It is easy, here in the land of the Personality Cult and "There is no 'I' in team" and office environments plastered with motivational posters to blame the system or our "leaders" for the sorry state this culture festers in, but that is too simple, a cop out. How easily we forget, or run away from, the idea that this is a government of We the People .... David Sirota sums up the real problem:
The disease is simple to understand: It leads the supposedly “ideological” grassroots left to increasingly subvert its overarching ideology on issues in favor of pure partisan concerns. That may sound great at first glance. Democratic Party officials always talk about a need for “big tent unity” and subsequently try to downplay ideology. But as a trait of the grassroots and not just the party, Partisan War Syndrome could be positively devastating not just for issue advocacy, but also for Democrats’ political aspirations as well.
Sirota is right, and it would do us all a world of good to take his insights to heart.
Certainly, this disease can be difficult to detect. The mainstream media regularly portrays the so-called Democratic base as a highly ideological, “liberal” or “progressive” monolith, supposedly pressing an insulated, spineless D.C. Democratic establishment to move to the “left.” This portrayal creates the image that there really is a cohesive, powerful ideological force on the left, one that is committed to convictions and issues before party-much like there is on the right. This image is reinforced by the mainstream media’s constant characterization of Internet blogs and the “netroots” as an extension of this monolith-as if a medium automatically equals an ideology.
It's an easy story to believe, and it is hard to accept that we've all stepped away from our responsibilties as citizens:
And it is a straw man. To be sure, there used to be a powerful ideological force on the left that constituted the Democratic Party base. And there are still remnants of that ideological movement left in various progressive labor, environmental and civil rights organizations, and disparate Internet blogs. But look no further than the 2004 Democratic presidential primaries to see that the ideological movement as a whole is in tatters. In that race, primary voters - supposedly a representation of this “ideological” base -supported John Kerry on the basis of his personal profile as a Vietnam War veteran and his supposed “electability.” It was the most non-ideological of choices in what we were supposed to believe was the most ideological of races.
This blunting of the left’s ideological edge is a result of three unfortunate circumstances. First, conservatives spent the better part of three decades vilifying the major tenets of the left’s core ideology, succeeding to the point where “liberal” is now considered a slur. Second, the media seized on these stereotypes and amplified them - both because there was little being done to refute them, and because they fit so cleanly into the increasingly primitive and binary political narrative being told on television.
And third is Partisan War Syndrome - the misconception even in supposedly “progressive” circles that substance is irrelevant when it comes to both electoral success and, far more damaging, to actually building a serious, long-lasting political movement. This is the syndrome resulting from the shellshock of the partisan wars that marked the Clinton presidency. It is an affliction that hollowed out much of the Democratic base’s economic and national security convictions in favor of an orthodoxy that says partisan concerns and cults of personality should be the only priorities because they are supposedly the only factors that win elections. It is a disease that subverts substance for “image” and has marked the last decade of Democrats’ repeated failures at the ballot box.
We've made politics just another hobby, another game, the same way we talk about chart position instead of songs, weekend box office instead of plot and direction, box scores instead of the poetry in motion of a good play. Surface without heart, that's the modern American way. This is why the right is beating the shit out of us, why they are destroying our country ... we aren't fighting them. Not really. To really fight requires passion and heart and the willingness to risk all to fight for a better world.
To be sure, it is impossible to paint a picture of the entire “progressive” base in one stroke. After all, the base is not just a monolith (regardless of what the media would like you to believe). There still remain some institutions, pundits, blogs and grassroots power organized specifically around ideology and issue positions. But a quick glance at some of the most prominent “liberals” on newspaper op-ed pages or at a small but growing segment of “progressive” blogs makes clear that, unlike on the right, efforts to strengthen an ideology on the left face a clear roadblock with the advent of Partisan War Syndrome.
“Liberal” columnists write with little sense of an overarching ideological umbrella. A cadre of bloggers and blog commenters increasingly give and take away their support for candidates based on questions of political tactics and “profile,” not issues. The left’s emerging new ideological infrastructure still at times seems afraid to openly push the Democratic Party to embrace more progressive themes.
It is in the heat of debate that we find solutions. It is in open primaries and contentious elections that real consensus can form. Without passion from the left, the blinkered retrenchment in an imagined past, instead of a joyful embrace of a future of our own design, will continue to dominate our politics.
Why should this be troubling to the average progressive? First, it is both soulless and aimless. Partisanship is not ideology, and movements are not political parties - they are bigger than political parties, and shape those parties accordingly through pressure. As much as paid party hacks would argue otherwise, the most significant movements in American history did not emanate from the innards of the Democratic or Republican Party headquarters, and they did not come from groups of activists who put labels before substance: They spawned from millions of people committed to grassroots movements organized around ideas - movements which pushed both parties’ establishments to deal with given issues. Without those movements transcending exclusively partisan concerns, American history would be a one-page tale of status quo.[...]
This is why resisting Partisan War Syndrome and doing the hard work of rebuilding an ideological movement is both a moral imperative and a political necessity for the left. A grassroots base that is organized around hollow partisan labels rather than an overarching belief system - no matter how seemingly energized - will never defeat an opponent that puts ideological warriors ready to walk through fire on the political battlefield. If we do not rekindle that same fervor about actual issues on the left, we will continue living in a one-party country, losing elections into the distant future, and most disturbing of all, watching as our government serves only to protect those in power.
Be prepared to resist bad candidates if they are opposed to your values, even if you have to withhold your vote to do so. Work hard for good candidates, but if partisan manipulations make real progressives unavailable, then WITHHOLD YOUR VOTE. If a shitty scion of a political family is going to help take away your reproductive freedom, refuse your support. If a corporate whore is only to willing to protect corporate bankruptcy while taking away the same from working people, leave that place on the ballot blank if you have to. Remember, without your vote, they don't have jobs, and would you hire somebody who you knew was going to do a shitty job for your own business?
Do not buy the bullying that you have no choice. Politics is eventually about what we value as a people, about what we want to BE as a people. Do you really like what you see now when you look around you?