Liberals Get Their Game Back

Friday, December 17, 2010 - 05:41 PM

Liberals shouldn't be in a festive mood.  The sweeping, game-changing realignment promised by the 2008 election got re-realigned in 2010. The Tea Party grabbed the headlines as it won the hearts of a small, passionate, activist population.  Meanwhile, progressive champs like Russ Feingold and Alan Grayson went down.  At least, they went down swinging -- many other Democrats went down running.

So you'd think that this holiday season would find Tea Partiers toasting eggnog by the Christmas tree and liberals sulking alone near the mistletoe. 

Not in New York. In New York City, the local Tea Party club — Tea Party 365 — sent an email to its members, explaining that only two special guests, out of 48 invitations, had agreed to attend their holiday social.  Due to lack of interest, the Tea Party canceled its party. 

Meanwhile, the progressive holiday calendar has been packed, and groups like the Manhattan Young Democrats, Democratic Leadership for the 21st Century, the Drum Major Institute and Greater NYC for Change have partied like it’s 2008. 

Yes, I'll concede the obvious: there are far more liberals than conservatives in Manhattan. But we can read other political meaning in this holiday season that should give the left hope. Following a devastating election, progressives aren't giving up on politics. They aren't flipping off MSNBC, unsubscribing from activist e-blasts and finding new hobbies. Beyond the party scene, liberals are gearing up for the fight ahead in New York and around the country. CREDO, the powerhouse of online activism, has grown by nearly 150,000 members since Election Day.

After the 2008 election, too many liberals felt their work was done and stepped away from politics.  When it became clear that conservative forces still gripped the Democratic-controlled US Senate and that the inspirational Presidential candidate was electric once elected, the remaining activists felt paralyzed by frustration.

At that time, our parties suffered from lack of interest — and the Tea Party found the political energy to organize.

This is no longer the case. The Tea Partiers now face the disappointing reality that the men and women they elected have very little ability to push their campaign pledges.  In fact, the party they empowered has even less interest in seriously tackling America's challenges.  Now, Tea Party members will be caught in a holding pattern as they give the benefit of the doubt to their leadership.  They will learn how we felt: caught in the confused position of not knowing where to take their fight next. 

It must be especially tough to be a Tea Partier in New York where it is likely that the economic issues, rather than the social ones, drew you into the fold. Tea Party 365 is actually a pretty reasonable group – they didn’t even support Tea Party gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino. As they look at the Republican leadership in DC, it is no wonder they lose their holiday cheer.

Liberals, meanwhile, are getting back into the game. Not just in New York, but all around the country, the progressive activist base is finding its footing, and finding each other. 

Sure, these holiday parties may also be an occasion to drink away our electoral sorrows. But if it were only that, we might as well stay home and drink alone. At the core of these festivities is a spark of progressive passion that is warming up these bleak winter night and may catch fire in time for a re-re-realignment next time around.

Justin Krebs is a political organizer and writer based in New York City. He is the founder of Living Liberally, a nationwide network of 250 local clubs that create social events around progressive politics, and author of "538 Ways to Live, Work and Play Like a Liberal."


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Comments [6]


Thanks for the very encouraging note! And I agree that enormous potential energy and enthusiasm is ready to be channeled and unleashed!

Dec. 21 2010 06:55 PM
Jack Jackson from Cenral New Jersey

The 2008 election was as much about casting out Bush (at last) as it was about electing Barack Obama. It's an easy decision to show up at the polls to vote out the party that brought you eight years of bad governance with a recession cherry on top. IMO, at least 15% of the electorate was at the polls for this reason and this reason alone. Did you see any dancing in the streets after the GOP took the House?

The Tea Party (party is a misnomer, again IMO, since they have no organizing platform, no founding convention, no stated principles - they can be for or against whatever they feel like being for or against) was really just a sideshow to draw off Independent votes from the Democrat column. They have no real staying power and will be largely forgotten in ten years.

The one apparent Tea Party principle "Government is too big" is never followed up with a concise argument for what to cut; how to shrink the beast so they cannot be taken seriously.

The Tea Party may even have cost the GOP a majority in the Senate. Imagine having to listen to Mitch McConnell's lies as the Majority leader!

The Democrats overestimated the size of their general appeal and underestimated how many voters would be persuaded by the onslaught of negative advertising to stay home. The Democrats thought they had given people enough to vote for. They were wrong. They had enough time and data to get their message right but still blew it. I blame Tim Kaine. Howard Dean would have stuck it to them. There is no way that the 111th Congress' record earned Barack Obama and the Democrats the absolute thumping they were given on November 2.

I'm holding my breath until 2012. I held my breath through the entire Reagan Administration so I ought to be able to do it again for two years. Every time I hear a GOP party member or talking head say the American people have spoken, I have to remind myself that 20 million fewer votes were cast in 2010 than in 2008 so this 'the people have spoken' thing has to be taken with a grain of salt. See you in 2012.

Dec. 19 2010 10:23 AM
Kyle Shank from MA

I think we got too comfortable after Obama got elected.

The past two years has shown that we need to constantly apply progressive pressure even if our side is in power. The truth is: we never should have let up.

It was a lot easier when we had a clear boogeyman in George W. Bush to get people motivated. Now we have to find better ways to communicate our positions. For instance, explain why this tax deal for the rich is bad political strategy despite its necessary parts for the unemployed and middle class. How can we let Republicans harp on the deficit, get the tax cut that will certainly make it worse and bash social security (which has nothing to do with any of this) all at the same time?

My point: we have a lot of work to do but we will be better off for it.

Dec. 18 2010 01:21 PM
cherwell from atlanta, ga

fate, in her ultimate wisdom, led me to your column. due to your heartening words, i shall go forth today knowing there is, indeed, a "santa claus," justin.

many, many thanks for this gem: "After the 2008 election, too many liberals felt their work was done and stepped away from politics."

there is much to done using shoeleather and mousepads especially in reaching across the aisle[s] as in grocery, movie, etc. for the night does not hate the day nor does the moon exhibit animus to the sun.

we must find a way to lessen the vitriol while disempowering the hold money has on our government on both sides of the political aisle.

please take the utmost of gentle care -- you are one of the good guys!

Dec. 18 2010 09:39 AM

I'm curious why folks on the left seem bent on demonizing financially successful people. If someone has a good idea, implements it, works hard and is successful, is that such a bad thing?

Dec. 18 2010 12:34 AM
Solomon Kleinsmith from Omaha, NE

Oy... you're really hurtin' if you're scraping the bottom of the barrel by comparing the guest list of some local right wing group against some other liberal groups to find things to be happy about.

I don't want either side to ever have a majority in the House, Senate and White House ever again... so I *do* hope your side gets it act together enough to stop the GOP from taking over the Senate and White House next time around.

If you want to get the swing voters back on your side, you've got a lot of work to do.

Dec. 17 2010 07:05 PM

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