The Progressive Studies Program hosted a Progressivism on Tap event this week with editor of Democracy and American editor-at-large of The Guardian, Michael Tomasky. He discussed his essay “Against Despair,” featured in the summer issue of Democracy, where he argues that progressive history—primarily during the Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson eras—has too quickly and inaccurately been used as a “bludgeon” to suggest that the Obama administration is inadequate and to create an atmosphere among progressives of “toxic despair.”
Tomasky contends that if one correctly reexamines the political history of the 1930s and 1960s, change was messy then, too. FDR may have given fiery speeches, but he too had to make compromises and moderate from his initial version of a policy when it came to building a coalition to enact change.
And it is not just progressive emotional health that is suffering from this environment of “despair.” Tomasky contends that that progressive despair is in fact bolstering conservatives, who, with the rise of the Tea Party, are clearly not in need of extra excitement for the coming 2010 midterm elections.
Tomasky argues that the basic problem is that there is no true mass left movement today akin to the civil rights or antiwar movements of earlier decades. There simply is not a unified modern progressive movement. The people who elected Barack Obama have already either disengaged or splintered off into different factions.
There is nothing wrong with thoughtful criticism of proposed legislation, but Tomasky reminded progressives of always remembering what the end game is. Progressive change—while not certain—is much more likely under a President Obama than a conservative president.