BPI-MF-LogoHerself and I went to a Health Care For America Now rally yesterday. It was a small rally, planned very quickly. It started with only two of us because the organizer, our very own boofdah, got held up at work. Then there were three. Lots of happy honks from drivers. A few pedestrians stopped to express support. One stopped to express his bad attitude.

And it was cold. Admittedly it would’ve been warm for North Blogistan, but here in South Blogistan it was cold. And windy. We shivered and our fingers stiffened. It’s eight weeks past the winter solstice. Supposedly we’re getting more sunshine each day. But it’s still cold. February is no better than December. Maybe worse.

So it’s February 2010, and in many ways it seems not much better than December 2008. Unemployment is still high. We still don’t have universal health care. We still have combat troops in Iraq and we’re sending more to Afghanistan. Guantanamo isn’t closed. Politicians who say we need to balance our federal budget still say defense spending is untouchable. DADT and DOMA are still law. The list goes on, and the Wall Street Journal says all of this is Another Liberal Crackup. Even some here on DailyKos suggest it may be time to Throw The Bums Out.

Maybe so. Or maybe not.

We’re eight weeks past the winter solstice, and the days are getting longer in the northern hemisphere. That means more solar energy, but it’s still cold. In fact, in much of the U.S. it’s colder now than it was in December. Were we not familiar with the weather cycle, we might guess sunlight doesn’t warm the earth after all. We might start demanding another sun, or at least a different, brighter one.

At a larger scale, scientists agree the earth is warming. Yet climate change deniers point to last week’s snowstorms on the east coast as proof the scientists are wrong. “How can the earth be warming when this winter is so cold?” they ask. Many here recognize the fallacy of that argument, and Rachel Maddow dissected it brilliantly last week on her show.

But we often make the same argument about our sociopolitical climate.

Yes, it’s cold in February.

The thermostat on your wall doesn’t control the air temperature inside your house. When you set the thermostat to 68°, the air temperature in your home doesn’t immediately jump to 68°. The thermostat controls the heater. The heater may turn on immediately, or it may ramp up slowly to conserve energy. Either way, there is a delay before the air temperature in your home rises.

The same happens with our weather. In the northern hemisphere, we start to get more sunlight after the winter solstice on December 22nd. But the increase in solar energy happens slowly, and the oceans and atmosphere are still cooling and it takes a few months for the increasing sunlight to change that. That’s why it’s usually colder in February than at the winter solstice. (The reverse of that process is also why it’s usually hotter in August than at the summer solstice in late June.)

We’re accustomed to that annual weather cycle, so while we may complain about the February cold, we rarely say we need a different sun or another sun altogether. We know the longer days will give us warmer temperatures, but we also know that won’t happen immediately.

And despite some cold temperatures and lots of snow this winter, those of us who believe the climate science also accept that increasing levels of greenhouse gases are making the earth warmer decade by decade. Some of us get frustrated with those who refuse to accept that science, and some of our frustration is justified. Some of that ‘disbelief’ is based solely in economic and/or ideological interest. But some of it is simply that the changes happen so slowly that they’re hard to recognize.

Our sociopolitical climate …

Many of us were both pleased and hopeful on the morning of November 5, 2008. By helping to elect President Barack Obama and larger Democratic majorities in Congress, we thought we changed the temperature. Yet in many ways the sociopolitical temperature is as cold if not colder today than it was during the Bush years.

Some even wonder if our heater is fundamentally broken and we need a new one. It can seem that way. Conservatism and the GOP began taking control in 1969, as a backlash against civil rights movements and other changes. To continue the metaphor, the Reagan Revolution was about turning off the heater of government, or at least the vents that warmed ordinary people. Keep the military and corporate rooms warm, and their heat will trickle down to the rest of the house. A similar attitude spread throughout government, not only in the White House and Congress but also through the federal judiciary and bureaucracy and all the way down to state and local government as well.

It also spread beyond government. As Paul Krugman noted earlier this month, many of today’s most respected economists studied John Maynard Keynes only in passing, if at all. Economics teaching and research have focused on Milton Friedman’s theories of self-regulating free markets and lower taxes as the universal answer to any problem. Dr. Krugman calls this a “dark age of macroeconomics,” because so much knowledge has been lost. Similar conservative trends exist in law schools, business schools, and political science curricula, and other fields of higher education. The same trends dominate much of American religion, our media, and many of our society’s other institutions.

… Is still cold.

The lingering conservative ideas that still permeate much of our government and other institutions are like the cold air inside your house or the cold oceans and atmosphere in January and February. We changed the sociopolitical thermostat in 2008, but it will take years to replace the progressive heat we began to lose in 1969.

And if you look at the long arc of American history, our political climate is warming toward equal opportunity for more of our citizens. We progressives must keep being our nation’s heaters. Even when we’re only three people shivering on a street corner in February.

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Happy Thursday!