Seems I can barely click on a progressive blog without seeing someone mad about a position Barack Obama has taken lately. It's FISA, or it's partial-birth abortion or it's DOMA or it's Iraq withdrawal or it's faith-based initiatives--and a good chunk of the time people are grousing not because of something Obama actually said, but because of the way it was reported. So I want to remind my fellow progressives of three things, and I may find myself referring to this again and again over the next four months.
1. If you are really a progressive, you will always be disappointed in the nominee.
I wrote about this a few days ago, but I'll reiterate it here. Progressives are, by the very definition of our movement, a fringe group. We are always pushing for change, and if you think that people in general embrace change, you're smoking something that's causing memory loss or has you living in a cave. The fact is that people in general hate change, except when it benefits them directly, and even then you almost have to club them over the head with it in order to convince them that they'll like it.
Think about it for a second--the period of US history that caused the greatest amount of social and economic change started with the Great Depression and ran through about 1966--the Depression made things so bad that people were willing to try anything to make it better. The Nixonland backlash brought that to a halt, and we haven't had anything bad enough to make the public willing to take that sort of a risk since then. While I certainly would rather we didn't have another Depression-style meltdown to bring on another surge of social and economic change, I think the example shows just how difficult it is to get large numbers of people willing to take a chance at the polls.
As a result, no presidential candidate is going to take major chances in the general election, not unless he or she is so far behind that the Hail-Mary proposal is the only real chance at victory. Forget about it. What that means is that progressives will always be disappointed in the nominee, because the nominee will always be willing to dump our most important issue for expediency's sake. Don't give me crap about integrity--anyone who's made it that far looks at integrity as something you pretend to have as long as it gets you votes and nothing more.
2. If you want real change, you have to do it via Congress.
Part of the reason that presidential candidates don't take chances is because they can't afford to. They have to appeal to a much larger swathe of people in order to get the votes they need to win. Remember--for this election, a winning candidate will need between 65 and 70 million people to agree that he is the right person for the job. That means risky policy positions are not an option.
But you don't need nearly that number to be a Representative or a Senator, and that means that progressives have more power in those elections. Well-organized groups can force the hands of elected representatives, and if necessary work to replace them with more progressive voices and votes. Look at your local representatives (yours and those in surrounding districts)--are you happy with their voting records? For example, my Representative is Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, and she's a pretty progressive Representative. Robert Wexler is close by, and he's a proud progressive. But south of me, Florida has the Miami Three: Mario and Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, all rubber-stamp Republicans. So I'm working to replace them with progressive Democrats, especially Annette Taddeo. Not my district, but my district is in good shape, so I'm trying to make the Congress as a whole a better place for my priorities.
And as the Congress goes, so goes the President. Presidents may be risk-averse when it comes to pushing legislation, but they're generally less so when it comes to signing stuff that their Congress wants. If President Obama gets a bill that gets rid of the retroactive immunity for telecoms, what are the chances he vetoes it? If Congress tells him that DOMA is done, does he stand in the way? Or does he use "the will of the people" as a shield and sign the bill?
3. President John McCain.
President John McCain vetoes those bills, just in case we're not clear on that. Many progressive blogs have gotten their backs up when people bring up the "McCain is worse" argument. Tough, because it's coming up whenever necessary between now and November. You know why? Because it's the Ace of Trumps. It's the highest card in the deck, it wins every argument, and you can bet your ass I'll be playing it, because while Obama won't be everything you want in a President, he'll be closer to it than McCain.
And given the catastrophe of the last 8 years, best available option is the only progressive choice.