Columnist Joe Gannon: Movement politics desperately needed


Sometimes listening to liberals talk politics is like listening to 10-year-olds talk Santa Claus: they pretty much know that Santa doesn’t exist, but they want him to, so they will themselves into believing one more time, one more year.

Such can be the only explanation for the tectonic “ground swell” of support (aka magical thinking) for an Oprah Winfrey run in 2020, or maybe an Oprah/Michelle Obama ticket. “The O and The M in 2020” — it could fit on a bumper sticker.

But that’s about all it would fit.

Liberals — at least those outside the ultimate vanity-echo chamber of Hollywood — ought to know better by now. Like the 10-year-old, liberals are old enough now, experienced enough, to know that a magical creature cannot, will not, and, more importantly, has not been bringing them presents.

But the reality — the dull reality that the magic was a simplistic adult conspiracy — the reality is so mundane, that the 10-year-old, like the liberal today, wants to keep the phony magic alive one more year, one more time.

And so, the magical thinking goes, the O can bring us the “present” of fixing a political system so broken, a national unity so fragmented, an understanding of ourselves as one nation so shattered, we could rechristen our national slogan as E Unum Pluribus (from one, many)!

Hence the need to keep hope alive by keeping the fantasy alive, one more Christmas, one more election cycle. But really, the Tom Hankses and Meryl Streeps trying to stampede us toward an O in 2020 are like the 10-year-olds who simply do not want to grow up and grow out of the need for a Santa. Because they cannot imagine a way out of our current crisis, they want to put their hopes in an enchanted creature who can deliver it all to us, and in one night!

It is understandable that a people barely one-quarter of the way through the most embarrassing, the most enraging, most dysfunctional administration in our nation’s history would pray for any relief from the relentless Trumpian deluge. But is the best tactic to focus only on the personalities and personae that might “heal us” and the nation, rather than the politics and policies we so desperately need to fix the country?

See? Oprah is a summer blockbuster; the grunt work of building leaders based on policies is a documentary — a long one. Who can compete?

While the impulse, the desire, to draft a pair of strong, intelligent, kind, liberal women to the Democratic ticket in 2020 is completely understandable, it is inconceivable that that kind of “dream ticket” would or could do us much good now.

Yes, Oprah gave a fantastic, inspiring and politically sophisticated speech at the Golden Globes, but one speech does not a president make — let alone an opposition party with policies for the future. We’ve seen this before: one great oration by Barack Obama at the 2004 Democratic National Convention — the famed “skinny kid with a funny name” speech — and two years in the Senate and we thought we’d seen the second coming in 2008.

He was a pop star and they gave him a Nobel Prize for, well, just being himself.

But his eight years — while beacons of tolerance, elegance, and dignity — were disastrous for the Democratic Party, which the single-personality candidate either did nothing to combat, or did not see the importance of grassroots mobilization and so he passively watched as the GOP and its Tea Party pit bull grabbed America by the throat, and began to shake. Obama was a great man, but he was a mediocre president and we are paying for electing the orator over the “community organizer” some of us thought we were getting.

And why oh why do we think Hollywood has answers for the country? The #MeToo movement has laid bare that Hollywood — for all its bleeding-heart liberalism and deep financial pockets — Hollywood, it turns out, is no better than an antebellum plantation where for years all the masters, but also all the well-paid “house servants,” went on yah-suhing and no-maming to keep the money and fame rolling in, and all the while they knew what was happening to the “field hands” out in their cabins at night.

While the O could excite the base, that does not automatically mean it is a good idea. Americans are extremely excitable voters and that has not panned out well for this country in the past.

By my reckoning, our politics in the last 40 years has been invaded by the TV and film stars Sonny Bono, Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jesse Ventura, Al Franken and Donald Trump. All are Republicans or conservatives save for Franken, and all amateurs except for Reagan and Franken who learned actual, retail politics as, respectively, governor of California and senator for Minnesota (before Franken was drowned in the #MeToo tsunami.)

Great political leaders are not born of a single speech nor act. They are built over years of activism, study, failure and success. As were Malcom X, Dr. King, and yes, Bernie and Elizabeth.

Before we sell our hearts to someone, anyone, who can rid us of this orange ogre, let’s first decide what needs to be done.

This is my personal litmus test, from the author and journalist Chris Hedges, who said: “The Democrats have never called for an audit of the Pentagon’s massive and bloated military budget. They do not address corporate crime, champion consumer protection, promote the rights of workers or demand a living wage or full Medicare for all. And because they stand for nothing other than the politesse of identity politics and high-blown liberal rhetoric they have been unable to protect the country from the worst generation of the Republican Party in the nation’s history.”

That kind of critique goes beyond personality politics to movement politics, and that is what we need more desperately than anything else, including the removal of Donald Trump — that the resistance become a movement, and the movement a political party ready to win and to rule.

So, let’s all let go the magic. We don’t need no stinking Santas! We are the gift givers.

Joe Gannon, novelist and teacher, lives in Northampton. He can be reached at opinion@gazettenet.com.

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