On the heels of some enthusiastic media response to President Obama’s aggressive posture on his new jobs plan, the professional left has been very busy pushing their latest vanity meme.  Quick to seize whatever media narrative is likely to generate the most blog traffic and broadcast audiences, they lit up the Internets with self-congratulatory high-fives and backslapping. Why? Because they have convinced themselves that it was their relentless carping about every rumor, allegation or political move that Obama has made for the past 2.75 years that was responsible for “pushing” him into what the media now trumpets as his new “get tough” stance with Republicans.

There is just no way, in their minds, that this might have been President Obama’s strategy all along — that he used issues like the debt ceiling negotiations in order to demonstrate  just what giving the country to the Republicans again would be like. Fortunately, not every blogger is batshit stupid. Salon‘s Steve Kornacki sees the forest around those trees:

It seems logical to conclude that President Obama’s sudden eagerness to pick fights with Republicans means that he’s realized the folly of his “reasonable man” strategy and junked it. But a better way to understand the president’s new confrontational posture is as an extension of that strategy.
Read more

But the Professional Left, like most of the mainstream media, always seems convinced of both its rightness and its righteousness.  For a body of people who rarely have an economist among them, or any other expert for that matter, their opinions are always presented as skilled, knowing, and eminently correct. That’s why, except for the few at the top of the pyramid, most of them are often scrounging for meager ratings or page views just to stay alive. But minimal revenues doesn’t mean they have minimal impact. As I will show later, they can have a great deal of that.

On a related matter, over the past few weeks, Democratic strategist (or something or other), @DavidOAtkins (now working as wingman for the legendary Digby over at Hullabaloo), and his co-worker sibling, Democratic strategist (or something or other) @DanteAtkins, have been tag-teaming me on Twitter. They are diligently trying to convince me that Obama’s problems are all of his own making, and that “pro left” narratives have had little impact on voters, especially on those all important independents, whose votes Obama will need to win re-election and keep the plutocratic hit-squad of Republicans from making things that much worse.

@DanteAtkins: @Karoli, the problem is that @shoq has no nuance. it’s mostly telling people that everything would be fine if the emoprogs shut up.

Every few days, this dynamic duo throws at me so much of this “straw” that I could remake the Wizard of Oz a hundred times and never need to outsource the Scarecrow stuffing. In fact, I have never said anything of the sort.

What I have said, routinely, and in many forms (as anyone who follows my Twitter stream can attest) is that when faced with a GOP adversary far better-armed and better-positioned than the seemingly impotent Progressive movement is, and at a time when our entire democracy is teetering at the edge of a kleptocratic abyss, our political criticism should be measured and constructive. Irrespective of whether President Obama was ever a real tried-and-true “scratch ‘n’ sniff me to prove it” Progressive (which he neither claimed to be nor campaigned as), our criticism should not recklessly threaten the stature and electability of the guy we elected to drive the Progressive bus.

At the present time, through no small fault of our own, both progressivism and our nation-state are too fragile for us to be tossing out mindless invective, ad hominem insult, and deprecating and emasculating vitriol that is every bit as ugly and dispiriting as the worst of what the right wing noise machine puts out every day, and which, in effect, throws Obama under the public’s perception bus every time another real or ginned-up story breaks in the MSM.

Talk about lack of nuance? Do these brothers read the papers? Since Obama’s first month in office, the so-called professional left has gone off on some new bender of vicious discontent, pushing barbs and bullets to their friends, followers, or sycophants among both MSM and alternative broadcasters, producers, bloggers, journalists, as well as all those pro- and semi-pro please-sign-our-petition-and-send-us-your- money grifters and carpetbaggers like Adam Green and Jane Hamsher. And most members of the professional left are all too happy to use the free ink to bulk up their content offerings, which, naturally, carry the requisite Google ads and pre-roll videos.

The collective “#ObamaFail” narrative — which has been the professional left’s stock in trade for years now – satisfies the seemingly pathological emotional need to wax miserable, lose elections, and blame it all on any convenient scapegoat; and many readers and viewers mindlessly nod along with this narrative as the professional left’s page views and impressions pile up. Never mind the facts and analysis that might speak otherwise. Facts, in our meme-of-the-moment era are for the little people.

In my view, the arguments of the Atkins boys and their lot boil down to the following: “Don’t blame us, criticism in a democracy is healthy,” as if all good and progressive change in America came about because Wilson, FDR, Eisenhower, Truman, Kennedy, LBJ, and Clinton were called “spineless, pussies, wimps, compromisers, cavers, and Wall Street stooges” every day for the first 3 years of their terms by a 24/7 news media juggernaut that also wore a Fox News top hat. Moreover, these so-called Emo Progressives are almost entirely of the consensus that anyone critical of such criticism must be a spineless Wall Street stooge. Never mind the fact that there are plenty of educated and thoughtful progressives who forcefully push back against such destructive myth-making, often eloquently pointing out that there is much more to the history of progressive victories than a magical “bully pulpit” from which rainbows and unicorns will always flow like a river of mercury whenever a Democratic president up and “shows a little backbone.”

