I just witnessed one last night in a speech by Bill Clinton (and a confrontation) at Netroots Nation in Pittsburgh. When video becomes available from the Netroots Nation archive, I’ll post it.
Lane Hudson, the activist who broke the Mark Foley scandal (and who was fired from his job for his efforts), made himself a mighty nuisance by standing up and shouting a question in the middle of the speech, “Will you call for a repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act, right now?” All I heard was “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and “DOMA,” and judging by Bill Clinton’s reaction, all he understood was that he was being criticized and heckled.
Instead of stammering and refusing to address the guy who just interrupted a perfectly wonderful speech, Clinton got just as fired up as he did in his Fox interview a couple of years ago. He raged at Lane, telling him that the reason Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell got instituted was that “you”, pointing directly back at Lane, didn’t get Clinton the support he needed in Congress, and then launched into a lengthy discussion of the numbers who voted against him in the legislature on the issue.
It was a pretty amazing moment. You have an activist directly challenging one of the most beloved figures in American politics. You have a politician backpedaling and recanting earlier political positions that he held based on that challenge. And you have a prominent elected official correctly blaming activists for his own failures.
The lesson of that last point is very clear. No matter what the intention of President Obama, or any future progressive president, governor, or elected official, they cannot push through change without our help in convincing our fellow citizens that we should make that change, and directing that majority to press our elected officials to institute that change. We will not have real health care reform unless we persuade our friends, family, and neighbors that health care reform is both necessary and positive for them and the country. Same goes with , labor law reform, climate change legislation, same-sex marriage, immigration reform, and on down the list.