Several weeks ago, around the time the US senate was watering down its version of the health insurance reform bill like you would a whiskey-sour for your overeager teenage-nephew, I sat down for a meal with a couple of like-minded friends. We were talking about their baby boy and they proudly recounted the story of his dramatic birth on President Obama’s inauguration day: an Obama baby. The obvious subtext, in these progressive circles we travel in, was that the infant child could scarcely enter this world at a more auspicious moment; he was blessed by the fruition of the hard work and unbridled hope (for lack of a better word) of so many ordinary people in America. Assuming, as I often do, that most people I hang out with feel like I do on most issues of substance, I jokingly asked them if the kid was now disappointed. I just threw it out there without a second thought, assuming that any thinking (progressive/liberal/left-of-center) human being who had been following the president’s first year in office had by then realized that we are not getting what we voted for. Their response was a bit more nuanced. I think they actually did share my concerns, but there was some discomfort in acknowledging that the Mainstream-Left’s chosen standard bearer was not delivering on any of his big campaign promises.
At an unrelated social event a few nights ago I met a guy who told me how he used to be active in Democratic political circles during the campaign — ” … I think they now call it ‘Organizing for America‘ …” he said — and apologetically admitted that he has since kinda fallen off that bandwagon, as he would admit to slacking off on his carefully planned daily exercise regimen. He didn’t offer any reason. He didn’t say that the man he had helped put into the highest office in the land no longer deserved any more of his time and energy. I saw it in his eyes.
One thing that strikes me is how feeble the outrage over this very clear case of “Bait and Switch” is on the left. Yes, the progressive blogs, and press offer some pointed criticism of the president’s underwhelming leadership (if you’re charitable) and misguided policies (if you’re not) on the issues: war, health care, regulation of the financial institutions, don’t-ask-don’t-tell, government transparency, etc. But I haven’t been able to find any form of large-scale, organized progressive backlash. There does not seem to be any movement that cries out with a clear voice “We’ve been duped!” and explains to the president and to his brand of Democratic elected officials that we will not stand for this. We’re all expected to just keep on fighting the good fight, and support our president and the Democrats because if we don’t, we’ll get 8 more Bush years or something. After all – at least he’s not ruining “Lost” for us.
Even Gov. Howard Dean, who was the supposed liberal firebrand in the 2004 primaries, recanted his call to kill the senate’s health care bill only a few days after he made his emphatic and subversive arguments against it. His arguments for his eventual support for the bill were somehow more delicate, and strangely echoed the party line. This falls in line with one of Noam Chomsky’s key arguments about the respective roles of the “elite press” outlets and the educated class in this country: that the media is as effective in keeping democratic societies in order as it is because it manages to fully indoctrinate the upper 20% of society – the educated and affluent – and the rest of the populace just follows their lead (if his books are too numerous to read, then you can watch the 1992 film about him online). Howard Dean turns out to join the party of barely palatable compromises and the rest of what could possibly be a genuine mainstream movement of grassroots protest shrugs and sighs and turns back to go about their business.
Like every other left-leaning consumer of mass media, I find some small comfort in the enraging outcries voiced by the like of Jon Stewart and Keith Olbermann. At least we have them to console ourselves on these cold winter weeknights while the sausage is being made up on capitol hill. Enjoy.