With a lot of encouragement from people like me, a growing chorus of pragmatic progressives have been speaking out about these and other defensive postures of the professional left. These pragmatic progressives reject the notion that criticizing the critics somehow enables compromisers, sell-outs, and spineless centrist appeasers. Moreover, these pragmatic progressives have begun to chronicle the manner in which Obama has outmaneuvered the Republicans at almost every step, and has deftly maximized whatever leverage a president could have in a democracy that chose to give its Congress to a gang of marauding lunatics. As Nicholas Wilbur (aka @MuddyPolitics) brilliantly noted in a recent post,the Emo Progressives are illustrating a simple concept: political wars are not won by investing all your emotional energy in the daily postures and predicaments of your commanding general, nor are they won by squandering all of your vital resources in each battle that you fight or get sucked into along the way:

One individual cannot rebuild a crumbling nation. Change does not come overnight. Without the Left in his corner, understanding the big-picture strategy and backing him once again as he fights for a little “equality” in this debate over income equality, President Obama will lose not only the battle of 2011, but also the war of 2012.
Read more

Meanwhile, these emotionally-charged firebrands – these Emo Progressives — continue to deaden and demoralize the electorate. The evidence is everywhere. Voters don’t just make up the words and expressions they voice. These words and expressions are assimilated from friends and family, most often from memes and messages gleaned from the popular media.

For example, a piece in today’s Miami Herald, almost gleefully extols Florida independent voters’ complaints that “Obama hasn’t gotten anything done, compromises too much, sits on the fence.”

“He’s super intelligent but he’s terrible at getting things done,” said Greg Peters, 42, a restaurant owner in downtown Orlando and independent voter who said he’s already moved off the fence and is hoping a better Republican candidate emerges.

“They want one thing — they want results, and when they don’t get results they change their minds and go the other way,” noted Democratic pollster Tom Eldon of Sarasota.

Obama’s attempts to reach the middle have often frustrated his Democratic base. He backed off on efforts to repeal the Bush-era tax cuts (he’s since renewed the call), pursued a less aggressive drawdown of the wars than promised in 2008 and has offered up changes to entitlement programs.

“I have hard-core Democrat friends who don’t think he’s forceful enough. I like that’s he made strides to work across party lines,” said Tonya Simmons, an environmental consultant and independent voter

By contrast, Amanda Stroup said Obama has tried to placate Republicans too much. The Tampa independent voter was angered by his decision earlier this month to abandon new EPA standards for smog pollution. “He buckled under the Republican Congress,” said Stoup, 31, who may vote for a third-party candidate if one emerges to her liking.

To be sure, the article also outs the economy as a major, across-the-board factor in independent voters’ discontent; but it is the specific gripes that put the wind in the sails of these voters’ disgruntlement.

Articles like the one above are appearing all across the country, mostly as a result of routine Obama-bashing which may have reached its zenith this past weekend.  The NY Times, Washington Post, Politico, and others decided it was time to pile on with stories about how how “panicked” the Democrats were over Obama’s political future, largely because of the almost completely unrelated defeat of a Democrat in a New York special election to replace the disgraced Anthony Weiner.

These outlets are always more than eager to distribute any story that demoralizes Democrats. And where do they get much of the story ledes and much of the content for these train wreck stories?  From the daily output of the Greenwalds, Hamshers, Marshes, Moores, Greens, Uygurs, Schultzes, and countless other professional critics, carpers, and perpetual malcontents who are now quite renowned for their morose commentary and butter-soft analysis on any topic that strikes their daily fancy.

These corrosive raconteurs, some of them not even living in America, seem to be in a spirited competition to seek out and expose faults in anything and everything the Obama administration does, whether it actually did it, were said to have done it, or someone suggested it might be thinking about doing it. Whatever it was, is, or might be, it’s bound to be wrong. Period. Because that’s what they’ve conditioned their readers and viewers to expect: non-stop #Obamafail. Even when he delights the base with something like his jobs speech, you can count the seconds before the negativity will ooze from the pores of every dour face on the professional left.

In our cultural three-ring political carnival of TV dancing bears and clown acts — where all that bloggers and pundits seem to care about is firing up people’s emotions with whatever contrived headline brings in link traffic — we can’t afford to keep producing the messages that keep the masses of low-information voters grousing about their many disappointments.

Most voters just care about their jobs and their families. They don’t have the time, knowledge or skills to parse all the nuances of our political maelstrom and make informed choices. Most voters rely on family, friends, co-workers and the media to tell them what to think and feel about the options before them. The right-wing has perfected how to reframe those choices to a few simple ideas, while Progressives continue to mix and muddle their messages with such frequency that most voters can’t clearly understand what Progressives and/or Democrats want to accomplish in the first place. And it is all the more confusing to voters when they see a team that appears all too eager to piss Haterade all over its coach on every play of the game.

