This eventually gets around to Occupy Wall Street versus the Democratic Party, and to the purist / pragmatist divide, and says good things about everyone involved. So it ought to be low meta. But first, I must set the stage.
The Lady Aardvark has recently taken up gardening. Since it gets cold here in Denver in the winter, she has moved her gardening inside with some hydroponics equipment. Fresh greens and veggies coming soon, courtesy of some tubs in the family room.
To grow veggies in the tubs, it was necessary to cut holes in the top the size of the grow pots - about 3" in diameter. So off to the hardware store I trekked, and acquired a 3" hole drill bit. Imagine these
but 3" wide.
And there lies the problem. My longtime drill is a Dewalt DW236, like this.
But I've used this drill a lot, and that handle thingy has broken. And that causes a problem when using a 3" drill bit. When drilling through something like a tub lid the surface tends to flex, and thus bind the bit. And when the bit stops all the angular momentum of the bit gets transferred back up into the drill, and then into my hands.
And the angular momentum of a 3" drill bit is 9 times that of a 1" drill bit - the radius is 3x as great, and the mass is also at least 3x as great. So when that 3" bit would bind, the resulting torque would rip the drill from my hands. Which was rather painful even though the drill didn't actually hit me.
So, not being able to quickly replace the handle, I bought a new drill. Off to the hardware store I trekked, and bought the cheapest drill with a handle they had - a Porter-Cable something or other. BTW, I have since learned that Porter-Cable has been bought out by Black and Decker, so their brand name is now worth exactly zippo to me.
Brought it home, tried it out, and discovered that the binding torque was sufficient to rotate the drill within the handle coupling, which was a ring tightened about the front of the drill housing. Still painful and still dangerous.
Back to the store again, and got a Hitachi D13VF with a handle that actually threads into the drill housing, rather than coupling using a tight ring. BINGO! Holes appeared as if by magic - and, since the Hitachi was also a 9 amp motor, it powered through tub flexing that might have bound up the Porter-Cable 6 amp tool.
The moral of this story is that by using the right tool for the job I was able to change a difficult and dangerous job into an easy one. And the application of that moral to politics is below the Orange Squiggle of Power.
A sage once remarked that politics ain't beanbag. I am not a sage, but I say that politics is how we answer questions that would otherwise involve killing each other. In the pages of the Great Orange Satan we have recently seen a fair bit of debate between the pragmatists and the purists as to whether or not we should focus on "more" or "better" Democrats, and also quite a bit of news about some obscure bunch of feces-dwelling hippies called Occupy.
For purposes of discussion I wish to treat the Democratic Party as a tool, and also Occupy as a tool. And no, not "tool" as a pejorative, but as a metaphor, relating back to all that stuff about drills above the fold.
What sorts of jobs is the Democratic Party suited for? A political party in the United States is about electing politicians to office. This involves finding people, persuading them to run, and aiding in fundraising and organization. By the nature of the beast it tends to be run by people friendly to those already elected; and therefore, any political party is going to be strongly pro-incumbent. That is, the first goal of any political party, regardless of position on the left-right continuum, is going to be re-electing the incumbents of that party. You may not like the incumbents very much, but that is what political parties do. It is built into the design of the tool, and trying to change any political party into a mechanism for replacing incumbents with better incumbents is akin to using a power drill to hammer nails - it's not a good use of the tool and may break it. "Breaking" the tool in this context would mean that it would stop performing the designed function of re-electing incumbents, and instead of "better" Democrats you'd have more Republicans - who, per most measures such as Progressive Punch, are always worse than even the most DINO of the DINOS. No power accrues to those who lose elections.
The time when you can achieve "better" is when the selection of candidates takes place, especially when there is no incumbent around. The design of the tool accommodates that function, but does not accommodate wholesale challenges to incumbents based on ideology. The reason we don't much care for many of our incumbents is that the selection process has been skewed toward "electability", not "liberalism", since the advent of the DLC, if not earlier. That's a topic for another diary, but my critical point is that you can't suddenly replace all the incumbent Democrats with "better" ones; and it is wrong to expect the party to facilitate that. If you want to challenge an un-reelectable Blanche Lincoln that's one thing; you can't take out everyone at once. You must pick your battles and be patient.
