24 Sep 2009
by Colin Greer
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Politics of Calm Revisited

President Obama is keeping his cool on health care and most other progressive issues despite the fact that forceful words and strong convictions may actually fare better with the American public.

Three years ago, millions of immigrant protesters rocked the country by voicing their discontent over proposed immigration reform. I wrote a piece on openDemocracy lamenting the fact that progressives in America are so hesitant to take a similarly strong stance against the right on more or less any issue. Progressives tend to espouse ‘safe’ positions in order to appease who they believe to be the ‘majority’ of Americans.

Still today, after the success of the people’s campaign that brought Obama to the White House, progressives cower away from describing their convictions with the moral weight of their counterparts on the right. On health care, on women’s rights, on immigration, and education, the left wavers in their “message-making”, when actually their only hope to unite people is with a strong voice that describes the real urgency.

In the 1960s, media scholar Marshall McLuhan made the distinction between “hot” and “cool” media (radio / television) arguing that Kennedy was far more suited for television campaigning than Nixon, who was too dour and energetically mismatched with TV. The “medium is the message” said McLuhan. Not entirely, perhaps. But it does count: both forceful messages, strength and engaged constituency presence— whether on TV news, or on web videos the next day.

The point is not that progressives should shout more, but rather that passion as well as words should get beyond the “politics of calm” to a point where they explain their views with a strength that corresponds to the reasons for which they hold them.

Why was there was no resounding call from progressives when Obama addressed the UN today to remind Americans that the UN must embody diplomacy not belligerence? Of course, we must house the leaders of its member nations — like them or not.

And why, on the occasion of Obama’s speech on the first day of school, were there no teachers and parents organized at schools all over the country, telling the nation that it’s an honor for the President to talk directly to school children?

It’s long past time to wake up and sing!



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