Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Conservatives Attack, Democrats Say Uncle

In November 2008, an already majority-Democrat Congress made further gains in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, and won the presidency as well. Now, with a relatively progressive House and a nominally "filibuster-proof" majority in the Senate, it would be logical that the legislative agenda in Washington would be tilted in favor of more progressive policies. And the White House has certainly taken some bold steps over the past eight months, including addressing issues from Guantanamo Bay to Vehicle Emissions Standards. And yet, compared to how much progress should have been made by now, it seems that conservatives have been particularly successful in stymieing a great deal of what could have been accomplished.

Since the Democrats took control of both branches, conservatives and the vast majority of the Republican party (see the breakdown of House votes on the Stimulus bill) have employed a clever strategy in Washington; namely, to obstruct everything Democrats try to do. And in large part, it's worked well. With the help of incendiary pundits pushing their agendas on the airwaves, conservatives have been able to drive their messages into the hearts of Americans, though not necessarily by explaining why their policy ideas are stronger than those of Democrats.

Instead, most "calls to arms" from the right have been predicated on somewhat or outright misleading information. Town hall meetings have been overrun by angry citizens who think the health care reform means a socialist takeover of the health care system and "death panels." Obama's speech yesterday on how kids should stay in school and work hard caused a massive controversy in the preceding weeks over whether the President was trying to "indoctrinate our youth" with "socialist ideas," and Van Jones was forced to resign from the Council for Environmental Quality because of vicious attacks on his character from right-wing pundits and Republican Congressmen.

It turns out Obama's speech on the first day of school was about taking personal responsibility and working hard (aren't those the core tenets of American conservatism?). And yet, after hearing Glenn Beck rant about Obama's socialist motives on Fox News, enraged and frightened parents demanded that their children not be subjected to such a speech. Conservatives are so effective at getting their political agenda across that they have actually been able to convince parents not to let their kids listen to speeches about the values of education and hard work by the President of the United States of America, just because he is a Democrat. Now that is impressive. And appalling.

Meanwhile, Van Jones resigned late Saturday from his position as Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise, and Innovation at the White House Council on Environmental Quality. A few weeks earlier, a non-profit that Jones had founded, Color of Change, organized an advertising boycott of Beck's Fox News show after the demagogue called Obama a "racist." In retaliation, Beck began an all-out smear campaign on Jones's character, stirring public fears of Obama's non-Senate-confirmed "czars" (somehow the idea of Russian monarchs giving Obama advice is especially terrifying). Now Jones, who is a visionary, an activist, and a true patriot, can no longer help serve his country in transitioning us to a socially equitable, clean energy economy.

All these controversies and distractions have helped to keep the President's and Democrats' agenda largely on hold. And Democrats and progressives don't seem very capable at fighting back on any of these issues. Glenn Beck, now seemingly one of the most powerful people in the US, has instilled fear in Americans, enhanced distrust in Democrats, and put them on the defensive instead of where they should be—passing key legislation. Even with big majorities in both Houses, Democrats are being out maneuvered by Republicans and conservatives at every turn, and are squandering rare and precious opportunities for changes that our country desperately needs.

Images: Obstructionist cartoon (Rockford Register Star), Glenn Beck (Grist), Van Jones (Washington Post)

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