What sort of jobs is Occupy suited for? That's a little harder to answer, because Occupy is not something anyone has designed, and there are no rules for how to do something like this. But it seems to me that Occupy excels at drawing attention to the economic inequality in the United States. Occupy has made the meme of the 99% versus the 1% common currency throughout the United States. Occupy is forcing the politicians to admit that yes, we do have a problem here. But Occupy at present does not appear well suited to recruiting candidates and raising money for them, and if Occupy set out to do that, I think it would lose quite a bit of effectiveness as a voice for the voiceless, and would instead become something like the NRA with MIC CHECKS rather than guns. It's be like using a screwdriver as a crow bar; you're likely to bend something and have a much less useful screwdriver.
But just as you can drive a screw with both a drill and a screwdriver, there are overlaps in functionality between the two tools. I believe that the only national politicians who ever act on behalf of the 99% are Democrats, which is clearly not the same as all Democrats always being on the side of the 99%. As I've pointed out before, the reason that the Koch brothers are going to spend $100M each supporting the Republican Presidential nomination is not because Barack Obama does what they want 99.99% of the time and they want that last 1% of 1%. Not even billionaires drop that sort of coin unless Obama really does stand in their way. Therefore I conclude Occupy is more likely to wish to support "better" Democrats than they are any Republicans.
To wind this up, then, here is where I see a role for Occupy in electing both more and better Democrats, and thereby moving the House of Representatives to a more progressive body. Remember how I spoke above of "picking your battles"? And how I opined that Occupy is not well suited to recruiting and funding candidates, but rather to changing the conversation?
The Washington Post maintains a database of Congressional Votes. Various sorting tools are available. Here is a list of 4 House Republicans who
- Won by less than 5% margin of victory and
- Vote with their party at least 95% of the time
|Member||District||Large City in district||PVI
|Member||District||Large City in district||District Tilt
|Joe Donnelly||IN-2||South Bend||Leaning Dem
|John Barrow||GA-12||Statesboro||Strong Dem
|Mark Critz||PA-12||Johnstown||Strong Dem
|Henry Cuellar||TX-28||San Antonio||Strong Dem
|Jim Costa||CA-20||Fresno||Strong Dem
|Larry Kissell||NC-8||Albemarle||Leaning Dem
Here is what I would suggest for Occupiers who wish to achieve both "more" and "better" Democrats in the House. Occupy South Bend, Statesboro, Johnstown, San Antonio, Fresno, and Albemarle during the winter and spring. You do not need to coordinate your efforts with any potential challengers to Donnelly, Barrow, Critz, Cuellar, Costa, and Kissel. Ideally "better" Democrats have already considered a challenge to these DINOS - but even if no challenger appears, just doing what Occupy does is likely to make them at least take positions a little further to the left than they might otherwise have - a small moral victory, but still a victory.
During the summer, move on to Occupations in Bakersfield, Crowley, Biloxi, and Pecos. Again, you need not formally coordinate with any Democratic challenger to these vulnerable Republicans. Just show up and do what you do. With any luck you'll get them to make a fatal error. Again, getting them to publicly object to your presence will be a moral victory, even if they aren't unseated.
And keep the sage advice of Tip O'Neill in mind - "all politics is local". In each of these 10 districts, find local issues where these Representatives voted the wrong way which are tied to the key issue of economic injustice - and emphasize those issues, not those votes. You don't want to dignify these tools by mentioning them unless they publicly challenge you first. At which point go all MoT on their sorry asses and make them wish they hadn't.
If Occupy can succeed in removing any one of these 10 from office and replacing them with someone better, it will count as a huge victory. Get 5 and you'll be a force to be reckoned with. This is a way to make the House more attuned to the needs of the 99% without forming any formal alliance with the Democratic Party.
Fri Dec 02, 2011 at 8:40 AM PT: Editing a bad sentence above. I changed
"To the extent that either political party ever truly advocates for the 1%, it is the Democratic Party and selected Democrats." to "I believe that the only national politicians who ever act on behalf of the 99% are Democrats, which is clearly not the same as all Democrats always being on the side of the 99%."