The One We've Been Waiting For

The other day on the train, I heard what sounded like somebody ranting, possibly in a slightly unstable way. Curious to hear the crazy-talk, I took off my headphones. It was an older lady behind me, and she wasn't crazy; she was working her way through a printed list of Democratic senators, calling each one's office and urging staffers to urge their bosses to support the talking filibuster. You know, so that senators can't kill legislation simply by firing off an email. She called the silent filibuster "a mockery of democracy," which sounds about right to me.

The Capitol operator kept accidentally connecting her to the offices of high-ranking Republicans, which was mildly amusing ("I asked for Senator Reid's office and you connected me to John McCain!"). Less funny was the fact that when I heard somebody practicing good citizenship in a public space, my first assumption was "crazy talk." I mean, I used to make public-spirited calls like that, way back in 2008. But that seems like a long time ago.

Which brings me to the president. Like many progressives, I've alternated between anger and incredulity at the genuine crazy-talk and absolutism of the right-wing fringe over the past three years. And like many progressives, I've cycled between admiration of President Obama's legislative achievements and frustration at his apparent disinclination to press several crucial issues. Climate change, for example, can't wait, and it's scary as hell. So is Wayne LaPierre's deranged raving -- in part because he's not the only one shrieking and spraying spittle all over the place. We are in dire need of a leader willing to shoulder some political risk in an effort to make some progress in these areas.

I haven't gotten my hopes up. Not from this president, not about these of all issues. Everyone knew that any mention of increasing gun sanity would generate an explosion of paranoid gibberish about government tyranny and rile up the NRA's pet politicians. Just like we all know that any serious movement towards decelerating climate disruption is going to enrage fossil-fuel tycoons and the Koch-addicted congressional delegates and aspirants from nearly every state. So I expected to continue not to hear from the White House about these subjects.

Now that we have heard Obama place climate stabilization and gun sanity near the top of his agenda, it strikes me that it would be just like some typical liberals to stop at being pleasantly surprised. Yet the president took care to remind us of the obvious -- that there will be no real movement on weapons or carbon emissions unless we the people demand it. Which is worrying, since progressives seem far better at talking about problems than at rallying to solve them. Which brings me back to the lady on the train.

The window of opportunity only shrinks. Now would be the time for the so-called Democratic base to signal -- via active constituency -- that we've got Barack's back. I'll call my congressional delegation if you call yours.