...more and better Democrats...
To make a long story short, we got more Democrats. It wasn’t easy, but we did it, partly through our own hard work and partly because the corruption and extremism of the conservative movement had come to disgust voters. With good margins in both houses, and the most progressive Democrat in a generation in the White House, it was time to focus on getting better Democrats.
That’s where we are today. But before I get to today, let me ask: Have you noticed over the years that who we’re for and who we’re against changes almost by the day? Remember how we were all against Joe Biden "(D-MBNA)" until he was nominated to be our vice president? Remember how we were all for Minority Leader Pelosi but almost immediately lost confidence in her when she became Speaker—until quite recently, where we have supported her again now that her resolve has become one of the last lines of defense of meaningful healthcare reform? What about Ciro Rodriguez? Kos was ecstatic about him in his race against fellow Democrat Henry Cuellar. Rodriguez lost that election, but won a future election in another district—in which we also supported him—and quickly demonstrated himself to be the odious conservative Democrat he always has been. Oops!
Arlen Specter. There was a time around here when he got good PR. Today, he’s the scum at the bottom of the barrel. John Edwards. Savior of the left!, until he wasn’t. John Conyers...we loved him so much that he would come and diary here on a regular basis. Then he got a new gavel and didn’t really do much with it, and his visits here became much less frequent. We’d not have greeted him so warmly, anyway. Gillibrand. We’ll be against her unless she wins her primary and runs in the general. Reid? Used to love him, now we detest him. Shep Smith...another Fox News troll, except not as clearly outrageous. We say good things about him these days! Jim Webb...our opinion of him changes with the wind. Ditto conservadems like Baucus and Conrad. Whatever they’re doing this week determines our admiration or our ire.
We’re wishy-washy. We’re opportunists without discipline. With the exception of some outstanding progressive heroes like nyceve, the majority of us are reactionaries. One of the reasons so few people outside the Great Orange take us seriously is that we undermine ourselves with our own inconsistency. It’s a word that I’m going to hit again and again here.
We’ve given our money. We’ve given our time. We’ve organized ourselves surprisingly well for such a populous movement. We have a fundraising arm. We have an annual conference. We have our own polls. We have Kos TV and Congress Matters. We have plenty of leaders in our ranks who work tirelessly on our behalf. It’s not that we’re not passionate. We are everything we need to win...except...we are not consistent. Our threats carry no weight because our opinions will change tomorrow. Our lobbying gains little momentum because our attention is always flitting away to the newest shiny object. Our righteous indignation has limited motivational powers because we never stick to a campaign. Remember The Path to 9/11? Most of us decided that it just wasn’t convenient enough to carry on that boycott, given that Disney is everywhere we look. And forget about the excuses we concoct to shop at Wal-Mart; most of us are of the opinion that boycotting them would be like boycotting the sun. Our resignation bolsters the very power we so despise in them. But, hey. They’re nearby, and they’re the only store around—having driven the competition out of business, of course.
I guess changing the world isn’t easy enough for most of us to bother with. Now there’s an inconvenient truth.
Our perennial frustrations are not entirely our own fault: Politicians are notorious for changing their tune. We’ve been genuinely blindsided a few times, it’s fair to say. And I know that the "we" I’ve been talking about isn’t all-encompassing for everyone all the time. Some of us are more consistent in our support and opposition of various public figures, and in our support of campaigns and causes.
Nevertheless, on the whole, we should blame ourselves first. For one thing, that’s more empowering: It’s easier to change your own behavior than to change someone else’s. For another thing, however, it’s simply the truth.
We are always being marginalized in the traditional media, so we built our own media—and yet we can’t or won’t wean ourselves from the traditional outlets. We quote from the AP. We bicker about the Sunday talk shows. Our participation extends their lifespan and power. Our temptation to engage with them is in conflict with our long-term interests. We need to set our priorities: Do we want to have fun making hay with the gasbags, or do we want a better America? We should pick the latter, and be consistent about pursuing only those interests which serve our ambitions.
Many of us say we are too poor or busy or lazy to stand on principle, and, for instance, have no choice but to accept the humiliation of shopping at Wal-Mart or watching ABC until the day someone else can change the world for us. And yet there are people who have it much worse than we do, who still manage to create positive change in their own lives. They flourish, while we remain victims by our own choice. It’s like Obama said, we have to be the change we want to see. If our actions were consistent with our principles, change would happen in a big way, all for the low, low price of some personal inconvenience and a little less money in the bank. (And let’s be honest: The majority of us are not living within a few dollars of being out on the streets.)
