Radio host Angie Coiro asked on air the other why Barack Obama wasn't fighting like he ought to be for a public health insurance option and for real health care reform.
I called her, and told her what I though was the answer to her query:
The reason that Barack Obama doesn't fight is because ... he's a loser, or a liar.
Like most Democrats, Obama doesn't approve of fighting. He's the non-violent type, which means that when confronted with crooked, lying, thieving, morally and ethically bankrupt bullies like those that comprise the core of the current American right wing, he doesn't put up his fists and fight fire with fire. He just doesn't fight. That's not what he does. He's a gentleman. He talks. He reasons. He gives eloquent speeches. He seeks consensus. He naively believes that only nasty, uncouth ruffians (like those on the right) put up their dukes and engage in actual fisticuffs.
Liberals have become so accustomed to being the whipped puppy that even when we have all the cards, even when Democrats have a filibuster-proof senate majority, an overwhelming majority in the House, AND the presidency, we still have this tremendous innate tendency to roll over, cave, compromise ... and lose. We let FOX decide which executive branch appointees get to keep their jobs and which must go. We change good legislation because "the righties are telling mean lies ... and the people believe them!" We accept the specter of a Democratic president continuing and even expanding the draconian neoconservative policies of his Republican predecessor and breaking promise after promise to us, his dutiful left-wing lap dogs. Because, like him, we don't fight. Because we're too good for that. And because (horrors!) we might lose some congressional seats if we did.
Losing is what today's progressive Democrats do. We're really, really good at it. It's who we are ... or, rather, who we've become. We've become so used to losing, in fact, to being the beaten, abused, bullied kid on the school yard, that it's very hard for us to imagine actually winning, anymore. Real victory is not an easy image to form in our minds. We can only really see ourselves losing, or if we're lucky, compromising to the point of losing ... EVEN WHEN WE HAVE ALL THE POWER.
It's called "learned helplessness." Like "battered wife syndrome," the problem is a diseased self-image. The inability to view one's self as worthy of respect, and the accompanying unwillingness to fight even when one really does have the power to do so. We liberals are losers. And that won't change unless and until we wake up, grab ourselves by the balls, squeeze REAL hard, and start swingin' for the damn fences.
I scream at the radio when I hear invertebrate progressives discussing "what we'll do if the public option doesn't pass," how maybe we should be willing to compromise and settle for a triggered (i.e. fake) public option or a neutered "co-op" option, how maybe we shouldn't "make the perfect the enemy of the good."
HELLO?! THE PROGRESSIVE CAUCUS IN THE HOUSE HAS 84 MEMBERS (NOT COUNTING THE MINORITY CAUCUSES) ... THE BLUE DOGS HAVE JUST 54!! WE'VE GOT THE POWER TO STOP ANY BILL WITHOUT A STRONG PUBLIC OPTION!! WE'RE IN CHARGE HERE!! THERE'S NO REASON TO COMPROMISE!! NO REASON TO LOSE!! WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU THINKING?? WE ACTUALLY CAN WIN THIS!!
We could win, that is, if we'd only stand up, take hold of the power we've already got, screw the "political risk," and fight with the actual intention of flattening the opposition.
But that means doing actual harm to the other side, and taking real political chances. Progressives don't do harm, and we certainly don't do risk. Hurt is not what we do. We're opposed to that. We help. We don't fight. We're above all that. We're the nice guys. We're non-violent. We're terminally cautious. We're losers.
Make no mistake, this altercation with the right is a street fight. The way it works is simple: the guy with the stronger determination to HURT the other guy wins. That's it. That's all. Unlike we liberals, the Becks, Limbaughs, Hannitys, O'Reillys, and Palins of the American political scene TOTALLY understand and gleefully embrace this fact.
But we liberals see ourselves as pathetic weaklings who can't prevail, but who might be lucky enough to compromise on our ideals and hang onto a few moldy crumbs carelessly dropped by our right-wing overlords. We lose because we're afraid to risk tearing our precious designer clothes in a real scuffle, finally throwing hard punches squarely into the faces of the bullies who we've allowed to steal our lunch money, depress our spirits, and rape our country all these years. And now, increasingly and ironically, our most critical fights must be with fellow Democrats. Because today, it's the conservative half of the Democratic Party that's become the chief obstacle to progressive reform in America.
There was a day not too long ago when liberals knew exactly how to win. We knew how to message. We knew how to be fiercely loud and proud of liberalism and the hope it represents for humanity. The thought of a bloody nose didn't scare us. We knew how to take a stand on principle, and not take "no" for an answer. We knew about catching garbage from the other side and throwing back twice as much in return. We knew what courage was. We knew how to call crap crap. We once knew how to show up by the hundreds and thousands at town meetings and our own version of "tea bag" protests (Does anyone remember sit-ins? Civil disobedience?). We knew how to filibuster and use congressional rules to our advantage. We knew how to stick to a goal and counter b.s. with ferocity and furor. We welcomed hate from the other side, instead of falling to pieces in the face of it.
I'm sick of all this. I'm fed up with losing. I'm tired of liberal compromise, of cowering and caving to corrupt conservatives. I'm ill from the crushing disappointment that comes from supporting Obama and the other cowards in the Democratic Party establishment who only seem to know how to roll over, take their humiliation, and then ask "May I have another, please?"
Sure, compromise is necessary in the real world of politics. But not habitual, automatic compromise from a position of weakness and resignation which leads only to one defeat after another, or, at best, to a glacially slow pace of reform that we simply cannot afford in this day of global climate change, a severely wounded American democracy, and a dying American middle class.
And of course there are a number of liberals today both prominent and lesser-known who fight like crazy (like Dennis Kucinich, Glenn Greenwald, Jane Hamsher, the folks at BuzzFlash, et al). But they fight in virtual isolation, overwhelmed by right-wing nut cases who seem to come out of the wood work every time Rush says "boo." While tea-bagging right-wingers are holding town hall meetings hostage and monopolizing mainstream media messaging, the most that most of us progressives do is sit at computers writing blog posts like this one. Almost all of us can do more ... a lot more. I can. You can. We all can. We all must.
Most of all ... WE LIBERALS MUST NOT COMPROMISE WHEN WE DO NOT HAVE TO.
The elephant in the living room is our friend. Why are we so afraid to ride him and trample the forces that are devolving America, remaking her as a corrupt, cruel, fear-based, third world nation right before our own eyes?
We don't need to lie. We don't need to be physically violent. We don't need to decide, like the Republican Party has, that the end justifies the means, that winning is ALL that matters, that deliberate deception is a great political tool, that the only ethical obligation is to one's own narrow self-interest, that because might makes right we've got some Darwinian right to dominate and restrict the voices and choices of others.
We don't have to become like the right in order to beat it. We just have to stop being losers.
We don't even really have to give 'em actual hell. ALL WE HAVE TO DO, as Harry Truman, a true liberal fighter, once said, is: "... just tell the truth, and they'll think it's hell."
There are plenty of times and situations in which reason and argument can win the day, when fighting like hungry, brawling cats is rarely if ever necessary to bring about the best possible outcome.
The American political arena in 2009, however, is not one of them.
Why doesn't Obama fight?
Because up to now ... he's been a loser. Or else he's not the principled liberal that he represented himself to be during the 2008 presidential campaign, the kind of leader our sickened country needs so badly right now.
Are we ... as liberal Democrats?
In a couple of short months, the ultimate fate of the public option will probably provide clear answers to these critical questions.
The Democratic Activist