I don't know which reaction to the now-inevitable passage of the bankruptcy bill makes me wince more: Elizabeth Warren's look-on-the-bright-side message at Talking Points Memo ("...you pushed up the cost.... Because of this fight, there will be no quiet, smooth passage for this bill") or the fist-shaking in Max Sawicky's list of "Democratic senators who will never be president" (because of their vote to let the bill come to the floor). Warren, Sawicky, and so many others are on the side of the angels, but please, people -- can we be realistic?
Look, we're just not organized enough, not powerful enough, not scary enough to give our Senate and House delegations pause. If Social Security is the third rail of American politics, we weren't even capable of raising this to the level of a balloon rubbed on a sweater. The activists and mavens who care about matters like this are too small a sliver of the electorate to worry wily pols. They fear big blocs of voters, not us, and we were never able to make average voters care.
Is that a surprise? We simply don't have the Right's message machine. A bit of what happens on the Right is purely grassroots -- I'm thinking of the work of Christian conservatives -- but right-wing activism packs a punch only because of big money, from self-interested corporations and scheming think-tank-funding billionaires. Big money shapes the message and gets it out there. That, in turn, keeps a much larger percentage of ordinary conservative Americans pumped up and versed on talking points than we can muster on the other side.
This is a huge problem, and as long as we can't find a solution to it, we're not going to win on issues like this. Only a small percentage of us (the activists and mavens) will remember this moment in '08; the rank and file simply won't. That means we don't really have a whole lot of leverage over Democrats who sell us out.
Ultimately, there need to be millions of Americans -- at least a double-digit percentage of the electorate -- who are fired up by the idea of progressivism. I'm talking about a mirror image of what the Right has: millions of people who listen to Rush and watch Fox and who may not know much, but they know that the correct answer in every case is whatever right-wing opinion leaders say it is.
We aren't there -- we aren't even close. So for the Democrats on Max Sawicky's list, this was, unfortunately, pretty much risk free.