This week, in the nation’s capital, thousands of progressive individuals and organizations are working to build a grassroots response to the Tea Party’s right-wing, libertarian, 19th-century approach to government and democracy.
Organizers of this week’s “Take Back the American Dream” conference in Washington are studying the tea party, as they build a response to support progressive causes. The effort is a response to Tea Party Republicans’ takeover of the House in 2010 and the continuing efforts to cut crucial social programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, student loans and many more.
FINDING A “NEW” DIRECTION
After the ’08 election, many Democrats said they falsely assumed that winning the White House would help them pass an agenda that would assist middle-class families. Instead, they were dismayed when Obama ditched a proposed “public option” for a government insurance plan from the health care overhaul and cringed when he cut a deal with Republicans to extend Bush-era tax cuts.
“People are totally ready to get behind (Obama), but I think what they’re not ready to give anybody is the benefit of the doubt that if we win an election and we all go home, things are going to change,” said Andy Stern, the former President of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). “That was probably the theory of the Obama election and taking over the House by the Democrats and the Senate as well. I think it was a failed strategy.”
So progressives have tried to build a movement, holding hundreds of house meetings across the country and staging protests at town hall meetings held by Republican lawmakers — a tactic that tea party activists used to build opposition to Obama’s health care plan.
A TURNING POINT?
Several speakers at the Conference, which has been streamed live, said Obama’s jobs bill could act as a turning point, a sign that the President has finally had enough and is taking the bull(shit) by the horns, taking a more aggressive approach to revive the economy and refusing to allow deep cuts to Medicare and Social Security. The President has barnstormed the country, rallying support for his $447 billion plan for tax cuts and public works spending, in order to stimulate the economy and get people back to work.
While the House, controlled the GOP, is unlikely to pass the bill in its entirety, the White House believes that Obama’s direct approach to the American people will build support and show the GOP that it’s time to do what’s right for America. Progressives are thinking that the President has finally turned the corner, and understood that unless something was changed, he would face a critical uphill battle JUST to maintain his base of support.
TALKIN’ THE TALK & WALKIN’ THE WALK…FINALLY
“Why is the White House talking different? The White House is talking different because we are walking different,” said Van Jones, a former Obama policy adviser, who helped organize the Conference.
Progressives looked closely at Obama’s deficit reduction response and are pleased that he refused to cave in to GOP demands for a gradual increase in the minimum age requirement for Medicare, from 65 to 67. Last summer, Obama had originally agreed to the age increase in negotiations with House Speaker John Boehner (R – Ohio), before the talks fell apart. Democrats and Progressives demanded no age increases, arguing it would undercut their criticisms of a GOP plan that would overhaul Medicare.
On Social Security, Democrats have protested plans by GOP presidential candidates, who want to partially privatize it, letting younger workers divert part of their payroll taxes into a personal account to be invested outside of Social Security. The problem is that this money will then be up for grabs by Wall Street banks and investment houses, all dying to get their fingers in the pie!
SO…WHERE DOES THAT LEAVE THE PRESIDENT IN 2012?
The President doesn’t face a primary challenge in 2012, and GOP hopefuls have little chance of picking up support from longtime Democrats. But, in addition to the core stalwarts of the Democratic Party, the President will need progressives to knock on doors, staff phone banks and register voters — must-do jobs for any candidate’s base. Dissatisfied progressives and critically important independent voters could stay home on Election Day. They might even refuse to help finance the President’s campaign.
A recent survey by Gallup found that 45% of Democrats said they were more enthusiastic about the 2012 Presidential election than previous contests, while 44% expressed less enthusiasm. 58% of GOP voters, meanwhile, said they were more enthusiastic about 2012 than in past elections, and 30% said they were less enthusiastic. Gallup added that the so-called “enthusiasm gap” between Dems and GOP voters was the largest since 2000, in the race between Gore and Bush.
Many Progressives are betting that the “Rebuilding The Dream” movement can generate extra enthusiasm for the President next year and get the base, plus independents, excited about the race.
Rep. Jan Schakowsky, (D – Il), told Conference attendees that many of her supporters appeared “beaten down”by the state of the economy and the President’s current poll numbers among likely voters, but she said that Democrats and other progressives need to bring robust energy to the 2012 election. “We have to set people’s hair on fire about what America would look like if Republicans get their way,” she said.