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Pressuring Democrats to fight hard is a good thing
We need to push leaders to speak forcefully, repeatedly, loudly. There's too much overblown fear that it helps the GOP.
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Back in the Obama years, LGBTQ activists became very vocal after the 2008 election when they saw signs that the president wasn’t keeping his promises. President Obama’s DOJ was actually defending the Defense of Marriage Act in court. There was a great deal of foot-dragging on ending the wretched '“don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in the military.
Honestly, there was a lot of tepidness on many issues, as Obama believed he could work with Republicans — who ultimately let it be known they were out to destroy his presidency. But advocates for other causes, such as environmentalists, stayed quiet, not wanting to criticize the president.
LGBTQ grass roots activists went full force, however, criticizing the president in public forums, on blogs, in publications, in columns (and I was part of that as a radio host and columnist). Eventually there was grass roots protest and civil disobedience, with groups like Get Equal interrupting the president’s speeches and chaining themselves to the White House fence. Immigration activists eventually followed suit, staging protests, pressuring publicly.
All of us who criticized the president came under a lot of attack not only by White House-aligned operatives but by many Democrats who were so nervous, worried that it helped the GOP.
But in fact, the result was that the president not only was moved to act — he eventually saw it as a way to win re-election, energizing the base of the party as he became a leader on marriage equality after pushing through “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal.
Admittedly, the story is longer and more complex than that. And the issues are different from those confronting progressives today regarding President Biden. But what is the same is this: It never hurts to speak out loudly demanding leadership. And once the president sees that speaking forcefully is a way to win — by galvanizing the base — there’s no stopping the momentum.
Too many people have been too careful. When there is any criticism of Biden — let alone actual protest, which no one has really even attempted — a stream of apologists appear on social media. They are bed-wetters, worried that any criticism of the president plays into the GOP’s hands.
I believe they’re also traumatized — we all are! — by the Trump years and the continued danger of the MAGA movement, pushing the Big Lie and intent on stealing elections. But the response cannot be to freeze in place or refrain from criticizing our leadership for not taking the message, powerfully and repeatedly, to the American people, warning of the grave danger we are in.
The response by the president to the overturning of Roe v. Wade — something the White House had months to work on — was late and weak. It took the president days to say he favors ending the filibuster in the Senate to codify Roe. And this was only after he told us what he wasn’t going to do: expand the Supreme Court. Mark Joseph Stern put it aptly in a Twitter thread.
Progressive Washington Post columnists Greg Sargent and Paul Waldman wrote about California Governor Gavin Newsom’s spectacular ad over the July 4th weekend, in which he took on Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, and aired the spot in Florida!
They discuss how Newsom is filling a void Biden is allowing to grow. I think they speak for many of us:
Our country feels like it’s spinning downward at an ever-more-furious pace, and the party is led by superannuated politicians who at these moments explain why they’d like to do more but are constrained from doing so…
…Democratic voters crave signs that party leaders understand their frustration is bordering on panic: As they see it, the side making serious ideological gains is the opposition, whose chances of winning Congress don’t seem diminished by revelations about Trump’s GOP-enabled effort to destroy our political order, court decisions gutting long-settled rights, or mass-shooting nightmares that seem horrifyingly inevitable.
There have been articles in recent days in Politico, the New York Times, CNN.com and the Washington Post about “inertia” at the White House and pressure by Democrats on the president to be more forceful. I’m among the first to be very wary of the political media. They are not our friend.
But that doesn’t mean you reflexively defend the president. The Beltway media is, in this case, focusing on something that is very real, even if they blow it up out of proportion, per usual. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking every one of these stories is planted by GOP operatives, or that criticizing the president only helps the GOP.
Criticizing President Obama helped him to realize that the only way to win is to lean into the issues at hand and galvanize the base. The current Democratic leadership and White House need to do the same. And that’s only going to happen if we speak up and apply pressure — not if we stay silent.