|The progressive movement had had all sorts of hopes in the last presidential election. I remember being in tears watching the solemn but joyous crowd gathered in Lincoln Park that election night. We had won, and with a Democratic president and Congress, we would continue to fight for the hopes that had been held in check for so many years. Yes, Obama said things that made me uneasy, but I had hope in the people who had carried him into office. We the people would provide that extra measure of strength that our elected officials would need to see through all their promises.
Things were shaken up with the 2006 elections. Progressives talked tough about Bush and the war and behold, Democrats got elected. Try it again in 2008, we thought. For one golden moment, it seemed to be working again. America was moving left, and would continue to move left, now we could pass progressive legislation, elect more Democrats in 2010, visions of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal in the 1930's dancing in our heads. But it now looks like all that still evokes the 1930s is the misery.
Obama went Wall Street, went military-industrial complex, went with the Bush torture regime. But hope didn't die easy. See, we were told, Obama had this master plan, pacify the right, make the generals happy, lean over backwards for the Republicans, and then we would see the greatest piece of social legislation since Lyndon Johnson's Great Society. Health care reform. Health care, as Obama had proclaimed during the campaign, as a human right. Details kept out of sight, shadow-boxing over public option, Stupak kept under the radar.
Then in the week preceding the passage of the House version, the hideous truth was revealed. Nothing until 2014, a bloody stump of a public option, mandate to force the uninsured to buy what they can't afford, no price controls. Stupak. Lieberman. Maybe a commission to cut Social Security.
Public option stalwarts Howard Dean and Anthony Weiner were suddenly on board, Stupak and all, because of that bloody stump.
The blogs were ablaze. We've been betrayed, kill this monstrosity. No, it's great, don't be a purist. Save abortion rights. No, improve it later. I've been checking some of the blogs. Now OpenLeft's Chris Bowers has a big piece explaining why he shifted his position. Firedoglake's Jane Hamsher is touting the bill as a victory because of its bloody stump of a public option, having once absolutely insisted that if it didn't have a ROBUST public option, it should be defeated. Firedoglake's readers are not impressed. Matt Yglesias touts the "Public Option Pragmatists" and praises Bowers. His readers aren't happy. Lots of "I'll never vote again" stuff, utter disgust, along with the regular hacks trying to convince folks that all that piss is really rain.
Some might call anything on the blogs a tempest in a teacup. But then there is this underlying poll showing 81% of Republicans are either "definitely" or "probably" voting next year, while among Democrats 56% are either "definitely" voting or "probably" voting next year, while 40% are "not likely" to vote or will "definitely" not vote.
While the Palin legions grow and the cold shadow of Weimar creeps across the landscape, the progressive leadership is reacting to this with varying degrees of hysteria or pseudo-militancy. Congressional Democrats must do something to inspire the base, they cry. They must be bold. When in fact they are cowering in their hutches. Rallying cries go out from MoveOn and the like. Make phone calls for the public option. Send us money. Call your congressman. Send us more money. But not a whisper that if Congressman X doesn't come through, they will face retaliation.
In a snapshot, the regular Democratic Party leadership is in a deadly state of paralysis at best, the progressive leadership is calling on the ranks to keep doing more of the same only with greater vigor, and the ranks are demoralized and beginning to drop away in disgust.
I have no hope for the Democratic Party leadership actually leading anything. Many of them would just as well be rid of the party's base. The base did its job in 2008, but they only complicate things now with their unrealistic expectations and childish demands.
I will concede that progressive leaders such as Bowers are well-meaning. (Maybe I'm too easy, I had also conceded that Obama was well-meaning.) But they have cherished relationships on the fringe of the Democratic Party core: jobs, the tiniest bit of influence, access to congressional aides, the joy of getting onto the Rachel Maddow show, etc. However angry or militant they might sound at any given moment, they have no willingness to make a serious threat. No stick.
And the ranks? Some are perfectly willing to roll over, yes I believe in, yes I uphold, etc., the Democratic Party is my team just like the New York Knicks are my team and that emotional identification is the bottom line. Smart people can say incredibly stupid things in this mindset.
Yes, they'll target specific Democrats to punish them. This is consistent with a completely fragmented, individualistic methodology that is completely paralyzing. The Democratic Party is masterful at creating an endless series of either/or choices. Lousy public option or none. Stupak or lesser restrictions on abortion. A nice campaign speech or not. A campaign position or none. Democratic Party or Republican. Lesser or greater evil. If this fragmented framework is accepted, then there is no way out of the trap, the current version of the La Brea tar pits.
