Anyone who is privy to David Cobb’s barnstorms knows it can get very exciting rather quickly. He is passionate about hammering the message about corporate encroachment on every individual’s freedom overtly and covertly. Citizens United and the McCutcheon cases make the necessity for the above-mentioned constitutional amendment that more urgent.
In the near term there is an even more dangerous concern. The loss of net neutrality, if not reversed, will kill our democracy. The fight to move to amend the constitution would be made that much more difficult with one more powerful organizing tool crippled.
Cobb made many Democrats in the Houston audience somewhat uncomfortable after singling out actions taken by the Democratic Party that would seem anathema to its core constituency. Yet he once worked for Jesse Jackson. He was once a party loyalist.
As a card-carrying, sustaining member and unabashed Democrat, I knew exactly where he was coming from. Move to Amend is a nonpartisan organization. Cobb coming down as hard as he did on Democrats seemed unfair to many in the room. But that discomfort is important and healthy, as I'll explain below the fold.
Both Cobb and I serve on the Move to Amend leadership team. He ribs the Democrats on the team all of the time about their loyalty to the Democratic Party. That ribbing is a good thing—it doesn't shake one from being a Democrat. It does something much more important: It makes you re-evaluate why you became a Democrat in the first place.
When you question your party affiliation, there are several results. It first forces you to check if the basic tenets of the party have changed. Secondly, it makes you examine whether the party is living up to its ideals.
The reality is the Democratic Party is orders of magnitude better for the middle class than the Republican Party, if only for its simple belief that collectively, we can make a difference. Government can be good. Government can work. Government can provide that safety net that mitigates the intrinsic inhumanity of capitalism. The Democratic Party’s codification of tolerance and implicit diversity within its platform makes it the place for everyone.
However, rather than singing all the praises, every Democrat should be frank and acknowledge where the party has failed. The grassroots must push the party to live up to its ideals.
Many corporatist Democrats, while still Democrats, have acted like corporatists first. Wealth extraction has not been limited by party. Support for policies that hurt the middle class has not been limited by party. Glass Steagall and NAFTA occurred under Bill Clinton, a Democrat. The push to fast track the Trans Pacific Partnership is occurring under President Barack Obama’s administration, a Democrat.
No one is looking for absolute purity in a party’s doctrine. That said, one must guard against a slow drift that in real time seem marginal. In the aggregate, the sum total of marginal changes is rather profound.
That is how we got President Clinton making the profound statement that "the era of big government is over," as if big government was America’s existential problem. That is how we got President Obama supporting chain CPI instead of increasing the Social Security cap. That is how we got a stimulus bill heavy on cuts even though it is fact that spending is more stimulative than tax cuts.
In Houston, Cobb pointed out many of these negative realities and many others. He did not have to mention any about the Republican Party, given that it continues to live up to its own destructive policies.
As the 2014 and 2016 elections approach, it is imperative that Democrats reaffirm what they stand for. It is not enough to simply win—it is important to differentiate. It is important to ensure voters know that when they pull the lever for a Democrat, they are voting for a Democrat who will govern with the tolerant middle-class centric values who will work to implement those policies accordingly.
Democrats should embrace the criticisms from activists who are pointing out where the party has failed to live up to its ideals, its tenets and its platform. The embrace would mitigate the rightward creep that makes policies, once anathema to the party, somewhat plausible.