This is not a new phenomenon. The progressive movement has rarely had the kind of political impact that the right has shown this election cycle. The sixties, the anti-Vietnam era, the post-Nixon times, never produced the kind of wholesale turnover in Democratic politics the Tea Partiers have accomplished in less than a year on the Republican side.
What can explain this impotence on the left? I can think of rationalizations, but no real reasons. One answer that occurs to me is that the left never has and never can win the battle of the anger. I think an angry left is unattractive, perhaps because a progressive wants to change things and an angry future doesn't appeal.
Other people say that America is an inherently conservative country. But that's nonsense. The arc of our history points only one way, the progressive way.
Our evolution has been halting and sporadic, but the direction is clear. We've gone from a slaveholding, white, male-suffrage, limited republic, with some nascent democratic tendencies, to the polyglot, multiracial, multigender, internet-driven cacophonic chaos we have today. That is progress.
There is no better proof of this than the Tea Party. The Tea Party is power to the people, in spades, no matter what they stand for. They've waged a revolution in a year, overthrowing the establishment in one of two major American parties with lightning speed and near-complete thoroughness. They may have killed the Republican Party for a generation, but they've had their moment of triumph and they're not done yet.
But, with the possible exception of the New Deal, you have to go back to the Civil War to find anything remotely similar on the left. Back to the birth of the Republican Party, in other words. And if that's not ironic, we should delete the word from our dictionaries.
The left, as an electoral movement, seems to have failure in its DNA. But the left's ideas triumph, time and again, despite it. There must be some deeply hidden reason for this disconnect. And I'll be damned if I know what it is.
Even in this worst of election cycles, the issues should be breaking in our favor. We have truth, justice and the American Way. They have the budget deficit and they don't even mean it. It's just a surrogate for their anger.
If the left had a movement they'd be hammering away constantly about what the Tea Party folks should really be angry about. They've been robbed and they blame the cops. The rich and powerful rig the system and the Tea Party is mad at the only institution the people have to fix it. They're being told that big government is the problem when the government wasn't powerful enough to keep psycho-capitalism from knifing itself in the heart and making the people pay for the transfusion to keep it alive. Some big government.
Why is the left so lame? Two years after a triumph and we're already so apathetic we're ready to surrender to an incoherent pack of anger-mongers who have less than no idea what they're going to do about our problems?
What does it say about a movement when it shatters into atoms at the first hints of a storm? And not much of a storm, at that, just a bunch of talk-radio blowhards, some angry white folks playing dress-up, and fringe wackos like the Birthers and Beck?
It says it wasn't much of a movement. The left can't sustain a movement long and strong enough scare a Blue Dog. The progressive movement is so inconsequential they couldn't get a lousy vote on single-payer health care in congress. Instead we got the jerry-rigged mess the Tea Partiers and Republicans are beating us over the head with, before it ever comes into effect.
We can't win if we don't compete, but as a movement, the left isn't even in the game. We're trying to stop nonsense with common sense. It's not working. You fight fire with a fire hose. But the left is a mist, at best. A fog. We're barely there.
Yet the Republican party is overthrown by the political equivalent of a flash mob. Say what you want about the Tea Party, and I've said plenty, but that is a movement.
Op-ed writers are supposed to have all the answers, or pretend to, even when we don't. It's virtually our job description.
Well, I don't have the answer to this one. So I'm asking. Come on, help me people. Tell me why? Why are we so puny? Why is our appeal so weak? Where, oh where, is the progressive Tea Party?