Sunday, October 17, 2010


Short-term progressive strategies have consequences

by Larry Geller

In just a few days we will learn whether Democrats suffer the defeats at the polls that many pundits have been predicting.

If that should happen, it will not be because the Republicans are so much smarter, but because they have consistently worked at building and cultivating their base since the Barry Goldwater era. At the same time, and in particular in this 2010 election cycle, Democrats remain focused on individual races rather than on broad, lasting strategies. And they have inexplicably thrown their most fervent supporters on the Left under the campaign bus.

Erica Payne, founder of the Agenda Project and co-founder of the Democracy Alliance, reports that while conservatives continue to fund and build a sophisticated and lasting infrastructure, Democrats tend to fund only short-term efforts and individual political races. For example, while Karl Rove last week undertook a $50 million ad campaign to challenge vulnerable Democrats, Democratic members, sitting on about $100 million dollars, owe $24 million to the DCCC (Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee). They are not supporting either keeping the House in Democratic hands nor creation of a party agenda that will serve them now and on into the future.

Why are Democrats, presently in control of both Congress and the presidency, potentially in so much trouble? For one thing, in two years they have not been able to counter the conservative machine running our government that has been built and nurtured since 1964. For another, they have managed to lose the enthusiastic base that swept Barack Obama into office in 2008. Progressives have found nothing they can “stick with” in the face of administration failures, there’s little of lasting value in the Democratic agenda.

Obama’s opposition to a moratorium on foreclosures even in the face of criminal action on the part of banks is part of a fabric of neglect of the electorate that will, in the end, cost Democrats seats.

It wasn’t always that way. I remember from my childhood in New York that the unions and the party (essentially the same at that time) would do anything for individual constituents. Sure, there was corruption, as there is now, but it was perceived to work for the individual and so loyalty was automatic. You got sick? The union took care of you, and you voted Democratic in return. Tammany Hall was caught with their hands in the cookie jar again? Ok, but the Democrats were still working for us.

Now Democrats are happy to support big banks in taking away homes. They have long given up unconditional support for the people who put them (and could keep them) in office.

Republicans know this. It has enabled them to vote as a block against anything the Democrats want to achieve in Congress. Their infrastructure includes powerful elements such as Fox News and much of the commercial media, while progressives have come to depend on a pair of comedians to get their message out. Nor can Comedy Central convince people that they have friends in Congress—quite the opposite. They make us laugh at Congress, usually with very good reason.

The Democrats have failed, for example, to even get the word out that jobs have been saved by their recovery policies. Ask voters and something like 94% will say the opposite. So even when progressive policies have done ordinary people some good, the machine is so rusted that it can’t grind out the news.

The 2010 election is not about particular races, it’s about the interplay of political strategies and economic power (Wall Street, the military-industrial-Republican complex, the energy companies, for example). The Republican infrastructure survives in spite of some of the individual politicians (e.g., Sarah Palin), while the Democrats lack of a matching strategy and infrastructure allows even their superstars (e.g., Barack Obama) to wallow. Palin and Rove are on the air regularly, and they are only part of it. They tell viewers what viewers want to be told. News from the Democrats is often troubling to their supporters.

Obama’s opposition to a foreclosure moratorium is part of the policy failure. A progressive would not have hesitated to support both a moratorium and prosecution of the wrongdoing, but Obama is not a progressive, and there is no overriding progressive agenda or infrastructure to prevent his gaffes. Given the timing, just days away from a crucial general election, the president’s statements show a disconnection from the progressive base that put him in office and which could be key in maintaining Congressional seats.

It is one piece of a weak fabric, however. Progressives do have an agenda: they support the environment, civil rights, equal rights for women, and so forth. They oppose the wars that Obama is pursuing zealously. Progressives object to the jackboot tactics of FBI agents raiding peaceful protest groups. But they are underfunded and without support among the lawmakers they have managed to elect.

Of course, people have been keeping score. At least, those who were thoughtful enough to join the bandwagon for Obama have not put their brains on ice.

And they know that Democrats have been thwarting their agenda (that Republicans work against them is no surprise). Obama is going beyond Bush’s Patriot Act, is deporting more people to Mexico, and has failed to deliver on key campaign promises. Without the influence of a strong, progressive, Democratic agenda, his failures stand out and represent failures of the party. There’s nothing that can bring him back into line.

What Democrats have continued is a foreign and domestic policy of violence and repression that is antithetical to the values of their base. Not only is Guantanamo not closed, but no one can say that torture has ended. The “black sites” are still open for business. Obama defies American values of “innocent until proven guilty” and due process by asserting that he can assassinate even American citizens anywhere in the world. It’s ridiculous to think that this will not cost him. In effect, he has adopted policies created by conservatives and fought against by his own base.

The Democratic Congress has been inept. Most recently, it inexplicably passed a law that would have facilitated foreclosures, not impeded them. Had the current scandal not coincided with the arrival of that bill on Obama’s desk, he might have signed it.

Finally, Democrats have continued and extended, in effect institutionalizing, domination of the populace by means of laws. Nighttime sweeps by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and recent FBI raids on peace groups are well known to Internet-savvy voters, the same ones they are depending upon for support. Wiretapping of ordinary citizens continues unabated. Obama stated that his Justice Department would appeal a judge’s ruling striking down Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. He has prevented those who have been tortured by this country from having their day in court.

Sure, that’s just a particular list. Each of his former supporters may have their own list. There’s nothing that Democrats or progressives have done to assuage an increasingly angry populace. For whatever reason, progressives here don’t form Tea Parties or burn cars as they may in Europe, but on the other hand, they are neither fools nor lemmings. Inattention to their fundamental beliefs must have consequences. If not in this election, in the next.

What’s the solution? Progressives must find one. How bad will things have to get before that happens?

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