Terrance Heath

Cheering at Charlie Brown's football game

Filed By Terrance Heath | December 08, 2010 11:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: Charlie Brown, Democratic Party, football game, Lucy, Obama Administration, pull away the football

I have never cheered for Charlie Brown. Every year, for as long as I can remember, the holiday season has included a viewing of "A Charlie Brown Christmas." Thankfully, it appears to be the one Peanuts special that doesn’t include the infamous football gag.

The football gag is a joke that featured many times in Charles M. Schulz’s comic strip, Peanuts. There have been several variations on the joke over the years. The football gag has also been included in some Peanuts animated television specials.

The characters involved in the gag are Charlie Brown and Lucy van Pelt. Lucy tells Charlie Brown that she will hold a football while he kicks it. Charlie Brown usually refuses to kick it at first, not trusting Lucy. Lucy then says something to persuade Charlie Brown to trust her. Charlie Brown runs up to kick the ball, Lucy removes the ball and Charlie Brown flies into the air, before falling down and hurting himself. The gag would usually end with Lucy pointing out to Charlie Brown that he should not have trusted her.

The first person to do the football prank vas actually Violet, not Lucy, and Violet only did it beacuse she was afraid Charlie Brown would kick her hand. Lucy first played this prank on November 16th 1952, and was able to fool Charlie Brown almost every year afterwards for the remainder of the strip’s run. One exception was the strip from October 24th 1999, when Lucy asked Rerun to play the trick instead. It is not revealed whether or not Rerun did what Lucy asked him to do. When Charlie Brown was ill in the hospital in a 1979 storyline, Lucy promised she would never pull the football away again. She did not realize Charlie Brown would find out about her promise, but when he did, Lucy realized she had no other choice but to let Charlie Brown kick it. Lucy really did keep her promise, but Charlie Brown missed the football and kicked her hand.

Thus, I may actually be able to sit through it this year. The last two years or so of national politics, have made the football gag more than I can stomach.

To continue the Charlie Brown metaphor, it seems to have gone something like this.

Painful to watch, isn’t it? And you probably didn’t sit through the whole thing, did you?

Shortly after the midterm elections, I offered the Obama administration and Democratic leadership some free advice.

The first message of this election, for Democrats, is simple: Stop making your base feel like cheerleaders at Charlie Brown’s football game.

Since then, what I have long suspected has been all but confirmed: Nobody in the White House reads my blog posts. Not that I’ve ever thought anyone in the White House does read my blog posts. Certainly nothing in the administration’s political strategy suggests the White House has listened to progressives like myself or Jodi Jacobson.

By your base, I don’t just mean the people who vote for you. I mean the people who make sure as many people vote for you as they can persuade ó from family and friends, to co-workers and neighbors, to random strangers. I mean people like "soccer mom" Jodi Jacobson.

I started by finding a precinct in Loudon county, Virginia that needed help. I spent countless weekends, weeknights, and sometimes weekdays, and countless dollars on gas never counted as "official" contributions, driving out to Virginia to canvass, place door hangars, and talk personally, face to face, with literally hundreds of voters. I made notes, I made follow up calls, I researched answers to call back the undecided; I gave out my personal cell number to anyone who wanted to call me for further info. I phone-banked at centers but more often from home, making countless phone calls on my own dime across the country, night after night, on the MyBarackObama website.

I also brought the troops. I started with organizing my best friends, and at the end had a list of more than 50 regulars who put everything they could into joining me to canvass, make phone calls and work mano-a-mano to convince one voter at a time that we needed change, driving long distances to help turn Virginia blue and even some of us to ensure victory in Pennsylvania. Many of us brought our kids, missing games, parties, and relaxing weekend days at home to do what we felt was needed and to instill in our children the value of participation in a democracy. Later, some of us trained as poll watchers, drove people to polls and helped get absentee ballots in early.

Your base isn’t all the people who voted for you. It’s the people who made sure those people voted for you by carrying your message, making your case, knocking on doors, handing out literature, and literally driving people to the polls ó all because they believed in your message.

…But for their trouble, they were dismissed as "whining" and demeaned as part of the problem. Particularly the "professional left," which is the closest thing the Democrats have to what is essentially the "corporate-funded right." Perhaps if the "professional left" had corporate sponsors and three-corner hats the Democrats might have mistaken them for the Tea Party, and paid more attention for a while.

Instead of the change agenda we voted for, and for which were ready to fight alongside Obama and the Democrats, we got almost two years of "Charlie Brown Football."

