New Progressive Era – or Dead Cat Bounce?

Captive by the relentless train wreck called establishment politics, let us pause and consider potential breakthroughs. Scoff at my optimism, even fantasies, but doesn’t every epic calamity beget a perk or two, eventually? I trust the “gift in the wound” learned from poet Robert Bly. And my father’s best lesson, “If you don’t learn from failure, you suffer a double loss.”

Just for balance, isn’t it high time someone took on the gloom and doomsters? Compare the odds, over the next 100-500 years, of a new progressive era breaking out vs. the likelihood the world explodes, or implodes, with a bang or whimper. Medium odds wipe out the long, long shot of apocalypse. Doesn’t history celebrate  those dreadful bottoms on which reform springboards?

Question on the table: can we rise above our morbid fascination with  wreckage to imagine whether today’s misery of failures could ignite a leftwing surge? Not much else has, and I tire of hearing our current life and times are locked in a death spiral. Instead, consider Somerset Maugham, “The pendulum swings backwards and forwards. The circle is ever travelled anew.”

No doubt, a new progressive movement must feast on the nexus of failed, faux Obama liberalism bloodied by failed, faux Tea Party conservatism. On point, both face paradigm-shifting blowback: Obamacare could doom Democratic Senate control while unstinting Tea Party idiocy jeopardizes House control. When else did minority extremists cost a national party six Senate seats (and control), ripping defeat from the jaws of victory? A less bizarre GOP primary would have widened Romney’s PR choices, rather than sinking him with staggeringly absurd talking points.

Lame Nominee vs. Lame Duck

Doesn’t leverage on the left increase as this president crash-lands, marked as our earliest lame duck. Betrayal is coming home to roost. Remember, Occupy anger didn’t menace the horrid Bush years but only after Obama’s neo-liberal betrayal droned on and on. The most vigorous ’60’s anti-war protests exploded after LBJ’s “liberal” Vietnam nightmare crashed and burned on the rocks of the “domino theory.” Civil rights agitation didn’t surge because ’50’s racists started new abuses but from profound disgust with centrist-liberal foot-dragging. Segregationists never hid their racism, whereas JFK type-hypocrites talked equality but delayed intervention. Ever the politician, JFK waited and waited, knowing he’d offend key southern racists when protecting our citizens from murder. Movements often break out not during noxious enemy misbehavior but after perceived betrayals by false friends.

Perhaps Obama’s ultimate audacity of hope wasn’t simply dashed but passed on to those with more courage. Consider the chronic negligence committed by this White House: not only with the ACA, but dumb denials of secret spying, wimpy economic stimuli, enslavement to big business, vision-less foreign affairs lurching from crisis to crisis, all topped by persistent scandals, billions wasted on “anti-terrorism” and abuse of dissenting whistleblowers. My only surprise is how long it took Obama’s approval numbers to skitter.

Is there to be no payoff from the literal dis-illusion-ment by millions of ex-Obama fans, aware now their hero is a garden-variety, feel-good politician. For the badly betrayed, we’ve skipped past “Obama fatigue” to “Obama exhaustion.” Further, does not a collapsed Obama administration undermine establishment stand-ins, like Queen Hillary, or party Senate dominance after ’14? Discredited “pragmatism” that serves paralysis, or worse, opens a wedge for unifying disconsolate liberals with disgruntled centrists.

That’s why I see the ongoing, Great Obama Fail as a springboard to revitalize progressive politics — boosting Bernie Sanders and/or Elizabeth Warren. If the second Obama term were to end in triumph, then Hillary cruises home, singing “let the good times roll.” “Why elect anti-government nut cases,” she’d declare, “sure to dump the punch bowl?” Instead, now 52% judge Obama dishonest, as his thin support withers. What a dastardly fall from grace, etching towards the predecessor he mocked, the least trusted modern president! Why, Obama’s political capital is so depleted, I hear, the House will charge him to appear for the State of the Union.

Dem Debacles vs. GOP Civil War

The looming question for three years: will enough Democratic Party debacles offset hemorrhaging, rightwing acrimony? Right now it’s a toss-up. Defensive Democrats can’t or won’t capitalize on the GOP civil war, pitting unelectable loonies vs. merely ultra-conservative wingnuts. What a treat: either a Tea Party ignoramus or a primary-battered nominee more vulnerable after bloodletting. Overhanging all, though, frustrated voters fret over Obama’s stubborn reign as hawkish, right-leaning centrist who enables endless foreign wars and Wall Street mercenaries while trading away untouchables, like Social Security.

Whatever residual fans find to praise, how long can Obama sell “damage control” against “something worse” when broken band-aids cover shredded ones? Finally, will there be no penalty against a party and president failing its core task: to reverse the worst of Bushism — on Constitutional rights, taxation, cronyism, divide & conquer tactics, unilateral militarism, abusive surveillance, or privacy violations?

Working assumption: few voters will abandon national parties as prime change agents, thus pressure on Democrats to honor New Deal roots will grow, especially as implacable, right wing fumblers keep threatening to shoot the hostage. Thus, by this logic, the time is right for left wing realignment, but only if now scattered groups come together and focus protests, with media-savvy spokespeople, striking headlines, and surgically-clear reforms.

Obamacare Dooms Liberalism?

Oddly, I find good news in exaggerations that allege if Obamacare fails, so does liberalism. The right jumped on this propaganda and centrist voices, like Politico’s Todd Purdum, echoed: “[T]he fiasco of the launch of Obama’s sweeping health care overhaul has put the reputation of Big Government progressivism at risk for at least this generation.” Even the savvy liberal Frank Rich worries, “If the ACA fails, it will also be a serious setback for the Democratic party and liberalism in general, since that failure will greatly further the conservative case.”

The inevitable roll-out of the ACA won’t do in Obama: eventual fixes for this convoluted program will be hobbled together. Has any disastrous rollout of one program ever decimated American liberalism? Decades of continuity (for liberalism is too blurred to be a “movement”) don’t vanish until substitute belief systems rise up, and don’t count on “socialism” or “fascism.” Or of late Tea Party “conservatism.” Only a battering from multiple, serious failures menace “liberalism,” though Obama is doing his magic to reinforce the rightwing meme, “government can’t work.”

True, progressive outcomes are closer to visions than reality, and something exceptional must occur before 2016 to shake things up. If a decidedly hawkish Hillary wins, owing little to progressive forces, the left’s wobbly power recedes. Just because the task is daunting doesn’t dissuade me from hunting up positive lights across menacing darkness. Otherwise, I’d be stuck at online buffets dishing out oracular world-weariness, as in “we are all doomed” — or imagine revolution is nigh because, well, the stars are aligned. One good deed deserves another, I say, along with “Dessert’s over. Waiter. Check, please.”

Robert S. Becker was educated at Rutgers College (BA) and UC Berkeley (Ph.D, English). He left university teaching (Northwestern, U. Chicago) for business, founding and heading SOTA Industries, high end audio company from '80 to '92. "Writing for the public taught me how to communicate." From '92-02 he did marketing consulting, grant, and business writing. Since '02, he scribbles on politics, science and culture, looking for the wit in the shadows. Read other articles by Robert.