The Blurring Strategy And Pretenders To The New Democratic Majority

by: Chris Bowers

Fri Sep 14, 2007 at 13:09

Jean Shaheen has entered the Senate race in New Hampshire. From what I am told, I am pretty sure this means both Katrina Swett and Steve Marchand will drop out. As for Jay Buckey, I honestly don't know, but I hope he stays in. Not only do I like Buckey, who is both an astronaut and a progressive (two of my favorite things), but the last thing Shaheen needs now is an uncontested primary. While polls show her ahead of Republican incumbent John Sununu by anywhere from 16-28 points, I do not have a lot of confidence that those enormous leads will hold. At the very least, Shaheen needs to be pushed to become a better campaigner in the primaries. Hopefully, such a primary will also force her to adopt a more progressive outlook (seriously, check out that link)

Now, even if he stays in, I am under no particular illusions that Buckey would have anything more than a moonshot to actually defeat Shaheen in the primary. However, to be perfectly frank, I feel like Shaheen is one of the many, many Democrats who first helped lead the party into simultaneous minority and pro-war status back in 2002-2003, but who is now capitalizing on the favorable electoral stage that was prepared mainly by the progressive movement during four years of intense guerilla warfare against conservatism from 2003-2006. While the Jean Shaheen's and Rahm Emanual's of the party were supporting things like the Bush tax cuts, the pre-emptive invasion of Iraq, and legislation to support Terry Schaivo, it was the netroots who were doing the bulk of the heavy lifting in opposition to Republicans. I feel like they are capitalizing on what we rightfully earned, and both dissing us and preparing to destroy all of our work in the process. They are pretenders to the new Democratic majority.

While Democrats were capitulating on the Iraq war and badly losing the 2002 elections anyway, it was the netroots who were forcing the removal of Trent Lott as new majority leader before the new Congress even started. While Democrats were praising Bush's invasion, it was the netroots who were re-invigorating small donors and on the ground progressive activists with anti-war messaging and candidates like Howard Dean. Blogs and organizations like are the reason why Democrats closed the fundraising and activism gap on Republicans in 2004 and 2006, and now Democrats can't write enough op-eds trashing us. While Democrats and their surrogates were mocking us for daring to run hard in every district, it was the netroots who showed why that was worthwhile. While leaders of Democratic campaign committees were pretending that Iraq didn't exist and wouldn't be a campaign issue less than a year for the 2006 elections, it was the netroots who ran a campaign in Connecticut that forced even Joe Lieberman to start running against the war in Iraq during the final three months of the 2006 elections. And now, as we give them repeated warning about the Republican blurring strategy on Iraq, it is still those same Democrats who are whistling past the graveyard.

Why am I so pissed at Democrats lately? Simply put, it feels like many Democrats are taking something that does not belong to them--their excellent 2006 and 2008 electoral advantages--and then thoroughly ruining it. And why am I so convinced they will ruin it? Because, as a progressive Democrat, I have already seen the blurring strategy on Iraq successfully used against my candidates by centrists from my own party. The most graphic example was Joe Lieberman against Ned Lamont in the 2006 Connecticut Senate general election. While nutmegers now regret falling for that strategy, it still worked, and Joe Lieberman is still in office. Now, with even Bush supposedly promising withdrawal by next summer, with the country grossly misinformed about withdrawal plans, with supposedly "anti-war" Republicans not being forced to vote on anything that will actually end the war, and with Republicans starting to capitalize on Democrats refusing to say how many troops they will leave in Iraq and for how long, I can see how it will broadly be used against progressives in 2008. Bush Dogs will be empowered. Progressives will find "moderate" Republicans much more difficult to defeat. Our chances for sweeping gains in the House might be wiped away. Even our advantage in the Presidency might disappear, as long as our nominee ends up supporting an indefinite amount of American troops in Iraq for an indefinite period of time. And so, like a nightmere version of Groundhog Day, those same, pretenders to the new Democratic Majority could very well lose because they shat on their base, and refused to take stronger stances on Iraq.

Sometimes I wonder if this problem is a combination of the progressive movement growing too effective too quickly, and Bush policies creating national and international disasters even more rapidly than expected. It takes a long time to build a bench. We are talking at least four years to build a member of the US House, and probably more. It takes ten years to build a US Senator, and often more. To build a President, it takes at least fourteen years, and often more. In the five year period from 2002-2007, the movement simply did not have enough time to build up a series of candidates and professional activists to replace the pretenders in Congress, in the party leadership, and throughout the progressive establishment. So, we set the table, but most of the people available to sit down and eat were the same Democrats who screwed everything up so badly from 1994-2004. And so, Jean Shaheen loses in 2002 while supporting the war and the Bush tax cuts, is floated as a "stop Dean" candidate for DNC chair in late 2004, but then gets to re-enter the Senate in 2008 largely because of the work of other progressives who she largely opposed. However, many other Democrats could easily end up losing in 2008 because of a blurring strategy on Iraq that Democrats like Shaheen will facilitate.

