Making Him Do It
I was reading through the comment section of a few posts this morning (something I rarely can bring myself to do anymore) and I realized that I need to remind people of something that's very important for successful governance:
FDR was, of course, a consummate political leader. In one situation, a group came to him urging specific actions in support of a cause in which they deeply believed. He replied: "I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it."
He understood that a President does not rule by fiat and unilateral commands to a nation. He must build the political support that makes his decisions acceptable to our countrymen. He read the public opinion polls not to define who he was but to determine where the country was – and then to strategize how he could move the country to the objectives he thought had to be carried out.
If Obama wants to govern as liberally as the political circumstances allow, then we need to work to make sure that the political circumstances include a strong liberal base. Mindlessly cheerleading out of a misplaced sense of loyalty will not help him. As Roosevelt understood, politics are interlocking interests and constituencies that have to be brought to bear to achieve certain goals.
In the current political world, I believe that Obama and the Democrats need a strong left wing that is out there agitating in order that we can continue to build popular support and also give them a political excuse to do things that the political establishment finds too liberal. Being cheerleaders all the time, however enjoyable that is, is not going to help them. Leaving them out there with no left wing cripples them.
One of the problems for Democrats has been that there has not been an effective progressive voice pushing the edge of the envelope. Therefore, when they inevitably "go to the middle" as politicians often feel they must do, the middle become further and further right. It is my belief that one of the roles of the progressive movement is to keep pulling the politicians back to the left, which often means that we are not being publicly "supportive," in order that we really do end up in the middle instead of farther to the right than the country actually is.
I'm not an idiot and I know very well that Obama needs room to govern. A big historic victory, a village predisposed to at least give him a chance and a set of very serious crises to confront will give him that. My role is to make sure that the progressive agenda is pushed as well, and to make sure that the village knows that we are watching. I don't mind if they hate me, if they also have a healthy respect for the fact that I will stand up for what I believe in. I think this is necessary for successful politics. I don't expect to win all the time (or even most of the time) and I will be very, very supportive when the Democrats come through. But I believe that they need us to keep their feet to the fire.
In addition, we need to start the long process of making progressivism the default political identity of the young. That requires rhetoric that stands strong and takes pride in being liberal. Politicians may have to say that they "represent all the people" and give lip service to bipartisanship, but there is no reason that they should have to run from the progressive label or feel the need to kick their own base in the teeth in order to govern. That's bad for our politics in the long run.
So, everyone needs to relax a little bit about the blogosphere criticizing Obama and the Democrats. We are necessary. If all Obama has is the Villagers and the right defining what change means, then those are the parameters within which he will have to operate. He needs us to "make him do it."
I'm sorry if that's a buzzkill, but things move fast in politics and there's no time to waste. The mandate is being defined as we speak. We can't just sit back and bask in our glory while the villagers are busily narrowing Obama's options.