Our movement needs to mature
I put this up at Kos earlier today:
Things were very different in 2003. George Bush and Tom Delay dominated politics; every day brought some new outrage. Media sycophants wrote love poems to Karl Rove. Worst of all, Joe Lieberman seemed to be the only Democrat that didn’t hate himself. For that, he and his ilk became the voice of the party.
Substantively, we watched as the Iraq war steadily spun out of control. We watched a Republican Congress twist arms until they got enough votes to pass a wasteful god-send to big-pharm in the new prescription drug benefit. Republicans strong-armed the creation of the Department of Homeland Security without providing its employees with civil service protections. Valerie Plame – the CIA operative – saw her name published in Robert Novak’s syndicated column. If you were one of the few reading blogs back then, every single day seemed to bring some new outrage.
But something else happened in 2003 as well. In March. In San Francisco.
Some dude got up before a bunch of Democrats and started saying some shit that was, for the time, pretty bizarre.
What I want to know is what in the world so many Democrats are doing supporting the President’s unilateral intervention in Iraq?
What I want to know is what in the world so many Democrats are doing supporting tax cuts, which have bankrupted this country and given us the largest deficit in the history of the United States?
What I want to know is why the Congress is fighting over the Patient’s Bill of Rights? The Patient’s Bill of Rights is a good bill, but not one more person gets health insurance and it’s not 5 cents cheaper.
What I want to know is why the Democrats in Congress aren’t standing up for us, joining every other industrialized country on the face of the Earth in providing health insurance for every man, woman and child in America.
What I want to know is why so many folks in Congress are voting for the President’s Education Bill — “The No School Board Left Standing Bill” — the largest unfunded mandate in the history of our educational system!
As Paul Wellstone said — as Sheila Kuehl said when she endorsed me — I am Howard Dean, and I’m here to represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.
Dean concluded his “coming out “ speech with:
We are not going to beat George Bush by voting with the President 85 percent of the time. The only way that we’re going to beat George Bush is to say what we mean, to stand up for who we are, to lift up a Democratic agenda against the Republican agenda because if you do that, the Democratic agenda wins every time.
I want my country back! We want our country back! I am tired of being divided! I don’t want to listen to the fundamentalist preachers anymore! I want America to look like America, where we are all included, hand in hand. We have dream. We can only reach the dream if we are all together – black and white, gay and straight, man and woman. America! The Democratic Party! We are going to win in 2004! Thank you very much. Thank you very much. Stand up for America, Stand up for America, Stand up for America!!
The reason I bring this up now is that it seems as if many of us have lost that fire. But I’m not sure if is that, exactly. In fact, I doubt that it is.
Instead, I fear that the blogosphere has been co-opted. We’ve become a casualty of our own success. What’s happened is that the vainglorious power-seekers inside Washington… the same folks that thought Joe Lieberman was the future of the party 6 years ago… the people that cut their teeth watching Bill Clinton sell policy in the Lincoln Bedroom… the communications “gurus” that told John Kerry to ignore the Swift Boat smears… well, these folks have seen the power of the blogosphere. They are a key faction now. They are the folks telling progressives to shut the hell up and be happy we have Democrats in power… That we should just pipe down and settle for whatever scraps the grown-ups in Congress and the White House give us. And, oh yeah… we should send a check.
Of course, that doesn’t explain everything. There are an awful lot of people really excited to see Barack Obama in the White House. They want to give him every chance to succeed and see every criticism or demand that he keep his promises as undermining his chances for success. To some of these folks, progressives should support Obama no matter what he does because he’ll always be better than a Republican. To others in this camp, Obama should be supported because he’s just fantastic. It’s difficult for these folks to accept the argument that, in politics, nobody ever gets anything for free. It’s always the squeaky wheel (and usually the squeaky wheel with the deep pockets) that gets the grease. Giving a politician license to ignore you is political suicide. You just can’t do it.
Look. We’ve got the House. We’ve got the Senate. Commanding majorities in both branches. And we’ve got the most charismatic and capable President we will probably ever see in our lifetimes.
So why is it that when we look around, we see legislation – legislation that should long have been fait accompli – stalled, watered down, ignored, or even defeated? Why isn’t there a single payer plan on the table? Why do we need to weaken EFCA? We admit this country tortured, and we can’t even get a truth-commission? If cap and trade ever passes the House and Senate, we might more accurately call it “crap, delayed.”
Well, I’ve got an answer for you.
