By Ruth Conniff on October 04, 2012

As much as progressives have been underwhelmed by Obama's first term as President, we have come to expect some soaring rhetoric and a direct appeal to the base in the homestretch of this election year.

But last night, the President debated the way he has too often governed--letting his Republican opponent score point after point, and failing to show up and fight for the interests of working people against the contemptuous, Ayn Randian let-them-eat-cake philosophy of Mr. 47%.

The President punctured our balloon, just when we were feeling enthusiastic again--after a triumphantly progressive DNC. On MSNBC the reaction ranged from apoplectic (Chris Matthews) to despondent (Ed Schultz).

Today, Obama speaks at the U.W. campus in Madison. (At the Progressive, we will be live-tweeting his visit to Madison, as we did the debate last night.

It will be interesting to see how well Obama connects with his base.

Nowhere is progressives' love-hate relationship with the President more palpable than in Madison, Wisconsin.

After labor unions and grassroots activists lost the epic battle to recall Governor Scott Walker, there were a lot of hard feelings.

(Look for signs at Obama's speech that say, "Where were you when we needed you?")

How could the Obama campaign expect people who stood out in the cold for months, went door to door, put their lives on hold, and suffered a heartbreaking defeat in a battle over the core values of the Democratic Party to get up and do it all over again to try to re-elect the President?

After all, Obama didn't come to Wisconsin until the Walker recall was over. He didn't help out at all--except for literally phoning in his support in an election-eve tweet. How on Earth could the President expect people to help him after feeling so stiffed?

The Democratic convention went a long way toward changing all that. The progressive tone was uplifting--with the big UAW presence and the emphasis on the auto industry rescue, labor rights, tax fairness, and making college affordable again.

Putting undocumented immigrants on stage, reaching out to the Dreamers, mentioning marriage equality in speech after speech—these gestures highlighted the cultural canyon between the parties. So did the makeup of the convention crowd. Obama's crowd looked like America. And after the hate-fest on the right, it's a relief to feel part of that.

Sure, Bill Clinton, who gave a brilliant, progressive speech at the convention, also gave us NAFTA and the repeal of Glass-Steagall, accelerating the decline of middle-class jobs and permitting the banks to go on the binge that sank the economy.

But it's hard to resist a great pitch aimed right at your heart, especially when it looks like that pitch may win the election.

Now, Obama' debate performance has taken us down the other side of the roller-coaster track again.

The most ominous part is not even his failure to score some obvious rhetorical points on Romney (to mention the 47% comment, for example, or attack to the Paul Ryan budget plan).

The most ominous part is in the details of what the President and Romney only briefly referred to when they both embraced the Simpson Bowles plan.

The Simpson Bowles commission, appointed by President Obama, has proposed a deficit-reducing program that would undermine to Social Security and Medicare, as economist Paul Krugman has warned.

In the Senate, Democrats and Republicans are working on a bipartisan compromise, with the President's blessing, that would take Simpson Bowles as a starting point and make "changes to Social Security, broad cuts in federal programs and actions that would lower tax rates over all but eliminate or pare enough deductions and credits to yield as much as $2 trillion in additional revenue," The New York Times reports.

In other words, in order to steer clear of the "fiscal cliff" and automatic tax hikes and budget cuts that take effect January 1, Obama may--after winning the election because voters want him to defend Medicare and Social Security and protect the poor and middle class--sign off on a deficit-reduction deal that undermines Medicare and Social Security, makes deep cuts in other programs that help the non-rich , and pushes lower income Americans right over the edge.

Let's hope grassroots activists like those who fought so hard in the battle against Scott Walker in Wisconsin can get through to Obama this time--before that happens.

If you liked this article by Ruth Conniff, the political editor of The Progressive, check out her story "Tommy/Tammy Senate Debate in Wisconsin."

Follow Ruth Conniff @rconniff on Twitter

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).


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