By Van Jones - 08/03/11 04:24 PM EDT
After the 2008 financial collapse and Barack Obama’s election, millions of Americans hoped that our country would create a New Deal for the 21st century.
Instead, it feels like we are getting a Raw Deal, one that drags us back toward the 19th century.
This summer, a minority of extremists somehow grabbed what should have been a routine legislative act and used it to highjack our democracy, undermine our nation’s standing in the world, jeopardize our shaky economic recovery and impose massive, job-killing cutbacks — all while blocking any tax increases on the rich.
Many Democrats fought hard to limit the damage. (Special thanks are owed to House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, the Progressive Congressional Caucus and the Congressional Black Caucus. Also, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Sen. Bernie Sanders played key and complementary roles.) As a result, the debt-ceiling agreement offers some protection for needed social programs — but they are thin protections.
This whole process was distressing; the final outcome looks depressing. We are supposed to be a much better country than this.
How did we get to this low place, from the high hopes we had in November 2008?
Some blame the president for being “too weak and compromising.” Others believe he did his level best, but that his Tea Party opponents were just “too strong and crazy.”
Well, no matter who wins that debate, most Americans are going to feel like losers.
We all felt powerless watching this train wreck. Assigning full blame only to the D.C. players just reinforces that same sense of helplessness. There is another explanation — tougher to swallow, but ultimately more empowering.
I have no problem chastising the Tea Party, and it is always appropriate to critique a president’s performance in a crisis.
But the rest of us need to look in the mirror now, ourselves.
We all can take some blame for letting the conversation in D.C. get this stupid.
Most progressive and centrist Americans have been watching these Tea Party extremists get stronger, for years. A few saw the threat right away — and started pushing back.
But too many of us SAT back. Perhaps we thought the Tea Partyers would just run out of steam on their own. Or maybe the White House would wave a magic wand and banish them all to Alaska.
It turns out: waiting for the Tea Party to collapse was a bad strategy. So I am grateful to those true patriots who HAVE been fighting back, this whole time.
But now the rest of us need to step up. It is a real shame that mainstream, patriotic Americans simply have not gotten our act together enough to offset these extremists or to inspire bolder action from the White House (or, for that matter, from responsible Republicans).
If we are mad that the Tea Party got too loud, we should be equally mad at ourselves for staying too quiet. And if we want the president and Congress to show more courage and savvy, then the majority of reasonable, mainstream Americans need to start showing more of both, ourselves.
Can we do it? Yes. We can.
We already have public opinion on our side. Super-majorities prioritize JOB creation over the long-term deficit. They want wealthy Americans to pay higher taxes. They want us to save money by ending former President George W. Bush’s wars responsibly. And they want to protect Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid.
Our only problem is that we have not yet created the vehicles by which the majority of Americans can be heard. We can fix that — by building a massive movement seeking “jobs, not cuts.”
One such effort is already under way: the American Dream Movement, launched this summer by more than 70 partner organizations. I was proud to get involved.
In June, we hosted 1,600 house meetings — at least one in every congressional district. That was double the number of meetings that launched the Tea Party movement on April 15, 2009 — and we did it without help from Fox TV or the Koch Brothers. A total of 25,000 people attended.
Last week, more than 20,000 people joined in actions in every congressional district, including eight members of Congress who attended our rally near the steps of the Capitol. On Monday, we will launch the Contract for the American Dream: a plan, written by 127,000 Americans, to create jobs rather than destroy them.
At some point, the media will catch on. Then mainstream Americans will be seen in our millions, defending middle-class and working-class programs from the Tea Party’s attacks.
That will embolden leaders of both political parties to stand up to extremism, focus on jobs and rebuild the American Dream.
Jones is the president of RebuildTheDream.com, which supports the American Dream Movement.