Let’s celebrate this gathering–of people of moxie, passion and conviction. Progressives across the country are building a feisty, populist politics, an actual movement based on real conviction, serious about taking power: one committed to changing course–ending a disastrous war that is undermining our security; building a more perfect union, fighting for national health care, addressing the investment deficit, fueling that moon shot for energy independence, draining the swamp of corruption and incompetence that is the hallmark of this congress and administration, and driving Democrats toward a real and renewed politics of the common good.
It’s going to be tough. This is a long battle. Let’s be real clear: the administration, the people in power are extremists, not conservatives, with little to no respect for truth in public debate. They will do anything to hold on to their power and say anything about those who disagree with them. But we must call them out–and in doing so, build a politics of decency, sanity which speaks to the generosity of the American people. That will require taking on other powerful forces: corporate power for one, and a Democratic leadership that is sometimes too fearful of its own shadow. But I believe progressives can make real and significant advances in American politics over the next years. My optimism is fueled by how this country has turned against this disastrous war, and done so with virtually no political leadership. It is fueled partly because not just we, but the general public, are fed up with the immorality and slash-and-burn economics of the corporate agenda. People are really concerned, even agitated, about job security, ravaged pensions, the deterioration of work and wages, the lack of affordable educational opportunity for their kids.
What we need to do is explain loud and clear, to a status quo beltway class, that we are the mainstream–that there is another center, one which relates to the way people actually live. After all, poll after poll shows that a majority of Americans support national health care, energy independence, an end to this unnecessary war, a principled foreign policy that will make them secure–not a messianic crusade that is championed by too many beltway types, one that may cost us $2 trillion, while neglecting our decaying infrastructure at home, and fair trade that counters unprecedented corporate power, and stabilizes not ravages the middle class…I could go on. But it’s time to tell the beltway pundits and pollsters where the real center is.
Democratic activists, grassroots, netroots, the base, are part of this new mainstream–driving the debate. When The Nation, the country’s largest progressive weekly, laid down a marker for measuring any candidate in ’06 or beyond, stating that we would support only candidates who stood up on Iraq, we were inundated with thousands of positive e-mails, from readers and others in the broader progressive community–even scores of conservatives with a conscience and some common sense. On the war, on tax cuts, on oil’s windfall profits, even on corruption, too many beltway Democrats have suffered less from an identity crisis than a spinal weakness.
These are times when we need to speak and act with confidence and clarity. Spend more time proposing, less time opposing. Inspire the base, motivate it, give it a reason to get out and work for progressive candidates and issues. Understand that a generation of economic decline and failed government response, and the relentless demonization of government, has left people deeply wary of government, but also quite open to a progressive agenda–if it is put before them. Of course, this is exactly what we need to do with focus and conviction. Because despite the self-evident collapse of the conservative project, Americans need to hear alternatives. Without vision, says the Bible, the people perish. Or at least lose hope. Perhaps the worst legacy of this era of “TINA” (“there is no alternative”) and “YOYO” (“You’re on your own”) is the shackles it has put on our imagination.