Can't say we will hurt you, the Democratic Party, if you cave on this principle or that.
But let's look at the Stupak amendment. Stupak didn't do this. It wasn't passed by this Democrat and this Republican and this one and that one and gee which ONES should we go after. The House bill containing Stupak was passed by the Democratic Party.
My concern is with those who can't keep beating their heads against a brick wall are dropping away in disgust, a disgust I share, by the way, and who would indeed be abandoning the field. My wife and I have filled out our passport applications. What's needed is a plan for the decent activists who've plugged away for years, who've haven't shared the joys of being a party insider. We can't just call for nose to the grindstone, stiff upper lip, take (another) one for the team. We need to give them something that they can do that is not contingent on the higher-ups leading it, funding it, legitimizing it.
We need to give them a stick.
Thus the Full Court Press.
The basic concept is simple and flexible. The Committee for a Full Court Press (FCP) (I just made up the name) would agree on the following principles:
o Troops out of Afghanistan and Iraq now.
o No aid to Israel until Palestinians have full rights.
o Medicaid for all.
o No compromise on abortion rights, repeal Hyde.
o Regulate Wall Street to the max, no more bailouts.
o Tax the rich to deal with the deficit.
o Create a fund to save families from foreclosures.
o Rebuild and strengthen the social safety net, no cuts in Social Security.
The 8 points are offered as a suggestion, and would be decided upon by those initially forming the FCP based upon activist feedback. But once approved, they would ultimately not be negotiable at the local level.
The bottom line is to have at least one FCP candidate on the primary ballot in every district.
The FCP activist would pay the required filing fee or gather required signatures or combination thereof to get on the primary ballot. While any FCP candidate could run a full-fledged campaign with the intent to win the seat, a minimal candidate could:
o Ask the other candidates if they will actively support the FCP points and say so in writing.
o If they sign, the FCP candidate could simply endorse that candidate, or the best of those candidates (if such is the case) and campaign actively for their endorsee or not as the FCP candidate sees fit.
o If that candidate betrays the points, the FCP candidate would have the option of campaigning more aggressively.
If no other candidate supports the FCP points, the FCP candidate could minimally:
o Talk to the local press.
o Appear at candidate nights if any group sponsors them.
o Nothing in the plan precludes running a full-blast campaign to win. It's just not contingent on that.
Tactically, that's it. That's the plan. This requires some money and some effort, and ballot requirements vary from state to state, but is within practical range. The main requirement after getting on the primary ballot is a willingness to make some phone calls and show up. If the FCP candidate wanted to do more and could do more, that would be excellent. But not required.
... which have come up as I've tried to clarify this plan.
Obviously there would have to be some kind of national structure, and some tasks such as fundraising and ballot access expertise require activity on a national level. Likewise, there would likely have to be state structure of some kind.
But I think it would be a serious mistake to go into detail, just as it would be a mistake to present the 8 principles as some kind of polished master list. Rather the structure should reflect those who respond to the plan. I envision slow but steady growth, with structure determined by participants, and changed by participants as it develops. There is no point in building paper empires with no one in them.
On the other hand, if you gave me $1 million, I could come up with an organizational structure in an hour, and if you gave me $2 million, I'd give you three structures, quite a bargain. But seriously, let's see who turns up first.
At this point, the FCP is me, and the task is to gather support for the central concept. If a dozen people want to come aboard, that would take a certain level of organization, likewise 100 people would need a different one. As would 500. Hopefully we would need interim structures that would be quickly outgrown, to be determined by the participants at each step along the way.
Aren't you duplicating the work of other groups targeting wayward Dems?
Very good question. Answer: no!
Organizations like ActBlue are extremely important, and I hope the Full Court Press would dovetail with them. However, our approach is very different. First, it insists on adherence to a clear set of principles.
But aren't you imposing a litmus test?
Of course. About goddamn time, too. The Democratic Party as it now operates is an orgy of pragmatism. Judged in terms of pragmatism, it has failed utterly unless your pragmatic goal is to attract corporate contributions. Like it or not, litmus has been working for the Republicans in terms of moving public policy to the right, e.g., Stupak.
Wait, you were talking about ActBlue type groups!
