By Matthew Cain
Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army.
Baseball fans aren’t a forgiving bunch. When the team starts to stumble, fans start looking for anybody to blame.
I’ve been a Red Sox fan for a long time and seen this at its worst.
No Sox fan made excuses for last season’s collapse; we took out the knives. It seemed like every conversation I had with another Sox fan last summer was about Carl Crawford’s seemingly endless slump, Josh Beckett and chicken wings, or Bobby Valentine.
That’s not how it goes with fans of politicians. Progressives, who were ready to riot over what they saw as Bush administration overreach, worked their tails off to elect Barack Obama. Yet, this spirited group has been largely silent since, as the Obama administration fails to reverse – and perhaps even expands upon – Bush’s policies.
It seems like Obama fans go to great lengths to defend the president or dismiss his failures. It’s true that he’s only one man facing an unpredictable and generally crazy Congress, but it’s also true that on a number of issues, Obama has taken overly cautious half measures — or opted for the conservative path entirely.
It doesn’t have to be that way. In an earlier era, labor leaders clashed with a president over the policies he pursued to guide the country out of the largest financial crisis in living memory. In those days, FDR reportedly challenged his detractors, “I agree with you, now make me do it.”
Whether he said those words or not, the compelling force behind most of the New Deal was not FDR himself; it was the protests and rallies held across the country by labor activists and regular people of every stripe. Those protests and rallies shaped the political reality in which FDR was able to work, and they enabled much more progress than Roosevelt’s election alone would have.
So, how do we, modern-day progressives, make Obama listen? By standing up and demanding better than what he’s given us so far; banding together and organizing to exert political pressure; shouting so loudly that the news media can’t ignore us.
When not fighting off self-inflicted crises, Obama has spent most of his new second term pushing for comprehensive immigration reform. For this effort, he’s won praise in the media and from immigrants’ rights groups alike. But as the president’s approval rating soars among Hispanics, there’s a darker side that doesn’t get the same attention: Obama’s Justice Department has deported nearly two million undocumented immigrants since 2009.
“In four years, Mr. Obama’s administration has deported as many illegal immigrants as the administration of George W. Bush did in his two terms, largely by embracing, expanding and refining Bush-era programs to find people and send them home,” explains The New York Times. The Obama administration deported more than 400,000 people last year, and is on track to make its 2 millionth deportation by the end of this year.
Now, it’s definitely true that an Obama administration is better for immigrants than a Romney, (or Santorum or Gingrich or Perry) administration would have been. At the same time, it could be much better.
People who don’t engage with this issue don’t know the realities. Conventional wisdom is summed up by Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, who – as a protester shouting “Stop the deportations!” was removed from the hearing room – complained that the administration has slacked on immigration enforcement.
If we want a realistic and comprehensive immigration reform debate, it can’t just be immigration activists standing up and shouting. Allies from across the spectrum need to tell the stories of families torn apart by deportation and demand accountability from the administration. If pro-immigration voices don’t speak up, the Jeff Sessions of the world will continue to control the debate.
Immigration isn’t the only area where Obama’s rhetoric and public record hasn’t matched the reality. In his State of the Union message this year, the president won praise from all sorts of progressive groups (including, in full disclosure, the one I work for) for his proposal to raise the minimum wage to $9 per hour and tie it to inflation. That’s great, but it’s not even as good as his 2008 campaign proposal or raising the wage to $9.50 per hour, with indexing. In 2006, public pressure forced President Bush to lend his support to the last effort to raise the minimum wage, but before the State of the Union, progressives were largely silent on the issue during Obama’s tenure, despite the broken promise.
Likewise, in last year’s State of the Union, President Obama announced a new mortgage fraud task force, chaired by New York’s progressive Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. Sure, it took Obama three years to announce a plan to prosecute the financial wrongdoing that caused our financial crisis, but the move was seen by many progressives as a direct result of liberal groups’ pressure. They rejoiced and went on to different problems.
So, what victories has the Mortgage Crisis Unit won since January 2012? Well, they’ve filed a couple of civil suits against the big banks, but nobody has been arrested or faced criminal charges, and not for lack of wrongdoing — though, the word “fraud” has flown around freely in these investigations.
While the administration has spent its time not prosecuting financial criminals, it has put a lot of effort into arresting medical marijuana growers and distributers — even in states where medical marijuana is legal. Unlike bankers, about whom Obama originally talked tough, the president originally promised an easy line on medical marijuana. But then, after appointing a Bush administration holdover (and marijuana hardliner) Michele Leonhart to head the DEA, the administration’s policy shifted.
Leonhart’s DEA reinterpreted the “Ogden Memo” which had guided federal response to states where medical marijuana was legal, and began enforcing federal laws, even where state law said medical marijuana was legal.
As states began to legalize recreational marijuana last year, Obama said that prosecuting marijuana was not a “high priority” for the administration. But Gil Kerlikowske, the U.S. “Drug Czar,” disagreed, saying that the government would enforce federal drug laws. Which way the government actually goes may depend upon the reaction from activists.
Obama’s progressive failure, then, isn’t wholly Obama’s. The failure belongs to the progressive activists who have sat quietly by, cheerleading or simply ignoring Obama’s compromises and triangulation.
If Red Sox fans weren’t so vocally upset at the end of last season, the team ownership probably wouldn’t have fired Bobby Valentine and brought in John Farrell. If progressives can be as loud and obnoxious as Sox fans, we’ll have the chance to make some real change around here.