A couple weeks ago, I did a lot of chatting with progressive leaders at the Our Future Now Conference hosted by Campaign For America’s Future. I cannot even begin to tell you how much you can learn when you are given the opportunity to frankly converse with movement leaders in an informal setting. Simply ask and you get answers.
With that said, right now progressives are playing from a weak position. If you say the wrong thing, the power-brokers won’t hesitate to marginalize you further. Progressive just can’t afford to make needless enemies. For that reason, I won’t be identifying the movement leaders that shared so much with me.
Did you know that the House Progressive Caucus, with 71 Democrats, constitutes nearly 1/3 of the Democratic majority? Did you know that members of the Progressive Caucus chair 11 of the 20 standing committees of the House? By the numbers, progressives should be dominant. Of course, we hear a lot more of the Blue Dogs, but their membership totals only 52. What gives?
Well, Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer need to be put on the record and asked this question: how do you keep the Progressive Caucus from running the party? And why is it that Blue Dogs so often set the agenda?
If what I heard at the conference is correct and the leaders answer truthfully, these are the answers you’ll get:
1) How do we keep the Progressive Caucus from running the party? This is what we say to members of the progressive caucus: Hey – you! Yeah, you piece of shit! (this used to be Rahm Emmanuel’s job) You want your that bridge fixed in your district? That grant for the Senior Community Center? Well, FUCK YOU! You get shit until you kiss this ring, you obstinate fuck! Oh… and that committee assignment you put in for? Can’t do it. Instead, you’ll be the junior member of the “save the tsetse fly” sub-committee. And hey… your office can be a broom closet if that’s what you’d like. Oh, and you want some help raising some money for next cycle? Heh. You better pick up your phone and call your Mom. Cause you ain’t getting shit from us. Listen here, you pissant progressive… I don’t know who you think you are, but nobody is bigger than we are, and we set the agenda.
2) Why is it that Blue Dogs so often set the agenda? This is what we say to the Blue Dogs: Awesome man! You got Exxon to pony up another $5K for your PAC? So you made your DCCC numbers for the month! Fucking-A, man… You’re a champ! Oh… cap and trade… c’mon man, you know we were never serious about that… Just keep milking your boys. You still got Texaco on the hook? Check’s coming next week. (shaking head) You really are a star, kid. Keep this up and we’ll put you in the conference committee – you can personally make sure your friends at Shell get what they need.
So… What is my point?
Let’s get back to Howard Dean.
In the summer of 2003, Dean routinely drew crowds that numbered in the thousands. Out of nowhere (where the hell is Burlington, anyway?), Dean moved in to the front-runner’s seat and saw his mug plastered on the covers of Time, Newsweek and any number of other periodicals. Volunteers flocked to his campaign by the thousand. And the blogosphere virtually knighted him.
The speech he gave in March was great, but it wasn’t enough to make him the front-runner all by itself. Dean sustained that momentum with a slogan. He ran around the country reminding us all, “You Have The Power!!”
What he was saying was that George Bush and Tom Delay and Karl Rove and George Allen and Norm Coleman and John Sweeney and Virgil Goode and Richard Pombo… well… the only reason they could do the despicable things they were doing is that we had ceded our power to them. Howard Dean was reminding us that we control our own fate when it comes to what our government does in our name.
So yeah… look… It’s not pretty. And at first glance, you may be thinking that Howard Dean’s mantra, YOU HAVE THE POWER!! was hopelessly naive.
But it wasn’t. Let me repeat that: it wasn’t. “You have the power” still rings true. We just have to make it so.
And how do we do that?
We get smart.
First, we pinch ourselves, because we really need to wake up. After this past election, the bad guys didn’t fold their tents and give up the fight. To the contrary… The big money is fucking petrified right now and pulling out all the stops to limit the damage a Democratic Congress and President might do to their agenda. Insurance, bankers, oil and gas… they are flooding the zone with lobbyists, money and Astroturf pressure. They have their propaganda machine fired up and spitting lies the way Jay-Z spits rhymes. And from a look at the results (or lack thereof), they seem to be the only players on the field. We aren’t even showing up.
So what are we to do?
We need to make ourselves a force in the Party. We need to let our leaders know that we ARE the Party.
Look… I’ve every bit the Obama fan as any of y’all. I think he’s a fantastic President and a thoughtful and astute politician. His rise has been meteoric – that just doesn’t happen without killer political instincts. So Obama is constantly considering the grand game – the art of the possible. I think he’s misfired on certain judgments; I think he could have chosen a number of more progressive paths… but I’m willing to defer to his expertise.
