Sir Charles says he’s glad he didn’t come to Netroots Nation this year. Reading about a panel on LGBT rights and immigration, he sees too many people claiming the President failed, rather than realism about the political system’s current state:
It seems pretty clear to me that Obama is moving toward a pro-marriage equality stance. In the meantime, though, he has done more than enough to earn the spirited support of the gay rights community. However, even if you don’t agree, a quick look at where the Republicans are on these issues and it seems to me that this should generate a sense of compelling urgency. Instead, you have someone like Aravosis pretending that there is some realistic tactical alternative to going all in for Obama and the Democrats. It’s as if in 1964, the leaders of the civil rights movement were disappointed because LBJ had delivered only the Civil Rights Act and not the Voting Rights Act, and so, even in the face of Goldwater, decided to grudgingly and half-heartedly back Johnson, all the while diminishing the enthusiasm to vote of their followers
This is right and important. Watching the Netroots Nation interview with White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer, I was glad to see him pressed to give straight answers to challenging questions, but a few too many questions framed as if the failure to accomplish progressive goals was the White House’s fault. “Why are you still firing gay servicemembers?” is a fair question. The answer is that the repeal of DADT was conditioned on a process, and that process isn’t done yet. They’re trying to finish that process, but until then, there’s not much to be done. The interviewer’s “Oooookay” wasn’t a followup or a rebuttal, but dismissed the answer as if it were spin, rather than political reality.
That doesn’t serve the progressive movement well. We’re the ones who are all about being reality-based. We’re the policy wonks. We’re the bloggers who try to shed light on the process, and to fix it. We can’t abandon our reality-based assessments just because polls turn against us.
Fortunately, by the end of the conference, I think the tide started to turn. Partly, this is a reflection of the fact that those loud voices of opposition to the President are not representative of Netroots Nation attendees. Eight in ten NN attendees approve of the job the president’s doing, and nationally, 82% of Democrats approve. As Matt Yglesias notes: “the proximate problem faced by would-be left-wing critics of President Obama is that they generally have much less credibility with the progressive constituency than the president does himself.”
The progressive movement is in a different place today than they were in 2008, when I first attended Netroots Nation. That was a time of optimism, after the nomination fight and as candidate Obama was surging towards victory. We had the House and the Senate back, and once we took back the White House, we were sure we’d be able to fix everything. In 2009, we met as the healthcare fight bogged down in town hall meetings and teabag protests; we could laugh about the teabaggers, but it was clear that change wasn’t going to be easy. Last year, it was clear that we’d lose seats in the House (and probably lose control), and that we might even lose control of the Senate. Legislating had ground to a halt, the healthcare reform which had passed was less than we hoped for, climate legislation was dead, immigration, civil rights for gays and lesbians, and a host of other issues were stalled.
Now, we have a Republican House, a narrow Senate majority undercut by conservative Senators and abuses of the filibuster blocking any action at all. There’s reason to be frustrated, and there are steps the administration could be taking — but isn’t — to force a contrast with Republicans and to advance the agenda it was elected for. But many of the biggest ticket items have to go through Congress, and we may have to wait until 2014 to elect Democratic majorities capable of doing the nation’s work. Until then, the President needs us to clear the way for him to take the actions the nation needs. It’s time for the people to lead, not for the left to eat itself.