Everyone has lost something this year - a job, income, medical coverage, a raise, a house - and by invoking the specter of the Soviet-style socialism every time the Left talks about healthcare, immigration, education, or the environment, the Right raises a primal fear that what little I have left will be taken away from me and given to people who haven’t “earned” it.
It gets worse. Because it’s not just red-baiting taking place, it’s race-baiting as we all know. Every Black and brown face in the United States has been successfully labeled “socialist” and in an underhanded way linked with the worst of the lazy, undeserving, free riding, lawbreaking racial stereotypes. President Obama is either unable or unwilling to call out these racial attacks for what they are, and in the meantime the rest of the country goes about imagining that they’re protecting what little they have left. ACORN is the latest victim of these attacks - it is no coincidence that one of the largest voter registration and community organizing nonprofits in the country is being razed by dirty tricks and race baiting before the 2010 and certainly the 2012 elections.
But the fault lies not only with the Right, but with a complacent and disorganized Left, that I posit has also started to ask, “What’s in it for me?” as the Progressive Obama we hoped we elected is replaced with the Democratic Centrist Obama we knew we elected. We’ve lived through this before with the Clinton Administration, and we should know better.
What happened to the notion that none of us will really win anything if we don’t win it together? The Left fractures easily because too many of us have very little to hold on to - be it housing, immigration status, healthcare, civil rights, or safe and healthy communities. This has been our perennial weakness when confronted with the kinds of illogical and reductive attacks we all are currently facing. We’re great at defending ourselves with facts and numbers, but we don’t have an answer to the question, “What’s in it for me?” This is not a debate on rational terms anymore, and we can’t expect the people we most want to reach, including ourselves, to respond rationally.
So here’s what I propose: we answer the question. And fight fire with fire.
We’re not lowering ourselves to the scare tactics and race baiting of the Right by finding an emotional and simplified appeal to support our cause. We’re taking back an argument that facts and figures can’t win. We need someone other than Michael Moore stating the obvious on simple, emotional terms: big insurance companies only look out for their own health, bank lending policies are still racist, our educational system too often prepares young people for jail instead of college, it’s not OK to treat 12 million people as if they don’t exist simply because they’re undocumented, poor neighborhoods and Indian reservations are too often the dumping grounds of our toxic waste. By fixing these systemic problems and their frequent racial impacts, we’re not taking away what anyone has earned on their own, we’re giving back what we’ve all earned: a truly equitable country.
But right now, like King Solomon and the baby, Barack Obama is cutting our policies right down the middle. The only question is, which mother do we want to be: the one who acquiesces to their division, or the one who screams in protest?