Frank Rich has written a singularly depressing piece in New York Magazine, TheTea Party Will Win in the End. Most disturbing is that it rings so true, that it tells a story many of us don’t want to believe. We liberals like to think that history is on our side, and while Rich didn’t quite put it that way, it’s perhaps that we aren’t reading history carefully enough. Or, and that is true for most people these days on all sides, we read selectively and subjectively. We hear what we want to hear and see what we want to see. I plead as guilty to that as anyone else.
I have long been troubled by how easily liberals are disheartened. We seem incapable of taking the slightest setback, the mildest punch and, much worse, we seem to tire of the game almost before it starts. In that, we sadly act more like juveniles than grownups, pouting that one or more of our heroes is not living up to our expectations or thinking that the occasional rant against politicians, big business and the Koch brothers is all that’s required. We are especially reliant on the hero of the moment, our surrogate. It’s all up to her or him. We expect the hero to carry the full burden, 100%. Once in place, our work is done. Except of course, we feel fully empowered to chide that hero for letting us down. Sound familiar?
We abdicate our own responsibility because in the end we have little or no substantive skin in the game. Four years ago, Democrats “were fired up and ready to go”. This year, not so much. Pardon me; are the stakes any lower in 2012 than they were in ’08? I’d argue they might well be much higher. Were we on the case last time around because it was the fashion or flavor of the moment, that must-read best seller, hot Broadway ticket or latest fad diet? Were we really “fired up” or was that an act, something we could boast about at social gatherings? Was this some kind of teenage flirt, with no staying power? Forget that this is all about him, all about them. It’s all about us and, accept or not, it is we who should be our own greatest disappointment.
Frank Rich thinks the right is winning. My takeaway of his analysis is that, unlike us, they are determined long distance runners. They don’t perceive setbacks as defeat but as momentary bumps on the road. Their attention isn’t taken up with the 3 or 5K race, but with the Marathon. A big part of their game plan, your might remember, is to take hold of local and statewide offices. That takes patience, an incremental effort with below-the-radar victories to be won. It is a strategy that has had devastating results in the places like North Carolina where a newly turned legislature pushed through a horrendous marriage amendment that Spring primary voters recently added to the state constitution.
Even so, my own view is that what liberals and Democrats in general suffer is not so much tactical deficit — we aren’t talking those small races seriously — but a serious passion-gap. I think that President Obama’s disastrous first debate performance was a metaphor for our own problem more than his. Say what you might about the Tea Party phenomenon of 2010 and what really drove them, these people had great passion. Many believe the Teas represented a backlash against Obama’s first two years, tokened especially by the Affordable Car Act. I don’t buy it for one minute. What raised so much passion in Republican rightist ranks was not what the new president accomplished, but rather that he was elected in the first place.
And, while it’s impossible to discount a modicum of underlying racism, the problem with the 2008 election was that it represented such a slap in the face. Remember Obama didn’t only prevail. He brought with him both the Senate and a significant House majority. Pundits on the mornings after couldn’t stop talking and prognosticating about the “death” of the Republican Party. Destined to be a fringe minority for years to come, they had finally been done in by superior Democratic ground forces and, yes, money.
So it’s hardly surprising that it was the “fringe” that rose up in places as unlikely as Massachusetts turning the sacrosanct Kennedy seat over to their darling Scott Brown. While Democrats couldn’t get enough of the wonderful news that they would hold power for a generation to come, Tea Party members and their acolyte influentials drove forward with passion. They used whatever tools they could find, said whatever worked for their case and most of all spoke to a growing and very palpable frustration in the land. That “hope” hadn’t translated into instant recovery may have been their best ally, but it was the passion that ultimately won the day.
If Obama’s debate performance is a metaphor for our lack of passion, the Occupy “movement” — the word is hardly justified — stands as proof of what’s missing. Some will reject that view, but only if they fail to soberly look at the facts. For one thing, Occupy was extremely short lived, and short-handed. It couldn’t even muster itself into any kind of regularized activity in this crucial election year. And don’t call its few little of-the-moment gasps activity. Yes, Occupy raised awareness of the 99%, but it failed to rally that huge constancy, much less any meaningful small one. That is particularly notable because the questions it raised are real and the frustration among working and middleclass Americans is so immediate.
Truth is, we seem to have no real passion, certainly none comparable to those on the right. Even George Soros of the left, apparently out of some pique, is mostly sitting on the sidelines this year just at the moment when his fellow billionaires on right are pouring unprecedented financial support into Republican races, including again many at the local level.
I am a great believer in passion. Passion is what separates the dilettante from the serious. The former flits in an out, is a fair weather friend. The latter gets the job done, whatever the cost. It’s the difference between having a fleeting interest and laser like focus. Passion marks the successful, regardless of what the endeavor or discipline may be. That’s what makes passion so very hard, if not impossible, to conquer. And here is a problem. There are no classes for passion, no on-line site with how to instructions. Passion can’t be taught and can’t really be learned. It is always self-generated. Passion is something we have to take hold of by ourselves and those who have it tend to live richer and more fulfilled lives. We need passion in ourselves and in our corner. Liberals suffer a passion-gap relative to conservatives. Wish I knew how to turn that around.
I call them Transcenders. To brand them nonbelievers is to assume religion and its particular belief system the human default. Worse it suggests that those who have left religion behind lack beliefs. Nothing could be further from the truth. For more read my book.