Pat O’Brien, recently beaten by a nonentity, expense account-padding Republican legislator in his race for secretary of state has contributed an op-ed to the Blue Hog Report on the state of progressives in Arkansas. He said his timing was off, that he’d predicted 20 years ago that Arkansas would become a two-party state as the rest of the South had. Too bad for him, it came in one big whack, in no small measure thanks to the fact that the president is the deeply unpopular (in Arkansas) Barack Obama. O’Brien’s opponent didn’t miss an opportunity to rail about O’Brien’s leadership of the black man’s presidential campaign here.
O’Brien says that progressive politicians like Dale Bumpers and Bill Clinton chose their battles and avoided some hot-button issues. I don’t think he’s wholly right on that. Clinton’s support for abortion rights was always clear; he also opposed the NRA on several legislative issues. But, OBrien writes:
In the past, Arkansans were willing to embrace progressive politicians such as Bill Clinton and Dale Bumpers as long as they did not go too far with their ideas. I love both Clinton and Bumpers but they never would have touted abortion or gay rights while in office. Neither of them had prolonged battles against the gun lobby or took a position which offended the Chamber of Commerce over the long term. They picked a few battles but they did not change the overall dynamics they inherited. Rather, they managed to survive the conservatism of our state by being personally popular and appealing to populist instincts.
But what about now? O’Brien’ said progressives should push to mold the Democratic Party, as arch-conservatives have shaped the Republican Party, in their image.
I don’t have all the answers for progressives in Arkansas. I do have a starting point, though. Pick an issue and give it everything we have. Don’t relent. Don’t compromise. Don’t shut up about it. Pick any progressive issue that you want but I would suggest starting with the Equal Rights Amendment. It is way past the right time for this to pass here. It is the morally right issue. Also, in the long term, it will be good politics. After all, everybody loves a winner. If Arkansas progressives start trumpeting issues that could go either way there will be wins and losses. Even the losses, though, will push the ball forward. Over time, the game will change and become winnable.