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After the Storm

You first see the lightening spark out of the angry clouds.  Perhaps a sense of anxiety rose as the pressure dropped.  By the time the heavy wet smell of rain came you may have had a sharp taste of fear in the back of your throat.  The deafening roar as the atmosphere falls around you covers sirens wailing out the obvious in the wind.

The thunderstorms that roll through the Midwest leave a mark on every sense as the experience washes over the lives of those caught in it.  The recent debt ceiling debate in Washington progressed like a storm, building its way to a climax that never had a chance to live up to its intro.  With the rain passed the damage assessment will take time – but the mark on everyone’s heart and mind is clear.   We’re going to watch storms more closely for at least a while.

What that means after this political storm is not obvious, but it is visceral.

Barataria asked your opinion as to what this meant, and as of this moment 124 of you responded to the series of polls.  Thank you very much.  You told the world something that will take some effort to interpret.

Readers of Barataria identified themselves as 57% Liberal/Progressive and 22% Conservative.  That ratio shows that these results cannot be generalized to the general population or even to Democrats in particular.  The presence of so many Conservatives is very gratifying to me personally because it means that Barataria is crossing a few lines.

When asked about your own future, the most popular choices were that 56% of you are Scared and 37% think you’ll “Get by”.  The word “scared” was chosen carefully over “worried” to dissuade people from selecting it – yet more than half of you did.

Your choice of what to call our economic state was equally alarming.  62% of you describe this as a Depression, not a surprise since this is a major theme of Barataria.  But 29% said that we are in a long-term decline, a much more irreversible condition.  Hardly anyone thought we’re in a recovery, the most common term in conventional news.

A solid 49% of you want to know more about how to interpret economic news, followed by 34% that want to discuss how to fix things.  That, again, is what we always talk about here.  But few were interested in pinning blame.

Finally, when we do affix blame 49% placed it on Wall Street and big corporations, but 26% said “Everyone”.

The real shock here is that for a generally Progressive group you are scared for your own future and have a tendency to see your nation in at least a lot of trouble, if not a history-bending decline.  That seems to stand out for many reasons.

A Progressive movement that is organized and active will invariably stand for something that looks like progress.  There has to be some way of moving forward – socially, economically, or through our civic lives.  People who are scared rarely stand up for progress – but they might stand together to confront what has frightened them.   Yet a nation perceived to be in a long-term decline is not something anyone will rally around.  There has to be Hope™ to a genuinely progressive movement.

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

The comments emphasize the findings of the poll.  The anger of the Tea Party Republicans was met with some anger, but mostly frustration and a surprising level of empathy.  A politics based on where the US need to go is contentious, but a politics based on our gut feelings has surprising unity.

President Obama and the Democrats, clearly the ones hit the worst by the storm that just passed, have to find a way to stop this from happening to them again.  That obviously includes a political movement as the season lurches from the heat of summer 2011 to the likely more biting winds of autumn 2012.  But where is the intellectual leadership for a forward looking agenda?  What will the next economy look like?  Where is the Hope that propelled us through 2008?

There is no chance of creating a Progressive movement without a sense that progress is possible, let alone a clearly defined path forward.  What we have to do is what we have refused to do so far – confront the fear that is driving our social and economic life and creating a toxic politics that can create self-inflicted wounds as we just saw.

FDR understood this when he took command of the last Depression.  Many people believed then that our nation was in a long-term decline – yet after some darker days ahead we emerged into the greatest period in our history so far.  The difference came down to confronting our fear and working together for something like Progress – but much more like simple cooperation.  It’s a lot like pitching in and cleaning up after a storm, taking the fear from our hearts and moving it to our brains as a plan and making it happen with strong arms.

I say that is the political spirit that can create a new Progressive movement – one that is desperately needed and has eluded us for quite a while.  What do you think?

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18 thoughts on “After the Storm

  1. I thought the questions were very interesting and I do agree that the pessimism is striking. But maybe you have to expect that right after what happened. I wonder if you asked the same questions in a week if you would get the same results.

    But I do agree that fear is driving people right now and you see that not just in politics but in how banks are not investing in the economy. You do not see it so much on Wall Street which is strange. I think you are right that a political movement based on confronting our fear and working through it is what people want now, but I’m not sure that anyone was ready for it back when you first started talking about the Depression in 2008.

  2. Eric,

    Do you have any sense of the resistance FDR met as he tried to work the country out of the great depression? I know he had both houses of congress supporting the New Deal, but I am wondering if the GOP threw up road blocks at every juncture, like they seem to do to Obama. The current “tea party” legislators, at both the national and state level seem to be willing to bring down the entire system to advance their ideology.

