It has not been easy for progressives these last few months. Most of us thought, and with some degree of justification, we were voting for the next FDR when we stepped into the voting booth and cast our ballot for Barack Obama in November of 2008. It took less than three months in office for the bloom to come off the rose of his administration. Captain Pragmatic has been, it turns out, another Washington politician who surrounded himself with competent yet establishment bureaucrats who skillfully navigated the political waters of the Beltway, but who also left many of us disillusioned with the whole process. Eighteen months in and the Left has about as much use for Obama as a car accident victim does for an insurance adjuster.
Small wonder many Democratic incumbents faced serious primary challenges this Spring. Blanche Lincoln barely survived a runoff in her home state of Arkansas from Lt. Governor Bill Halter. Arlen Specter, who switched to the Democratic Party to basically get reelected, was defeated by Joe Sestek in the Pennsylvania primary. All throughout the nation progressives, who felt betrayed by this President and this Congress, are getting their dander up and making their voices heard.
And while all this sounds rather impressive to many of us on the Left, there is, nonetheless, an inherent danger in being this belligerent to this degree. The lesson of politics, no matter how distasteful it may seem, goes as follows: run to your base during the primary, then run to your center in the general. As any political pundit would agree, most of the nation neither belongs to nor cares much about party affiliation or ideology. What it all boils down to for many of them is this: Who can best do the job? The D or R in front of their names, as well as the terms progressive or conservative that so many of us identify with, holds little water to the majority of Americans, who quite frankly have become disenchanted with most of the haranguing from both extremes.
And while it may be a bitter pill to swallow for many of us on the Left to realize that most of what we wanted and, more to the point, most of what we expect in the future could be on hold for quite sometime, the real struggle ahead for us is to prevent a blood letting of epic proportions this fall. If you think it was frustrating these last eighteen months seeing your dreams deferred, imagine a scenario where the likes of a Sharon Angle and a Joe Barton run the Senate.
Snicker all you want, but it is a closer reality than you think, and it is the reality that awaits the nation this fall if progressives don’t wake up and smell the caffeine. The malignancy that has become the Republican Party has furnished it with a narrative that has scored high points with the far Right. It has propelled extremist candidates into victories in their respective states’ primaries that otherwise would not happen. Rand Paul is a prime example of what happens when fringe elements kidnap a major political party and elevate unqualified candidates into the light of day. Like Angle, the more the general public finds out about Paul’s stances, the less attractive he becomes to them. And like Angle, Paul is in for the fight of his life. Angle, in fact, is a case study of just how out of touch with mainstream America some candidates can get.
The last thing Democrats need this fall is for progressives to sit home and pout on election day, or worse, cast a vote for a candidate who has zero chance of winning the general election. Talk about a bailout. Principles are one thing; cutting off your nose to spite your face is quite another.
There are moments in history where making a stand is the correct thing to do, and no doubt at some point progressives will mobilize and make a stand worthy of their moral convictions. And then there are moments in history where one must bite down and swallow hard and realize that this is as good as it is going to get for the time being; that to draw a line in the sand means almost certain defeat. And defeat is not an option. There is far too much at stake to allow mere conviction to dictate consequences. And make no mistake about it, consequences are coming this fall. The task before all of us is to mitigate those consequences as best we can.
We can lobby and petition our elected officials next spring to enact the laws and regulations we feel are needed to move our nation forward. The only answer we don’t have is whether our elected officials will be of a mind to hear our pleas. If that official has a D next to his or her name, we have a chance; if it’s an R, good luck. Consider the last two times major third-party candidates ran in a general election. John Anderson in 1980 and Ross Perot in 1992. The result? The incumbents – Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush – lost both elections. If we’re not careful, our principles, like our dreams, may be all we have left to hold onto next year.