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After the Health Care Legislation: the Challenges Facing Progressives in the Age of Obama

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The passage of the healthcare bill was not an embodiment of the vision of universal health care that many of us aspire to, but it was a major turn-around in American politics, a moment in which Barack Obama was able to regain some of the moral authority that inspired his landslide election only a year and a half ago and gave many of us reason to hope a space was opening up for the creation of a more progressive, more social connected, more loving and caring society.

But Obama will not succeed in fending off the Sarah Palin led Tea Party revolt against this progressive vision without the decisive emergence of a different kind of progressive voice into public space, a voice on the spiritual left of Obama that strengthens his own resolve, shows him how a new spiritual progressive vision can be both morally compelling and realistic in political terms.

Yet this is very complicated, because Obama's programs actually erode the support for progressive politics. Most people think Obama IS the Left, the progressives, liberals, even "the far left." So when they hear about his or Congressional Democrats' policies, or get their lives touched by their fallout, (e.g. his and their support for trillions of dollars to the banks and large corporations but only symbolic acts to stop the millions of home foreclosures and to create jobs; his war in Afghanistan; his allowing the oil and gas conglomerates to ruin the environment through drilling on the coasts of many American states; his abandonment of his promises to end the human rights abuses of the Bush Administration; and the list goes on), many people become disillusioned, and blame the whole mess created by global capitalism on "big government," thus giving an amazing opening both to the Tea Party movement and to the large business and financial interests.

From the standpoint of the large corporate interests, nothing could be better than to de-fund government or dramatically downsize it, because then it can't constrain their economic power. But if the Democrats aren't constraining that power anyway, and people think of them as championing big government that seems in bed with those corporate powers, they find the anti-government sentiments of Tea Party people to be appealing, and are even willing to turn their heads away and not pay attention when some of those Tea Partyers reveal an extreme racism or even a quasi-fascist attraction to militarism and denial of human rights.

So here is the problem: we have to both protect the liberals from the anger their policies have generated, because we don't want the quasi-fascists to take their place, and yet the only way we can effectively protect the liberals is to openly criticize what is misguided in their policies, and to put forward an alternative that really embodies the best in liberal and progressive thought.

Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun and national chair of the Tikkun Community/ Network of Spiritual Progressives. People are invited to subscribe to Tikkun magazine or join the interfaith organization the Network of Spiritual Progressives-- "both of which can be done by (more...)
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Good points. These are the real reasons why the R... by Perry Logan on Friday, Apr 2, 2010 at 7:19:25 AM
I feel the president is alienating people because,... by marko polo on Friday, Apr 2, 2010 at 7:48:29 AM
Obama is a corporatist through and through who wea... by Kellia Ramares on Friday, Apr 2, 2010 at 1:00:13 PM
that if the current package is not inclusive and a... by Bernard on Friday, Apr 2, 2010 at 4:06:20 PM
off a cliff, maybe. The first consideration in thi... by Kellia Ramares on Friday, Apr 2, 2010 at 4:52:54 PM