That, in a nutshell, is why I am directing so much vitrol at members of my own party right now. It feels like pretenders have usurped our new majority. Right now, I feel like a wave of primary challenges and trying to put an end to the blurring strategy is practically a last ditch effort to keep the situation from growing even worse. The Iraq blurring strategy is largely engineered by Republicans Bush Dogs as a means of keeping the conservative working majority in place. In order to break the conservative governing majority, that strategy must be smashed.

Chris Bowers :: The Blurring Strategy And Pretenders To The New Democratic Majority

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You could include the Niki Tsongas /Oganowski 5th MA (4.00 / 1)
race as an example

He's the R and he's coming out of the primary stronger than anticipated and she is not what anyone would term a real progresive.

He's made some dumb remarks lately and that will help Tsongas but the real answer seems to be to elect the real progressive in the first place.

This knee kerking urge to "play it safe" never helps the Democrats - it only makes them look like Republican -lite.

Shifting focus (4.00 / 1)
I wonder whether this reinforces the necessity of shifting away from focusing on national level politics.  Would there be much hope of retaining the ferocity and passion of the movement if we literally started from the ground up.  Lots of folks like to talk about the beauty of starting with dog catcher, but very few actually do it (I'm often included in that).  Instead of working top down with focus on President, Senate, Congress, do we need to be getting way more involved in infrastructure and institution building? There's always been a mix, but do priorities need to be re-examined?

John McCain opposes the GI Bill.

Buckey will definitely stay in, (4.00 / 1)
with Marchand to make an announcement later today and no word yet from Swett.

Here's buckey's press release, and the latest word from Marchand.

I've joined Buckey's campaign, so my loyalties there are clear, I'm confident that we can get our positive message out during the next year leading up to our very late primary.


strategy (4.00 / 1)
Stoller - you have been doing some seriously good blogging recently and this post is one of your best.

For my part I think there is too much emphasis on an electoral strategy and too little Saul Alinsky style direct action.

I take the Free South Africa movement as my model. In the aftermath of Reagan's landslide victory, they launched a series of demonstrations aimed at changing our policy towards the apartheid government and they succeeded. They would never have gotten off the ground had they tried the electoral route.

Unfortunately the direct action approach is currently dominated by the Code Pink crowd who, in the words of Jon Stewart, are not helping.

We need to target the stink tanks, academics, lobbyists, and media management, and oil companies who are diving this disaster.

but that's just me.

Bowers (0.00 / 0)
ack, it is Bowers

lesson to look at the byline more carefully

[ Parent ]
if you can do direct action (0.00 / 0)
better than CodePink, then go ahead and do it. seriously.

i know many CodePinkers and they are the most dedicated progressive activists out there.

when you do direct action people stare at you and think you're nuts and you often get arrested.

if CodePink wasn't willing to risk ridicule and arrest, there would be NO ONE out there doing direct action.

[ Parent ]
Who are you talking about? (4.00 / 1)
Because it is not the Jeanne Shaheen I know - the Jeanne Shaheen who got her start in politics helping to run Gary Hart's insurgent campaign against Walter Mondale, was elected as a Democratic state senator in New Hampshire when the mere fact of being a Democrat meant you were anti-establishment, was elected as the first woman governor in NH, and who, despite a Republican legislature, accomplished the following:  adding sexual preference as a protected category in our civil rights laws; permitting gays and lesbians to be foster parents and adopt; repealing laws criminalizing abortion; making sure kids have health insurance; lowering electric rates for consumers; stopping right to work legislation; enacting environmental legislation to protect NH resources and protect groundwater. And on, and on.

She the driving force to rebuild a Democratic Party in a state that was dominated by right wing ideologues, leading to larger numbers of Demcoratic legislators than we had in years, helping to build the bench that has made NH a blue state.

Be as mad as you want. But if Jeanne Shaheen becomes our next senator - and I am convinced she will - it isn't because she is a pretender. She will become the next senator because she has earned the trust and respect of the people of New Hampshire.

Whatever Jeanne Shaheen is (0.00 / 0)
we should always remember that she was one of the smartest field organizers there ever was.

But didn't she get her start working for Carter?

[ Parent ]
correct (0.00 / 0)
Fladem, you are correct about Jimmy Carter - another anti-DC establishment candidate.

[ Parent ]
Part of the problem is that much of the netroots has a very short memory. (4.00 / 1)
Many many of us -- and I include myself -- really only started paying attention to politics around 1998.  Or 2001.  Or 2002.  Or maybe 1994.