  3. Still mad. Also mad that the FAA was ignored. I won’t be flying in the meantime. Would you? As for the “cooperation” bit, I feel zero desire to cooperate with anyone to far of my own beliefs. It’s pointless. I want strong progressive Democrats. I feel like my president has let me down. Sure, i will vote for him again, but I feel like people such as myself do not matter. I am glad McCollum and Ellison voted “no”. I am disappointed Franken and Klobuchar voted “yes”. This in addition to whatever will end up happening in the State of Minnesota. I don’t anticipate any JOBS being created by this recent “deal”. If the rich and giant corporations apparently are too important or special to pay taxes, how about ending all THREE wars and NOW? Yes, I realize that would leave a big mess in all three countries to just up and LEAVE, but our “nation building” isn’t really doing anything positive EITHER.

  4. I will have to think about this. Saying that people are driven by fear sounds right to me but I don’t want to have a politics based on that. If what you’re saying is that we have to acknowledge it and work to get past it I think I am with you, but I would have to see the details.

    BTW I do think that you have a lot of conservative readers. I’m proud to say that I’m one of them. I like how directly you assess the situation and when you go into party politics I just let it go by. I like how you don’t blame and shame and I think that shows up in who reads this blog.

  5. Wow, hitting some nerves here. You guys always rise to a challenge & make me do the same! Love it!

    Anna: Excellent point about fear driving investment. I did neglect that here but have talked about it some more. Wall Street confuses me right now, I think they are being stupid and not watching the data close enough. But corporate profits are coming back reasonably well right now, and that’s the driver. Good point on people not being ready for this message in 2008, BTW.

    Pat: Excellent question! The problem FDR had was placating his left, the Henry Wallace Progressives. There were Republicans but they mostly were “Dime Story New Dealers” that always counter-proposed cheaper versions of what FDR suggested. A very different (and much healthier!) atmosphere. My point is that by confronting fear as openly as he did FDR got the politics to that point – something Obama has utterly failed to do so far.

    Kris: I don’t think we can cooperate with the Tea Party types. I think that Obama underestimated how utterly crazy they are – and Boehner did, too. I think there are far more moderate Republicans and Independents who are potential allies, however, and I do think it’s important to defuse the Tea Party types. Confronting fear is my solution to that – acknowledging the reality of the situation. I know it’s a lot to ask, but I’d like to hear Progressives talk that way and see how it goes as we shape a platform to move forward. I think that this “deal” is no plan for anything moving forward and we have to simply overcome it. BTW, the reaction on Wall Street shows that they are nervous about not just debt but the austerity, so we may have more allies than you think.

    Jim: Yes, I want to acknowledge reality and build a coalition from there. I think a lot of conservatives like you have something to add to it and I’m really glad you are here. I’m never into blame, I don’t see the point of it.

  6. I think the problem is that we didn’t confront the problem right away which gave time for diversions and mayhem. It may be too late for Obama at this point even if he is re-elected. The problem is that now he has to deal with people who frankly must be crazy. I hope he learned that he can’t make a deal with them at the very least.

  7. Right, I hear what you’re saying. However, I honestly would struggle if I were to door knock right now for Obama. (I am not sure I CAN volunteer for that campaign even if I VOTE for him.) I basically feel like I voted for and helped elect someone who gave Boehner 97% of what BOHENER wanted. I think I also have political fatigue in the sense that I just don’t have the energy to discuss much with conservatives. Things that are important to me get cut. The rich get out of paying taxes. I can’t cooperate with that. I just can’t. But I appreciate your blog and you probably have more ability than I do to discuss something with conservatives without getting too upset.

  8. Dale: Bingo! 🙂 We’ve allowed this monster to be created and now we have to deal with it. My only solace is that Republicans are as upset about the monster as we are – and Bohner has to feel like a total tool about now. We’ll see if that winds up meaning anything.

    Kris: I appreciate your honesty, and add to it that I’m not far away from you. Obama was schooled bad and he’s going to have to do something to recover before I’m going to feel anything positive for him. I’m trying to get a solid plan in place, something that bubbles up from the grassroots but has strong underpinnings. The more we can work this out at our level the more likely we are to get something good – and maybe, if we have something to work for, get that ol’ fight back in us. But I agree that I’m not there now.

  9. Well for my 2 bits I think the unemployed who won’t get extensions and the students who won’t get Pell grants lost.

  10. I say we are experiencing global climate change so get used to stormy weather. I fully expect things to get worse. You seem to hint at dealing with things in a more local, neighborly manner, which seems to be where we are headed as well.

  11. Dan: You are right. I haven’t had time to go through and figure out who really loses yet, I need to do that.

    Laurie: I’m just doing what I can. I hope everyone does. Saint Paul looks pretty good actually, especially my immediate ‘hood – but we have work to do.

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