On health care, the Obama administation and Senate Democrats abandoned the public option without a fight, despite broad public support for it. In June of 2009, support for the public option was at 77%. Another poll in August of that year put support for the "choice" of a public option at 57%. By October, support for the public option still at 57%.

Yet, the administration was retreating from the public option instead of leading on the public option, claiming in September of 2009 that it was "not the essential element" of health care reform. Even when support for the public option was as high as 77%, Sen. Max Baucus’s "gang of six" was secretly crafting a bill without a public option. (Is it cynical of me to mention that at the tiem Baucus was raking in huge contributions from the health insurance industry?)

Of course, we didn’t get a public option. We got "Charlie Brown Football."

In the end we got a health care reform package that did include an individual mandate -- thus requiring all Americans to become customers of the health insurance industry -- but did not include a public option. Not even in reconciliation. And while many states mandate auto insurance ownership, I have a choice about whether or not to own a car. Not so with it comes to this mortal coil.

To make a long story short, much the same happened on a number of other priorities for progressives.

Despite growing support for tighter regulations on "too big to fail" banks, we got financial reform that doesn’t eliminate too big to fail. Why? Probably because the "too-big-to-fail" bank lobbyists successfully capture Washington, and as Sen. Dick Durbin said during a losing battle for bankruptcy reform, "Frankly, they own the place." Result: More "Charlie Brown Football."

Climate legislation? Again, there was strong public support.

  • A Stanford University poll showed that 86% of Americans want government to limit the amount of air pollution that businesses emit.
  • And 76% favored government regulating greenhouse gasses in particular.
  • Another poll, conducted by Knowledge Networks and designed by Yale researches showed that 77% believe that global warming should be a priority for the president and Congress.
  • And 94% believe that developing sources of clean energy should be a priority for the president and Congress.
  • Meanwhile, 77% support regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant.

Result? It, too, was abandoned without a fight.

Immigration reform? Well, Democrats have dithered around with immigration reform to the point that a new GOP majority in the House may or may not kill any hope of immigration reform. There remains the possibility of a vote on the DREAM Act in the waning days of this congress. But comprehensive immigration reform isn’t going to happen in this congress, and if anything resembling immigration reform passes in the next congress, it’s unlikely Dems will get any credit for it.

Once again, we get more "Charlie Brown Football."

After the 2008 election, not many people would have predicted we’d be where we are now. The GOP’s "brand" appeared to be circling the bowl for the final time after the unmitigated disaster of the Bush era. Some even suggested that the GOP faced the specter of permanent minority status. Now, the GOP has taken back the House and promises to make progress even more difficult in a Senate that was practically dominated by the GOP and Blue Dogs despite the Democratic majority. There are fewer Blue Dogs now, but the GOP probably doesn’t need them as much anymore. They can obstruct just fie without them.

And I’m no starry-eyed idealist either. (I lost that trait sometime after the ’92 presidential election.) I’m a progressive and a realist in the sense that I know that I’m not going to see the kind of change I really want any time soon. I expect it to take a long time, a lot of work, and a a long hard fight. But as Jodi Jacobson said in her post after the election, I expected a fight.

Change is a vague term, and I as much as I am an idealist, I am also a pragmatist.  I never thought, for example, we would–or even should–precipitously pull out of Iraq or Afghanistan and disagreed with many progressives on their positions on this set of issues. I never thought for a split second that it would be easy for Obama to turn things around after eight years, or that any of it would happen over night.

I certainly never thought it would happen without a fight.

But the bottom line is I expected him to fight. I expected him to understand that the change many of us sought was the use of political power for good, that we had delivered him massive election turnout and a Democratic House and Senate to lead effectively, proactively, strongly, and vocally on economic change, health reform, climate change, energy use, education, women’s rights, gay rights, science and evidence.  This was not wishful thinking–he was on the record for every one of these things in the campaign.

...I did expect him to take action, not to spend months–in fact nearly two years–vacillating between preemptive compromises with a Republican party that set out on November 3rd, 2008 to destroy him before he even took the oath and continuous pleading with them to give him "their ideas." I think we already knew what those ideas were.

I did expect him to outline powerful and bold positions on the economic stimulus (yes, bolder and more expansive), health reform (yes the public option) and in all those other areas where he is on the record as promising change.

I did expect him to mobilize the millions of voters in the database we’d all created to get those things done, not to hand everything over to the Senate and House, allowing scattered "Democratic" factions and outliers like Bart Stupak and Ben Nelson to dominate the debate and derail important legislation.

