The Care and Feeding of the Liberal Psyche


I have a Netroots Nation wrap piece up at The Daily Beast saying that progressive activists are depressed and the White House hasn’t done very much to offer the kind of psychic goodies that keep people’s spirits up:

It’s always difficult to characterize the emotional state of a convention full of people. But if the 2007 edition of Netroots Nation was mostly angry, 2008 was hopeful, 2009 was anxious, and now in 2010 the dominant mood is depressed. Perhaps the defining moment of the conference came near the very end when Harry Reid spoke Saturday afternoon. An exhausted-sounded Senate majority leader spoke eloquently about the injustice faced by gay soldiers and the need to end the policy of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”—only to end lamely with the promise that “we’re going to continue to work on this to the best we can.” In years past, progressives would be promised results. This summer, the best anyone can offer is continued effort. […]

On the other side of the ledger, the Obama administration points to an impressive array of accomplishment. Their health-care bill is the most significant progressive achievement in more than 40 years. Financial regulation, the new START treaty, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, etc. are nothing to sneer at. But something the administration barely seems to recognize is that political activists do not live on policy accomplishments alone. Small donations, volunteer time, and even voting itself are undertaken primarily in exchange for psychological benefits. People engaged in the process want—need—to feel good about themselves for doing it.

My prescription to cure the malaise is Elizabeth Warren:

The presumptive choice is Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard Law School professor whose work inspired the office’s creation. Her doubters inside and outside the administration raise a variety of objections, ranging from a lack of administrative experience to concern over whether she’d be a good “team player.” They also observe, correctly, that other candidates, like current Assistant Treasury Secretary Michael Barr, have a strong record on these issues and would do a good job. And so they would. But in terms of emotional impact, nothing will make a difference like Warren. As one attendee put it to me, “what a great signal it would send.” Tellingly, he’s an environmentalist. His work has, really, nothing to do with Warren or financial regulation. But he wants—and needs—a signal that the president cares about the people who’ve been fighting the good fight for years and may or may not continue doing so in the future.

Meanwhile, for the process-oriented among you, I do detect some momentum gathering behind Tom Udall’s constitutional option for curbing the filibuster in January of 2011, which if it happens would revive hope in the legislative arena.