After the storm

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You first see the lightening spark out of the angry clouds.  Perhaps a sense of anxiety rose as the pressure dropped.  By the time the heavy wet smell of rain came you may have had a sharp taste of fear in the back of your throat.  The deafening roar as the atmosphere falls around you covers sirens wailing out the obvious in the wind.

The thunderstorms that roll through the Midwest leave a mark on every sense as the experience washes over the lives of those caught in it.  The recent debt ceiling debate in Washington progressed like a storm, building its way to a climax that never had a chance to live up to its intro.  With the rain passed the damage assessment will take time – but the mark on everyone’s heart and mind is clear.   We’re going to watch storms more closely for at least a while.

What that means after this political storm is not obvious, but it is visceral.

Barataria asked your opinion as to what this meant, and as of this moment 124 of you responded to the series of polls.  Thank you very much.  You told the world something that will take some effort to interpret.

Readers of Barataria identified themselves as 57% Liberal/Progressive and 22% Conservative.  That ratio shows that these results cannot be generalized to the general population or even to Democrats in particular.  The presence of so many Conservatives is very gratifying to me personally because it means that Barataria is crossing a few lines.

When asked about your own future, the most popular choices were that 56% of you are Scared and 37% think you’ll “Get by”.  The word “scared” was chosen carefully over “worried” to dissuade people from selecting it – yet more than half of you did.

Your choice of what to call our economic state was equally alarming.  62% of you describe this as a Depression, not a surprise since this is a major theme of Barataria.  But 29% said that we are in a long-term decline, a much more irreversible condition.  Hardly anyone thought we’re in a recovery, the most common term in conventional news.

A solid 49% of you want to know more about how to interpret economic news, followed by 34% that want to discuss how to fix things.  That, again, is what we always talk about here.  But few were interested in pinning blame.

Finally, when we do affix blame 49% placed it on Wall Street and big corporations, but 26% said “Everyone”.

The real shock here is that for a generally Progressive group you are scared for your own future and have a tendency to see your nation in at least a lot of trouble, if not a history-bending decline.  That seems to stand out for many reasons.

A Progressive movement that is organized and active will invariably stand for something that looks like progress.  There has to be some way of moving forward – socially, economically, or through our civic lives.  People who are scared rarely stand up for progress – but they might stand together to confront what has frightened them.   Yet a nation perceived to be in a long-term decline is not something anyone will rally around.  There has to be HopeLuce Guillen-Givins™ to a genuinely progressive movement.

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

The comments emphasize the findings of the poll.  The anger of the Tea Party Republicans was met with some anger, but mostly frustration and a surprising level of empathy.  A politics based on where the US need to go is contentious, but a politics based on our gut feelings has surprising unity.

President Obama and the Democrats, clearly the ones hit the worst by the storm that just passed, have to find a way to stop this from happening to them again.  That obviously includes a political movement as the season lurches from the heat of summer 2011 to the likely more biting winds of autumn 2012.  But where is the intellectual leadership for a forward looking agenda?  What will the next economy look like?  Where is the Hope that propelled us through 2008?

There is no chance of creating a Progressive movement without a sense that progress is possible, let alone a clearly defined path forward.  What we have to do is what we have refused to do so far – confront the fear that is driving our social and economic life and creating a toxic politics that can create self-inflicted wounds as we just saw.

FDR understood this when he took command of the last Depression.  Many people believed then that our nation was in a long-term decline – yet after some darker days ahead we emerged into the greatest period in our history so far.  The difference came down to confronting our fear and working together for something like Progress – but much more like simple cooperation.  It’s a lot like pitching in and cleaning up after a storm, taking the fear from our hearts and moving it to our brains as a plan and making it happen with strong arms.

I say that is the political spirit that can create a new Progressive movement – one that is desperately needed and has eluded us for quite a while.  What do you think?

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