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American progressives and reactions to Obama

Save your psychic self-defense
‘Cause I don’t care what you’re against
What are you for?
-All, “What are you for?”

The progressive movement in the United States is having a strange identity crisis right now. Defined for the past eight years (at least) by what we opposed, we now have to move forward with actual policies and proposals.

We’ve spent so long arguing that government doesn’t have to be the enemy, but the fact is that we’re used to government being the enemy. We’re used to disavowing the actions of our president loudly, to practically shouting “Not in our name,” to writing screeds of why we’re disappointed that this is our country.

No wonder we have a hard time believing that someone could get things right.

Now, granted, Obama’s moves have mostly been rolling back Bush policies, not really moving forward, and thus are a bit reactive in themselves, but that’s what he can do by executive order. The president CAN’T just make laws arbitrarily. Bills have to pass Congress, and even though the Democrats won what Rachel Maddow pointed out was essentially a referendum on the economy, there are still Republicans in the House and Senate and especially in the Senate, the Democratic majority isn’t enough to push things through without them.

(Don’t even get me started on whether Harry Reid actually has it in him to try to strong-arm things through, because I’m betting the answer is N-O.)

Many thousands of people gave chunks of their time this past year to the Obama campaign. Those same people made lasting connections and discovered a first-time love for political action that extends far beyond the Internet. At the same time, new technologies made it far easier to organize online.

The Obama campaign is working on Organizing for America,

the 2.0 version of its campaign structure. But recently Obama learned that his organization isn’t just there to take dictation and orders, when his press secretary, Robert Gibbs, chose to ignore the question voted #1 by participants on Change.gov.

The people who submitted the question, on special prosecutors for Bush administration officials, and voted for it – didn’t let that work. The news spread across the political blogosphere, and made it to prime time when Keith Olbermann picked up the story. George Stephanopoulos then asked the question in an interview on ABC news with Obama.

To me, this is the perfect example of what we can do moving forward with Obama in the White House. We can be supporters, use the technology and the outlets that Obama’s team has put in place for us, but hold him accountable.

Olbermann’s participation in the sequence of events provides an interesting note as well. With the advent of Olbermann and Maddow, several people predicted we’d have a left-version of FOX News, but instead we’ve seen them willing to flank Obama from the left and offer a steady carrot-and-stick, calling Obama out when he makes mistakes or bad decisions, and cheering when he does things right.

The last thing we need now, after this sweeping victory in the polls, is to let ideological purity get in the way of results. A fractured, backbiting Left will only allow the Right to regroup and to peel off support for desperately needed policies. This is not our final chance, but it’s the best one we’ve had in my 29 years and I don’t want to see real progressive change fall apart because it wasn’t exactly what someone wanted.

The word “progressive” is better than “liberal” for so many reasons, but the number one reason is that it implies constantly moving forward. There is no Marxist “end to history” in sight–we’re going to have to keep struggling. We don’t get to win a victory and then throw up our hands when everything isn’t perfect.

We must recognize that a president who appoints George Mitchell as a special envoy to Israel and Palestine is a very different person than the one who simply let things go, allowing Israel to bomb with impunity. We must understand that overturning the global gag rule within the first three days of his presidency is a major step, even if it wasn’t exactly on the day we would’ve liked.

The Nation has started a new column that I think is quite appropriate for the Obama era. It’s called “Ten Things” and it’s a list, weekly, of ten things that Nation readers (which can be all of us–it’s on their Web site) can do to help achieve a specific goal. Their Washington correspondent John Nichols has done an excellent job of congratulating Obama on his forward steps, while pointing out the logical next move after each executive order.

There are lots of big fights coming up: the economic stimulus package, which we cannot allow to be steered off in the direction John McCain wants, more tax cuts and less infrastructure spending; the Employee Free Choice Act, where unions could once again be a force in an America where in 2005, the average CEO earned 821 times what a minimum wage worker earns; and health care, of course.

These fights are going to require massive public support and action, pressure on Republicans in vulnerable seats and pressure on Democrats not to give in. We can’t do that if we’re arguing about which day Obama should take action.

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