This pattern must change, or we are simply doomed.

Yes, criticism matters. But so does winning elections. Why? Because if we lose this Senate and White House (and in so doing, probably any chance of a liberal Supreme Court in your lifetime), we simply may not get another chance to win any others.  It is convenient to argue that such claims are “fear-mongering” and to claim that such statements are the akin to Fox News’s modus operandi.  It isn’t fear-mongering, however, to point out certain inevitabilities.  For example, President Romney or Perry or Bachmann will attempt to strip the LGBT community of all rights which slowly but surely have been acquired, and saying so is not fear-mongering.  Comparatively, Fox News claims that Obama wants to “pull the plug on grandma” is fear-mongering because it has no basis in fact.  In short, when you’re about to be hit by a train, someone screaming WATCH OUT! is not your enemy.

For a few hundred years, presidents were criticized without overt hatred and contempt from their own side.  Progressives have a duty to disseminate messages that say “Yes, this is hard. Yes, we need to be firm. But we have a long way to go, and compromises are sometimes expedient, not evil. Change is about moving forward, not backwards. We’re all on this plane together. We can educate our pilot about where we want to go, and criticize his rudder and stick actions that might take us off a preferred course. But he’s an honest man, he works hard, and we elected him to lead this flight crew for 4-8 years. Shooting him in the back while the plane is in the air is just not really in the national interests of the passengers on board.”

With Republicans brazenly and recklessly redistricting Congressional representation, suppressing votes, cracking down on union membership, money, and outreach, and exploiting the Citizens United ruling so they can spew any corporatist propaganda that they can get some conservative or business interest to pay for, the issue is not just about “sit down and shut up.” It’s about “be constructive, or you may never get another chance to stand and speak at all.”




Update1:  This term has been recast as "Puritopian."  Emo Progressive was never coined by either Joy Ann Reid or myself. It had already gotten traction before we came together and tried to give it greater definition. We succeeded, perhaps too well. Like others, we were never comfortable with it because it was far too disparaging of emotion, which in itself is not a bad thing.  At the same time, we never much liked "Pro Left" either, as many of the people associated with the behavior and attitudes were amateur writers and boggers. Thus, we now feel that "Puritopian" is a better term of art to decribe the beliefs and attitudes that were being discussed on this page. You can read more about the term as soon as I have time to write it up here. For now, just substitute it wherever you see Emo Progressive below.

Update2: I've never been able to get "Puritopian" to gain much traction because too many people had already become too enamored with the "emo" in "emoprogressive," (which I still dislike).  So I found a middle ground and defined a new label which seems to be resonating with many in the social media space already. That new label is: Emotarian


Note: Joy Ann Reid and I posted the definition below on Urban Dictionary. But it really needs more discussion than what can be posted there. So this post will serve as an ongoing primer on the subject, and will be expanded incrementally.   If you have comments or ideas for things to include, please post them below.

Emo Progressive

The Original Definition, reprinted from Urban Dictionary

Emo Progressive (or "emoprog") is a self-described liberal or progressive, often with strong libertarian leanings, whose primary political orientation is to be angry, dissatisfied and unhappy with the state of the nation at any given time, because in their view, liberal policies are not being implemented quickly enough or articulated forcefully enough. They have particular contempt for Democratic presidents.

Emoprogs are ideological purists who disdain compromise and incremental change, which they see as "selling out" classical liberal ideas like full employment, an end to all wars, state secrets, and liberal social policy.

Emoprogs dislike Republicans but reserve their greatest disdain for Democratic presidents, whom they relentlessly attack for not meeting a set of ideological goal posts that are constantly adjusted to ensure that the president will be deemed a disappointment, "not progressive enough" or "just like a Republican" no matter what policy achievements are made.

Emoprogs routinely dismiss or ignore congress' role in making or impeding policy, believing presidents can simply "use the bully pulpit" and "fight" in order to overcome constitutional or legislative obstacles.

Emoprogs have a strong affinity for third party politics as a way to punish Democratic presidents. They are especially hostile to President Barack Obama and deem anyone who expresses a lack of ill will toward him to be "Obamabots" and enemies of liberalism.

Example1: After Eric Holder announced congress had blocked the Justice Department from trying 9/11 mastermind KSM in civilian court, social networks lit up with emo progressives complaining that President Obama had broken his campaign promise to end military tribunals. Their criticism did not mention congressional Democrats who helped block Holder.

Example2: Emoprogs dismissed healthcare reform as a failure, saying President Obama should have used the bully pulpit to achieve a single payer system, despite the fact that Sen. Harry Reid made it clear that such a plan could not pass the Senate.


Related Reading