01/17/2009 09:20 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Beware Bright Shiny Things (In Which I Mostly Agree With Logan Nakyanzi Pollard)

My friend and fellow Huffington Post contributor Logan Nakyanzi Pollard recently expressed her concern that I was too forgiving of internal dissent in my recent post criticizing overblown assessments of recent Obama-Senate deliberations. She writes:

There's a conceit on the Left that all the public disagreements and squabbles are helpful - that this is the burden of a big tent party.

And what's made the territory even muddier is the fact that journalism, opinion and advocacy have crossed lines in our new media. I suppose too that the cocktail of what passes for news - the Ann Coulters, the Rick Warrens, the Rod Blagojeviches, the Caroline Kennedys, the Palins - make life interesting, but the net result is a narrative of special interest squabbles. The 'air in the room' has been taken up by these stories and scarce else can be covered...

...And this is the nub of it for me with the Lefties: they do not truly understand who they are, nor what they are motivated by. They are confederates and not a unified body. The slightest bump in the road leads to anarchy or dissent...

...In just days Mr. Obama will take the oath of office with urgent, complicated problems to solve. But in the weeks leading up to this date, the public's been heartened not by the facts, figures and information that will equip people to understand their predicament, but rather, by a slew of tabloid-y stories. So Obama will have a double load to carry: to pry the public's gaze away from the car crashes all around them and show the highway ahead."

I think her characterization of "Lefties" to be too general and too harsh. And I stand by my earlier post that the traditional media chronically misreports normal democratic deliberations in Congress as sensationalized intra-party smackdowns.

But I strongly agree with Logan's fundamental point.

If we in the progressive movement are continually distracted by the bright shiny object of the media moment -- Is Caroline qualified? Why doesn't Reid just seat Burris? What did [INSERT PALIN FAMILY MEMBER] do now? -- we will not be able to maximize our influence on the democratic process, and help enact the policies that could firmly establish liberal governance for a generation.

If we can show that after a generation of failed of conservative policies, active progressive government is helping create good-paying jobs, generate clean energy, avert a climate crisis and provide health care for all, then we will have active progressive government helping solve problems for the next generation.

That is the primary task before us.

And while the President-Elect has stated he wants to achieve those goals, he cannot achieve them alone. When we are not fully engaged, conservative misinformation still has the ability to distort the discourse and unduly influence politicians.

Ask yourself: Were we in the progressive movement fully focused last month while the United Auto Workers took a fact-free PR beating from conservative apparatchiks, potentially making it harder to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, which could do so much to ease unionization, expand the middle-class and strengthen our economy?

If we were pressing harder during the past month to quickly pass legislation, like the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan -- transforming our government from one of conservative neglect to one of active progressive government that invests in job creation, modern infrastructure, energy efficiency, health care and education -- would Obama have felt compelled to grease the legislative wheels with ineffective business tax breaks?

Bottom line: Our level of engagement on the immediate Washington policy battles in this early phase of the Obama Era has been poor. D minus.

The damage has been limited because of Obama's own skills, and because the conservative movement is not exactly firing on all cylinders at the moment.

But that's no reason to be complacent. We need to get sharper and keep our eye on the ball.

I do part with Logan's view that liberals and progressives "do not truly understand who they are, nor what they are motivated by." I think it's quite clear that we are bonded by a belief in responsive and responsible government to best achieve equality and broad prosperity, at home and abroad.

But our bond has proven so easily susceptible to distraction that I have to agree with Logan when she observes "the slightest bump in the road leads to anarchy or dissent" among liberals and progressives.

We complain so much when conservatives in power employ propaganda tactics to distract the public from the real issues, yet we have our own bright shiny things that lead us to debilitating distraction.

Perhaps Sen. Harry Reid was inelegant in his handling of the Burris appointment, but will that have any impact on our ability to get our economy back on track?

And I like watching a unintentionally funny Joe The Plumber clip as much as the next guy, and there's value in calling attention to things that show what unadulterated conservatism represents.

But the Bush Era is over, and with it the need to be primarily oppositional.

The Obama Era begins Tuesday. Now we need to be pro-active.

That means getting up every morning thinking, "How will I help create good-paying jobs, strengthen unions, cap carbon emissions, make health care and education accessible to all, protect civil liberties and rights, fight global poverty and forge peace?"

It's a lot to do. So get to work!

Originally posted at, and elaborated on in this week's edition of the LiberalOasis Radio Show (MP3 file), which also features Grist writer and fellow HuffPoster David Roberts on how to prepare for the year in environmental legislation.