More Thoughts on the American Spring, Maxine Waters, and Reform-Based Populism

I get it.

Some people think Obama was supposed to be the American Spring.

Some people think the Tea Party is the American Spring.

Some people think the Tea Party should go straight to hell.  Some Congresspeople go and say it.

Al Gore says we need an American Spring to counteract the Tea Party.

With all due respect to the former Vice President, it blows my mind that he thinks true change and true progressive populism will somehow come from the Left.  It won’t come from the Right, either.  It will have to come from all quarters and cannot be about hating our ousting the Other.  It has to be about reforming the entire process of government, about locating power back in the hands of the people and away from the military-corporate-special interest-political complex.

You’d think Al Gore would know this.  But the heartstrings of  Establishment politics are strong. He might as well suggest that the American Spring will come prepackaged as a plank in his party’s platform, that it will leap, full-grown and ready to fight, from the DNC.  That’s what political parties need you to think, after all, that they are, to borrow a phrase from church studies, reformed and reforming.

But I’m not sure what Al Gore really gets from this.  I’m not sure why he doesn’t run against Obama, or why the Clintons don’t. They all know they’re each bigger than their party, more progressive, in certain ways, than their party’s been for quite some time.  But they are also American elites, and Gore’s a cradle case.  As global figures, the Clintons are so far removed now from their people-power roots.

Any populism orchestrated from the top is demagoguery meant to serve a party line.  In the case of the Tea Party, Republican elites are having to conform or align themselves to a movement they did not create and probably despise.  They don’t hate  it for the reasons Maxine Waters claims to, though.  They hate it because it’s not theirs and they can’t control it.  They’d tell it to go to hell, too, if they could.  But they offer nothing better.  No one does.

Obama’s old populist strength was framed as a charge from the outside, he was the Anti-Clinton and Anti-Bush who united people around promises of change and Rorschach memes like hope and “yes we can.”  And yes he did, by God, and what he achieved in his mere election is something to be celebrated then and now.  His presidency has been a mixed bag like all are, but gone forever is any semblance of Obama as Outsider, Populist, or Agent of Sweeping and Systemic Change.

Sweeping and systemic change will not come from the people we empower unless truly new political leadership emerges, post-partisan and pro-reform.  Our system is so broken, so corrupt, even the good things our leaders do can’t outweigh the need for consensus tickets willing to address the fundamental issues of decency and common good long-buried beneath the few things the parties manage to get right.

Yes, the Democrats are right about some things.  And so are the Republicans.  And the Green Party and the Libertarians.  There’s no seamless party garment (try being progressive, pro-life, and anti-death penalty if you don’t believe me.  Or trying being fiscally conservative and gay).  But before we even get to social questions, a fundamental shift in how our leaders pledge to lead us is essential.  Free people are not meant to be ruled. We are to be led, and we are to lead.