(Terry's note: I feel this is the most important message I've posted on the site. I know it is a little long, but please find the time.)
2009 was a crazy year, wasn’t it? It is hard to fathom, but it was only a year ago that the nation stood in united excitement and pride over the popular and historic new president-elect. Despite everything that had happened in 2008; the financial collapse, the two seemingly endless wars, the bitter and heated election season, the country somehow seemed stronger at the end of the year. I don’t think I only feel that way because I supported Barack Obama. I guess I could be naïve, or just wrong, but judging by his high approval and favorability ratings at the time, not to mention just the buzz and excitement that seemed to run through everything that January, I think a large majority of the country was ready to start in a new direction. We were ready for change.
What a difference a year makes. As anyone reading this knows, the honeymoon faded fast, and gave way to one of the most brutal and partisan atmospheres since….well, since George Bush was in office. In political terms, not much has changed. The minority party is entrenched deep in their bunkers, only peering out to throw the occasional verbal grenade or political obstruction. The majority party increasingly leans towards the disposition that due to the moral inferiority of the minority, it is appropriate to turn a deaf ear and leave them out. The lines have been repainted in bright new paint. It is political warfare in America, from the Hill, to the blogs, to the dinner table.
Now here we are at the dawning of a new year, a congressional election year, and pedestrians to pundits have already declared it the “Year of the elephant” (GOP). Us on the left are peering in to 2010 with a mixture of apprehension, anxiety, and even dread. And we probably should be.
2009 saw the resurgence of the Republican party, a party that just at the beginning of that year had been declared dead, somewhat reverently by the media and gleefully by the Democrats. After the train wreck of the Bush years, the divisiveness of Sarah Palin, and the Democratic takeovers of Congress and the White House, the Republicans seemed to be gasping their last breath with no way forward. The very tectonic plates of American culture, race, sexuality, status quo, climate change belief, secularity, and more seemed to be shifting against the Grand Old Party.
As we all know, that is not what has happened. At the beginning of 2010, the Republicans stand stronger (in political terms) than any time since perhaps the 1994 takeover of Congress under the Clinton Administration. While obviously the GOP had significant power under the Bush Administration (especially the first four years), I don’t think they dominated the day to day narrative as much at that time. While there have been reports already of in fighting between the tea parties and the Republican party, and even the tea parties themselves, the conservative doctrine is undeniably receiving a significant boom through it all.
What is interesting, and note worthy for those of us on the other side of the political wrestling ring, is that they did it without any true leadership in the sense of a visionary politician or exciting new candidate. Sure, there was the rise of Glenn Beck. Not only in his smash hit Faux TV show, but also in his best selling books, Beck definitely was a major player in the conservative movement in 09. We have always had these controversial magnetic pundits in politics though, from Buckley to Limbaugh, so that can’t be all there is to it. There was also the Michelle Bachmans in the party who tried to latch themselves on to the tea parties and be perceived as their leader, but I don’t think any of those people are responsible for their current momentum. Also, Sarah Palin undeniably had a good year despite her stepping down from office, which a sane person would see as a setback. Nonetheless, her book has predictably sold like crazy, she had a successful tour off of it, and being in the spotlight another year has, in the twisted world of casual politics, made her appear more credible. (Despite the fact she has done NOTHING of actual substance in said year to bolster credibility).
There are two factors that are attributable to the GOP’s winning year in 2009. The first, (bear with me on this), is the people. It is true that more average people are fired up in the name of conservatism in their everyday lives and interactions in a way that they had previously not been. Some of them are legitimately opposed to the Democrat’s agenda and are feeling far away enough from the Bush years to come out from under their rock. Others have been caught up in a trend, a frenzy, the same way that the Obama campaign had its uninformed, the following the moment fan base. This is inevitable in politics, which is all about grabbing a theme, getting the ball rolling, and attracting uninformed and naïve voters on the sidelines.
There is another side, a darker side, to the so called “grassroots” uprising, namely “special interests”. In the contentious battlefields of health care, cap and trade, and financial reform, untold sums of money are being pumped from interest groups in a full frontal assault on the progressive agenda. The money makers on top have decided it’s not worth reforming and fixing these broken systems if it is going to cost them a few extra dollars off of the next profit report. They are throwing everything they have in to opposing the legislation that is going to better serve the American people.
In short, the swelling of everyday American’s militant conservatism is coming from their blindness to the unseen fat cat forces (or in the case of one particular “news” network, masked force) that is whispering in their ear while simultaneously digging a grave for them. It is amazing the effectiveness these powers have shown at turning low income, working people against the very things being put forth to work on their behalf. I don’t mean to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but if you don’t believe there are big money interests working on their own behalf alone, out of the public eye, you are either delusional, blind, or naïve.
So what can we on the left do to prepare for the congressional war of 2010? Organize, inform, and motivate, on every possible level. Basically, we have to be involved. Those of us already involved need to recognize we are going to have to push it in to an even higher gear, perhaps by breaking outside of the blogosphere and organizing events and rallies on a local scale. Do work at the schools, parks, and hospitals in affiliation with your local democratic forces (or just start your own).
Those of us with one foot in, on the sidelines but not in the game, reading and being attentive but not personally actively involved, need to dive in the deep end. First and foremost, find yourself as many sources you trust as you can. When you read a news story or opinion article that impacts you, pass it on, through a personal message to a like minded friend or open minded skeptic. Post your finds on your Facebook, Twitter, blog, or Myspace. Use your social networking to direct as many of your peers as you can to being attentive and having a seat at the table. Also, take up conversations on network posts and discussion boards. The more people you bounce your beliefs and ideas off of, the stronger they will be and the more comfortable you will be with crafting a narrative for them. Democracy only works for us if we work for it.
I want to directly address my generation, the people my age, the 18-25 crowd. We have to step up. We have to pull our heads out of the MTV society. Nobody is going to work on our behalf except ourselves, and there are plenty of powers working against us. We are inheriting an unprecedented world, a world of globalization, terrorism, and too big to fail economics. I know plenty of young people who will loudly state their beliefs against war, in favor of gay rights, or for bottom up economics, but very few who are actively participant on a significant scale. In the same way as it is easier to play Guitar Hero than be a rock star, it is easier to boast about your beliefs than it is to inform yourself on them and fight for them. Carving out your political identity and informing yourself is part one, taking your message to others and encouraging them to do the same is part two.
All of us on the left can’t wait around for President Obama to get everything done, for our talk show hosts to beat back every attack, or for others in general to fight all of our battles. Part of the message of President Obama’s election was that we have to take an active role in our politics, government, and in our future. In 2010, we have to summon the same determination and fight that we had just a little over a year ago to support and reinforce our demand for change and progress.
(P.S.- Start now. Pass this message on.)