Saturday, August 13, 2011
Expanding on the "Progressives Must Take Over -- or Destroy -- the Democratic Party" Trope
I've gotten into this issue a few times in High Dudgeon over at Digby's Place due to the fact that there is so much unrefuted misinformation in so-called lefty blogosphere about Progressives and the Democratic Party and so much blather about "taking over" or "killing" said Party.
One of the more ridiculous premises of the trope is that a Progressive Takeover of the Democratic Party has yet to happen, and that therefore "progressives" have to work hard for years and years within and without the Party to achieve sufficient critical mass among the Public to "force" the Party to do this or that which "progressives" demand.
According to this ill-informed and severely warped premise, the Democratic Party's Leadership was so boggled by the Chicago Riots in 1968 and McGovern's loss in 1972 that it stopped being a Progressive Party and became by stages a deeply conservative party, ever more beholden to Big Money Interests, ever more divorced from the People and that, ever since 1972, it has been a "failure" because it abandoned Democratic Progressive Values and Principles. Progressives can only reverse this situation either by taking over the Party from the inside or by destroying the Party and starting over, but whatever course is chosen, it's time for "progressives" to get organized and do it. Time's a-wasting and it will take years to accomplish, no matter what.
M-Kay. Like many myths, this one is partially true. On the other hand, it completely ignores a recent and very important aspect of Democratic Party history: the Progressive Takeover From the Inside between 2003 and 2008, and the subsequent "re-taking" of the Party by Big Money Interests -- which promptly led to the shutting down of Progressive activism within the Party and the purging of thousands of Progressive activists from Party leadership and activist positions.
By leaving out this very recent episode, the myth makers are trying to make believe that somehow Progressives haven't had any pre-eminence in the Party for decades (not true), and that there has never been a push by Progressives in modern times to press their agenda and elect their candidates (which is foolishly untrue.) Further, the myth-makers try to make believe that the Party has little or no Progressive influence or presence, and thus the field is wide open for a Progressive Take Over (or nihilistic destruction) of the Democratic Party. (Dream on...)
Some of these myths and tropes are being offered by current Democratic Party apparatchiks like David Atkins over at Digby's or Graham in her comments, and by the entire Dem Party crew at Markos's shop. They are the ones who are insisting there never was a recent Progressive take over of the Party and that Democratic Progressive electoral victories are yet to come; get engaged with the Party, give lots of money, stick with it, work hard, and in some years or decades or whatever, your dreams will come true. Or something. Gandhi! MLK!
Then the other argument based on these myths is being offered by the nihilist and largely Libertarian operatives whose purpose seems to be to convince dissatisfied Democrats (who are legion) to abandon the Party and vote Republican (ie: Ron Paul, Mitt Romney), or who try to subvert and overthrow the Party's leadership and take control of the Party by fucking over electoral prospects for "spineless" Dems (like Obama, for example) who have no Principles. The nihilist/Libertarian argument also ignores -- or rather is ignorant of -- the successful Progressive take over of the Democratic Party and the stunningly successful electoral effort made by them between 2003 and 2008. But this crew, of course, would not recognize the Democrats who did this as Progressives because they're not libertarians. On the Internet, the term "Progressive" is often used as a mask for Libertarian elements who are seeking legitimacy and power, either through the agency of the Democratic Party or by destroying it.
So both the current crop of Dem Party apparatchiks and the Libertarian pseudo-"progressives" who desperately want to gain legitimacy and power by overthrowing the Dem leadership or destroying the Party altogether have an interest in ignoring the recent history of the Party when Progressives (genuine Progressives) did take over the party, recruited hundreds of candidates, raised hundreds of millions of dollars for campaigns, worked their tails off, and got hundreds and hundreds of Democrats elected all over the country, at the local, state and national levels, enough in fact to take over most state legislatures, governorships, the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the White House by 2008, and for a time in 2009 even provided a filibuster proof majority in the Senate, only to see their strategies and efforts dismantled from inside the Party once Barack Obama was inaugurated, and subsequently to see a nationwide purge of Progressives from Party leadership and activist positions -- a purge that was partially responsible for the Democrats' loss of the House in a rout in 2010, the loss of seats in the Senate, and the stunning reversal of control of many statehouses around the country, infamously in Wisconsin and elsewhere in the Midwest.
The decline in Democratic Party fortunes in the 2010 election happened for a very simple and straightforward reason: Democratic voters and the Independents which Democratic activists had been appealing to stayed home. They did not vote in the 2010 election leaving the field wide open for the Republican surge we saw, led by the astroturfed TeaBaggers (who, in office, are simply stooges for the batshit wing of the Corporate Death and Money Party).
