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Crossposted at Of Means and Ends.

Joan Walsh writes in Salon this week that pundits and hopeful right-wingers trying to drum up drama are wrong in thinking there's a civil war among Democrats. She goes after centrists who claim the party is threatened by "dead end" populism.

Personally, I think it’s really not helpful for Democrats to caricature other Democrats as selling “hate” if they point to the disproportionate income, wealth and political power currently enjoyed by the 1 percent. Hell, even some 1 percenters think the pendulum has swung too far. (Not crazy sore winners like Tom Perkins, of course.)

I debated Third Way’s Matt Bennett about this topic on “Hardball.” It was a friendly, civil debate; you can watch at the end of this post. But I was struck by a couple of things. Bennett — correctly, I think — insisted candidates and parties win when they have a vision for the future. And yet he – like his centrist comrades in the Balz-Rucker piece – continue to push Third Way’s 30-year-old Democratic Leadership Council approach, on a country that’s crying out for new ideas. It’s Third Way that’s looking backward, not progressives.

The attitude Walsh calls out is epitomized by a tone deaf op-ed by Jon Cowan and Jim Kessler in the Wall Street Journal:
If you talk to leading progressives these days, you'll be sure to hear this message: The Democratic Party should embrace the economic populism of New York Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Such economic populism, they argue, should be the guiding star for Democrats heading into 2016. Nothing would be more disastrous for Democrats.

While New Yorkers think of their city as the center of the universe, the last time its mayor won a race for governor or senator—let alone president—was 1869. For the past 144 years, what has happened in the Big Apple stayed in the Big Apple. Some liberals believe Sen. Warren would be the Democratic Party's strongest presidential candidate in 2016. But what works in midnight-blue Massachusetts—a state that has had a Republican senator for a total of 152 weeks since 1979—hasn't sold on a national level since 1960.

This debate surfaces eternal frustrations I have with the Democratic Party and people who would pull it to the center. It's often repeated that the Democratic Party isn't nearly as liberal as Republicans are conservative (though a recent Gallup poll showed liberal identification at it highest ever). But many of the policies that are painted with the liberal brush are hardly fringe.

As Greg Sargent points out, a majority of voters in a recent poll favor not just taxing the wealthy, but taxing them specifically to help the poor, which one would not expect to be the most popular use of those funds given the recurring dramatic cries of "class war." Most Americans recognize that the wealth gap has widened, and a majority of Democrats, independents and even Republicans favor government action to help the poor. Some of the populist upstarts running for office featured in a recent Washington Post piece on the subject are speaking out on the mind-blowingly radical idea of raising the minimum wage.

There's solid evidence that progressive messages could resonate with voters, but there's an assumption that these are big-city liberal ideas that can't make it in the heartland. Former SEIU president Andrew Stern notes:

“It is fair to say that more liberal places find politicians first who are more willing to step out on these issues,” he said. “But it is not a shift until it’s seen to work in Minnesota or Wisconsin or New Mexico or Arizona.”
If it's going to work, it's going to take a belief in the power of a progressive vision and a real commitment of resources to selling that vision effectively and mobilizing voters. But the Democratic Party is too scared to take the risk.

In my years of working with candidates and campaigns, I've seen the party come in and try to tamp down candidates' progressive tendencies. I've seen them abandon others who are steadfast in their vision. When those underfunded campaigns don't win, it's taken as validation of their caution. You can't fairly claim that these issues and candidates can't win if you don't put as much energy and resources behind them as behind the kind of tepid Democrats that keep me from every donating directly to the Democratic Party.

Based on those frustrations, I think a little civil war in the party could be a good thing. Not a civil war based on corporate Democrats feeding political fear that's brought us to a place where the income gap continues to widen and fighting back against that is somehow controversial. A civil war in which progressives are forcing the party to follow the leaders who are capturing grassroots energy and showing that well-run, progressive campaigns can win.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I agree (5+ / 0-)

    The problem as I see it is that we haven't allowed ANY lefty ideas flourish and our nation has suffered immensely because of it. Instead we see the ptb crush ANY mention of ANY progressive idea as if it were a weed that would take over. (And it just might since we have had nothing but righty ideas since the 70's.)

    IMO the pendulum has to swing both ways in order for the world to be balanced. And we have held that damn pendulum so far to the right we have become seriously imbalanced as a nation.

    ALL of our institutions have been hollowed out by the greed ethos. There are none left with heart intact or souls for that matter. So the zombie is all around us - me

    by glitterscale on Fri Feb 21, 2014 at 10:03:33 AM PST

  •  It Can't Be Overstressed That DLC "Backward" (5+ / 0-)

    means not back to 1993 but to 1923.

