Last week I posted my thoughts about the political dilemma confronting progressives in the midterm elections.
Some responded to my article by calling it an "apologia" for President Obama's first two years in office. Others suggested that I was politically naive or "muddled" in my thinking.
Not because of such criticism, but three factors influenced me to revisit the issues discussed in original article. One was my reading of Arianna Huffington's new book, Third World America. Arianna's description of the reality of life in 2010 America is chilling, even scary. We all knew there are serious problems in our country. But until we followed the path of someone who has "drilled down" deep to show us, up close and personal, how we acquired the economic characteristics generally associated with a "Third World" country, we really didn't comprehend the magnitude of the existential reality of our nation.
Third World America is a powerful updated application of Michael Harrington's 1962 seminal book, The Other America, to our current, technology-distribution, information-based society. Harrington wrote:
[There] are normal and obvious causes of the invisibility of the poor. They operated a generation ago; they will be functioning a generation hence. It is more important to understand that the very development society is creating a new kind of blindness about poverty. It is increasingly slipping out of the very experience and consciousness of the nation.
The statistics cited by Arianna are too numerous to recite here. But her description of the devastating impact of unemployment, wealth and health care inequality on the quality of life for the average American is compelling. I suggest everyone go out and get a copy and read it.
The second factor influencing my decision to revisit the dilemma facing progressives in November was the recent release of a Census Bureau report on poverty in America today.
-- In one year the poverty rate in America went from 13.2% to 14.3%. This represents 43.6 million people, more than 1 in 7 Americans.
-- It is the highest rate since 1994.
-- The poverty rate increased for children younger than 18, from 19.0 percent in 2008 to 20.7 percent in 2009.
-- For working-age people, 2009 saw the highest poverty rate in more than 50 years.
Finally, I revisited the question that an African-American woman, Velma Hart, asked President Obama at a Town Hall meeting earlier this month. Ms Hart said to the president:
I am one of your middle class Americans and, quite frankly, I'm exhausted... I'm exhausted of defending you. I'm exhausted of defending your administration, defending the mantle of change that I voted for. And I'm deeply disappointed with where we are right now.
I have been told that I voted for a man who said he was going to change things in a meaningful way for the middle class. I am one of those people and I'm waiting sir. I'm waiting. I don't feel it yet. And I thought, while it wouldn't be in great measure, I would feel it in some small measure... And quite frankly Mr. President, I need you to answer this honestly: Is this my new reality?
Now, President Obama, Vice-President Joe Biden and Press Secretary Robert Gibbs' thematic response to Hart and progressives is: "Stop whining and buck up!"
This should embolden progressives to keep their eye on the "North Star" of where they want to be and ask whether or not they are still committed to struggle for their programs for a better America.
Again, I repeat, political parties, Democratic, Republican, Independent, Green, or Tea Party, at the end of the political day, are only instruments or potential agents of the change progressives seek. In my initial blog on this issue I recalled the speech of the actor-activist Ossie Davis at the Founding Dinner of the Congressional Black Caucus. In counseling his audience about African-American participation in the political process, I quoted him saying, "It's the plan, not the man."
What's the "plan" of progressives? To stay at home? Or to carefully examine, each candidate in each congressional district, to determine whether he or she is a sufficient pragmatic instrument or agent to effect the change you seek?
Just because we are told to "buck up" or "stop whining," that's no reason to abandon a careful and thoughtful analysis of the issues and choices presented in the November elections. Political change sometimes can be achieved dramatically; other times, it can be achieved only incrementally. Progressives should not be provoked into abandoning a careful calculus of following their "North Star" in the direction of meaningful political change.
Years ago, I had the privilege, during my work with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to also work with the legendary Negro labor leader, A. Phillip Randolph. Randolph, on hearing progressive African-American activists criticize other African-Americans in the Republican Party, commented, "We Negroes have no permanent political friends or enemies. We only have permanent interests. Your 'friend' today could be your 'enemy' tomorrow. Your enemy today could be your 'friend' tomorrow." Our allegiance must be to our "permanent interests," irrespective of the person or political party.
This November, progressives must work and vote for the person and party who best serves and advances their permanent interests.