There is a long-standing tradition in Democratic politics. It is an ugly, brutal fact. Inside the beltway they don't really much care about Democratic volunteers and activists.
We are utterly taken for granted.
From the point of view of the majority of long-standing Democratic politicians we are seen as nameless, faceless, trouble-making, easily replaceable, meddlesome busybodies and...not much more.
Everybody in politics who has made a career of it has come up dealing with blow hards and ne'er do wells at city council meetings, hearings and during campaign events. To many career DC types that is all we ever are or conceivably could be: people to stand around and talk awkwardly to occasionally. We couldn't possibly have sincere and relevant insights about, say, the war in Iraq.
That is an impolitic truth, and it's important to understand that truth as a way to understand this moment in American political history.
My take on where we currently stand within the Democratic Party is this: from the point of view of the vast majority of our electeds there is no reason to do much of anything right now.
The current climate looks like a blow out for Democrats in the House and the Senate in '08. Hillary looks like a lock for the nomination. If Clinton chooses Obama as a running mate there is no way in Hades that we won't have a massive turn out of our base for election day 2008. We Democrats are raising money hand over fist. Lobbyists and corporate dollars are coming to us. Party identification is up. Demographics are trending our way. The President and the Vice President are at extraordinarily low poll numbers. There is simply no good news for Republicans right now on any level. (Well, except for that pesky situation in the Supreme Court.) There is not a Ralph Nader in sight.
From the point of view of elected Democrats, especially those who represent safe districts and have all the dollars they could ever need and hence grassroots/netroots support hasn't really meant anything tangible, the operative question is: why should they do anything or take any action that involves sticking their neck out especially due to pressure from a demographic they view, mistakenly, as a bunch of kooks?
This point of view transcends ideology. I've been treated to this attitude by folks of all ideological stripes.
This gets into our history as a party. Democratic GOTV, especially our labor union GOTV, has always had a "show up, go there, do this, eat the donut, go home" ethos to it. It's not like anyone really wanted to know what us Democratic volunteers thought, or felt, or to make us "feel good" for doing it. (And that was the genius of Martha Gamez in Tracy California, the conversations we had after walking precincts, the sharing, the trading of stories and tactics.)
This is also part of the structure of the culture of Washington. Part of "coming of age" in DC has meant dealing with the hoi polloi, the great unwashed of American politics. There are very deep lessons that people internalize...a kind of us vs. them that sets in inside the beltway...when you come up in Washington or New York and learn to see yourself as a professional political person. This us vs. them gulf is especially evident for Democrats since the base of our party is made up of people who make less than the median income and have less rather than more education.
The us vs. them gulf is also in evidence when DC types deal with waves of exasperated people calling on the phone who "don't and can't really know" all that they know from inside of the game in Washington. Most people working in Democratic politics know that most Democratic politicians and their staffs are sincere people who believe, roughly, in our political platform and try to work within the system to advance our agenda. Our elected officials are just doing what Democrats have always done...and, aside from a few glaring realities...it seems to finally be working again. The dollars are rolling in!
But, yes, most of our elected leaders oppose the war, they just don't think they can do much of anything about it right now and Hillary Clinton and Steny Hoyer are happy to keep that thought uppermost in everyone's minds. (Shame on them.)
There is also, I must admit, a grain of truth in viewing motivated amateur political activists as outsiders and outliers. In many ways, we are. (Unfortunately, American Democracy gives us pesky critters this thing called free speech and a town square.) Further, we grassroots activists often do ourselves no favors in playing into exactly the stereotypes and lenses through which career political types and electeds view us. And, yeah, let's talk about this further.
To be frank, oftentimes when I talk politics with everyday people, eg., people like you and me, they say things that are utterly counter factual and make no sense. Could be someone answering a door, could be a fellow activist. That's no surprise. Politics is a complicated subject, especially the arcane legislative ins and outs of Washington. Most political professionals have an area of expertise they stick to and don't venture too far from it for that very reason. Try discussing politics with a political scientist sometime. It's edifying. They won't commit to much.
