Can the Left Stage a Tea Party?

It might show how moderate Obama really is

Why hasn't there been a Tea Party on the left? And can President Barack Obama and the American left develop a functional relationship?

That those two questions are not asked very often is a sign of how much of the nation's political energy has been monopolized by the right from the beginning of Obama's term. This has skewed media coverage of almost every issue, created the impression that the president is far more liberal than he is, and turned the nation's agenda away from progressive reform.

A quiet left has also been very bad for political moderates. The entire political agenda has shifted far to the right because the Tea Party and extremely conservative ideas have earned so much attention. The political center doesn't stand a chance unless there is something like a fair fight between the right and the left.

It's not surprising that Obama's election unleashed a conservative backlash. Ironically, disillusionment with George W. Bush's presidency had pushed Republican politics right, not left. Given the public's negative verdict on Bush, conservatives shrewdly argued that his failures were caused by his lack of fealty to conservative doctrine. He was cast as a big spender (even if a large chunk of the largesse went to Iraq). He was called too liberal on immigration and a big government guy for bailing out the banks, using federal power to reform the schools, and championing a Medicare prescription drug benefit.

Conservative funders realized that pumping up the Tea Party movement was the most efficient way to build opposition to Obama's initiatives. And the media became infatuated with the Tea Party in the summer of 2009, covering its disruptions of congressional town halls with an enthusiasm not visible this summer when many Republicans faced tough questions from their more progressive constituents.

Obama's victory, in the meantime, partly demobilized the left. With Democrats in control of the White House and both houses of Congress, stepped-up organizing didn't seem quite so urgent. The administration was complicit in this, viewing the left's primary role as supporting whatever the president believed needed to be done. Dissent was discouraged as counterproductive. This was not entirely foolish. Facing ferocious resistance from the right, Obama needed all the friends he could get. He feared that left-wing criticism would meld in the public mind with right-wing criticism and weaken him overall.

But the absence of a strong, organized left made it easier for conservatives to label Obama himself as a left-winger. His health-care reform is remarkably conservative -- yes, it did build on the ideas implemented in Massachusetts that Mitt Romney once bragged about. It was nothing close to the single-payer plan the left always preferred. His stimulus proposal was too small, not too large. His new Wall Street regulations were a long way from a complete overhaul of American capitalism. Yet Republicans swept the 2010 elections because they painted Obama and the Democrats as being far to the left of their actual achievements.

This week, progressives will highlight a new effort to pursue the road not taken at a conference convened by the Campaign for America's Future that opens today. It is a cooperative venture with a large number of other organizations, notably the American Dream Movement led by Van Jones, a former Obama administration official who wants to show the country what a truly progressive agenda around jobs, health care and equality would look like. Jones freely acknowledges that "we can learn many important lessons from the recent achievements of the libertarian, populist right," and says of the progressive left: "This is our 'Tea Party' moment -- in a positive sense."

What's been missing in the Obama presidency is the productive interaction with outside groups that Franklin Roosevelt enjoyed with the labor movement and Lyndon B. Johnson with the civil-rights movement. Both pushed FDR and LBJ in more progressive directions while also lending them support against their conservative adversaries.

The question for the left now, says Robert Borosage of the Campaign for America's Future, is whether progressives can "establish independence and momentum" while also being able "to make a strategic voting choice." The idea is not to pretend that Obama is as progressive as his core supporters want him to be, but to rally support to him nonetheless as the man standing between the country and the right wing.

A real left could usefully instruct Americans as to just how moderate the president they elected in 2008 is -- and how far to right conservatives have strayed. 

(c) 2011, Washington Post Writers Group

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The left could certainly use to be better organized, and it is only thing that will save you from your (apparently natural) inclinations to make yourselves sick, poor, and dead, so that the rich can get richer.  Not a Tea Party though, that is a mindless and utterly self-interested, self-indulgent hysteria, which is proud of serving no useful purpose.

The Wall Street protests are happening [in other cities too]and will not easily go away. The transaction tax of a half penny for each buy and sell order of stocks and bonds would bring in 150-200 billion a year. The software is  in place to easily collect too. The micro second trades might  disappear as an added bonus. DOW today went from 200 down to 150 up in the matter of minutes. Of course the GOP will say these 'investments' bring jobs and if the voters buy that, then we deserve what we get.  

Or, as some have suggested, can movements like the Wall Street protests, meld with the Tea Party and really question Wall Street practices that are harming and on the way to eradicating the middle class?  Can narrow and artifical partisan interests be transcended? 

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About the Author

E. J. Dionne Jr. is a syndicated columnist, professor of government at Georgetown University, and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. His most recent book is Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent (Bloomsbury Press).