We just reelected a Democratic president. Yet, for some reason, in the halls of power in Washington the discussion is still about how much to cut from the federal budget. Let's be clear about something so that we know where we stand: any cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, education, infrastructure, and other vital domestic services and investments means that conservative policy is being enacted. Increases in these areas would be a liberal policy, keeping it the same would be a neutral compromise, and cuts would be a conservative policy.
So, we have a situation where the majority of Americans have voted for a left-leaning government, yet the policies being enacted into law lean in the conservative direction. The more liberal party controls the Presidency and the Senate, and the conservatives only control the House. Objectively speaking, any policy that makes it through the legislative process should lean at least a little bit to the left, which would mean some modest increases in domestic spending and care for the poor, sick, and elderly. Instead, we get the sequester, and now the media is excitedly talking about the new Paul Ryan budget which is even more conservative than his old budget from before he lost the election.
You've got to at least give the conservatives credit for never accepting no for an answer and never backing down. They only know one direction, and that is to the right. Nothing ever stops them from moving ever rightward -- not even losing elections. And somehow, they keep getting much of what they want.
When are progressives going to draw a line in the sand? When is our side going to join the battle and become just as stubborn in standing up for our principles as conservatives are? Keep reading and let's talk about how things work and what needs to happen....
The way democracy works is that you vote for the candidate who shares your views. If no candidate shares your views, then you can run for office yourself or try to recruit somebody to do so. If an incumbent votes for policies that are on the opposing side of the political spectrum, the only logical thing to do is to support a primary challenger who would move the party in the direction of most of the people who identify with it.
Currently, we have a situation where most Democrats in Congress are going along with Republican policies. The budget is being cut. I would like to know if there is any movement in progressive politics today to try to remove these people from office by replacing them with different Democrats who would stand up for progressive values?
In just a few short years, the Tea Party has managed to take over the Republican Party. Now, you cannot be nominated by the GOP for any office unless you share most of the Tea Party philosophy. They have proven that it is possible, through political activism and primary campaigns, to change a major political party so that most of its elected officials uncompromisingly vote according to the beliefs of the average Republican voter.
What is holding progressive Democrats back from accomplishing something similar? Is anyone trying?
The reason I ask is because there seems to be a huge amount of pent-up frustration among liberals about the state of American democracy in general. Many are arguing that electoral politics is not the answer and that instead, we need some kind of "revolutionary" movement.
My opinion is that it doesn't seem we have really tried very hard to make democracy work for us. Where are the primary challengers against all Democratic politicians who voted for the sequester? Is anybody trying to drum up support for such a move? Are potential candidates stepping forward and setting up exploratory committees? Are any progressive nonprofits encouraging this to occur?
If the answer to these questions is no, then I think we need to take a good hard look at the progressive movement and ask whether we are willing to use democracy as it was intended to be used. Democracy is a messy business. It requires activists to draw lines in the sand and threaten to withhold their votes en masse from any politician who does not vote at least most of the time, on the biggest issues of the day, for the side they claim to represent. It requires some activists to be so impolite, that they even run for office against entrenched incumbents who are generally decent people but whose policy decisions have become too much based on the demands of corporate lobbyists rather than the interests of average Americans.
There is a middle ground between "revolution" and meekly accepting the status quo of spineless Democrats. The right wing has already shown the way. They are getting what they want, because they fight for their beliefs using the electoral process and they never back down.
I suggest that it is time for progressives to get serious about taking back our democracy. We are not an autocratic nation; we already have the right to vote, to run for office, and to support anyone we believe should be elected to office. Democracy means that the people who are the most assertive and forceful in using the political system will win power.
Social media has provided a new way for ordinary people to run for office and get their message out to millions of people. No money? How about let's see some Facebook candidates for Congress. Let's see some articulate people just put their progressive message out there and say, "Tired of politicians in the pocket of big corporate lobbyists? I'm an ordinary American running for office, and here are my ideas. If you are a progressive Democrat, I'm your candidate. Like my Facebook page, tweet me on Twitter, and follow my blog." The way things can spread virally nowadays, can we be sure that something like this couldn't work?
I have a gut feeling that millions of Americans are hungering for a more real, authentic kind of democracy. The Mr. Smith Goes to Washington ideal may seem cheesy in this cynical era, but deep down, many people would love to see it happen if given the opportunity. Why are we so quick to give up on democratic elections in America? Why are we so quick to assume that the Democratic Party could never nominate principled progressives and elect them to office? Do we fear that the people of this country actually do not believe in our values and would choose to vote for candidates who stand for the status quo or worse?
Possibly those fears are based in fact. Possibly. But I don't think we should assume it to be so. It might not be too late for progressives to save American democracy. But as the saying goes, "use it or lose it."