This diary has been ruminating in my head for the past several weeks, but I wasn't able to actually write it until now. Don't ask me why...sometimes you aren't ready until the muse actually strikes. This is a collection of cobbled together thoughts based on observations of the netroots and Democratic activists off the blogosphere grid. It will have a lot of meta, some policy and tactical discussion, and a healthy dose of personal perspective. I'm not sure there is an overriding theme, point, purpose, or the like, other than it struck me to write it, and taking my time out of an incredibly busy day to do so. So take it for what you will.
First, let me start with the health care debate. Kevin Drum of Mother Jones magazine speaks for me. Today, in his e-mail as part of his Drum Beat report, he writes: "Hold Your Noses and Celebrate Anyway." He details the fact that for a century, Democrats have been trying to pass a universal healthcare plan. Five major efforts were made in that century, and all five failed. Now on the sixth try, we are closer than we have ever been. Yes, it's been messy. Yes, it is imperfect. And then Drum writes:
But you know what? This is still the farthest we've ever gotten, and with Democrats coming out of this week's series of negotiating sessions seemingly united behind a compromise plan, it looks like Harry Reid might actually get something passed through the Senate before Christmas. If that happens, a conference committee will likely report out a final bill sometime in January. And that will be the first time ever that Congress has even gotten to the point of voting on national healthcare.
The first time. So yes: It's not single-payer. The subsidies are inadequate. The public option, if there is one, will be so weak as to be a joke. Every interest group from insurers to doctors to seniors to pharmaceutical companies has been openly bribed to go along. Lots of people will still be left outside the safety net. It's a mess.
But so was Social Security when it passed. It left out domestic workers (because they were mostly black and Southerners demanded it), it left out farmworkers, and its payouts were pathetically small. But what it did do was establish the principle that the elderly should be taken care of. And eventually they were. The healthcare bill we're about to get is exactly the same: It does too little and it leaves too many people out, but it establishes the principle that everyone deserves decent healthcare. And eventually everyone will.
Bingo. This is what I've been saying for some time. Many times, in the debate here in the blogosphere of what the best plan would be for health care, what was absolutely going to work the best, I sort of felt like the old battle cry of the militant agnostic: "I don't know, and you don't know either." What I did know, however, was ultimately, this was progress. For those who said this wasn't "change," I felt like that was hogwash. Because all anyone has to do is look at the last eight years when we had either one or both branches of government controlled by Republicans and simply ask: Where was the work on universal health care then?
Drum is right. This isn't perfect, it's messy, but it is the building block we need. It is not based on a talking point, a working paper, or a policy statement. It is built upon a value: everyone deserves decent healthcare. Remember when we talked about framing our values in politics? We seem to have forgotten about that. It is striking to me that some of my friends who rightly opposed regressive Bush era laws, who at that time said once the law is passed, it is damn hard to overturn it, suddenly flip the script and believe that if we don't pass the perfect bill now, we're doomed. They ignore the simple fact that once it is the law, it is the building block for the future. Why do you think that every Republican Congressman and Senator opposes it? They know the writing is on the wall.
Some of this, I fear, was inevitable. I remember a discussion I had with my boss. Both of us have worked in government for some time. Before last year's election, we talked about the danger of Obama's narrative of change and hope. Dangerous, we felt, because it sets expectations incredibly high. And when you are talking about making laws, setting policy, and getting into the gears of government, sometimes all that change and hope gets bogged down in the mechanics of actual law making.
Moreover, a narrative based upon change and hope is a completely subjective one. What might mean change to me might not mean change to you. That's where we run into real trouble, because if health care, the war, civil rights, national security, economic policy, etc., etc., are not changed to my satisfaction, well then, that's not change I can believe in.
That, ultimately, is what leads to further polarization in our political debate. And it is occurring, as we well know, in the netroots and among the progressive left. Yesterday, I commented extensively in a diary which posited, via Johnathan Turley, that the filing of an amicus brief by the Department of Justice in the Padilla case, arguing for a policy of full immunity in civil damages/Bivens actions case involving decisions made by government employees involved with national security policy equated a destruction of the protocols for war crimes set forth from the Nuremburg trials. I was intrigued by the argument, but once I read the brief, I honestly couldn't see Turley's point, because he really didn't connect the dots on how a position in a civil damages cases eroded protocols involved with war crimes. Several of us in the diary went and read the brief and came to the same conclusion.
But the vast majority of comments didn't really do the analysis. Probably 80% of the comments evolved around one of two major themes.
Theme 1: Obama is as bad or worse than Bush on national security. Theme 2: how dare you attack the President this way!
And that's where we are today. A polarized community. The cycle I've seen for many months now goes something like this: diary goes up demonstrating the latest policy faux pas from the Obama administration that doesn't conform to the diarist's personal definition of progressivity, which usually devolves into hyperbole about broken promises and Obama equating Bush's Third Term. Next follows the response diary about how awesome the President is, usually replete with wonderful photos of the First Family and the President speaking in front of large crowds deemed to appeal to the emotions of the community and remind them about the warm fuzzy feelings we all had about the President's election. Neither approach is particularly productive or enlightening.
This leads me to the first part of this diary's title about lost opportunities. I think back to Markos' first book, Crashing the Gate. Two important points were made in that book about how we lose, or have lost, opportunities in the past. The first was broad critique about progressive special interest groups, wherein each group decides what was in the best interest of, well, their interest, sometimes to the detriment of the greater goal of Democratic and progressive majorities. Don't look now, but we are back to square one on this point. Whether you call it being an advocate for your issue or a "purity troll," everyday I see it..."I can't be for Congressman X unless is for Issue Y." "I will not support the Democratic Party because he will help reelect Senator Z, and Senator Z doesn't stand with me on Policy A." Of course, what this ignores, is the greater point of electoral politics as it relates to policy: Congressman X and Senator Z probably stand with you 80-90% of the time, whereas you know that Republican Candidate, if elected, nine times out of ten, will stand with you 0% of the time.
