Michael Huttner encourages America to help Barack Obama on inauguration anniversary -- and man, does he need it
Lucky Michael Huttner. On the anniversary of Barack Obama's inauguration, the ProgressNow Colorado frontman planned to promote 50 Ways You Can Help Obama Change America, a book he co-wrote with Jason Salzman -- and instead, he's forced to talk about why Republican Scott Brown just won a Massachusetts Senate seat long held by Senator Edward Kennedy, who wrote a book-jacket blurb praising 50 Ways shortly before his death.
But Huttner doesn't shy from this chore. "This is a huge wake-up call," he concedes. "I think last night showed as well as anything that all those people who spent endless hours in 2008 getting President Obama elected need to invest in the time to make sure the kind of changes he outlined actually happen."
In Huttner's view, too many members of the Obama majority in 2008 thought their job was done when he won the election.
"I think it's easy for people to point the finger at the president, but I think what they really need to do is point the finger at themselves," he says. "They need to ask themselves, 'What have I done since I pulled the lever in 2008? What have I done to help create change?' Complaining that the folks in the White House aren't solving all our problems isn't helping the situation. It's a waste of time."
Not that he thinks liberals are guiltless when it comes to the political momentum shift that Brown's win symbolized.
"One thing progressives haven't done as well as they should have is outlined their case," he believes. "And they shouldn't only make the case intellectually. This is a problem the left has always had. They get too much into process and policy" -- like, for instance, the endless machinations over a health-care bill.
"Progressives need to make an emotional case for why we need change, especially on health care," he continues. "What people need to do, from President Obama all the way down to the local level, is to tell the stories that show why our current health system isn't as effective as it should be. They need to create a real narrative about how this is affecting people right in our own hometowns, our own neighborhoods. But instead, I think these compelling stories have been overshadowed by a lot of process talk about procedures that, frankly, very few people care about."
A better approach, he believes, would be "sort of like a fairy tale. You have a beginning, a middle and an end, a good person and a bad person. And what's been lost are the reasons we need to change, and the good people behind that case -- and why certain elements of the status quo are bad. It's a pretty simple formula, but it's been lost."
Likewise, Huttner thinks the Brown-Martha Coakley race proves "people aren't seeing a clear difference between what's going on now, with the Democrats in control, and what they've been used to. And they don't see much of a difference between the two parties. So Democrats and progressives have to do a better job of making sure there are clear differences. If you want change, if you're concerned that we need better health care, articulate the differences instead of letting the lines blur. People on the left want to see a bolder, clearer difference between what they voted for in 2008 and what they've seen since then."
Huttner rejects the notion that Brown's win proves the majority of Americans no longer want health-care reform, at least as it's evolved in House and Senate bills.
"Absolutely they want it," he argues. "They're sick of the insurance companies cutting people out of the system at the same time they're making record profits and their executives are getting huge bonuses. The public sentiment across the spectrum is overwhelming for change. But having said that, if you focus too much on process and procedures when outlining that case, the support drops dramatically."
In order to counter the conservative backlash, Huttner urges progressives to follow advice laid out in 50 Ways: create a Facebook account, and use it to connect with other likeminded people. In addition, he encourages them to sign up with Organizing For America, an Obama website, and ProgressNow Colorado and respond to action alerts, rather than simply assuming officials will do the heavy lifting.
As an example of how this method can work, Huttner points to the current effort to aid earthquake victims in Haiti -- a groundswell inspired by thousands upon thousands of Americans who want to do the right thing and help others less fortunate. If such outreach can be to translated to issues in America, Huttner thinks the factors that led to Brown's election can be reversed. But even he admits that it's not a sure thing.
"We have to give people a reason to pick one party over the other," he says. "Because when there's confusion and no real distinction, the party in power will lose out."