But it’s my job – and yours – to do what we can to shape his judgments. If he doesn’t think an aggressive progressive initiative is possible, we should be working on changing his mind.
The quickest way of doing that is to go through Congress. That is where we have our greatest leverage.
What do I mean? How can we pressure Congress?
Well, I’ve been fortunate to know several people – key players in the progressive insurgency – for several years now. And they each have demonstrated a tremendous amount of skill, energy and political savvy. And they each now run organizations that will be key to yanking Congress by its ear and pulling it to the left. Your collective support of these organizations will get Congress’ attention. And, as you will see, the results driven by your donations will be the pincer that grabs Congress’ ear and drags them, kicking and screaming all the way, to the left – where they should have been for a long time now.
Glenn Greenwald, Jane Hamsher: founded AccountabilityNow PAC after the FISA debacle. They looked around at the flow of telecom money, saw the usual suspects and decided that something needed to be done. After about 1.2 seconds of intense thought, the idea of primarying bad Democrats took hold. They recalled what happened when Jane Harmon and Ellen Tauscher faced the prospect of a tough primary: their voting habits and public behavior changed in a big way. Call it a “Political Makeover”. Tauscher was once as outspoken as Lieberman about supporting the war. She did a 180. Harmon was a Bush-dog to the extreme. Today she’s not perfect, but she’s better than she was. And all it took was the threat of a challenge. Of course, Al Wynn can tell you why politicians hate primaries. Donna Edwards just barely missed ousting him in 2006; by 2008, he was gone. And Donna Edwards is one of our best Congresspersons.
The other dynamic that works really well is that when you replace a BlueDog or conservative Democrat with a real progressive, you win on so many levels. So when Donna Edwards replaced Al Wynn, we got a reliable vote for choice, EFCA, the environment, LGBT and race issues, corporate accountability, health care and ethics in government. That one race helped out GreenPeace, Sierra Club, NARAL, NOW, Human Rights Campaign, NAACP, labor and every other allied organization. The implication is clear: electing progressives is one stop shopping for a better America. I’m not saying that outside groups aren’t critically important – they are. But AccountabilityNow will benefit their agendas across the board.
Adam Green, Stephanie Taylor, Michael Snook: founded the Progressive Change Campaign Committee to elect progressives to fill Republican seats. These folks are truly inspired. They realized that there is a lot of money wasted in politics. Consultants lose race after race, but seem to bill more and more every cycle. Nobody should be paying $20,000 for a YouTube video, but if a candidate follows the Party’s dictates, that’s exactly what could happen. Green and Taylor are building a database of effective campaign staffers, identifying best practices, farming new talent (so many creative people want to break into campaign politics but can’t because of the Party stranglehold… the incest is rampant) and identifying candidates to work with. An example of their work: Tom Perriello, VA-5. Nobody thought he’d win Virgil Goode’s seat. Virgil was adored throughout the rural southern district. People thought his homophobia, racism and Islam-bashing worked well for the constituency of the district. Tom Perriello thought otherwise. He hired Stephanie Taylor to run his field operation and Michael Snook to do database work. Then, with the skeleton of what was to become the PCCC, he ran a progressive, cost-effective campaign. And he shocked the world. In 2010, the world will be shocked again – the PCCC has found its stride…
Chris Bowers, Matt Stoller: Although Stoller has left to work for one of the most progressive members of Congress (Alan Grayson), BlogPAC continues apace. Now run mostly by Bowers, it has served to fund all sorts of innovative programs centered on growing the progressive voice on the internet and beyond. What’s amazing about the netroots is its constant pace of creative bursts. There just doesn’t seem to be any end to the flow of previously unknown activists launching amazing new projects. And BlogPAC is constantly looking for new ways to support the medium and its activists. From its 50 state blog project (it paid hosting fees for state and local blogs) to its individual grant programs, BlogPAC has been a constant support for on-line progressives.
Howie Klein, John Amato, et al: Blue America PAC is the mainstay fundraiser for progressive candidates. Nobody knows the Hill the way Howie Klein does; more improtanly, nobody can match his district by district knowledge. Klein understands how to most effectively use money to achieve progressive results.
I’ve created an ActBlue page that you can use to direct money to any or all of these groups. Please go visit, drop a few dollars in their hats and feel good knowing that your generosity is growing the progressive movement.