Kabuki Democracy | The Nation


Kabuki Democracy

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Since the Obama administration is clearly happier with a top-down approach, progressives who take movement organizing seriously need to develop their institutions independently. To do so, however, they will have to put aside traditional differences that have separated them in the past, particularly those between liberals and progressives who think of themselves as left of liberal.

About the Author

Eric Alterman
Eric Alterman
Eric Alterman is a Distinguished Professor of English, Brooklyn College, City University of New York, and Professor of...

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Progressives, including groups like Media Matters and FAIR, have already begun to put pressure on the mainstream media not to adopt the deliberately misleading and frequently false frames foisted on readers and viewers by an increasingly self-confident and well-funded right-wing noise machine. This needs to be kept up. (It also, and this is key, needs to be polite. No journalist is going to respond to the kind of personal abuse that is all too common in newspaper comment sections and other such forums for MSM complaint.) Exerted properly, such pressure is an effective means of forcing journalists to rethink some of their reflexive prejudices, particularly in today's punishing economic environment.

Indeed, with regard to almost every single one of our problems, we need better, smarter organizing at every level and a willingness on the part of liberals and leftists to work with what remains of the center to enact reforms that are a beginning rather than an endpoint in the process of societal transformation. As American history consistently instructs us, this is pretty much the only way things change in our system. Over time, reforms like Social Security, Medicare and the Voting Rights Act can add up to a kind of revolution, one that succeeds without bloodshed or widespread destruction of order, property or necessary institutions.

One hopeful hypothesis—one I'm tempted to share—on the Obama administration's willingness to compromise so extensively on the promises that candidate Obama made during the 2008 campaign would be that as president, he is playing for time. Obama is taking the best deal on the table today, but one expects that once he is re-elected in 2012—a pretty strong bet, I'd say—he will build on the foundations laid during his first term to bring about the fundamental "change" that is not possible in today's environment. This would be consistent with FDR's strategy during his second term and makes a kind of sense when one considers the nature of the opposition he faces today and the likelihood that it will discredit itself following a takeover of one or both houses in 2010. For that strategy to make sense, however, 2013 will have to provide a more pregnant sense of progressive possibility than 2009 did, and that will take a great deal of work by the rest of us.

To borrow from Hillel the Elder: "If not now, when? If not us, who?"

Responses to This Article

Michael Kazin, "Building a Movement by Offering Solutions"

Barbara Ehrenreich, "The Corpo-Obama-Geithner-Petraeus State"

Norman Ornstein, "Ending the Permanent Campaign"

Salim Muwakkil, "Obama, The Right and Race"

Theda Skocpol, "Obama's Healthcare Achievements"

Chris Bowers, "There Will Be No Silver Bullet"

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