Natural Allies: Stop Criticizing Progressives for Being Progressive

The late, great comedian George Carlin said in 1996,

Catholics and other Christians are against abortions and they’re against homosexuals. Well who has less [sic] abortions than homosexuals? Leave these people alone. Here is an entire class of people guaranteed never to have an abortion. You’d think they’d make natural allies.

Although the brilliant philosopher that was Mister Carlin was referring to religion, his statement applies to politics too, and not just conservative politics. It’s time progressives too make “natural allies”.

Bernie Sanders has a saying: “Democracy is not a spectator sport.” There are many lasting effects of the good senator’s campaign, regardless whether he wins the nomination and presidency or not. Probably the most important movement taking place is the inspiration it is instilling in people to involve themselves in the political process. It has certainly inspired me in ways I never imagined. All over America, people are waking up to the reality we must remain vigilant concerning what our elected officials are up to instead of simply pulling the lever on Election Day and sitting back waiting for those we elected to inevitably disappoint us.

How many times have we heard our angry republican relatives on Thanksgiving complain about “those lying politicians who say anything to get elected and do just the opposite when they are”? The complainers won’t go away, unfortunately, but, thanks to people like Senator Sanders, there are going to be a lot fewer of them.

But that’s hard to achieve. It’s easy to play “arm-chair pundit”. It’s easy to regurgitate a talking point one hears on a Sunday morning talk show or reads on a blog (like this one!). It’s easy to counter someone’s argument with a bumper sticker slogan. Democracy is messy. It’s hard. It’s fragile. It also requires patience if it’s to work at all. This is why I believe when politicians “flip-flop” from less to more progressive directions, it’s not always a reason to attack them for inconsistency but sometimes an opportunity to celebrate a progressive success.

Case in point, a month ago New York raised its minimum wage to $15 an hour. Previously, Hillary Clinton stated a national wage of $15 is too high; $12 is more achievable, she said, even though she publicly supported the “Fight for Fifteen” movement. However, days leading up to the New York primary, Secretary Clinton said she would support a $15-an-hour minimum wage as president if such a bill crossed her desk, something Bernie Sanders called her out on at the debate on April 14. Her explanation was more opaque than it should have been, but she stood up the day New York agreed to expand minimum wage and extolled it, claiming to have always been in favor of it. Indeed, it is curious, and for those not crazy about Secretary Clinton already, it’s one more example of what’s frustrating about her. There was certainly no shortage of vitriol. However, we as progressives should see this as a win. Although she has traditionally upheld a $12-minimum-wage stance, she did say she would support an even higher national wage when President. She apparently supports higher than $12 at the state level. Public pressure matters here. Even if she is disingenuous, the more unrelenting we are, the less inclined she will probably be to renege if she is elected president. It’s our job to hold her to her word.

Secretary Clinton also spoke out against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) earlier this year after helping to negotiate it as Secretary of State. “I waited until it had actually been negotiated because I did want to give the benefit of the doubt to the (Obama) administration,” she said. “Once I saw what the outcome was, I opposed it.” Is this mere political expediency? Perhaps. She’s taking a position we want her to take now, though, isn’t she? Again, even if she’s disingenuous, we have her public opposition to it. It took her longer than we wanted, but now it is incumbent upon us progressives to never let her forget it.

Although President Obama’s tenure has been an overall success in spite of unprecedented GOP obstruction, there are, naturally, some criticisms, as there ought to be. One that’s bandied about a lot is that he’s just coming around on closing Guantanamo Bay after promising to close it when running for president. True, he’s a little late on it, but it’s progressive action I think we would prefer now rather than kicking it down the road yet again to the next president.

Remember when Obama “evolved” on gay marriage, interestingly right after Vice President Biden came out in favor of it? We wondered what took him so long, and wished he’d come out favoring it sooner. He did come out in favor of it, though. Now same-sex marriage is the law of the land, in large part to the unrelenting pressure we progressives exerted.

I also wish he’d come out on it sooner, as he should have against the Keystone XL pipeline, which he also opposes now because of public outcry. That outcry is healthy, so keep it up. He is finally putting his foot down to Republicans, but has become, sadly, the “deporter in chief” for thousands of undocumented men, women, and children. This is our next push.

True, Republican obstructionism has made a mockery of our legislative process, and many pieces of legislation would have occurred with more clarity had there never been a right-wing vendetta against the first African American president. We must never turn our backs on our duties as Progressives to maintain unwavering pressure on elected officials to uphold their campaign promises. At the same time, though, when that pressure drives them to adopt policies we want, don’t vilify them for not doing it sooner. Just be glad they’re listening.

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