It's time to put down the champagne and start looking towards the future just a bit.
Despite the attempts of cable newsbots to paint Barack Obama as a near-failure after the Tom Daschle debacle and other cabinet appointment follies, the response to his not-a-State of the Union speech was, outside of the Rush Limbaugh Orcs, almost universally positive. Paul Krugman takes a look at the budget and likes what he sees
, despite the near-hysterical-yet-ominious tone of the "First Look" newsbot on MSNBC this morning in announcing the story. There's a sense that if Barack Obama can manage to pull this off, people may talk about "Barack Obama" in a hundred years the way they now talk about Lincoln.
But while it's tempting to kick back and relax, it's important not to get too comfortable with the idea that we've got this thing wrapped up for a generation. Karl Rove also thought his side had won the hearts and minds of the American people, and that cockiness infected the entire Republican Party so that a few short years after it looked like the Democrats were on the ropes and the wingnut juggernaut was unstoppable, we see that the Republicans have had to resort to naming an idiot like Michael Steele as head of the RNC and trotting out Bobby Jindal to do his best Fred Rogers imitation in an attempt to prove that they aren't the party solely of rich white bigots.
The Democrats aren't in charge of all three branches of government because we've won the ideological argument, at least not yet. The forces against progressive values are still as strong as they ever were. The Washington punditocracy still seeks "bipartisanship", even as it becomes clear that the reason Barack Obama's pledge to "change the tone" hasn't worked out as planned is because of intransigent Republicans who see his potential failure as their own gain rather than a catastrophe for the country. The corporate ownership of the media still has a stranglehold on the public discourse, Rachel Maddow notwithstanding. The reason that a centrist/progressive agenda even has a chance is due to the utter failure of the previous administration and to the sheer force of Barack Obama's personality.
But Barack Obama has eight short years in office, and there are few signs that the Democratic Party is likely to embrace the kind of change that could continue to keep progressive inroads into society as a whole. Despite the interregnum of Howard Dean, Tim Kaine is Rahm Emanuel's hand-picked DNC chair, and this is still very much the party of hackocracy -- the party of Steny Hoyer and Jay Rockefeller and Dianne Feinstein. These are the corporatist Democrats, and they still run the show. These are the Democrats who think that only the sure-win battles are worth fighting and that it's perfectly OK to represent the interests of corporations instead of people.
It's not too soon to start thinking about who the next Barack Obama is going to be and where we're going to find him or her. Because when you look at the people who spoke at the Democratic National Convention last summer, the event where you usually see the next generation of leaders, the event where in 2004 a young Senator from Illinois blew the roof off and became president four years later, we didn't exactly see a stellar farm team. Sure, Claire McCaskill was great, but she's not the New Young Leader that's going to pick up the torch after Barack Obama leaves it behind. Eight years (at least we hope it's eight years) can pass by in a flash, and then what? Do we go back to having to support hacks and sellouts and Republican enablers like Hoyer and Rockefeller and Feinstein and Evan Bayh and the rest of the Blue Dog caucus, or are we going to start mounting primary challenges to these people and build the next group of leaders? I don't expect anyone to have the political gifts of Barack Obama, but we need to start finding and supporting candidates who have the intestinal fortitude to go up against these hacks. Because if we don't, we'll look back on this time as the last gasp of humanity in this country before we returned to the politics of greed and fear and corruption.
A good place to start is Tom Geoghegan, who is running for Rahm Emanuel's House seat. Joe Conason on Geoghegan
Geoghegan is a labor lawyer and an author who has excelled in both endeavors. He is a streetwise thinker who has devoted himself for 30 years to the advancement of working people, a fearless advocate who has never hesitated to confront their enemies, from crooked Teamster officials to marauding corporate executives.
He has walked the progressive walk without becoming a cliché or a bore, as demonstrated repeatedly in his long series of engaging books, articles and columns, most notably "Which Side Are You On?" -- which may be the smartest (and most readable) book on the troubles of the American labor movement written by anybody during the past two decades. Witty, candid, unsentimental and yet stubbornly idealistic in a landscape of defeat and cynicism, Tom displayed in that memoir of life as a labor lawyer all the qualities that could make him an exceptional figure in Washington.
He possesses a certain kind of plain-spoken eloquence that will quickly make him an important spokesman on substantive issues. Nobody will do a better job of explaining why we need labor law reform or single-payer healthcare reform, because he has represented workers against union-busting companies and sued the big insurance companies too.
In personal terms, Tom could scarcely be more different from the man he has set out to succeed. He is polite, thoughtful, usually soft-spoken and almost painfully principled -- in short, not much like the stereotype of a Chicago pol, except that for a nice guy he is also exceptionally tough. He has grit that is rare among intellectuals and academics but not so rare in labor, where the going is hard for anybody who doesn't just go along.
Without breaking a confidence, I can offer an example from my own knowledge of Tom's work. Not so long ago, he took the case of a group of workers who, like so many others in the declining industrial companies of the Midwest, had been screwed out of their pensions and healthcare in a corporate takeover. What made the case different is that among the new owners, there happened to be a very prominent Democratic investor who is accustomed to having liberals smooch his ring (or some other place). Tom had very little to gain by taking on those obscure workers as his clients, not only because they probably couldn't pay him much, if anything, and weren't at all likely to win against a phalanx of expensive corporate attorneys, but also because he might well make a very powerful enemy for himself. He didn't care at all, any more than he worried when he fought the local Teamster chieftains who sent goons around to intimidate him from time to time (but never did). He didn't court publicity, didn't call any grandstanding press conference; he just fulfilled what he saw as his commitment to people who are forgotten or unrepresented or screwed over.
But there is another reason I am compelled to say a few words about Tom. It feels as though someone is looking over my shoulder. That would be Maria Leavey, my late friend who was also a close friend of Geoghegan's and spoke about him often to me. Like him, she was a believer against all odds, a fighter who dedicated herself to the long, hard, grinding and often unrewarding work of progressive politics. If she were still here, Maria would not have let a single day go by without hectoring me to write something about Tom, and she would have been right, as she almost always was. He will fight like crazy for the universal health insurance that just might have saved her life.
You can support Tom Geoghegan here
UPDATE: Great minds think alike
. But some minds get to do this full-time and so have the ability and freedom to do things like this
Labels: Better Democrats