(and thanks to my former Calitics colleague Robert Cruickshank for allowing the test run). I have a lot of material and a lot of thoughts about Netroots Nation this year, but they’re a little too undifferentiated to put into words. Yesterday was highly scheduled – talking with lawmakers and advocates about the challenges of the future.
I think you can point to a couple things that Al Franken said in his closing keynote to get a feel for the mood here at the event, which was quite a bit less gloomy than, say, the America’s Future Now conference last month. Franken said bluntly that we don’t have enough progressives in Congress to get the agenda we want, and an fair reading of the situation would prove him right. We can advance an issue or two, and create some litmus tests, but ultimately we’re at the beginning of a long road. The other thing Franken said (and I had a chance to talk with him one-on-one, so I’ll be writing about that in the future) was that the Supreme Court is taking away citizen’s rights one 5-4 decision at a time. That’s a key point, that the crisis of governance in the 21st century extends to the roadblock in the courts.
This all sounds very discouraging. But there are solutions lying around as well. The Majority Leader again committed to changing Senate rules yesterday, which has been a common theme of the conference (Speaker Pelosi just trashed the Senate in her remarks). And the powerful, emotional moment between Leader Reid and Lt. Dan Choi offered a glimpse into progressive pressure that can work. For those who don’t know about it, Choi shut down the Strip earlier this week with a protest over Reid scheduling a vote on ENDA and finishing DADT repeal. Reid acknowledged Choi during his opening remarks at the convention, and then, Joan McCarter handed him Choi’s West Point ring – Choi was just discharged for violating DADT days before. Reid said that he didn’t earn the ring, that he would give it back to Choi. Many in the audience said to only give it back when DADT was repealed, and Reid agreed. Then Choi jumped the stage, saluted, and he and Reid embraced. The LGBT community’s tireless efforts at activism – sometimes uncomfortable activism – have yielded respect and, hopefully, much progress. I think it’s a model going forward.
And yet. On the panel in which I participated on the foreclosure crisis, I took up a theme about the pathetic Obama/Treasury foreclosure mitigation program being a failure of liberalism, a confirmation of Ronald Reagan’s infamous statement that the most dangerous words in America are “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” HAMP is not a liberal program, but it’s coming from a government seen as liberal, and the consequences are dire for millions of people as well as most everything we care about. And without resetting the housing market, we’re not going to fix the economy ever. The Administration seems far too content to ride this out and rely on cycles of economics, still wedded to a belief that the health of the banks means more than the security of the people. This would ring a death rattle for the middle class and basically consign them to no future.
I see a determination in the progressive movement actors here to move ahead with their own agenda and their own set of leaders. And I think there’s been a trial and error process of dealing with a centrist Administration and understanding how governing really happens, which is bringing us around to better practices. There’s only one thing to do and that’s to fight for the country against those who would take it in the wrong direction.
I’ll have probably a week’s worth of posts with some other thoughts and stories and interviews from Netroots Nation.