I did expect him to put John Boehner, Mitch McConnel and the rest of the wrecking crew in their place, making them compromise with him, instead of the other way around.  I did expect him to make unequivocal statements against the growing violence, including the kind that has killed esteemed physicians like Dr. George Tiller, and to fight back against the characterization of gays as making a "lifestyle choice."  I did expect him to respect religious diversity and to demand that everyone in the country do so.

I did expect unequivocally progressive choices for the Supreme Court. And, I expected them to realize how desperately little time we have to fix some of the problems confronting us.

Finally, I did expect him to actually realize that it was progressives who not only voted for him as individuals, but delivered the vote to him across the population, by working assiduously and tenaciously to solidify independent voters and cross-over Republicans whose votes carried him to victory. I further expected the Administration to call on us, command us, to fight in support of a clear agenda for change.

Instead, we weren’t given a fight to join, and when we tried to sound a battle call on any of the above we were told to pipe down and let the "grown ups" talk.

It’s absolutely mind-numbing to realize that we're actually now trying to find a way embrace any kind of extension of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, and even trying to convince ourselves that because it's called a temporary extension it will actually be a temporary extension, or that once again not standing and fighting will somehow lead to a stronger position.

Exactly, it also means lowered tax revenues at a time when the government needs more resources if it's going to do what it needs to do to get us out of this crisis.

I don't see how thing doesn't mean that the government will have even less resources to do that things that progressives have been saying need to be done. 

I know the analogy of a family budget is the wrong one for the national budget, but it strikes me that even deficit hawks are conveniently forgetting to apply that analogy to tax cuts. Sure, when things are tight for middle and working class families, we tend to cut back. We eat out less, stay in and watch TV rather than go out to the movies, stay home rather than go on vacation, etc. But you'll never hear anyone sit down around the kitchen table to discuss the family's financial situation and say something like this:

"Listen guys, not only do we need to make some cuts in our spending, but I think we need to do even more to get our spending under control. I think we need to have even less money coming in. The only way we're going to get back on our feet is if we have less money going out and less money coming in. So, your mom and I have taken the first steps to set an example. Your mom has just quit her job, and I'm proud of her for making the sacrifice to cut our family income nearly in half.  And I'm doing my part too.  Not only did I just turn down a promotion, but I've asked my boss for a pay cut. He looked at me like I was crazy, but I think I can bring him around."

"Now, Bobby, about your part-time job, and your baby-sitting Sue...."

But that's effectively what we're going to end up doing: cutting our resources at the exact time we need more. Add to that the fact that we've already surrendered to the point that we even have a deficit commission, and I don't see how this ends up being anything but disastrous or how ceding even more ground is supposed to lead to a stronger position.

Let’s stop pretending. Barack Obama is a disaster as a crisis president. He has taken an economic collapse that was the result of Republican ideology and Republican policies, and made it the Democrats’ fault. And the more that he is pummeled, the more he bends over.

So what exactly are our prospects and alternatives?

Absent radically different policies, an economic depression will continue indefinitely. This is not a "Great Recession" in the New York Times’ cute pun. It’s a depression, made up of persistently high unemployment, reduced consumer purchasing power, damaged banks, and business unwillingness to invest, just like the 1930s. Unemployment is not quite as severe, but measured properly it is around 18 percent. And unlike in the 1930s, we don’t have a strong Democratic president using activist government to dig our way out.

With Congress deadlocked, the second best course in these circumstances is to offer progressive policies that will cure the depression, and beat the stuffings out of the Republicans for blocking them. But that is simply not going to happen because that is not who Obama is. His style is not to draw bright lines, but to blur them.

Absent that kind of leadership, the Republicans going onto 2012 will succeed in blaming the continuing crisis on Obama and the Democrats. Obama is rapidly becoming our Herbert Hoover. As you will recall, Hoover’s legacy was Democratic dominance of American politics for a generation.

Maybe people really to believe that we’ll be able to come back in two or three years, have this fight again, and win -- thus making the tax cuts truly temporary. My eight-year-old believes in the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus too. And we’re happy to let him, because he’s a kid, and deserves to keep the innocence of childhood for as long as possible.

But adults are supposed to know better, and understand that money doesn’t just appear under the pillow and presents don’t just appear under the tree. Both get there because somebody worked to make sure they did. (In my house, the adults gone to some lengths to make sure there are presents under the tree on December 25th, though  the recession has hardly left us unscathed. We’re fortunate to be able to put presents under the tree, when millions of parents are explaining to their children that there won’t be much of a Christmas this year.)

