The following is a guest essay from Hal Clifford, executive editor of Orion Magazine.


In the wake of Barack Obama’s victory, the relief was palpable, the excitement unprecedented.

For a while.

And then the nitpicking started. Not from Fox “News” or the Arizona country club where John McCain conceded. From the left: He’s just going back to Clinton’s model, with all these appointees. What a disappointment. Or, he didn’t punish Joe Lieberman for wandering off the reservation. Or this one, my favorite, from a very popular climate writer: Obama doesn’t really understand what he has to do to tackle climate change, here’s a list of bullet points he has to take on, and it’s going to be hard. And so on. Well, duh!

I read this stuff on the lefty blogs and publications and it reminded me of what David Brower once famously said about progressives: We’re really good at circling the wagons and firing inward.

Back in the late 1990s, a group of activists who were fed up with the way the Republicans were hamstringing President Bill Clinton formed a little group. They called it MoveOn.org.

Now seems like a good time to start a new organization — one targeted at those on the left who can’t quite grasp what it means to have won. Let’s call it BackOff.org.

Back off, everybody. Be grateful that Obama won. He is smarter than you. He knows more than you do. Be happy in that. Know that he will disappoint you 20 percent of the time, but be thrilled about the 80 percent. Be quiet and take your lumps when it’s 20-percent time. Above all, take a lesson from the Republicans, who for a quarter-century understood what Reagan called “the eleventh commandment: thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican.” We won. Now we have to succeed. In this day and age, what that means for the left is to stop griping, put your shoulder to the wheel, and start pushing. Or we’ll be back to Crazy-Ass Republicanland in four years.

I don’t expect everyone on the left to actually do this. We have lived in the political wilderness for more than 30 years. We have a deeply ingrained culture of opposition. And we have a profound tradition of focusing on what we’re against. Well, it’s time to be for something. And if we’re going to go forward, we’re going to have to leave some things behind. Your favorite wilderness bill? Your wish to fund sea turtle monitors on every southern beach? A national bottle bill? Nice ideas, but they very well may not get funded as Obama turns his attention to the big crises of our day — the modern four horsemen of climate change, war, economic collapse, and overpopulation. And when your pet green project doesn’t make the grade, you can make a stink, or you can see the big picture and remember that the guy in charge is actually on your side.

What will you do? That’s up to you to decide. As for me, I have realized I have to get over some of my old hangups, my cynicism and even some of my pet causes, and lean forward for something bigger than all of that. All of us do.

Barack Obama doesn’t need the criticism, advice, or nitpicking from the peanut gallery. Until he really, really screws up — and I honestly expect that he will not — let’s all back off. Then we can try again on circling those wagons.