At any other time, this might have seemed like a pretty good couple of days for progressives. The Democrats in the House of Representatives showed unusual unanimity today in opposing the social-Darwinist GOP budget devised by Paul Ryan.
And after an abortive attempt earlier this month to throw a wrench into the Republican majority’s legislative machinery, Nancy Pelosi & Co. were more effective in embarrassing the Republicans by nearly causing them to accidentally approve an even more draconian budget plan.
What’s more, these events come only two days after President Obama gave a substantially more liberal address on addressing the nation’s long-term debt than many observers expected, refusing to endorse benefit cuts to Medicare and Social Security (again, contrary to widespread fears) and laying out a fundamentally progressive case for the role of government and increasing taxes on the wealthy.
But in reading blogs here and elsewhere, progressives still appear to be deeply unsatisfied. It’s hard to argue against the sense that after all the compromises and defeats of the past two years — including last week’s spending-cut deal to avoid a government shutdown — what’s happened since Wednesday is simply too little and too late to stir much enthusiasm.
Still, though, there’s a fine line between disappointment and defeatism, and I fear that many on the left may have crossed this line. Obama’s debt speech, after all, wasn’t preceded by anything resembling angry resistance, but rather by expressions of submission and surrender. In trying to dispute a similar sentiment posted here (accurately, but in vain, judging from the other comments), I said, “… to me, it seems more like the ‘hippies’ are so used to being punched that sometimes they start pre-emptively punching themselves just because they can’t stand the suspense.”
Indeed, much of the reaction from bloggers who had predicted the worst from Obama’s speech was reminiscent of the grudging goalpost-moving by those end-of-the-world cults who find themselves still around the promised doomsday — sure, he didn’t sell us out last night, but he will eventually, I’m sure of it! One would like to believe that this stems from confidence in their analysis rather than a stubborn refusal to admit ever being wrong (a blogging tic with which I, of course — *cough* — am completely unfamiliar), but you never know.
None of this is to deny, of course, the innumerable disappointments that have been inflicted on us by Obama and the Democrats in Congress since 2008, or that any belated spinefulness occurring now is anything but an election-driven conversion. But even there, I think there’s hope — after all, the next election is still more than 18 months away, and the recognition by Democrats in power that pretending (at least) to have a progressive agenda is in their electoral interests ought to be something we can leverage somehow, shouldn’t it?
It would be a shame if, out of burnout or hurt feelings, we didn’t even try. Because for all the pessimism that Obama or the Democrats on Capitol Hill won’t ever bring about progressive change, I’m fairly certain that self-pity won’t, either.