Dear Progressives; Purity Tests Are for the RIGHT Wing

Sometimes, when I look at the self-described “progressive blogosphere,” I wonder if they realize progressives won in 2012. I know they don’t realize we lost big in 2010, or that it was their fault, because they keep doing the same things over and over. It’s tiresome to hear crap like “Obama’s no progressive,” or the obnoxious “Obama’s really a moderate Republican.” Anyone who says that just doesn’t know what s/he’s talking about. This is why progressives have been losing ground since the 1960s, and why the far right has hung onto power for 33 years, against all odds; there is a small, but significant group of liberals who think they’re geniuses politically, and that everyone else who doesn’t think as they do is just “stupid.” It’s roughly the far left equivalent of the Tea Party.

Obama is as progressive as he possibly can be. Unfortunately, most who have chosen to define “progressive” for us have no idea what the word means. Being “progressive” does not mean you agree with a static set of “beliefs” based on issues that few people actually care about. Being obsessed with things like climate change and drones at a time when most people are worried about jobs and the economy makes YOU out of touch, not everyone else. In fact, if you remove the right wing from the government, and start creating jobs a la Clinton, then you’ll remove a lot of the distractions and more people will be more receptive to climate change and drone discussions. And let’s be clear; the fact that others have different views on issues that you, personally, have decided are defining issues for liberals doesn’t make you more “progressive” and it doesn’t disqualify them from the ranks of “progressive.”  There is no static definition of liberal or progressive. The very concept that there might be is basically the liberal version of “Tea Party-think,” and that should have absolutely no place in progressive politics. The definition of “progressive” differs widely, and it necessarily has to be different in New York or Los Angeles than it is in Montana or rural Alabama. Politicians represent their constituents.

Maxine Waters can be who she is because she represents a very blue district in L.A. On the other hand, the most you can hope for from Arkansas is going to be Blanche Lincoln. I don’t care if you like that, but the fact of the matter is, Alan Grayson literally CAN NOT win in Montana with the same rhetoric he uses to win urban Orlando. That’s just a fact, at least at this moment of time. If you want to change those circumstances, then go for it. But it’ll take a lot of time and effort, and a lot of persuasion of the populace. Not needling and cajoling and calling everyone “stupid” who doesn’t see things your way, but persuasion. That means talking to people, not screaming at them. It’s about offering palatable solutions that fit into their mindset, not trying to pigeonhole them into what we think they should be.

One problem with many of these “progressives” is that they don’t understand politics very well. Claiming Obama is a “Republican” takes a monumental level of ignorance. Today’s GOP bears no relation to the GOP of, say, 1968. Not only that, but they seem to imagine that the Democratic Party was once 100% liberal, which has never been the case. Back in the 1960s, the last time Democrats held a supermajority in Congress, Democrats had most of the liberals in government, but they also had people like Strom Thurmond, Jesse Helms, Trent Lott and Lester Maddox, who were Democrats because the GOP was “the Party of Lincoln.” There were also some in the GOP who were socially liberal and fiscally conservative, which is one reason many progressive bills passed, like the Civil and Voting Rights Acts, the OSH Act, etc.

But for some reason, when the Dixiecrats made a mass exodus from the Democratic Party, so did many progressives. The far left had a golden opportunity to turn this into a progressive paradise, and they blew it. If you want to know why the Democratic Party moved to the right, well, political parties are organic. Liberals left the Party in droves in the 1970s – that moved it right. As the GOP has become crazier, a lot of moderate Republicans moved to the Democratic Party, as well. If you want to move the Party left, then join it. Standing outside as an “independent” and shouting at it won’t work. It never has. Why doesn’t 40 years in the political wilderness not serve as a clue that a number of us are doing something wrong?

Calling Obama a “Republican” also demonstrates ignorance of what a president does, and what he can accomplish on his own. The simple answer is, nothing. If you want a president to push progressive laws, or at least moderate laws that move us away from the right wing crap we’ve been seeing for the last 33 years, you need more than a progressive president. The very notion that Obama is a “Republican” is just wrong-headed.  For 40 years now, the GOP has been increasingly dominated by a far right wing that is far to the right of anything even Saint Reagan could have imagined in 1976 and 1980. Most reasonable Republicans are now either independents or conservative Democrats. All of that combines to make the comparison of Obama with Republicans hopelessly dated and irrelevant. 

