Learning From The Frustrations Of 2009

Bill Scher

Just before the end of the year, Campaign for America’s Future co-directors Robert Borosage and Roger Hickey shared what they learned after an action-packed 2009 in the battle for progressive change.

The two shared four key lessons from the year.

1. Change is brutal, and will always be resisted by powerful entrenched forces.

That’s one of those lessons you know in the back of your brain, but can easily forget in the thrill of the moment.

2. No matter how popular a reform idea is, like the public option, it still faces the buzzsaw of the United States Senate.

I would note there is something to be said for the Senate rules allowing filibusters (even if they are not in the Constitution), as well as the Constitution’s affirmative action to small states inherent in the Senate’s design. These have long provided a check against any “tyranny of the majority,” albeit sometimes at the expense of delaying critical progressive reforms such as civil rights.

But to thwart the majority’s will should be a lot of harder than it is now.

It’s one thing to give the minority a shot at displaying intense opposition through round-the-clock filibusters in hopes of delaying action and shifting public opinion. It’s another to establish an unwritten rule that you need supermajority thresholds to do anything, making it next to impossible to enact reforms critical to sustaining the nation, no matter where public opinion resides.

3. Progressives cannot wash their hands of the political process. We have to organize more, independent of the political parties. The frustrations of the first year of the Obama presidency are not cause to render the political system a waste of time, but to fight harder. The forces of obstruction would like nothing more than for progressives to give up.

4. This is still the best opportunity in 30 years for progressive reform. And I’ll add it’s an opportunity that won’t come again for another 30 years unless we stay engaged, enact as much reform as we can, and show the public that progressive governance can work.

Disengaging, dismissing all incremental progress, and waiting for an even bigger progressive revolution to suddenly materialize is an extremely dicey proposition. No matter how you view the agenda of the White House and the congressional leadership, most voters view this moment in history as a test of progressive ideas and ability to govern. Gridlock will be cause for anxious voters to say the experiment failed, not to double down.

Progressives need to be a fierce and independent force, to beat back entrenched interests and craft reforms with the best chance of succeeding.

But we must also be a constructive force that eschews scorched-earth tactics, else we risk losing this mandate for bold change until another generation.

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