After 25 years of an on-again-off-again association with the L.A. Weekly, and after nearly eight straight years of doing this column, this will be my last one. The Weekly and I are parting ways. Economic pressures have resulted in the cutting of much senior staff, yours truly included.
I take the personal privilege of writing these few words about this only because I have heard directly from so many loyal readers over the years, and I think you deserve at least a cursory explanation. Thanks to those of you who have already expressed your concern, but let me assure you that I have been rather grotesquely overextended in my work for the last few years and now I will be only reasonably overstretched.
Without overinflating my role, I do think it fitting that my departure from the Weekly comes at a rather symbolic moment. As I wrote last week in the heat of Election Night, I think pretty much the entire political world as we know it is about to take a radical, new turn — and that would include the work of parasitic pundits.
Indeed, I have been amused and somewhat irritated by all the hand-wringing and panty-twisting that’s hit the Westside like a plague over some of Barack Obama’s first appointments, including Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff. There’s a lot of grumbling from the liberal ranks that too many centrists and establishment types are getting the top jobs, and that Obama is shying away from the gawdafully named category of “progressives.”
Here’s the news flash, comrades: Obama will be heading up an entirely Democratic administration, all three branches. If he’s going to do anything of lasting value, the greatest obstacles to change won’t be a shattered Republican Party but rather the more conservative wing of his Democratic Party — which, by my reckoning, is most of his party.
To be effective, Obama’s going to have to enlist some of these same centrist characters as his personal political henchmen. They are the ones who will have do the head-knocking for him up on Capitol Hill. Appointing a bunch of progressives, as they are called, would only mean his task would be harder — not easier. This is about getting stuff done. Not about providing feel-good therapy for a fleet of nervous-Nellie Prius pilots.
To date, Obama has shown tremendous discipline and steadiness in shaping and forwarding his message. He seems like anything but a feckless waffler. If, indeed, he’s going to have to take the DLC types head-on in the months to come, nothing seems better than to use a few of their own as his battering rams. Whom you appoint as your minions means jack. What matters is what you actually get done. And it will be much more beneficial to Obama to have a prick like Rhambo fighting for him rather than against him.
Obama is obviously an extremely intelligent, liberal politician and social leader whose objective is to build a liberal governing majority that can actually initiate and pass significant reform legislation. Sorry to break this news to you, but self-styled progressives, socialists and even liberals do not — even remotely — constitute an organized electoral majority in this country. So to pass that legislation, Obama must build working coalitions and alliances, and even, gasp, make deals with and compromise with a whole lot of unsavory people whom you or I might not want to sit in the same room with. That’s just one reason why he’s the president. And why the rest of us are arguing about this over Chardonnay and finger food.
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I had the treat of spending the last week of the campaign in Nevada with an entire team of young union activists deployed by the SEIU [Service Employess Internationl Union] as last-minute shock troops for the Obama campaign. Let me gleefully report to you that the overwhelming majority of this new generation of activists seems to have no organic relationship nor any real interest in the radical political formations born of the 1960s. No surprise there, I hope, fellow boomers. Back in the midst of the ’60s, I remember us being curious about those who had come before us, specifically in the ’30s, but we felt no links and little resonance. If I’m not mistaken that’s why we fancied ourselves as the New Left.
Now, there’s a New New Left out there and — thankfully — it looks, acts and thinks very little as we did. It has learned from our mistakes, fortunately. And it wants to get things done. This, of course, strikes the old-fart, left-wind blogs as being reformist, or sellouts or whatever. Actually, it’s about getting things done by meeting the population where it really is and moving it forward. Not by confronting and insulting it.
We’ve spoken a lot in the past months about how the election of Obama represents a generational changeover inside the American political system. Perhaps it’s time to see the same transition within the activist left. I had to laugh when I saw the emergence of Progressives for Obama. Its original membership list read like the Madison chapter of the AARP (though it did eventually broaden out a bit). I think it would be refreshing if all the 50-, 60- and 70-year-old progressives still hanging around and offering all their years of invaluable advice to Obama and his supporters would consider a different option: How about just getting out of the doorways and getting out of the halls, and realizing that old road is rapidly aging. The times, they are a changing. All that is solid melts into air.
Including this column.