Especially in the period 1998-2004, the people who make up the leadership of the Democratic party, at all levels and in all branches, just had a really bad few years.  They were scared by 1994, scared by Fox News, scared by 9/11, scared by Rove in general, and they made some bad calculations, that turned out to be really big mistakes.  Corzine/Lieberman's 2002 DSCC strategy (which someone describes in a comment below) sucked.  Doesn't make Corzine a bad guy, in fact he's a pretty damn good guy from everything I hear.  But a lot of our good guys made some bad calls in 2002-2004.  And a lot of people in the netroots know them only for those bad calls, and resent them and even despise them only for those bad calls.  Yes, they are bad calls, and yes, they do need to be called out, and yes, if these same people are gonna continue to be our leaders -- and it looks like they are, partly because we don't have a bench -- then they need to have their noses rubbed in their mistakes so they never, ever make those mistakes again.

But, it would be wrong to have our opinion of Shaheen be shaped only and exclusively by what she said and did in 2002.  2002 was a bad year.  She and a whole lot of other good people fucked it up really badly.  They really do need to understand that deep in their bones, and if they don't, we need to come down on them like a ton of bricks.  But Shaheen is not a bad and evil person because of what she did in 2002 alone; 2002 is not the totality of her career; and she should be judged on the other things she did in the years before and after that as well.  A lot of very very good Democrats made mistakes in that year.  Stoller's post about Joan FitzGerald in CO-02 has some of these same elements.  People like Shaheen and FitzGerald have worked hard enough, for long enough, that they deserve to have an intellectually thorough assessment of them that accounts for their whole career, from us.  Not just get shut into a box and mailed to Antarctica because of what they did or didn't do in a six month period before the war.

If you, Chris Bowers, continued to work at your current pace for the next 25 years, and in year number 21 made a mistake, even a catastrophic and consequential mistake, but also a mistake that nearly everyone around you also made...  you would want people coming up after you to have the class to evaluate you on your whole career, including what you claimed to have learned by year 25 from your mistake in year 21.  It doesn't mean you'd have the right to expect royal treatment: a fair evaluation of you plus your whole career plus your mistake might conclude that you weren't the most suitable person for various leadership roles anymore.  But you would expect, reasonably, to be evaluated on all you'd ever done for the cause, not just on the basis of your worst moment.

That's the kind of treatment I think you would expect, and we should be extending it to others here.


Incidentally, this is not in support of Shaheen per se.  Upon thorough examination, she may turn out to be not the kind of leader we need right now.  This is just in support of thorough examination.

[ Parent ]
It's OK to make mistakes (4.00 / 1)
  But has the Dem leadership shown any indication that they've LEARNED from said mistakes?

  That's the problem.

  The 2002 election results should have been the death of DLC-think. The 2004 results should have poured some more dirt on the grave. And the 2006 results should have been the harbinger of a new era and a new strategy.

  Instead, our party remains in the death-grip of hypercaution and DLC-think. Reid and Pelosi are better than Daschle and Gephardt because it is physically impossible to be worse than the latter two. But not enough better.

"We judge ourselves by our ideals; others by their actions. It is a great convenience." -- Howard Zinn

[ Parent ]
Right On (0.00 / 0)
I, for one, am really excited about Shaheen. I grew up outside Boston and, though I was young, always got the sense that she was really leading the charge against the New Hampshire right (which, don't forget, was up there with Houston and Orange County as hotspots of conservatism).

The question that Texas Dem raises is a good one. If she screwed up in 2002 because of deep ideological reasons or a truly terrible political radar screen, then let's be nervous. If she and everyone else got bad advice in a political situation that not a single person in America had ever seen, then I'm not too worried. I really think it is the latter.

[ Parent ]
Right On (4.00 / 1)
I, for one, am really excited about Shaheen. I grew up outside Boston and, though I was young, always got the sense that she was really leading the charge against the New Hampshire right (which, don't forget, was up there with Houston and Orange County as hotspots of conservatism).

The question that Texas Dem raises is a good one. If she screwed up in 2002 because of deep ideological reasons or a truly terrible political radar screen, then let's be nervous. If she and everyone else got bad advice in a political situation that not a single person in America had ever seen, then I'm not too worried. I really think it is the latter.

[ Parent ]
Don't call Lieberman "centrist" (0.00 / 0)
Lieberman is well to the right of most Americans.  Why dignify that by calling it "centrist"?

More liberal media at The Sideshow

Centrist for a politician (0.00 / 0)
And this is half the problem. The left has been shut out of elected office as much as possible in the Democratic Party, whereas with Republicans the lunatics have been running the asylum for 15 years or more now. What this naturally leads to is a Congress that is more right-wing than the nation, which leads to 'centrist' having an entirely different meaning.

