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Progressives to Gather at Tides Momentum Conference with Frustration with Obama on Their Minds

We are in a political crisis moment. The Tides Foundation is bringing together the country's most significant progressives to address our complex political realities.

Our country and our still new president are facing a political crisis moment. Stacked against us are fundamental issues – health care, climate change, war, and a still-floundering economy. How each and all of these issues are resolved (or not) may well determine the success of Obama's presidency.

With health reform and the so-called “public option” reportedly on life support (although some activists strongly disagree with that prognosis), and the increasingly unpopular Afghanistan war on the verge of yet another escalation, many progressives and Democrats are frustrated, angry, or simply scratching their heads in disbelief. The Obama they thought they elected is not meeting their expectations.

Although Obama still has relatively high numbers among Democrats, they appear to be dropping with some speed. A Zogby interactive poll showed a dip of 13% in Obama's approval ratings in the last month. Republicans' and Independents' assessments remain stable.

Obama has lost even more support among 18-29-year-olds, who may have been more invested in Obama's message of change and have less patience with recent disappointments: Obama's approval ratings among young voters has dropped by 18 points.

It is in this fraught emotional and political climate that the Tides Foundation is holding its 4th Momentum conference at the W Hotel in San Francisco, from Labor Day through September 9th. The roster of speakers – which includes Donna Edwards, Roger Hickey, and Anna Burger -- and the topics they will address guarantee that the charged political moment in which we find ourselves will dominate the agenda.

Although the conference isn’t specifically designed to address the current political maelstrom (as Drummond Pike, the CEO of Tides, and the brains behind the conference says, "There’s not a theme per se for Momentum. We try to assemble the most innovative folks we can find working on policy, strategies, and tools that advance progressive outcomes") the political realities of the moment can hardly be avoided.

On the agenda is a “health care briefing”, which includes Roger Hickey, co-director of the Campaign for America’s Future and the lead spokesperson for the progressive wing of Democrats rallying for a “public option.” An appearance by Crystal Hayling, President and CEO Blue Shield of California Foundation, and California health activist Anthony Wright, should make for interesting debate. Anna Burger, the powerful number two leader of the country’s largest Union, the Social Service Employees Union (SEIU), is scheduled to speak at the Work Plenary. SEIU has invested tens of millions of dollars in organizing around health care reform, and is in the heat of the battle – a battle, as Ezra Klein of the Washington Post reports, has the White House decidedly split between the policy advocates who insist that we need a robust health care plan to work towards covering all Americans, and White House political operatives pushing to scale back the plan to make it more “politically viable.”

At all levels, the battle for health care reform is as contentious as any in recent memory. The country has endured well-publicized town hall battles, often provoked by right-wing astroturf groups. We've seen the disturbing spectacle of right-wingers bringing guns – and fevered, threatening rhetoric -- to presidential events. Absurd fantasies like “death panels for Grandmas have dominated nightly news coverage of the debate over health reform.

Some would argue that progressives have made major strategic errors in the health care fight. In his critique of the politics of health reform, Tides Founder Pike questions the tactics employed by progressives in the struggle for a viable health care system.

Progressives needed to move the discussion in our direction by strong advocacy for deep change and reform. Take health care: progressives have made a mistake on health care by cooperating with the Administration’s idea of a ‘bi-partisan’ approach to reform. In so doing, they gave up on a single payer system at the very beginning. The argument was that the “public option” was the only politically viable outcome. Of course, now that the insurance companies and rightwing noise machine have weighed in, the “public option” is about to fall off the table as well, leaving us with….well, the private markets. Not exactly a progressive outcome. What one cannot help but wonder is what would have happened if progressives had insisted on a single payer bill – at least for debate purposes. Then the compromise might well have been the public option.

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