All that being said, the current situation cannot hold. And there's a reason it can't hold.
The leaders of our political party are deeply wrong.
We aren't kooks.
We aren't outliers.
And we are living at a transformative moment in American political life, and, yes, that means that the majority of the citizens of this country, regular people like you and me, want a change of course in Iraq and a change of course in our nation's politics. We Americans want meaningful reform...and soon. The voters of the United States haven't often kicked a party out of both houses of Congress because they wanted the status quo.
Would someone please tell that to the Democratic leadership?
There is pressure within the body politic and it has to go somewhere. The president is unpopular. The Congress is unpopular. The war is unpopular. The GOP is unpopular. The Democratic party is barely popular. (Hey, they're sending us money, we've got to be doing something right!)
For some godforsaken reason, however, all of the above groups have conspired to fund and escalate an ongoing unpopular occupation of Iraq with no end in sight.
That is not a popular point of view.
And it doesn't even begin to address the root and branch fundamental reform we need to make in our country and our political party. Hell, never before in American life could you say that we needed reform in so many areas of our society at once. But there you have it: immigration reform, education, the environment and global warming, energy independence, health care, predatory lending, campaign finance reform, corporate regulatory reform, net neutrality, media consolidation, veterans services, Gulf Coast recovery, restoring Habeas Corpus and respect for the Constitution and the Geneva Conventions. None of these issues can wait.
We need change and we are getting more of the same...from some very surprising quarters, too!
I want to close on an optimistic note.
I keep telling people to get involved locally. That is something that I will reiterate tonight.
Get involved in the local party, be professional in how you conduct yourself, run for office, write informative articles on local blogs on local and national issues, give to candidates that you know, work to support candidates whose politics you trust and believe in, seek to engage politicians with whom you disagree and attempt to get them to see the sincerity and relevance of your views, participate in sincere, nonviolent protest and free speech, write letters to the editor, and above all else, create a culture of respect and empowerment for yourself and other volunteers and activists who think like you.
We are not kooks. We all know that. We are citizens. And, I, for one, believe in the netroots and the grassroots. I'm not alone. Some people in DC very much get it and get what we are trying to do. We met a few of them at Yearlykos. We have friends in powerful places, one or two of them have even sent me an email from time to time telling me to keep it up.
In fact, we've been right about this country, this war and about this moment in politics much more than we've been wrong or awkwardly pushy at times.
If you know a politician who understands where we are coming from, someone like Darcy Burner, understand that that politician is worth his or her weight in gold to us. If you know someone who you think should run for office...groom them, invest in them, let them know! They are likely better than the unfortunate lot we've got to work with right now!
We are a part of something that is not about business as usual in American political life and it is our responsibility to grow and nurture it. If what we are doing is worth doing, friends, it's worth doing right. This is going to take some time.
At the end of the day, we need to understand what Howard Dean meant when he said "You have the Power." Chairman Dean was trying to counteract a generation of lethargy, disrespect and contempt for grassroots Democratic activists coming from Washington DC.
I'm afraid that there is a huge dose of cynicism laced in my message tonight given what we've seen go down today. Unfortunately, I think it's true.
They think we're kooks.
Our job is to show them exactly how wrong they are.
We do that by getting organized and staying organized.
We do that by getting local.
We do that by galvanizing opposition to this war and the misguided leadership of the Democratic Party.
We do that by supporting each other and changing politics in this country one person at a time.
Not easy, nope.
But that's the job that history's thrown at us.
Links: DFA, MoveOn, Progressive Majority, Young Elected Officials Network, Blue America, BlogsUnited, PartyBuilder, Progressive Punch, ePluribus Media, Public Citizen, Media Matters, ACORN, Color of Change, Courage Campaign, New Organizing Institute, Open Left, WellstoneAction, CraigsList Foundation, Rockridge Institute, Families for Freedom, Center for Independent Media, SkylinePublicWorks