As I was saying before I so rudely interrupted myself, the 8 principles, while hardly comprehensive, constitute a broad agenda. With single-issue groups, you can support abortion rights and bombing the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan and Gaza, all in one unholy stew, or vice versa. Not good enough
Additionally, other groups engage in a lot of bargaining. Full Court Press isn't a bargain. Don't support it, you get challenged. Period.
They are also focused on targeting, which is part of the "completely fragmented, individualistic methodology that is completely paralyzing," as noted above. It goes after individuals, who then plead their individual cases. Full Court Press goes after the entire Democratic Party for its misdeeds. It was the Democratic Party that passed the Stupak-laden House bill. Anthony Weiner may plead, "It wasn't me, it was that nasty Mr. Stupak and I had to go along!" Sorry, Anthony. Sorry, Nancy. You voted for it, you get challenged.
But what about actually winning seats?
That seems to be everyone's first thought. But it's a mistake. Going for a win without massive resources forces us to play their game by their rules. Full Court Press will drive them crazy because it breaks the rules. We are challenging the entire Democratic Party with 435 cuts.
To put it simply, if Anthony Weiner has to pay the price for what Stupak does, it gives him an incentive to try to do something about Stupak rather than simply trying to keep his own hands clean. We are angry, we are crazy, we're not gonna take it, won't get fooled again, no more promises in the dark, no more leading role in a cage.
Don't your 8 principles open the door to all sorts petty wrangling?
They do. Unfortunately, such is the human condition. But the Full Court Press is for people who actually want to do something. We have to trust that people who actually want to do something will actually do something.
So Anthony gets on our good side by signing the 8 principles. But he doesn't act in accordance with them. Full Court Press isn't magic. Not a blueprint for all situations. Evaluations have to be made. But he's young and hopes to have a future, so I'd guess that next election he's got a Full Court Press challenger.
Ballot Access, how hard is it?
It varies by state and my small random checking should not be considered definitive, but I came up with the following:
Massachusetts needs 2,000 signatures.
New Jersey 200.
California takes $1,367 and 3,000 signatures.
Texas requires $3,125 and 500 signatures.
Some states need only signatures, or a filing fee in lieu of signatures. 200 signatures could be gathered by one person in a hard weekend. 3,000 would require some kind of campaign team, volunteer or hired. (Hired teams have a tendency to sign up Disney characters, beware.) Here is where national expertise and fundraising comes in. It looks tough, but not insurmountable. As an aside, if you ask for a contribution when someone signs, you can raise about $1/signature fairly easily. Petitioning can be a money-maker, not a drain, if done properly.
How long will it take to get this off the ground?
While it might be possible to run some Full Court Press candidates in 2010 if we attract some eager leaders, the organization is frankly not yet born. We have to lay groundwork, including recruitment, fundraising and ballot access plans. By 2012, however, we could be able to field 435 candidates.
Will such low-key races be effective? Will anyone even notice?
Damn sure they'll notice. Why? We'll be like a gleaming silver needle headed towards an over-inflated balloon. They may look smug, but their underlying weakness is the huge disparity between their shenanigans in Congress and the opinions of the Democratic base, as well as the American people. Too many of them have gone unchallenged too long, and the thought of having to actually fight for their seats against anyone will send chills up their spines. 435 chills. 435 needles.
Where did this idea come from?
A few years ago, it was just a throw-away idea I tossed out from time to time and it met thundering silence. I don't consider it particularly brilliant, merely stating the obvious. Since then, I have grown increasingly disgusted with progressive leaders who are calling on politicians to do something, weary of progressive ranks calling on progressive leaders to do something, calling on other progressives to do ... wait, that was me. I had to take responsibility for making the Full Court Press a reality or I was no better than any of them. In that spirit, I say to angry progressives, the Full Court Press means you taking a lot of responsibility for the direction of this country. Getting on the ballot is serious work. You'll take flak from the smug and the comfortable and the bought. But at this point, it's clear that nobody else is going to do it for us.
And someday, as Bob Dylan put it:
Oh the foes will rise
With the sleep still in their eyes
And they'll jerk from their beds and think they're dreamin'.
But they'll pinch themselves and squeal
And they'll know that it's for real,
The hour that the ship comes in.
And they'll raise their hands,
Sayin' we'll meet all your demands,
But we'll shout from the bow your days are numbered.
And like Pharaoh's tribe,
They'll be drownded in the tide,
And like Goliath, they'll be conquered.