A century ago, a popular ex-president stood before a presidential nominating convention and concluded:
We stand at Armageddon and we battle for the Lord.
And, for the following century, liberals and progressives have lived under the shadows of each of the clauses of that summons. We are right, yes, but we have always been embattled. And, for a generation, it seems, we have been fighting — often desperately — to defend the achievements of our grandparents and great-grandparents from the onslaught of that coalition of corporate greed and nativist know-nothingism that we call today’s Republican Party.
As jconway observes, our defeats have been bitter and we have come to define victory as leaving things not much worse than they were before. Social security is damaged but not yet privatized and discarded? We have prevailed. Contraception and abortion are shunned and stifled but are not yet made crimes: we have prevailed again. Food stamps are restricted while hungry people fill our streets and homeless children crowd our shelters: at least we have preserved part of the program for some of the people who need it.
This has been our world. But — again jconway has it right — it might not, it need not, be our future. We have been winning. We should be winning: we believe, after all, in reality. And there is every reason to expect that we can continue to win. Nationally, we just won an extremely challenging presidential election: if we won in 2012, we should be able to win on any given first Tuesday. Virginia is turning blue. Ohio, Colorado, New Mexico: all are coming to their senses.
On issue after issue, we are winning. I’m not old, and I remember a segregated South and Northern neighborhoods with restrictive covenants against Jews. People throughout the country now overwhelmingly agree that people should love whom they love, that women should be free to work in whatever field they like, that life-saving medicine should be available without question to those who need it. These were progressive, liberal positions only yesterday: now, they’re common sense.
And locally, too, we’re winning. When we desperately needed to reclaim a senate seat — when it seemed Scott Brown could be the Republicans’ 51st vote — we did not settle for a tolerable conservative. We ran the best of all possible Democrats, and we won. We put Ed Markey in the senate and Katherine Clark in the House. The echoing horns of the Busing battle still make Beacon Hill a tough place for progressive ideas, but, even there, we’re gaining ground.
If you meet a stranger at dinner, and you know only that she is an eminent surgeon or an acclaimed novelist, a top scientist or a software artist, you don’t need to worry about talking politics because you can pretty well assume you’re both on the same team.
So jconway is right. It’s been a difficult spell. It had to be: for a century, the American progressive was necessarily allied with the American racist, and breaking those shackles hurt. But that’s over now. We’ll lose some elections, sure, but we’re going to win a lot more than we lose and, for the first time in years, we can elect the people and support the policies we really want.
This adjustment is going to be hard on progressives and liberals. All we have to do is to decide what to do with the time that is given us, and roll up our sleeves. There are people to feed, art to make, science to discover, sickness to cure, a climate to preserve, and winter is coming. It’s time for liberals and progressives to stand up, to speak out.