President Obama is a progressive, but his policies can only be as progressive as the rest of the government allows. The branches of government are co-equal. Congress makes the laws, and the President executes those laws. The President can’t pass health insurance reform. He can advocate for it, which he did quite well, and he can work with the sides to get something they can pass. But he can’t just create a new health care system. He needs Congress to make a law and fund it. The President can’t do anything just because we think it’s the right thing to do. The majority of the American people have to think it’s the right thing to do, and they have to elect a majority to Congress who also think it’s the right thing to do.

As soon as Obama took office in 2009, this group of “progressives” started whining. The economy was tanking, and millions of the people “progressives” claim to care about so deeply were losing their jobs. The banks were about to collapse. But these “progressives” started complaining because they didn’t get their glitter-farting unicorn. For two solid years, they complained because Obama wasn’t “progressive enough,” because he wasn’t completely reversing everything Bush did right out of the gate. For two solid years, Republicans in the Senate blocked everything they possibly could, to the point that 375 bills passed by the Democratic House stalled in the Senate. But these “progressives” complained about the Democrats, calling them “spineless” and “ineffective.”

The solution to the gridlock was 2-3 fewer Republican Senators, which would have prevented the filibuster in most cases, and which (ironically) would have allowed for changing the filibuster rules to make laws easier to pass. Instead, these “progressives” blamed and targeted Blue Dog Democrats. Unfortunately, given their lack of political sense, they seem to have forgotten that, if Blue Dogs lost, they would be replaced with Republicans. And almost all of them were replaced by members of the rising Tea Party. Yet, these same “progressives” actually gave themselves a high-five for getting rid of a bunch of Blue Dog Democrats, all of whom voted with Democrats 80-90% of the time, and replacing them with Tea Party “Patriots,” who have since voted with Democrats less than one percent of the time. Now think; is that “progress”?

Of course, these “progressives” claim they “sent a message.”

Let’s put this “sending a message” thing to bed right now. The only people who “send a message” to government are those who win. People who lose elections never get to make policy. I’m getting sick of people who think many of us are not “progressive” enough because we’re willing to compromise a bit on issues in order to make progress. Actual progress. For example, Obamacare is great law, not perfect. It’s a major step in the right direction, even though it leaves us with more to do. It makes “progress” toward the ultimate goal; which is universal access to health care. And please note, THAT is the ultimate goal, not “single payer” or “public option.” Those are methods, not the goal. Many of these self-appointed “progressive” authorities don’t seem to understand this concept. They become enamored with one method, and push IT rather than the goal itself. This has to stop. The fact is, we’re now 37th in the world when it comes to health care outcomes, and only TWO of the 36 countries ahead of us have single-payer systems. TWO. None of the top 15 are single payer systems. Therefore, to claim that single payer is the only way to achieve the goal of universal health insurance is wrong. The fact is, as long as we reach our goal, and keep costs down, why be so obsessed with the method?.

And frankly, if you say we should scrap the ACA altogether because it doesn’t contain a “public option” or because it’s not “single payer” don’t seem very progressive. Is it progressive to wish 30 million people be denied health insurance because you didn’t get what you wanted? See what I did there? How do you like it?

If you desire to move this country forward, and prevent it from moving backward, you’re a progressive. It’s that simple. And that broad. We’re supposed to be the tolerant ones. Liberals are a remarkably diverse group. That’s a good thing. Leave the right wing to work in lockstep. It’s what they do. 

Whining about everything and voting for people who say the right things but who can’t win a majority of the vote doesn’t make one “progressive,” it makes one gullible. “Obstinate” is not a synonym for “principled,” and “compromise” is not synonymous with “sell-out.” Being against the NDAA and the drone program is not proof of your “progressive street cred,” especially when you put them ahead of jobs and education in level of importance. If you really care about those issues, you will participate in the electoral strategy that rids us of the worst problems in government, which is the current incarnation of the GOP. Blue Dogs were not the problem, and getting rid of them only served to exacerbate te problem. During Obama’s first two years, while some rhetoric came from Blue Dogs that was slightly unfortunate, in practice, no Blue Dog ever cast a deciding vote against cloture, or against a major Democratic bill. If a Blue Dog voted against a bill and it passed, the Blue Dog did nothing wrong. Part of the overall electoral strategy is to give the cover in their conservative home district.

Bottom line: stop with the purity tests. The problem is the current GOP. Don’t forget that. We cannot allow 2014 to be like 2010. We can’t afford it.

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