Rather than writing just another blog post today, I am feeling the need to write an open letter to the President.
Dear Mr. President,
I think I speak for a lot of folks in writing this letter, although I readily admit that some of my progressive friends have given up on you and are talking about a primary challenge, and others still support you strongly no matter what. But there are a lot of us who find ourselves genuinely conflicted about your Presidency and your relationship with the progressive community.
Like millions of other Democrats, I went all out for you in the campaign, giving money, knocking on doors, making phone calls, being involved in groups who were helping you, helping out in every other way I could think of to help. Like hundreds of thousands of other progressive activists, I have spent many hours and given much money over the last two years working on behalf of your stimulus package, your health care reform bill, and your financial reform bill. Having lived through the Jimmy Carter years, when Carter governed as a moderate and was challenged in many different ways by progressives yet was still successfully labeled a liberal by Republicans, I have written time and time and again that progressives' fate is inextricably linked to your fate whether either of us wants it to be, and that progressives should do whatever we can to make you a successful President. And I still believe that. No one wants you to succeed more than I do.
So here I am, along with so many others, out here fighting -- really fighting -- for everything you say you believe in. On health care, you said you were for a public option, for negotiating drug prices on Medicare, against taxing workers' health care benefits, and that is what I and so many others who are your supporters fought for. On taxes, you said you were against the wealthiest of Americans having their Bush tax cuts extended, and that is what your supporters fought against. On these and so many other issues, we have fought by your side for what you said you were for.
Let me switch from "we" to "I" for a minute, because I am an old Washington insider who knows that compromise on some issues is inevitable, and that even the best of Presidents have to make deals. FDR made compromises, so did his cousin Teddy, so did Lincoln on slavery and LBJ on civil rights and Medicare. I supported your stimulus plan even though I thought it was way too small. I supported health care reform even though it didn't have a public option. I supported financial reform even though it didn't break up the Too Big To Fail banks. But I was disappointed about all the compromises that had to made and I did fight against them -- because that is the job of the progressive movement. As an old community organizer, I am saddened that you don't seem to understand that basic notion. Frederick Douglass and Charles Sumner supported the emancipation proclamation, but still demanded that slaves be freed in every state, not just the Confederate states. John L Lewis supported Social Security but immediately began fighting for it to be extended. Martin Luther King, Jr supported the 1964 Civil Rights Act, but complained bitterly that it didn't include voting rights and kept fighting for that to happen. It is our job as progressives to fight for more, and our job to complain when we didn't get it. That doesn't make us -- or King or Lewis or Douglass -- sanctimonious. They, and we, are just doing what we are supposed to do. And Mr. President, you of all people should understand that.
I will say again: no one wants you to succeed more than I. But I fear that you are on the verge of destroying your Presidency by not showing your supporters that you are fighting just as hard as they are for your principles, and in fact attacking us when we do. Washington establishment wisdom says that you can blow off your supporters, because where are they going to go after all? And this much is true: people like me will support you in the general election against Sarah Palin or whatever far right extremist the Republicans put up against you. But it is no accident that the last 4 Presidents to not get re-elected to a second term (George HW Bush, Jimmy Carter, Jerry Ford, LBJ) all had a bad relationship with their party's base. Because it is your base activists who fight your battles. It is your activists who defend you when the other side attacks. It is your activists who fight for your legislative agenda. It is your activists who fuel your field operation and grassroots enthusiasm. It is your activists who register voters and drag marginal voters to the polls so you win the close states.
Mr. President, there are plenty of us out here who understand the need to compromise sometimes. What we don't understand is this sense that you have thrown in the towel before the battle has begun. And we don't understand being attacked by you when what we are fighting for is your agenda. If you are dismissive of the need to rally your own troops, if you are disdainful of the very people who have fought the hardest on your behalf, you will destroy your Presidency. For your sake, for your party's sake, for your country's sake, we can't afford for that to happen. Mr. President, those of us who have been on your side need to know that you are on our side, too.