Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Deceptive Silence On The Left

There are more of us than there are of them. We need to remember that.

The Tea Party movement is making a lot of noise these days. They’re scaring politicians in both parties to death, and the Republicans with cause. But they are not the ones the Democrats should fear. The Democrats ought to be afraid instead of the TP’s counterparts on the left, which I’ve unimaginatively called the Leftist Insurgency (LI). (Still would like a better name.) The Tea Party won’t determine whether Democratic Senators and Congressmen can be reelected. The LI will.

Look at it this way. Precious few of those participating in the right-wing insurgency today voted for Barack Obama in 2008, so their activism is not an indicator of any lost support, either for him or for other Democrats. Obama campaigned on a decidedly left-wing platform: health-care reform, ending the war in Iraq, stimulus for the economy, reducing corporate influence on government, green energy and ending oil dependence, “spreading the wealth around.” Never mind for the moment that he’s broken most of those promises or watered them down to the point of nullity. The fact remains that Obama the candidate was an unabashed progressive of the sort we haven’t seen among Democrats running for president in a long time. And he won. He won big, and he won with the votes and activism of the LI, thus proving that the LI exists, and that it is a lot stronger than mainstream media views of this country as “center-right” recognize.

Now we hear attempts to rewrite history, claims that Obama is losing support because of his overly left-wing agenda. The picture being painted is of someone who campaigned as a moderate and veered left once in office, losing support in the process.

And that’s bullshit. It’s total distortion, total disinformation. You know that, I know it, and everyone saying it probably knows it, too, which makes it not a mistake but a deliberate lie. Obama didn’t run as a moderate, and he didn’t tack left on taking office. He ran as a progressive, and he tacked right, and that’s why he’s lost support.

At this point in time, America is not center-right but center-left, and moving further left all the time. The election of 2008 proves that. If it were not true, Obama should never have been electable campaigning as he did. He was not some kind of stealth leftist. Anyone who voted for him thinking he was promising to govern as a moderate had his head in the sand and his ears plugged. What’s more, the fact that his support came disproportionately from young voters says a lot about where the country is moving, because of course young voters are the future. This division is generation-based, not age-based. Young Obama voters are not going to turn into conservatives as they age (except insofar as the issues of their youth win, and become part of the status quo). They will continue to vote for progressive candidates for the rest of their lives. In any election, the question is not who the people who gave Obama his victory will support, but whether or not they will vote at all. Any gains made by the Republicans in this year’s election will not be because the electorate has moved right. They will be made by default, because we see no reason to vote.

So: there are more of us insurgents on the left than there are of them on the right. The ones on the right are just noisier. Also, they get more media coverage in the old media. Why that is, I’m not sure. Viral memes? More outlandish costuming and absurd extremism, which boosts ratings? Conspiracy? Your guess is as good as mine.

Two weeks ago I posted “The Tea Party paradox” in which I introduced the idea of the LI. One of my readers pointed out that the LI was not very visible in the media. I agreed. But does it need to be? Here’s one interesting thing: Tea Party members are typically older people (as well as white and male). LI members, though, tend to be younger, more new-media-savvy types. While Boomers (born 1943-1960) are not a majority of the TP, they are disproportionately represented, while Millennials (born 1982-2005) are underrepresented although not completely absent. Now I know something about what Boomers are like because I am one. The Boomer style of political activism runs to guerrilla theater. That’s just as true of right-wing Boomer activists today as it was of left-wing Boomer activists in the 1960s and 1970s. Guerrilla theater is, when well done, lots of fun to watch. It’s just naturally going to boost ratings and therefore be something the old media will want to cover (which may suffice to explain the deceptive silence on the left by itself).

But if the LI is not as visible on television, it is no less active. It’s found in the blogosphere, in the social networks, and in action groups that, rather than putting on a demonstration for the media, instead put on an email campaign for members of Congress. The LI is pushing Congress to finish health care reform (pointing out that there’s really nothing to stop them, since a bill has already been passed by both houses of Congress and such differences as exist between them can be resolved through reconciliation, requiring only a simple majority). Congress, and now the president as well (, is responding. Similar efforts are under way to push for a jobs bill, for bank regulation, and for many other measures that have been stalled in Congress by Republican intransigence and Democratic ankle-grabbing. A new aggressiveness is starting to show up in Washington among Democrats that have up to now been about as effective as a tissue-paper tank. The LI is responsible for the change.

That’s typical Millennial stuff: not showy, but effective. Not guerrilla theater, but old-fashioned organization implemented with up-to-date technology. Not outlandish costumes and fringe ideas, but solid progressive politics and civic responsibility. The LI outnumbers the TP, and it’s better organized and a whole lot more practical. Its electoral impact cannot help but be much, much greater.

Does that mean the Democrats are, polls and pundits to the contrary notwithstanding, going to pull off a win this fall and actually increase their representation in Congress? It’s possible, but not likely, and that’s because the LI is no more an arm of the Democratic Party than the TP is of the Republican Party. If its collective mind chooses to support the Democrats enthusiastically this fall, then yes, that will happen. But it won’t – not every Democrat in Congress, it won’t, because some of them have not earned that support.

But while Democrats will probably lose ground this year, progressives will not. And that bodes well for the future.


  1. Southpaw?

    Thanks for another excellent post.

  2. Interesting blog, Brian, but it’s missing an important part of the equation: Generation Jones (between the Boomers and Generation X). Many of your fellow S&H fans, even Neil Howe himself, has acknowledged the existence of GenJones.

    Google Generation Jones, and you’ll see it’s gotten a ton of media attention, and many top commentators from many top publications and networks (Washington Post, Time magazine, NBC, Newsweek, ABC, etc.) now specifically use this term. In fact, the Associated Press' annual Trend Report chose the Rise of Generation Jones as the #1 trend of 2009. Here's a page with a good overview of recent media interest in GenJones: