To Be Successful, Progressives Have to Look at the BIG Picture

The main problem with politics these days is that you have two sides, each looking at the short term. One side — the far right side — does this on purpose, because their “base” is incapable of thinking two weeks in advance, and also because their agenda is all about winning elections, and not governing. The other side — the far left side — looks at the short-term because they have convinced themselves that their best strategy is perpetual outrage. Hence, we end up with a debate that is remarkably vacuous and shallow, and we never deal with anything important.

There is only one issue in 2014, and it’s jobs. That’s it. The reason we’re having this problem with extended unemployment is because the unemployment is about twice what it should be. The reason the minimum wage is suddenly an issue is because unemployment is high, and there is little to no competition for jobs. The reason the deficit continues to be high is because we’re not investing in new taxpayers, which means people with jobs.

Meanwhile, we’re having arguments and “debates” over Libertarian and Tea Party notions of an absolutist Constitution that doesn’t exist, and we get into gainsaying exchanges with right wingers whose only goal is to get people discouraged enough to stay home on election days, because it’s the only way they can win. Uninformed opinions seem to weigh too heavily in the public debate these days, and while most of the problem comes from the right, I cannot deny that much of it comes from our side of the aisle, too. Most liberals are level-headed and reasonable, but many of our pundits – whom the Obama Administration has rightly dubbed “The Professional Left” — have a lot of pointed opinions that seem to appeal to their readership, but which fail to articulate anything but outrage at whatever issue they’ve dubbed “important” that particular day.  They seem incapable of looking at the big picture, and considering the political repercussions of what they demand. Their attitude is very strident, and very sure, but in the end, it’s also very reactionary and (usually) wrong.

Take the NSA non-issue. Please.

We have millions of people who need jobs, and needed then four years ago. We have a Republican Party that is blocking every kind of progress imaginable. But what is our Pro Left focused on right now? Two Libertarian paranoiacs who fantasize that men in black coats are listening to their phone calls. And they go on and on about it, despite the fact that the actual evidence shows otherwise, if they would bother to read it. 

Then there’s the NDAA, which they still go on about. The NDAA is the annual defense authorization bill, and it has to pass, or troops don’t get paid and contractors have to lay off people, at a time when Republicans have already forced the RIFs of nearly one million public workers over the last four years, refuse to pass a jobs bill and where unemployment is uncomfortably close to 7%. Not signing the NDAA is not an option. Yet, President Obama promised to veto a version of the bill that would have expanded the government’s power to detain people based on a whim. In response, the NDAA was adjusted to mirror the language in the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). In other words, even if the NDAA didn’t exist, presidents would still have the power to detain. Besides, the NDAA passed by a veto-proof margin, which means a veto wouldn’t have stopped anything. 

The fact of the matter is, a lot of laws have to change or go away. The Patriot Act, of course. We need to get rid of Citizens United, and take away our system of legal political bribery. We need to assess our use of drones, and work with the rest of the world on rules for their use. We need to build our our electric grid and spark a massive use of renewables, and we need to build out our infrastructure and repair the parts that are crumbling due to Republican neglect.

But all of that will take time to put in place, and we’ll never get any of that with a Republican Congress and/or President in place. 

We have to stop being so reactionary, and think more about the consequences of the demands we make on government and the electorate. We need to open up and look at the big picture. We have to learn to deal with what is, and stop basing our politics on what we think should be. For example, those who are still whining about the “public option” and “single payer” need to get a grip, and realize that we could have had those already, if Democrats had won more elections. If you’re still whining because President Obama extended the Bush tax cuts in late 2010, you don’t get it. What he actually did was to prevent the incoming Boehner-led Congress from making them permanent. Those who complain about the use of drones need to understand that Republicans want to send in troops, and they wanted to stay in Iraq forever.

Obama’s smarter than us, politically, and he’s proven it over and over. The reason? Because he looks at the big picture, and the professional left does not. The professional left demanded that he ignore Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) by issuing an executive order and simply ignoring the law. As if it’s a great precedent to demand that a president ignore a law, right? What could go wrong there? Instead, he used his political savvy to change the law, which is the only way to kill DADT. He was also asked to issue an Executive Order to “kill” the Defense of Marriage Act, ignored it, and let the courts declare its obvious unconstitutionality. Now, it’s dead, whereas it wouldn’t have been with an Executive Order.

Once more, we have to look at the entire playing field. We have to stop demanding Band-Aids when we need major surgery. Rarely is there a single solution to a problem, and almost never is any solution to a problem free of consequence in its own right. I’m all for giving the poor more assistance, but we also have to go after fraud. I’m all for cutting the defense budget, but we have to replace the weapons systems we’re building with something else. If we’re going to stop making the F-22, then help them retrofit the plant to build wind turbines and/or solar panels. Don’t just advocate for cutting the defense budget; a lot of civilians depend on that money for a living. If we’re going to complain about corporations, we need to be more specific about which ones, and what they’re doing, since most corporations are actually quite small and do good things for people. The person who owns your favorite pizza parlor or vintage clothing store is probably incorporated, and including them in a generic diatribe about corporations in general is probably unfair.

And before you just join in when some professional left pundit whines about something, investigate the facts and consider the consequences of the solution the pundit recommends. In most cases, the second part is easy, because these folks rarely offer solutions. Take a deep breath before you react to something you hear, and take a wide view of the situation.

For example, complaining about some Democrats is unwise, because it undermines other Democrats. Democrats are a functional minority right now, anyway, and changing law and policy requires a majority. It really doesn’t matter if a handful of Democrats votes for or against a bill you’re watching, unless they cast a DECIDING vote. If a bill in the Senate fails 52-48, and three Democrats vote against it, what would be different if they voted for it? If Democrats had 62 votes and three of them voted against other Democrats, THAT is when you get upset and target them. But right now, with 55, there’s no point in wasting energy on the Democrats. In any case, with the extremist Republicans running the House, the bill was unlikely to pass anyway. Give Democrats a supermajority in Congress and the White House, and when a few Blue Dogs stray off the reservation and kill bills, then you go after them. But in the big picture, with Republicans in a majority, what does any progressive hope to gain by going after individuals in the minority party?

In the big picture, we’re not getting any progressive legislation passed until we get rid of Republicans in the majority, and based on history, we have an uphill battle winning a majority this year as it is. There is absolutely nothing to gain by going after Democrats, and everything to lose. What good is having Elizabeth Warren in the Senate, if you lose her majority and fail to give her a majority in the House?

The BIG picture is about a Democratic majority, and jobs. Of course, we can’t get the jobs without a Democratic majority.  


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