Just this morning I said on a call that it would be unlikely that anyone would be able to get huge numbers of progressives coming to D.C. to urge the administration not to sell out on tax cuts: the foundation isn't there because not that many people would believe it worth their while, because not many are likely to believe it would do any good. People wouldn’t show up, because almost no one in the White House or Democratic leadership has done the work to get them there.

I don't want to model the GOP/Tea Party relationship, but you gotta admire how they both use each other. Sure, the Tea Party is likely to get "played" by the GOP with it really counts, but the GOP has a history going back at least as far as Reagan of giving their base enough red meat - enough of what they want - to keep them engage and keep them active where the party needs them. The Tea Party, as much as I despise their politics, had some strategic success that I envy as a progressive. To the GOP leadership, they are a force to be dealt with rather than dismissed; because there's a real possibility that doing so would come at a painful political price.

The Democrats don't have a Tea Party, and the left doesn't have the Tea Party's corporate sponsorship, three point hats, or any kind of organized movement that brings together under one umbrella our disparate issues and the constituencies who've prioritized them.  Nor do those constituencies have from Democratic leadership what I once heard Andrea Batista Schlessinger say that such constituencies need in order to form long-lasting winning coalition: reason to believe that their concerns are shared and prioritized. I would add that such has to be backed up with serious efforts to push for and fight for policies that reflect those concerns, and not just with rhetoric.

What Democrats do have are organizations on the left who could do many of the things for the Democratic party that the Tea Party - love 'em or hate 'em - does for the GOP. But instead of recognizing or even exploiting that relationship, Democrats have dismissed the very people and organizations that could helped them fight back. Assuming, of course, that they wanted to fight back. Even with the "army" of online activists built by the Obama campaign, communication has been a one way street with the Obama administration - with the administration doing more asking for support than earning it.

There are three kinds of people when it comes to politics, from my point of view: (1) People who are already on your side, (2) people who could be on your side if persuaded, and (3) people who are never going to be on your side.

Is there a point at which, or circumstances under which, it's pointless to attempt a dialogue with some people?

In the past I've engaged in long discussions with various people in the comments on some posts here. (BTW, you may have noticed that some of them don't comment here anymore.) And there have been and still are times when I think it's a waste of time and energy to do so.

Let me explain it this way. When I first came to D.C. to work in politics, and to work specifically on gay rights issues, I was told and came to understand that people fall into three categories when you're working for social change:

   1. The people who are on your side.
   2. The people who aren't on your side, but could be if they're persuaded.
   3. The people who are not on your side and never will be.

The first group you need to talk to in order to keep them informed and motivated. The second group you need to talk to in order to make your case and move them to your side. Talking to the third group is a waste of time and energy better spent shoring up support in the first group and winning support in the second group.

...So I start to wonder, given all the above, why they'd want to waste their time in a dialogue where both parties are immovable. It's then that I wonder if, for the third group, engaging in dialogue or at least pretending to is a tactic because if you're talking to them you're not talking to the people in the first and second group. And if you're not talking to the people in the first and second group, spending your energy arguing with the third, then you aren't making any progress on your goals.

Guess which group the Obama administration and much of Democratic leadership has spend their time talking and listening to.

The problem of the progressive movement is that we don't have a party, but a party has us. Frank Rich wrote of Obama as suffering from Stockholm syndrome related to the Republican party.

THOSE desperate to decipher the baffling Obama presidency could do worse than consult an article titled "Understanding Stockholm Syndrome" in the online archive of The F.B.I. Law Enforcement Bulletin. It explains that hostage takers are most successful at winning a victim's loyalty if they temper their brutality with a bogus show of kindness. Soon enough, the hostage will start concentrating on his captors' "good side" and develop psychological characteristics to please them -- "dependency; lack of initiative; and an inability to act, decide or think."

This dynamic was acted out -- yet again -- in President Obama's latest and perhaps most humiliating attempt to placate his Republican captors in Washington. No sooner did he invite the G.O.P.'s Congressional leaders to a post-election White House summit meeting than they countered his hospitality with a slap -- postponing the date for two weeks because of "scheduling conflicts." But they were kind enough to reschedule, and that was enough to get Obama to concentrate once more on his captors' "good side."

