More Thoughts on the American Spring, Maxine Waters, and Reform-Based Populism

I get it.

Some people think Obama was supposed to be the American Spring.

Some people think the Tea Party is the American Spring.

Some people think the Tea Party should go straight to hell.  Some Congresspeople go and say it.

Al Gore says we need an American Spring to counteract the Tea Party.

With all due respect to the former Vice President, it blows my mind that he thinks true change and true progressive populism will somehow come from the Left.  It won’t come from the Right, either.  It will have to come from all quarters and cannot be about hating our ousting the Other.  It has to be about reforming the entire process of government, about locating power back in the hands of the people and away from the military-corporate-special interest-political complex.

You’d think Al Gore would know this.  But the heartstrings of  Establishment politics are strong. He might as well suggest that the American Spring will come prepackaged as a plank in his party’s platform, that it will leap, full-grown and ready to fight, from the DNC.  That’s what political parties need you to think, after all, that they are, to borrow a phrase from church studies, reformed and reforming.

But I’m not sure what Al Gore really gets from this.  I’m not sure why he doesn’t run against Obama, or why the Clintons don’t. They all know they’re each bigger than their party, more progressive, in certain ways, than their party’s been for quite some time.  But they are also American elites, and Gore’s a cradle case.  As global figures, the Clintons are so far removed now from their people-power roots.

Any populism orchestrated from the top is demagoguery meant to serve a party line.  In the case of the Tea Party, Republican elites are having to conform or align themselves to a movement they did not create and probably despise.  They don’t hate  it for the reasons Maxine Waters claims to, though.  They hate it because it’s not theirs and they can’t control it.  They’d tell it to go to hell, too, if they could.  But they offer nothing better.  No one does.

Obama’s old populist strength was framed as a charge from the outside, he was the Anti-Clinton and Anti-Bush who united people around promises of change and Rorschach memes like hope and “yes we can.”  And yes he did, by God, and what he achieved in his mere election is something to be celebrated then and now.  His presidency has been a mixed bag like all are, but gone forever is any semblance of Obama as Outsider, Populist, or Agent of Sweeping and Systemic Change.

Sweeping and systemic change will not come from the people we empower unless truly new political leadership emerges, post-partisan and pro-reform.  Our system is so broken, so corrupt, even the good things our leaders do can’t outweigh the need for consensus tickets willing to address the fundamental issues of decency and common good long-buried beneath the few things the parties manage to get right.

Yes, the Democrats are right about some things.  And so are the Republicans.  And the Green Party and the Libertarians.  There’s no seamless party garment (try being progressive, pro-life, and anti-death penalty if you don’t believe me.  Or trying being fiscally conservative and gay).  But before we even get to social questions, a fundamental shift in how our leaders pledge to lead us is essential.  Free people are not meant to be ruled. We are to be led, and we are to lead.

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7 Comments

  1. Hey, I *am* progressive, pro-life, and anti-death penalty! You are exactly right that Obama “was supposed” to be the American Spring. It’s hard to remember now (and you may well have had a different perception of it then), but he talked more credibly than any other major politician about post-partisanship, compromise, and the rule of law. It’s a damn shame that reality hasn’t quite turned out that way.

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  2. Change is such drudgery. Only politicos, pundits and comedians have the stomach to sift through the detritus for personal votes, hits and laughs.

    When I took up chess I wanted to blaze a trail and find my own way. But I found strength and efficiency following the lines of the clever-men who dedicated their lives to the pursuit. I prefer to be led; preferably somewhere more sophisticated than flash_mob@nike_store.

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  3. The fact that we look to a single man/woman to lead the charge is the problem. We are the solution. No movement has ever accomplished what it set to accompplish without people leading the charge. Every progressive advancement required the leadership of faithful people, dedicated to a vision bigger than themselves and energized by the very notion that they will build something their grandchildren will enjoy.

    We are in the midst of a radical realignment. People who can see beyond the old boundaries and ways of thinking are needed. It will take another generation to get there. Our job is to cultivate people to be there with us.

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  4. I love the sentimental rhetoric of jingoism but I’m starting to turn cynical. I would argue that every great nation was built on the backs of slaves and slave-wages. The transition into a sustainable buzzing Progressive State is historically elusive.

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  5. As I’ve mentioned before, I doubt that ‘sweeping and systemic change’ will occur from within. Corporations, responsible only to their shareholders and not to democratic ideals, are voting in ways that the unorganized masses can’t match. We, the people, have either lost the little power we’ve had or, as Salk points out, have always been slaves. Chris, I agree with you that the center of this conversation “has to be about reforming the entire process of government, about locating power back in the hands of the people and away from the military-corporate-special interest-political complex.” Well said.

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