Progressives' Hope Lies in the Middle Class, Not in Obama

06/24/2011 03:25 pm ET | Updated Aug 24, 2011

I don't mean the middle of the road, whatever that might be, in an American 21st century where virtually every single national GOP candidate claims to believe neither in evolutionary nor environmental settled science.

No, what I mean is that progressives tend to spend a lot of time worrying about the plight of the persistently poor and the culturally stigmatized. And for the last two years, with the explosive growth in the ranks of the unemployed, we've been tirelessly advocating for their betterment as well.

Have we noticed yet? Nobody in Washington is listening. When Ms. Palin zinged, "How's that 'hopey-changey thing working out for ya," she was, for once, devastatingly accurate. The progressives I talk to, white and black, are as cynical and despairing about the prospects for meaningful reform today as during their lowest moments under the previous president.

As the old Negro spiritual goes, "We've been 'buked and we've been scorned."

And I say, "Get over it." Politics are rough and ugly. We have to get over ourselves and work with what we've got instead of what we long for. And where are we going to go anyway? Two elections ago some opted for Nader and all that did was get the election of the real candidates close enough for the other side to steal.

We have to keep fighting for our nation but we have to fight smarter. In a nation where "hope" has again been enveloped by "fear" we have to adjust our message.

Today's newest downtrodden are the middle class and advocating for their betterment is the most effective way to help all Americans. In fact it's the only way that our messages stands a chance of ever being relevant again. Historically progressivism has been dominated by the compassionate haves, the educated upper-middle-class, making a case for the largely voiceless have-nots.

The silver lining to this Great Recession is that now most Americans feel closer than ever to the plight of the poor. Even if you're not on food stamps or have ever visited a food pantry (though tens of thousands of middle-class Americans are and have), you're working harder for less. No matter how many times Washington tries to tell us that we've turned a corner, we in real America are experiencing a middle-class American dream receding from our grasp daily.

A winning progressive message is, as always, populism, but this time let's try a populism from the upper middle on down. Just because your kids are in private school or you drive a German import doesn't make you a financial robber baron. You're cursing your car payments, post-dating the check to your daughter's overpriced private school and jumping on the Groupon to save $20 on your next date night. Since we're now almost all in the same boat, each of us acting out of our individual self-interest should be harnessed into powerful collective action.