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To me, Crashing the Gate promoted two distinct and really unconnected arguments:  First, that the Democratic Party is controlled by an old guard that seems content to run the same losing campaigns without any accountability to donors or party members.  Second, that "single interest groups" such as the environmental, pro-choice and labor movements are hurting the party by putting their specific agenda ahead of the party as a whole.  The first argument is dead on, the second, not so much.

Longtime readers of MyDD and Daily Kos will recognize a lot of the material in CTG about the failed Democratic consultants who keep running the same losing strategies and the Party old guard, the people with connections to the pre-internet donor base, who keep going back to the same consultants in spite of their track record, and the failure of the left to create a class of professional, reasonably compensated activists and thinkers.  (Query: Is there a connection between the right's practice of finding good paying jobs for their young activists and the "Culture of Corruption," and if so, how do we avoid duplicating that on our side?)  Nevertheless, it is pretty awesome to see it all put together in one place.  I expect CTG will force a re-examination of Democratic election strategy, and for that reason alone, it is a worthwhile book.  (Although I am not necessarily looking forward to the day when Democratic Party marketers have a database loaded with specific marketing information about me.)

Far less convincing is the attack on so-called single issue groups.  First and foremost, there is no connection between Markos and Jerome's criticisms of the environmental, pro-choice and labor movements and the structural ills of the party that they expose in the book.  It isn't NARAL, NRDC or the Teamsters who are telling aspiring candidates to hire well-connected DC consultants or face a cutoff of donations from Party central.  (David Sirota argues that the candidates themselves are to blame; not sure I agree but his piece is definitely worth a read.)

Second, the argument against "single interest groups" basically takes an argument developed in the context of self-criticism by environmentalists and applies it across the board to the pro-choice and labor movements.  It's a poor fit, though.  Progressive environmentalism involves study of highly technical legal and scientific issues, with lots of specialization, so it is easy to fall into a situation where an expert on Western public lands grazing advocates that as the biggest environmental issue, while experts on Alaska Wildlife Refuge drilling, global warming or deforestation each advocate their own specialty as the most important and each propose highly technical solutions divorced from a larger political context.  This self-examination has been good for environmentalists.  But the argument doesn't apply to reproductive choice or the labor movement.

The authors' criticism of the pro-choice movement is the least coherent part of the book -- actually painful to read for me.  They compare NARAL's endorsement of Lincoln Chaffee in the Rhode Island Senate race unfavorably with Ralph Reed's decision to have the Christian Coalition accept Newt Gingrich's Contract with America even though Gingrich did not give in to their demand that an expressly pro-fundamentalist plank be put in the Contract platform.  Yet in the previous chapter, Jerome and Markos accurately describe the theocons as the part of the Republican coalition that keeps getting screwed by GOP leaders who would rather not deliver the goods because they have other priorities, mostly serving the "Corporate Cons" who run the Republican show.  They fail to recognize that Ralph Reed is really a Corporate Con in theocon clothing who was more than happy to put the theocon agenda on the back burner.  That's a terrible example to expect pro-choice groups to follow.

It would be reasonable for pro-choice advocates to come away from CTG thinking they should emulate the National Rifle Association, which is described in CTG as the only single issue group in the Republican camp and also as one that has essentially achieved total victory through the Democratic disavowal of gun control (see Dean, Howard and Schweitzer, Brian.)  It seems to me the NRA's success has come from demanding total loyalty from Republicans while still courting those Democrats who are willing to support their position.  And while I think NARAL and other groups can be criticized for some tactical decisions (like the aforementioned Chaffee endorsement), their strategic approach seems fundamentally sound -- demand loyalty from Democrats and support those Republicans who support them.

Labor unions are a different matter entirely.  Frankly, I thought that the authors had fallen victim to Republican propaganda and framing when they characterized unions as just a special interest group who are hurting the party as a whole.  To me it is better to view working people, both organized and unorganized, as the true base of the Democratic Party, the counterweight to the Corportate Cons who are the true base of the Republicans.  Kind of like the "Labour" and "Conservative" parties in the UK, at least in theory.  I do think Jerome and Markos are close to agreeing with me on this, actually, because they advocate internet-based organizing as filling the void caused by the ongoing decline of union organizing in this country. 

They are not quite there yet, though, perhaps because they feel they can effectively promote their approach as "non-ideological."  (Or perhaps they recognize that their personal politics are likely a bit more "centrist" than those of most people who participate at their two sites.)  But ultimately (as the authors admit) Democrats need a unifying theme.  I think the way to find it is to reject the Republican frame of the Democrats as a mere collection of special interests and to embrace the party's heritage as the home of working people.  On the ground, it means labor and the "netroots" should view each other as complementary.

Obviously, I found CTG to be a very thought provoking and worthwhile book and I highly recommend it to everyone who cares about the future of progressive politics in America.

Originally posted to Colorado Luis on Wed Apr 12, 2006 at 12:08 PM PDT.

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