Posted by Thomas Nephew on 25th June 2012
“Does the Liberal Establishment Care About Anything But Itself? The Hard Lessons of Wisconsin” is an unintentionally revealing title for a disappointing discussion with Rebuild America guru Van Jones.
In the interview, conducted by Adele Stan of Alternet, Jones starts by saying the Wisconsin governor’s recall race was lost due to the “inaction of the liberal establishment.”
Yet the recall effort was waged for the Wisconsin liberal establishment more than for anyone else. As Rick Perlstein noted in a valuable Rolling Stone post-mortem, Walker’s opponent, Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett, galumphed into the race on the strength of Democratic establishment connections. And he did it over the objections of Wisconsin labor… and with a far less resolute approach than Kathleen Falk’s (the prior front runner) to fixing the core issue at stake: restoring collective bargaining to Wisconsin public employees.
But Jones’s purpose apparently wasn’t really to conduct an objective inquest on the Wisconsin recall — it was to artfully (or confusedly, take your pick) blur the lines between “establishment” and “movement”:
“Our national movement was doing its minimum. You didn’t see the big national Democrats there. There were exceptions, but in general, you didn’t see the national civil rights movement, the environmental movement, the women’s movement — we left a lot of artillery unused.”
Strangely, what that tells Van Jones is that his liberal and progressive audience should be redoubling their efforts for… wait for it… precisely the “one big national Democrat” who did the absolute minimum (well, aside from one tweet) in Wisconsin himself:
Remember how you felt when you woke up and found out that we lost in Wisconsin. Now, imagine how you’re gonna feel waking up to President Romney and a Republican sweep of Congress. Now, I say that because we have a lot of progressives who are saying things like they’re so disappointed with Obama that they’re not going to do anything to help him get reelected. I think that is ill-considered because we feel this way right now, but tomorrow always comes. And when we’re actually living in a world where the Tea Party is the government of the United States, which is where we’re headed, we’re gonna wish we had done more. [...]
Shifting ever more fluidly between “you” and “we”, Jones then buttered up Alternet readers with “you can’t fault the peace movement, we had as many people marching for peace in the streets of America the first six weeks leading up to the Iraq War than we had in the first six years of the Vietnam War.” Not that anyone was faulting the peace movement, one thinks, but whatever, this tastes good. And so, with readers presumably disarmed, the real rhetorical gambit occurs:
…So, you can’t fault the peace movement, but you had the wrong president.
With Obama, you had arguably the right president, but you had the wrong movement with the Tea Party out there, pulling things in a negative direction. The key is to have the right president and the right movement at the same time. That’s what we’ve got to be aiming for. You’ve got to have a president who is willing to be moved — which is not Bush and not Romney. But then you’ve got to have a movement that’s willing to do the moving. And that’s what we’ve got to be aiming for, which means that we have to work twice as hard as we did in 2008, not half as hard or a tenth as hard.
You know, I look around and I don’t hear a lot of progressives talking about where they’re going to spend October in terms of the swing states. I don’t hear people talking about the fundraisers that they’re doing. I don’t hear [of] people doing any of the things that we did in 2008. And if we think we’re going to put our minimum up against our opponents’ maximum, when they’ve been given this huge window with Citizens United and all of this voter disenfranchisement, then we’re crazy.
And thus the shabby magic trick is complete. The best, rightest movements of them all — the Wisconsin uprising, Occupy Wall Street: forgotten. Emanuel’s poisoning of the race with Barrett: ignored. The right president: ‘arguably’ (nice touch) Obama. Obama’s MIA performance: camouflaged as “big national Democrats.” The legacy of Wisconsin, as Jones appears to see it: to catalyze Obama 2012 house parties.
For all I know, Netroots Nation ate it up — apparently Jones was recycling some of the comments from a speech there; Adele Stan sure seemed to.
But I’m not buying. Does the liberal establishment care about anything but itself? That’s a surprisingly good question, given the adoring interview Ms. Stan conducted. And judging by Jones’s comments, Obama’s no-show, Bill Clinton’s tepid speech for Barrett, and Barrett’s tepid race against Walker, the answer is: no.
We shouldn’t have to settle for a president who’s “willing to be moved” — we needed and need one to lead the moving. We don’t need a president who admires and wants to be part of the elite — we need one to impose some boundaries on that elite’s arrogance and power. And we don’t need a movement defined for us by a Van Jones. We should do that for ourselves.