THE BLOG
11/05/2014 04:14 pm ET Updated Jan 05, 2015

The Left Needs a Tea Party

Over the past decade or so, political discourse, such as it ever was, has given way to increasingly strident positionality. On the Right, this came with the rise of the Tea Party, but there has been no concomitant phenomenon on the Left since the Civil Rights/Anti-War movement of the '70s. Maybe it's time for that to change.

The results of this week's election are interesting in that regard. Up to now, Tea Party-backed candidates have been doctrinaire, unbending, and unelected. In this mid-term, however, and most notably in the case of Joni Ernst in Iowa, we saw a new phenomenon -- far-right candidates who moderated their position and got elected. This moderation, it seems to me, was likely to be more in service of getting elected than a real softening of their position.

In the '70s we saw positionality on the Left that is, arguably, comparable to the Tea Party. Groups such as SDS, SNCC, the Black Panthers, the Weathermen, and others held unshakable convictions and were equally strident, to the point where, in the face of one demonstration in DC, President Nixon had the White House ringed by buses parked bumper to bumper so that no one could come near. Then as now the results of these tactics are hard to argue with -- we pulled out of Vietnam, racial equality advanced to the point where we have an African-American president, and gender equality and LGBT rights were launched on an irreversible path that continues to this day.

Somewhere along the line, though, whether through complacency, distraction, or whatever, the left lost its ardor and the right coopted the tactic of an extreme fringe forcing the center to move. Instead of holding President Obama to account for his promises in 2008 and 2012, we waited and were disappointed -- on immigration, on defense, in so many areas. John Steinbeck said that the greatest enemy America faces is success -- our system works so well we become smug and satisfied, and abandon the values that brought us this success in the first place.

Say what you will about the Founders, America was founded by radicals and political activists. The Declaration of Independence was, both literally and figuratively a revolutionary document in that it created the notion of rights and equality. Prior to that declaration, kings had rights, nobility had rights, clergy had rights, but the vast majority of humanity had what they had by sufferance -- they had what the privileged classes deigned to allow them to have. In their declaration that "all men are created equal and are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights," the Founders launched a new world order. To be sure, the execution of this was imperfect and it has been continuously improved for almost two and a half centuries, but the moral arc that was set in motion has bent toward justice and equality to this day.

The far Right was smart enough to see the effectiveness of the tactics of the Left in the '70s and to adopt those tactics. It's time the Left took them back. We have another great candidate for 2016 in Hilary Clinton, but just like Obama and every president, she will be molded by the body politic, which has been increasingly hemiplegic. It's time we re-energized the left side of that body. the Right will not go away, and they shouldn't. Political progress in this country has always been largely a function of the tension between opposing views, and that's a good thing that has been allowed to go out of balance. We have two years to get the balance back, and it's very likely that the Right will help us do that now that they are, temporarily at least, in power.