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Are Progressives Fiddling While Rome Burns?

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If fall of 2008 was "silly season", then what does that make this election cycle?

We are in a critical moment (yes, I know someone says that every election year) where the legitimacy of the system itself is being tested. Take this example: although it produced just a minor blip in the news cycle (and was buried by the much more salacious reports of Ginny Thomas' voice mail to Anita Hill), the fact that Supreme Court justices Scalia and Thomas are openly and brazenly showing up at (tea party financiers) Koch Brothers' events is- in my view- a not very subtle shot-across-the-bow. They aren't even pretending to revere the notion of judicial independence anymore, and the hubris is stunning. This display outrages me more than some of the other egregious slights to democratic norms of late because here we have some foundational (and I think, essential) notions of what democracy consists being undermined in a very cavalier way by the very people charged with upholding those democratic principles. I am kind of at a loss to describe the sentiment it evokes in me- it's a combination of bemusement and grief, overlaid by indignation.

Yet meanwhile, many progressives inadvertently embolden fire-breathing sycophants like Glenn Beck by putting Obama/Boxer/Feingold and others into their crosshairs- the 2010 election equivalent of fiddling while Rome burns. How can such smart, sensible people lose their perspective so monumentally? What we have is not dialogue, but two groups of children standing in their respective corners screaming their bloody heads off, while the adults run back and forth trying to keep a semblance of order, and attempting to keep their voices heard above the din.

From an academic (not solidarity) perspective, I am forced to admit that there is no progressive moment as such in the US, and the more I hear that term from progressives, the more frustrated I become. We need a movement. A real, people-power movement. Not a phony one that pretends at populism while casting blame downwards at society's most marginalized, e.g the "Tea Party." The delusion that there is something akin to an organized movement on the left combined with the right's co-opting of terms like "grassroots" and "populist" has the collective polity's head spinning like a scene from The Exorcist. We have become totally unglued.

And a further problem is that among those who recognize this state of affairs, many still expect Obama himself to fix it. But a) the president he has fallen short on the task of defining for us the existential crisis (a task which is critical for a leader in a crisis like this), and b) "fixing" it is not his job anyway. He wants to be led by a movement, not to lead one.

As frustrated as progressives are, we must remember that if we want to see any real change under this president, he is going to need more Democrats in two weeks, not fewer. Let's put down the fiddles and for the moment at least, keep our eyes on that prize.

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