Opinion: How Liberals Must Take Back the Dream

We have a Democratic president that has governed as a moderate, but a Republican candidate who embodies the worst of the 1 percent. We have a Democratic caucus in the two houses of Congress that has not been effective at pushing a bold jobs plan, help for underwater homeowners, or an alternative to the deficit-hawk language of conservatives; and a set of challengers from an increasingly extreme and rabid Tea Party wing of the Republican Party.

We see little momentum behind real action on climate change, but see much of our energy battling against the war on science… as well as the war on women, the war on diversity, the war on students.

In other words, this election season not the most joyful or enthusiastic time to be a liberal. But that doesn't make it any less important.

That was the feel at Take Back the American Dream, a Washington pan-progressive gathering where the most energized conversations were often about what we needed to stop, block and oppose. Progressives like to envision we are pushing forward a positive agenda, but we are increasingly finding ourselves in the position of pushing back: against policy assaults from the right-wing, an uncompromising Tea Party-controlled GOP and a flood of corporate money swamping democracy.

That's not to say it's all bad news. At the conference, people cheered the successes of the coordinated campaign to push corporate partners into dropping out of ALEC, the conservative think-tank that had pushed poor policy in state-after-state. Others applauded the efforts to beat back some of the most insidious attacks against women's health and reproductive rights. The oppositional energy may best have been captured by the support for CREDO Action's Super PAC to "take down the Tea Party Ten" -- an effort wholly focused on beating ten anti-science, anti-woman Tea Party representatives…without discussion of the merits of those running to replace them.

The issue that garnered the most attention was finding antidotes to Citizen United and getting, in the words of a Missoula, Montana city council member, "dirty, secret, corporate money" out of our campaigns. Missoula is one of the cities that has been active in the push to energize local elected around the issue, and Montana's challenge to Citizens United may make it to the Supreme Court. In the meantime, progressive champs like Minnesota's Representative Keith Ellison and the advocates at People For The American Way are calling for a Constitutional Amendment to ensure our democracy isn't for sale.

But Constitutional Amendments are long fights. Following the frustrating recall in Wisconsin, where corporate money overwhelmed anti-Walker efforts, the sense of deflation is palpable. Activists believe that the Presidential efforts will have all the money they need, but fear for Senator, gubernatorial and congressional campaigns that just can't compete.

Hopefully, the fear will motivate advocates more that the frustration will drag them down. Fear can be a powerful motive, but as we all saw in 2008, hope is the real energy you want to harness.

There was hope on display as well. Liberals see hope in the President's recent decision on supporting undocumented immigrant youth. They see hope in the public shift on marriage equality. And their eyes light up anytime someone mentions Elizabeth Warren.

We need those campaigns we are for, not just against, to be part of the fight. But maybe it's OK to be a little afraid as well. After all, the Tea Party was energized by what they opposed. Progressives were galvanized in 2006 by their opposition to the Bush administration. And as we saw after 2008, even when we elect Democrats, there is still plenty of conservative crusading we need to stay energized to counteract -- and as the conference name suggests, there is still plenty about the American Dream that needs taking back.