Carrots And Sticks
Glenn Greenwald and Ed Kilgore debate the virtues of challenging incumbent Democrats, or as Ed puts it, "settling scores." I think a more basic problem needs to be addressed first, the bizarre penchant of the Netroots to concentrate its resources on electing Dems like Travis Childers and Heath Shuler. Now I have nothing against either of these Dems - they represent the views of their particular districts. My problem is with a so called Progressive Netroots wasting its resources working to elect candidates who basically disagree with their view of what the Democratic Party should be.
I guess, in a way, this puts me in the Kilgore camp, of not being for "score settling" against Dems like Shuler, Childers, Ben Nelson, Gene Taylor and the like. I am for getting "better" Dems in districts that will support better Dems. More . . .
But more important than all that is the need to be able to fight for issues outside the direct context of an election. In a sustained way. Short term outrage is of course good. But memories are short. While the FISA Capitulation by the Democratic Party was one of the most outrageous in a line of outrageous capitulations by Democrats, the unerlying issues - the destruction of respect for the rule of law should not be forgotten. We have to keep fighting.
And, as always, these things come back to the head of the Democratic Party, Barack Obama. He can not be treated with kid gloves, as the Netroots and "progressive" activists have decided to do. His behavior on FISA was disgraceful. And he has done nothing to fix the problem. And why should he? Everyone is back on board, holding their tongues about his disgraceful behavior. Kilgore rightly points out that this will be a continuing problem with Obama:
If intraparty fights break out, would an Obama administration take a detached position on them, or intervene in one way or another? (After all, Obama endorsed Lieberman's primary candidacy in 2006 and also endorsed Barrow this year.) Will post-election challenges to House or Senate leaders (say, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer) emerge? What issues, if any, will represent intraparty flash points? And will a Democratic "big tent" wider than some progressives are comfortable with be an asset or a handicap to a President Obama, who has spoken so often of breaking the mold in Washington but also of overcoming stale partisan debates?
Progressives and the Netroots need to get over it starting now. Sure vote for Obama. Who could possibly vote for McCain? But do not hold your fire on him, or any Dem for that matter, starting NOW. Kilgore advises waiting "until after the election." But there always is an another election coming up. We can't run our principles and beliefs and advocacy on an electoral calendar. It just does not work.
And a final word on the electoral component. the folks at Open Left (Kilgore strangely called their anti-"Blue Dog" campaign "highly influential," I called it a silly joke that made them look foolish) are not being realistic or productive - targetting people like John Barrow makes no sense. (On the other hand, targetting folks like Chris Carney and other blue state Dems makes tremendous sense.) Thus while I agree with Greenwald's statement that "uncritically cheering on any and every candidate with a "D" after his or her name has resulted in virtually nothing positive -- and much that is negative," and that "many progressives continue, rather bafflingly and stubbornly, to insist that if they just keep doing the same thing (cheering for the election of more and more Democrats), then somehow, someday, something different might occur," intelligent marshalling of resources, arguments and attention are necessary as well. Going after John Barrow was silly. But so was throwing support behind Travis Childers and Heath Shuler. I wrote a post about this a few years ago that I still think makes sense even though no one seems to agree with me. I called it Relativity, Uncertainty, Big Tents and Political Space Time Curvature. My key points:
Let's recall T&H's 5 postulates:
(1) The starting point for all political organizing and campaigns should be: "What are my core beliefs and principles and how do I best explain them to supporters and skeptics alike?"
(2) Every political battle, both proactive and defensive, should represent a basic statement of progressive character and present a clear, concise contrast with conservatives. Do not blur lines.
(3) All issue campaigns and agenda items are not equal. Progressives should focus their efforts on issues that can simultaneously strengthen the base and appeal to centrist voters. Progressives must be willing to make sacrifices and tradeoffs -- in terms of coalition building and budgetary concerns -- to achieve their most important agenda items.
(4) Escalate battles that expose the extremism of the right or splinter their coalition. [Follow-up: When confronted with the right's social, cultural, or national security agenda, the absolute worst response is to fail to combat these caricatures or to explain one's position directly to voters, regardless of the popularity of the position.]
(5) Every political action should highlight three essential progressive attributes: a clear stand on the side of those who lack power, wealth or influence; a deep commitment to the common good; and a strong belief in fairness and opportunity for all.
As general themes and principles, these postulates can be applied in every region of the nation. But they will not lead to uniform specific issue positions for Democrats everywhere. The political gravity or, "political space time curvature" in Nebraska or Mississippi is different from that in say, Rhode Island. But the progressive or Democratic position in each of these locations can clearly be discerned and is the position for Democrats to follow in each of them.
So how do we determine what the political gravity is in the locales and how do we determine the "progressive position?" How do we determine how far progressives can push? What is the velocity of progressivism and where does it stand across the Nation?
. . . It is important that Democrats, Single Issue Groups, citizens, all make these judgments. And argue their points of view. How far can we push Dems in Pennsylvania, Nebraska, Mississippi, etc? We have a wonderful POSITIVE mechanism for making these determinations - primaries.
So WHICH primaries should progressive activists and the Netroots involve themselves in? First of all, ones where there is a candidate worth fighting for. That means one who is fighting for your issues. And winning and losing is not always the important end. Ned Lamont's campaign changed the debate on Iraq across the country. Donna Edwards won on the issues we are supposed to care about. Marcy Winograd made Jane Harman a much more progressive politician. FEAR of a primary moved Ellen Tauscher to the Left. But consider where those races were run. Blue state America.
What races should be avoided? For starters, ones where there is no candidate fighting for our values. Travis Childers' win in Mississippi means nothing for progressives. Not a dime or a minute should have been spent on that race. I am not saying run against him. I am saying let him take care of himself. He is not going to do anything for progressives. At all.
Other races to avoid? Ones where our views simply have no traction. The John Barrow race was ridiculous to target. Dan Boren can't be beat by progressives. Jim Marshall can't be beat by progressives. You get my point by now.
Make Democrats in blue states more progressive. That is where the fight is first. Indeed, that is the only place the fight can be waged with any modicum of success. Targetting so called Blue Dogs in Mississippi and Tennessee and Oklahoma and North Carolina is ridiculous. But I would not work for them either. Focus the fight where it can be won. Where the influence can be wielded.
And for Gawd's sake, no free rides for any pol, especially not for Democrats.
Speaking for me only
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