And so, as the big bipartisan event finally arrived last week, he handed them an unexpected gift, a freeze on federal salaries. Then he made a hostage video hailing the White House meeting as "a sincere effort on the part of everybody involved to actually commit to work together." Hardly had this staged effusion of happy talk been disseminated than we learned of Mitch McConnell's letter vowing to hold not just the president but the entire government hostage by blocking all legislation until the Bush-era tax cuts were extended for the top 2 percent of American households.

The captors will win this battle, if they haven't already by the time you read this, because Obama has seemingly surrendered his once-considerable abilities to act, decide or think.

And I think it's an analogy that could apply to a progressive movement that --as early as August 2008 -- was reduced petitioning candidate Obama to prioritize our concerns.

There's a saying that kind of applies here: "If you have to ask, you can't afford it." If you have to ask all of the above of your candidate, you don't really have a a progressive candidate....

Now, can someone tell me how this doesn't add up to a victory for the Republican Revolution: a more conservative Democratic party?

...Progressives will volunteer, phonebank, fundraise, and canvas for their candidates; everything that any campaign needs hordes of volunteers to do. But we will do it for candidates who aren't always progressive, and yet believing that we'll get a progressive-governing elected official after the election. But we do not have to be pandered to, courted, catered to, or convinced, because -- again -- where else are we going to go?

We can't afford to stay at home either, which differentiates us from the Republicans' religious right base. They have less to lose if their candidate doesn't win because the reality is that if our candidate wins he will probably have to spend so much of his time and energy cleaning up the mess of the last 7 1/2 years that he won't be able to do much in terms of moving in a more progressive direction. There's a swamp to be drained, and then alligators to fight as the first order of business. Once that's done, we might well be half-way through the second term. At which point, the best we can hope for is a couple of Supreme Court appointments, and some executive orders.

Progressive, in a sense, have become political prisoners of a sort. After we work to get a candidate elected, the real work of then moving that candidate towards more progressive positions. We will get them elected so that we may begin lobbying and petitioning them and hoping they will listen.

I cut my teeth politically in the grassroots of the LGBT movement. That's the one that started with a riot because people decided they weren't going to get beaten up without putting up a fight anymore. Even if they got beaten, they were going to go down fighting and take a piece of their opposition with them. The other side might "win" but they got enough of a fight that they'd at least think twice before doing that again.

The ring I'm wearing on my hand, from my husband wouldn't have more than symbolic meaning if people hadn't fought without worrying whether what they were fighting for was "winnable" at the time or in the foreseeable future. People fought because they believed that what they were fighting for was right, and that it was the only way that right has ever won in the end.

Now, I think progressives are in the same position with the Democratic party that the LGBT community has been with the Dems for years. They aren't going to lead on our issues. They will talk a good game on them, in order to arouse our passion, and to get our time, energy, support, and contributions. But they are not going to lead on our issues. They are not going to make the case, or use their bully pulpit to move public opinion. They want to wait until it is "safe," and there is no political risk and no chance of paying a political price for standing with us.

And if it's not yet "safe," it's our fault for not making it safe for them, rather than theirs for not leading.

At some point, it may be time to start questioning their values and whether they have them if they're not willing to stand and fight for them. It may be time to start questioning what, if anything they do stand for.

And when someone puts shit (the Bush tax cuts for the rich) between two pieces of bread and tries to convince us that it's a sandwich (a good thing), it's time to start questioning their sanity. If we start trying to convince ourselves of the same thing, it's time to start questioning our own.

That’s why I don’t cheer for Charlie Brown. When he goes charging towards Lucy for the umpteenth time, I don’t admire him for continuing to believe that he’s playing ball with someone who ever had any intention of playing ball with him. Nor do I sympathize him for landing flat on his back again, after giving the benefit of the doubt to someone who’s never done anything to deserve in.

Thankfully, near as I can tell the "football gag" doesn’t appear in script for "A Charlie Brown Christmas," so I won’t have to watch in animated form what I feel I’ve been watching for the last couple of years.

But, on the other hand, part me would like the see the one time Charlie Brown missed the ball and kicked Lucy instead. Politically speaking, that’s something I could see cheering about.


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I always felt sad for Charlie Brown but also got annoyed at his stupidity for always trying to kick the damn thing instead of demanding someone else hold the ball.

I feel about the same way with Obama.

What a great piece. I always enjoy your articles, Terrance.

Maybe I'm twelve, but I laugh every time Lucy lifts that ball. It's not so funny when it's the Democrats lifting it. Politics shouldn't be the nasty game that it is.

A Dionne Stallworth | December 9, 2010 11:34 AM

AAAAAARRRRRGH!