if you don’t see the vast difference between the two parties right now, your tunnel vision is incredible. If you don’t think the Democratic Party is liberal enough, I agree. So join it. Parties are organic. They represent their membership. It moved right because liberals left it.
For progressives to be successful, we have to go mainstream. While the emos consider that “selling out,” well, we live in a democracy. Unless you can get more than half the country behind you, nothing progressive will ever happen. Progressive politics are not about you – it’s about making sure government works for everyone, especially those on the bottom rung of the ladder. At some point, to be progressive, you have to think about other people and their needs. I know that’s a lot to ask of the emo progressives, but it’s really easy if you can open your mind.
We have to start dealing with the issues that people care about, and we have to start shouting down the emos. They’re not pushing the progressive movement, they’re killing it. Get supermajorities in 2014, and watch what happens.