Sunday, December 12, 2010

What Ishmael Reed Doesn't Understand About Progressives

In a New York Times op-ed today, distinguished American poet, essayist, and novelist Ishmael Reed argues that progressives are upset at President Obama for “keeping his cool” where progressives would like “the president to ‘man up’ in the face of the Republicans. Some want him to be like John Wayne. On horseback. Slapping people left and right.”
“One progressive commentator played an excerpt from a Harry Truman speech during which Truman screamed about the Republican Party to great applause. He recommended this style to Mr. Obama. If President Obama behaved that way, he’d be dismissed as an angry black militant with a deep hatred of white people. His grade would go from a B- to a D.”
The clip in question was played by progressive radio host Thom Hartmann. President Truman was not screaming when he said, “the Democrats are for the people. The Republicans are for the special interests. They've always been for the special interests.” It is a simple statement of fact. It is stunning for Mr. Reed to argue that in 2010 our President must be constrained from repeating this Truman truism — even if he quotes it without the air quotes used to say Democrats felt “quote unquote betrayed”— because he happens to be African American.
Mr. Reed noted, “I pointed out to a leading progressive that the Tea Party included neo-Nazis and Holocaust deniers — and he called me a “bully.” He believes that the Tea Party is a grass-roots uprising against Wall Street, a curious reading since the movement gained its impetus from a rant against the president delivered by a television personality on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.”
This passage is absurdly unrepresentative of liberal and progressive values and of how fiercely progressives have pushed back against Tea Party racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia and xenophobia. It is, for Mr. Reed, an unseemly smear of progressives. In the center-right political spectrum occupied by the Beltway elites, progressives and liberals are the sole ‘outlier’ speaking truth to power and upper class privilege to the gilded media millionaires tasked with disseminating the New American oligarchy's message.

Liberals and progressives are unique in not legitimizing the so-called ‘Tea Party’ as a mainstream political movement, any more than the American Nazi Party or the KKK are mainstream. We see the so-called ‘Tea Party’ for what it truly is: an ultra-conservative unrepresentative political movement populated by the self-same extremist elements Mr. Reed describes. Some of us prefer “Teabagger” with a capital ‘T’ as the more accurate designation. The reason is simple: If you belong to an organization that has in its ranks racists, anti-Semites, birthers, xenophobes, and homophobes, who or what does that make you?
Mr. Reed continues his misguided critique against liberals and progressives with the offensive inference that we are spoiled whites: “Unlike white progressives, blacks and Latinos are not used to getting it all ... When these progressives refer to themselves as Mr. Obama’s base, all they see is themselves. They ignore polls showing steadfast support for the president among blacks and Latinos.”
With all due respect to Mr. Reed, liberals and progressives have earned for ourselves the appelation of President Obama’s “base” because our liberal activism and militancy was crucial to his election in 2008. Furthermore, it was not liberals and progressives who stayed home in the midterm elections, but the blacks and Latinos Mr. Reed speaks of in the President’s 2008 coalition. Despite Mr. Reed’s mistaken belief, progressives and Latinos are not mutually exclusive.

 As for the constant, condescending Beltway refrain, “where are progressives going to go” the honest answer is, it depends. If the economy tanks in spite of the so-called ‘Stimulus II’— absent the transfer of wealth to the rich funded by borrowed Chinese money — with anemic job creation and economic recovery, there might well be a primary challenge to the President, regardless of what progressives do. Likewise, an independent challenge to the President, from right or left, remains an open possibility, regardless of what progressives do. It all depends on the pace of job creation and economic recovery, not on the transient politics of who pisses whom off or who’s up and who’s down that so fascinates the Idiot Punditocracy.

Contrary to the Beltway elites’ self-indulgent and self-congratulatory predictions, their economic IQ is about a 9.8. In his best-case scenario, Paul Krugman predicts the economy will do “okay” in 2011. Unemployment could dip between a half to one point. Once the short-term tax cuts end going into an election year in 2012, what are the chances the President will fight to (a) end the tax cuts for the rich, (b) end the outrageous (Paris Hilton) estate tax 35 percent giveaway to what it would have been absent the craven compromise, 55 percent, (c) permanently extend the middle class tax cuts, and (d) get another one-year extension in unemployment benefits?

Knowing this president’s MO, he’ll probably make the half-loaf argument, that two-out-of-four ain’t bad. In dollars and cents biggest bang for the buck, the 50-50 formulation just won't add up. Not even close. If it’s options (c) and (d) it’s pretty much curtains for the embattled middle class “over the long haul,” as the President likes to say.

No comments: