from a longer piece about “Tom Perriello, the embattled freshman Democratic congressman”
Could the President have helped bring a progressive populism into being, by vilifying the banks and hammering his money-backed opponents from the start, as a counter to the right-wing populism that totally dominates the media? Maybe, but it would have been contrary to his character and his approach to governing. I’m not sure it would have found an answer in the country, either. Skepticism of government’s ability to improve people’s lives runs deep. The White House designed the positive effects of the stimulus bill (there have been plenty) to be undetectable to the naked eye. Americans’ economic circumstances have gotten harder, not easier, since Obama took office. Arguably, the same could have been said of F.D.R. in 1934 (the midterms that year went his way), but back then people were more desperate and less informed, meaning less likely to convince themselves that they shouldn’t “believe the data.” And conservative, pro-rich populism didn’t exist. The Liberty League, unlike the Koch brothers, had no Glenn Beck…It turned out that the Obama Administration had about seven minutes to prove that government could bring some decency and security back to people’s lives. Whatever their mistakes (and they’ve made many), the odds were long against them—much longer than I thought on November 4, 2008. More and more it seems clear that Obama’s best qualities leave him barely able to make himself heard in the storm and lead the country out of it…In a losing battle, it’s almost always better for morale to stick to principle than abandon it, and it probably increases the odds of winning.
art: color pencil drawing by Sean Leong