    There hasn't been a new mainstream economic idea in this country since 1973 that didn't harm the bottom 2/3 compared to the top mainly 10%.

    The golden zone is less backward than the DLC, to the mid century which was the only time in human history the world built a large comfortable middle class.

    Since that time, the only economic problem we've been trying to solve is how to make the rich aristocratically rich, and what kind of double talk and economic stage magic will accomplish that the fastest.

    We need the less-old-than-DLC ideas such as compressive taxation of the rich, not to take their money and give it to the poor, but to discourage the market from extreme concentration so that the market will share more income and opportunity beyond ownership.

    There don't seem to be a dozen voices on the progressive side that the mechanism of progressive taxation and other policies of the mid 20th was to encourage the market share fairly. Everyone's using the conservative frame of making the top pay its "fair share."

    As for the top end specifically, it's not about what they pay. It's about what they don't earn.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Fri Feb 21, 2014 at 10:09:08 AM PST

  •  Republicans cobbled together a majority (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    AJayne, praenomen, tidalwave1

    nationwide through the Southern Strategy of opposition to the achievements of LBJ: the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, Medicare, Medicaid, and the Great Society; and the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board, Roe v. Wade, Loving v. Virginia, and other cases. But not enough of a Republican majority to elect a far-right (for the time) candidate like Goldwater. Reagan extended the strategy by racist appeals to Northern blue-collar workers. That majority no longer exists, and nobody has shown a credible way to extend support for Republicans to recreate it. Every attempt to reach out to women, immigrants, LGBTs, or the working poor is shot down by the Tea Party crazy.

    In fact, the Right is losing adherents by the millions every year, as the Angry White Guys die off in the normal manner, and a significant fraction of their children and grandchildren don't buy into the old hatreds any more.

    How are you gonna keep 'em down on the farm
    After they've seen Paree?
    even if only on cable and the Net?

    The public favors Democratic positions on all of the major issues. Many more vote for Democrats than Republicans, and the only things that keep us from taking back the House are the Red-state gerrymanders. But we only need to get out a few percent more of those who already agree with us to break the gerrymanders.

    This is happening right now, most obviously in Texas, North Carolina, and Florida. No matter what the DCCC or DNC say or fail to do, no matter how much money may be thrown at us from the Kook Brothers, people have the authority to run this country. And the Republicans are currently crazy enough to make us do it.

    Back off, man. I'm a logician.—GOPBusters™

    by Mokurai on Fri Feb 21, 2014 at 10:23:04 AM PST

  •  I think the political landscape in 2016 is (0+ / 0-)

    going to look a lot more unstable than what most politicians are willing to admit. The republicans are very unpopular, but Democrats are not as popular as the people on this site would have you believe, and by Democrats, I mean the third way faction of the party.

    There is no doubt a populist movement is taking place under the radar, and politicians from both parties are feeling the heat. The true test for the Democrats will be how they respond to that movement. If Hillary is nominated, then it will probably open a door for the libertarians, who are more popular with the 18 to 35 year old demographic than most people will admit.

    This:

    In my years of working with candidates and campaigns, I've seen the party come in and try to tamp down candidates' progressive tendencies. I've seen them abandon others who are steadfast in their vision.
    ...is what is wrong with the Democratic Party...not only do they refuse to listen to the liberal members of the base, they make a concerted effort to minimize our voices, much the same way the Obama supporters shouted people down during the 2012 election. And that left a bitter taste in the mouths of many progressives. Those wounds won't heal easily.

    I just read the comments in a diary supporting Hillary and saw a lot of names that made me cringe...and the comments against the Elizabeth Warren wing of the party were delivered in the same nasty, condescending tone that the Obama supporters have used to protect the president.

    I'm not certain there will be a civil war, but I'm fairly certain a sizeable chunk of progressives will leave the party if Hillary is nominated. The number of Independents outnumbers the members of either main party, but the real significance of that number is being lost to Democrats. They think it is just a degree of how much the Independents lean left or right, and they are cocky enough to believe that when the time is right they can move them into the D column. They have made such an effort to shout down people who are complaining that they have missed how desperate people are to move this country in a new direction, and if they think Hillary represents a new direction then they may have to face a sad reality at a time when it will be too late.

    Five years of the "audacity of hope" turned into the "audacity of hopelessness" for too many people for there not to be some real pushback against the dems in upcoming elections. Unless there's a miracle, 2014 could turn the political climate into a quagmire.

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