And I believe they stayed home for two reasons: 1) they saw what they had wrought with the overwhelming Democratic victories they had engineered and they were... disappointed. 2) the Progressive leadership and activists within the Democratic Party had been purged, the 50 State Project had been closed down, and there were no longer enough sufficiently motivated and experienced campaign workers to do the scut work and get out the vote on behalf of Democratic candidates. Oh whell.
It's not rocket science. If you disrespect your chief pool of activists, pull the rug out from under dedicated people who have given their all on behalf of the Democratic Party, you kick them in the nuts, and you throw them out on their ass, there will be blowback. Believe it or not.
Why, you might ask, as I have asked, would this happen at all? The whole sequence in retrospect seems truly bizarre. Why would a Party that had won such stunning success with a Progressive platform and Progressive candidates, volunteers, and activists suddenly turn on them and get rid of them wholesale? Whuuuut?
How and why did a vital, activist, Progressive, and successful Democratic Party turn so suddenly into an outpost for corporate drones, marketeers, and political hacks? WTF?
Those are questions a lot of anguished Progressives (but not so much their libertarian ersatz) are still asking. What happened? And most of all why, when the upshot has been a Republican revival and resurgence...oh... could have been deliberately engineered? Who could imagine such a thing?
Yes. Well. Politics is a dismal business, and nasty, too. The fact of the matter is that most of the Progressive activists who made the stunning Democratic victories in 2006 and 2008 possible were political novices and they were very naive and trusting, generous to a fault, and deeply committed to Progressive principles. They compromised, though, in recruiting candidates because they wanted to get them elected, which meant that quite a few of the New Democrats who went into office thanks to Progressive campaigns turned out to be... disappointing. Not only were the new office holders disappointing, so was the Dem leadership in the House. The Dem leadership (Lookin' at you Nancy) did not press for the end of the wars, nor was there any effort at accountability for the Bush Regime's gross violations of human rights, law, and simple decency.
"Disappointment" is really too mild a term.
But of course the excuse from the leadership was that they "didn't have the votes" to do what Progressives thought right, and so Progressives just had to work harder, clap louder, and they did. In 2008, they swept the House, Senate and the White House into Democratic control, and look what happened. Not only were Progressives unceremoniously shown the door, the back door at that, but most of the Progressive agenda was either abandoned outright or transformed into an endless series of corporate giveaways.
And not surprisingly, the Progressive enthusiasm for the Democrats waned.
In 2010, Progressives turned their backs on the Party they had worked so hard to revivify.
With one rather startling exception: California.
California stood out in the context of the 2010 Republican "wave" election because every single statewide office was won by a Democrat, far and away the majority of Congressional seats were won by Democrats, the Legislature is almost two-thirds Democrat (not that it does them that much good), and both Senators are Democrats. In fact, compared to almost everywhere else -- and given the absurd recall of Gray Davis and his replacement with Schwarzenegger that was actually supported by many Democrats -- the current Democratic lock on California's political offices is astonishing. This isn't just a case of bucking trends, it's completely defying them.
One of the reasons was that in California, the Progressive Caucus of the Democratic Party, chaired by Karen Bernal, is strong and influential, and Progressives never abandoned the Party (nor were they as successfully purged) in California like they were elsewhere.
Gee. Who'd a thunk it? If you don't beat up on your base, you might just win at the polls. Radical!
I have no doubt, by the way, that California is being targeted as we speak for... "synchronization" if you will (Gleichschaltung in the original German) with the more commonplace Corporate neo-bastard-liberal political ethos of the rest of the country. Dem ascendency will not be for very much longer.
All of this is not to say that the Democratic Party is anything like the vital force on behalf of the People that it could be. Far from it. What I am saying is that the Democratic Party was taken over by genuine Progressives (as opposed to libertarians trying to pass as Progressives) between 2003 and 2008, and the electoral success the Party had during that period was largely due to the efforts of Progressive activists, who were then purged and their operations dismantled by a far more corporate-controlled and corporate-friendly apparat that came in with Obama. That apparat is not nearly as easily taken over as the mostly moribund Democratic Party was when Progressives did take the Party over. I actually don't see the Corporate Dems letting go under any circumstances.
So the answer to this Dilemma is two-fold: 1) build independent Progressive grass roots operations that can stand on their own without the Democratic Party. 2) build on the remnants of the Progressive infrastructure within the Democratic Party by joining up with it and supporting it.
So simple. So right.