Saturday, January 30, 2010

Obama at one

Reading over the contributions in The Nation's special issue on "Obama at One," a few things stuck out. One was that exaggerated expressions of love for Obama and exaggerated disappointment in Obama similarly miss the point: it's not about one person. But the left's fall-back lesson, namely that you need outside movements to pressure even a good president to do good, is also incomplete.

Yes, the activism needs to go on. However, to put a twist on Malcolm X's most famous statement, I would argue: "By any means necessary---even boring, institutional ones." Progressives need to achieve a better marriage of protests and community activism, on the one hand, and of an effective governance strategy and savvy spin-meistering, on the other. The right gets it. We don't, at least not entirely.

We shouldn't be afraid of dirtying ourselves with a sustained commitment to effective inside politics, just as we've always embraced the limits of civil and uncivil disobedience. But ours---like the rights---must be an inside politics aimed at achieving concrete goals, not just treading water like the Clintons. And achieving those goals not under the noses of the American people but with their full knowledge and support.