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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

WASHINGTON — Why hasn’t there been a tea party on the left? And can President 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 Monday. 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.

E.J. Dionne’s email address is ejdionne(at)

(c) 2011, Washington Post Writers Group

  • Shaun Costello

    Cheney answers the tough Condi questions about Gaddafi. Say’s he thought Colin Powell was Armenian. Dick Cheney’s latest, and perhaps most controversial interview. The former Vice President is chatty and informative on many subjects previously undiscussed. Grab this:

  • AnnaSolomon

    It’s about time someone came up with a fair and balanced approach to these Reich Wing Nuts.

  • billsamuel

    The American Dream Movement is a project of (it’s Web site says “powered by”). MoveOn was founded by businessmen to protect the establishment from what they viewed as the threats from both the left and the right. They funded primary opponents of progressive Democrats.

    MoveOn later took on a progressive, anti-war mask as its public persona, but its purpose has always remained the same. Its history includes manipulated “votes” of its members, and active lobbying against anti-war legislation. While its mission of hijacking the progressive movement on behalf of the establishment has had some unfortunate success, no knowledgeable progressive regards it as a valid progressive organization. Since Van Jones operates under their umbrella, what he is doing is similarly suspect.

    I believe the real purpose of this new “movement” is to try to get people opposed to Obama’s policies, such as multiple wars and trampling of civil liberties, to support him and other established Democrats next year. See what happens next year with it. MoveOn has always opposed real change. That is in its DNA.

    The real alternative movement is the Occupy movement. At its heart, it recognizes that big money controls the election process, and any real effort for change has to be non-electoral in focus. Van Jones and MoveOn claim to support it, but I believe that is only in an effort to hijack from its fundamentally revolutionary purpose and try to bring it back into supporting the establishment. I think there’s some chance that this time the evil machinations of MoveOn will not be successful.


    Let’s assume there was a movement I would want to crush. I would undermine and find every way possible to make people NOT have faith in it. The American Dream Movement has specified that it is an unbrela of many different ideas, some of them contradictory. Right away there are people who are dissatisfied–they want to throw the baby out with the bath water, because everything is NOT perfect. They have metaphysical minds- they are unable to see how things evolve continually. The American Dream movement may have some bad things about it, but that is no reason to throw it out. Nothing comes out like Minerva, fully formed from Zeus’s temple, which what these ideologues always expect. Five or ten years from now the American Dream movement will have evolved to something quite different, but it won’t if we try to drown it before it gets started. That is how the enemy operates, when it is determined to keep the left from becoming active.

  • Dale

    Forget the idea of a fair fight. This is a war. Wars are about winning. Fairness is about games. This is no game.
    Boys fight fair. Men fight to win.

  • Shaun Costello

    ANN COULTER IS AN ALIEN, claims former lover Lou Dobbs. In a shocking revelation today, Dobbs recounts his torrid affair with Right Wing Siren Ann Coulter, and his horrific, and bewildering sexual encounters with the Republican Right’s hottest hottie. “The moment I realized Ann was not human, that she was an alien being, not of this word, was the moment I knew I was the sexual slave of an extraterrestrial”, claimed Dobbs.

  • Stephen

    On the far left there is total government control as in a dictator or Communism, called tyrany. On the far right there is no government called anarchy. Our Founding Fathers placed the Constitution right in the middle. Not too much government, not too little. For the liberals to call a move back to the original intent of the Constitution a far right movement, shows just how far left they truly are.