Progressive Tension

Washington The newly named Campaign for America’s Future, which bills itself as an annual meeting for progressives, opetake-back-america-006ned in DC yesterday.  I’ve attended several of these meetings in the past, and an undercurrent of the session seemed to me to indicate that progressives are disoriented and confused.

Robert Borsage in his opening remarks seemed to acknowledge the underlying tension without trying to resolve it.  He said that when people asked if they intended to work with the administration or push the administration, they answered, “yes.” There was a laugh in the room that was still filling, but it seemed hollow to me and the morning seemed to establish the tone.

The crispness of the critique was gone.  These were sessions in which old friends seemed to be circling around the issues and the evidence of being “in” or “out” with the direction of Obama and his machinery.There was celebration and joy of the election, and there was great hope, but there was a tentativeness everywhere it seemed to me.  This was “liberals in love.” People were holding their breath and desperately hoping that they would see real wins with real meanings on key issue, but they were so resigned to following the President that they seemed to not want to jinx anything through sharp comment or decisive action.

Past meetings had been loud and crowded.  This session on the first day seemed so much smaller, quieter, and subdued.  It also seemed grey, old, and white in a way that makes one uneasy about self-identifying as a progressive.  The debate, if there was any, seemed about pragmatism and how to reconcile to it, rather than progressive principles and how to push now to realize them.

This meeting seemed to be stifled in a classic Beltway dilemma where isolated from any base the main point seemed to be trying to find a position and posture to find a way to orbit this larger sun.  Maybe we are not used to being close to winning?  Maybe we have forgotten that some of this same glow was felt for Clinton and even Carter, but we definitely need to snap out of it if we’re going to carry weight in the fight.

I commented to a friend over dinner that it seemed we were on our knees debating whether to simply kiss butt on the one hand or just pray on the other.  Neither seems to me to be a winning strategy, or frankly, even helpful in getting the administration and the work done.

If this is our time, we had best figure it out fast!

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