The conservatives are relentless in opposing us. They are wrong on almost everything, and yet they consistently outflank us with rhetoric, public relations, and organization. We’re terrible strategists, too factious, too distracted, and, again, too inconsistent to build a strategy and follow it through.
Our emotional intensity overwhelms our long-term focus on a regular basis. Our attention span never extends far outside the present news cycle. There’s a legitimate ideological debate to be had as to how adaptive to daily events our long-term strategy should be, but who among us would seriously argue that, as it is now, we pay too much attention to the long-term and not enough to the short-term? Here’s a place where we are consistent: consistently wrong, by focusing so heavily on winning every immediate battle. What we need to be is consistently right.
As ideologues, we are about as perfectly inconsistent as is humanly possible. Markos is right when he points out that the diversity of our movement is undercut by the fact that everyone seems to be focused only on their own agenda and is unwilling to enter into the great liberal alliances that would bring us unfettered power. We need some unity. We need to acknowledge that, by committing to Democratic politics, we’re not going to win everything we seek, but we’re going to fight as hard as we can on the issues we mostly agree on, and show some goodwill and some generosity to one another on those issues where we disagree. If we were more consistently a movement rather than a herd of cats, we’d be able to pull out an Obama-2008-style victory every month of the year, because while ordinary Americans only pay attention to politics as passive observers, we’re the activists who grapple with the system on a daily basis.
Our inconsistency is our biggest problem. We proclaim our support so easily. We enter into opposition so readily. We change priorities so immediately. And our inconsistency is aggravated by the fact that we usually speak in absolutes. Perhaps it’s a symptom of being activist Democrats in a two-party system. But if the problems we’ve had in our own party are any indication, we need to expand our language significantly. It just isn’t correct to describe someone like Max Baucus in Republican terms, because, whatever he is, he’s not a Republican. Speaker Pelosi is unabashedly progressive, but her position as leader has changed the nature of what she herself can offer us. I have confidence that her convictions are with us, but in practical terms her leadership suggests she is uninterested in us...probably because we’re so inconsistent.
Let’s come back to the present moment, where our advocacy on behalf of healthcare reform is having a very limited effect despite some very sincere efforts. Why is that? Two reasons: First, as I’ve tried my best to point out, we aren’t consistent, and that’s biting us now. The powerbrokers don’t take us seriously. They’ll take our money and our votes, but they won’t take our demands, our requests, our desperate pleas. They don’t see us as a threat.
The other reason, related to the first, is that the simple fact of the matter is that we are not in the majority. The Democrats control Congress decisively, but, within the party, it’s pretty obvious that our progressives are not in charge. Those who would genuinely listen to us are few in number and seldom need to be strong-armed. Those who might only listen to us out of fear of our opposition, know that our opposition is nothing to fear.
We need better Democrats, and we need to be more consistent. These are not independent priorities; they are one and the same.
We need to stop supporting DINOs and never show them another dime of progressive money, nor another moment of progressive time. We already have Act Blue, one of our greatest tools as a movement. I think we should create another list, a blacklist, a doomsday list, of politicians who have crossed an ideological line and to whom we will never support again. No...more than that: Politicians who we will actively support to unseat in the next elections. We need to commit to that, and we need to really mean it. We won’t add just anyone to the list—because I imagine we’d quickly run out of people to add—but those who do foul up badly enough to get blacklisted would be written off as lost causes permanently. No redemption later. No forgiveness. There are 535 voting seats in Congress. Tell me there aren’t 535 progressives in America.
We could have debates on this, as a community, with supporters and opponents making their cases and then the community taking a vote on whether to blacklist a politician. If we were to apply some consistency in our judgment, we would take into account the fact that most Democrats are neither perfectly good nor perfectly bad, and should be given the benefit of the doubt where possible, because the last thing I’d want our blacklist to become is a purity test. But, then, on those matters of our time—like healthcare reform—we would stand firm and make our position clear: You give us a public option, or we do everything we can to kick you out of office.
And then we do everything we can to build up the power to make good on that. We’ll protect our elected progressives, and our semi-reliable moderate friends, and damn the rest of them.