Some may call that the "lesser of two evils." But given the past eight years we've suffered through, I tend to think it is a much clearer choice than that: good vs. something far, far worse.
The second lost opportunity is going on right underneath our noses, and yet, I rarely see any commentary about it here. Again, in Crashing the Gate, one of the largest laments and critiques of Democratic Party politics was a lack of grassroots infrastructure to build the base and grow the party. Republicans had been doing it for years via think tanks, policy organizations, and semi-official wings of their party, but the Democrats never seemed to get to that point.
For that, I'd like to introduce you to Organizing for America. I know what the skeptics will say, that OFA is merely an arm of the President's political operation. And while it certainly promotes the President's agenda, it also is so much more. It's the first real organization I've seen in my time in Democratic politics that seeks to help coordinate and organize the Democratic base on all levels, and work with the infrastructure already in place in our state and local parties as well as Democratic interest groups and clubs. Best of all, the group defines grassroots. Lest we forget, the Obama campaign was incredibly organic and bottom up in its approach. The campaign gave an tremendous amount of buy-in and power to local, unpaid organizers vs. top-down paid political operatives. And OFA continues that model. Those who are the coordinators for OFA on the local level are volunteers, and my experience with them, speaking as a local Democratic party activist, has been great.
Is it a perfect organization? No. Such organizations rarely are, especially ones derived from the grassroots, and maybe moreso when they are built on the concept of community organizing. But it is the most broad based, grassroots, national movement to grow the Democratic Party we've seen in a long, long time. And we lose the opportunity to grow the party and push a progressive agenda when we write it off, say we will boycott the organization, etc., based upon and issue or two.
Which gets me to the second part of my title: lost friends. I've been a bit glum about the netroots as of late. Partially due to the fact that a lot of the folks I like and were extraordinary writers don't seem to be around as much these days. I've been here for five years now, and I've always felt a part of the "community" here, for lack of a better term. For those of you who don't know, in 2006 I ran for a seat on my local Democratic Central Committee, and won. I got a lot of support -- inspirational, financial, and yes, even some phonebankers -- from this community. We celebrated when I won. Of course, we were a lot smaller back then. Running for a little seat in party politics was heady stuff. Now we've got lots of people who have made the leap to offices that are much bigger.
Back then, I would have to explain to people about those "crazy bloggers on the internet." I would defend the netroots because of the energy it was bringing to the Democratic Party. And sure enough, 2006 and 2008 rolled around and the netroots had "done good."
But it alarms me a little, as we head to 2010, to see some of the things I'm seeing. I've already addressed quite a bit here, if you've read this far, but let me demonstrate what I mean. Last night I was in a meeting of local activists to discuss communications strategy for the coming year, and included all the avenues of communication for the Democratic message, including blogs. I was probably the only one in the room that had really, actively, participating in blogging. I had to explain what "trolls" were, what "thread jacking" was, and in general explain the dangers of blogging rather than the benefits of it. Keep in mind, I was referring to friendly blogs here, not unfriendly ones. In past years, I'd encourage people to blog. This time around, I struck a more cautious approach, almost to the point of discouraging it...primarily because the costs outweighed the benefits.
The fact is that all of the people in the room -- Democratic activists, every last one -- had never blogged. And every last one has given their blood, sweat and tears to promote and elect Democrats. Some worked very hard, and probably harder, than most of us. My point is simple: the netroots can't get too big for their britches. There is a tendency some times in the netroots to equate the "netroots" with the Democratic "base," as if it is the same thing. It isn't. The netroots is a portion of the base, and a relatively small portion at that. Politics is still a business of personal relationships, and our most personal relationships are within our local communities. Fact is, it is pretty impersonal to blog. And party politics requires getting our hands dirty and getting out into our communities...beyond election cycles. True change requires 24/7 commitment to our communities in every way possible.
And let me just say, for 2010, we are going to need it. In my state, and in states across the country, we will be electing state and local leaders. In many state, control of the state legislatures and governor's mansions is at stake, which in turn means a crucial, overlooked factor for future change will be at stake: redistricting. As much as some complain about Blue Dogs and the like, let's remember: we got a Democratic Congress despite a hand dealt to us at the beginning of this decade by the insidious redistricting of Tom Delay. If we work and win at the local and state level, we can turn that tide back in 2010, and get more great Democrats elected in 2012.
Let's also remember that 2010 is going to mean more pain for lot of people, particularly on a local level. I know in my community we are facing huge budget cuts locally to our schools, because the choices are stark, and the revenue isn't there. However, these are going to be cuts made out of necessity rather than ideology. A lot of us seem to forget that truth. Eight years of failed economic policies have gotten us to this point, and a return to the ideology of "you are on your own" would be disaster.
And that ultimately gets me back to lost friends here in the netroots. Two of my favorite quotes in all of politics are Harry Truman ("If you want a friend in politics, get a dog.") and Ann Richards ("I've always said in politics my enemies can't hurt me, but my friends will kill me."). So true. To my friends here, I hope the polarization will end, and the potential lost opportunities you hear knocking will be answered. Otherwise, I see myself, and probably a lot of others here, losing their old friends to work harder for a greater good for us all.
And while that will be sad, it will be necessary. Because time spent here bickering is time is time wasted. Time is our only true friend in this fight for our country, and every second counts.
Thanks for reading.