If we can follow through on that simple pledge, we will begin to be taken more seriously as a political force. If we were to concentrate our power on a small handful of elections, we would make a difference in those elections—as we have already proved ourselves capable of doing! Elected officials would notice that. They wrote us off completely back in 2006, and we showed them. We showed them again in 2008. 2010 is looking worse and worse for us—precisely because of all these rotten Democrats in our ranks—and so if we’re going to lose Democrats let’s lose some dead weight.
Never once was this healthcare "debate" cast in progressive terms. The right wing dominated the debate right from the start. We can whine at them for being savvy, but what good will that do us? Our own progressives didn’t act. I don’t know why. Maybe they have incompetent leadership. Maybe they were outflanked internally in Congressional politics. Maybe they still (!) don’t recognize how important this is to us, their constituents. All of these possibilities lend themselves to actionable solutions. If they’re outgunned in Congressional politics, we’ll bolster their ranks with our money and our love. If they’re run by incompetents, we’ll agitate for change and target any obstructionists. And if they don’t realize what’s important to us, well...we’ll do everything we can to make sure they have an incentive to go read Daily Kos a little more often.
These ideas are my exasperated response to the healthcare debate. I’ve done what I could. I’ve given money. I’ve contacted my elected officials. I’ve had conversations with friends and family. We all knew it would be a tough battle, but most of us expected to win, and now victory looks more uncertain than ever. This could have been the beginning of a gilded age in America, but the Democrats, while not overtly evil like the Republicans, have proven themselves inadequate to the task. Obama is not getting the support he needs from Congress. That has to change. It is unrealistic for us to expect that we could sustainable hold more seats in either house than we already have. So, let’s look at these seats and flip a few DINOs to plain old Ds.
Never again will I support a bogus Democrat in the hopes of winning a large Democratic majority. We have a large Democratic majority now, and look at where it’s gotten us. I think this is a real-world proof of the premise that "more and better" Democrats does not refer to two separate ideas, but that "more" is only ever worth anything if it’s joined at the hip to "better."
This is a good time to be an ascendant Democratic force. The Republican Party may make gains in 2010, but their party is in much worse shape than ours nevertheless, and the conservative movement as we know it is coming to an end. Their weakness is our opportunity to do some housecleaning of our own. It’s almost time to start thinking about the 2010 elections.
I’m a two-bit diarist. Nobody knows who I am. What I would love, if my rantings and ravings are well-founded and are picked up by the community with any sympathy, is for people with better standing, better vision, and better experience than me to help me, and help all of us, construct the following community tools:
- An Advocacy Page:
Daily Kos reveals Markos’ libertarian leanings in that he has asked us for our money and for our time, but he has never asked us to support or oppose anything in particular—only Democrats generically. As he has so gleefully pointed out on occasion, this site isn’t going anywhere, and, as we grow into our role as a functional political force, it’s time for us to begin thinking about specific advocacy for (or against) individual candidates and policies. There are some areas where we know we are in wide agreement with one another, like the need for a public option in any meaningful healthcare reform. Let’s begin with low-hanging fruit like this and try our hand at ramping up our lobbying efforts.
- The Doomsday List:
Taking a page from the desperate, dirty politics of old, let’s make sure that some lines will never be crossed. A good old-fashioned blacklist will help to give us discipline and precious consistency, and it will define our ideological boundary to others. There’s no reason for us to hide who we are.
- A Boycott Page:
Let’s put a stop to our half-baked boycotts. Anything serious enough to warrant a boycott, should not be forgotten simply because the news cycle evolves. Any boycott we issue will continue until our grievances are addressed, or until the end of time. Whichever comes first. This, more than anything, would be an inconvenience upon us, but a worthwhile one. Politics is not an armchair sport, and anyone who treats it as such will be frustrated time and again. Politics takes commitment, and commitment requires inconvenience, and even sacrifice. I don’t watch the traditional media. I haven’t set foot in a Wal-Mart in years. I made my choices and I stuck by them. I’m not rich; I’m definitely not rich—in fact I’m one of America’s uninsured! But, I have always considered that any choice worth making in the first place is worth keeping...until the circumstances which led to the choice, change.
These are my thoughts, at least for now. Make what you will of them, and good luck to all of us in this maddening age of Fake Democratic Majorities.