Forgotten Countries - a foreign policy-focused blog

[ Parent ]
Lieberman is a neocon (4.00 / 2)
so why don't we call him that?

He wanted war with Iraq. He wants war with Iran.

He thinks killing Muslims will make America and Israel safer.

He should be on trial for war crimes with the rest of the neocons.

[ Parent ]
Let's play devil's advocate for a moment (0.00 / 0)
Look at it from the viewpoint of a (purely hypothetical!) 08 Dem Senate candidate:

I'm doing everything I can to win this time, and nothing else. If kissing bloggers' asses is a net positive for me, I'll Kumbaya with the best of them.

If not, then not.

Why should I care about a Dem wave in 08? If it happens, so much the better for me. If not, then not.

I can't affect whether there's a wave or not. Of course, there's more gravy if you're in the majority - but, if you don't win, there's no gravy at all.

If I do win, I won't be up till 14: who knows if the wave is still moving leftwards then, or has switched round?

And - who knows if all you noisy radicals are going to be around then?

Chances are, things will be around the middle like they are now. In any case, it's far too early to be thinking of 14 when 08 is 14 months away, and I've not even won the primary!

You're right on here (0.00 / 0)
Amen Chris

Great post! (0.00 / 0)
This sums up pretty much how i feel about the state of affairs lately.

MoveOn and the National Movements are a double-edged sword (4.00 / 1)
In our local districts many of the folks active in MoveOn, Iraq Summer and on national issues are not active at all in party reform or local campaigns.

So instead we get mediocre candidates who vote the wrong way on local development issues coming out of the woodwork to run as democrats because we won at the federal level for the first time in 2004 and then again in 2006.

And many of our best canvassers and organizers from 2003 and 2004 have disappeared even as old-school democrats have reappeared at local party meetings within the last 6-10 months.

Perhaps we should actively recruit MoveOn members to run as primary challengers while we look for candidates to run at the state and local levels.  From what I've seen MoveOn members tend to be affluent, older, and with good connections and skills.

I think (0.00 / 0)
that there is a second part to this, which the above fundraising post sort of touches on.  Congressional candidates need to continue raising money after they win.  That means even a strong progressive who we elect may have to go begging to corporate PACs for checks, unless they can rely on a continuous stream of donations.  And they probably can't rely on those unless they are in serious danger.  We need to figure out a source of funding that allows safe progressive's to keep raising money without getting corrupted by corporations.  I see more unions and public financing as important components, but I wonder if there are other possibilities.

I support John McCain because children are too healthy anyway.

[ Parent ]
Economic Infrastructure is a huge issue (0.00 / 0)
and goes way beyond the fundraising and "progressive infrastructure" discussions that we often have.

How do we develop income and asset streams that support progressive people, organizations and campaigns outside of traditional economic sectors?

Right now its only big corporations that pay decent enough wages that enable you to pay down a student loan, pay for grad school, buy a home, start a family; or if you are a poor or working class activist to send your kids to college.

I think a much larger meta issue is what opportunities are avalaible outside of union funding or jobs at Burston Marsteller that can actually fund an American Left.

The boomer/hippy idea of "roll and grow your own" actually makes a lot of sense. 

Or we may have to wait and win an electoral battle that gives us enough control to shift funds into community organizations, universities and research foundations once again.

[ Parent ]
Also (0.00 / 0)
I think encouraging Moveon members to run, for local offices especially, is brilliant.  I've seen some sort of "how to run a campaign" stuff online, so I'm sure Moveon could put together a pretty good "Running for Office 101" guide.  Then, given connections and fundraising support, the member-candidates would have a real headstart, especially in local elections where financial demands are not so huge.

I support John McCain because children are too healthy anyway.

[ Parent ]
one big problem (0.00 / 0)
is that Moveon members don't necessarily know each other and don't have a way to connect.

At we built a "Local" system that lets our members connect by state, county, and Congressional District. has good local tools, and the FireDogLake roots project is trying.

Moveon needs to push power out to the periphery and let local activists connect with each other apart from Moveon's periodic national events.

[ Parent ]
They did do that in 2004 (0.00 / 0)
They had organziers that helped try and foster physical connections between local MoveOn members.

[ Parent ]
to be fair to Shaheen (0.00 / 0)
That was back in 2002, when DSCC was chaired by Jon Corzine.  Corzine (or his staff) stupidly took Joe Lieberman's (and not the DLC's) advice to run on prescription drugs, support the war, try to out flank the GOP to the right on Homeland Security, and in general blur distinctions between Democrats and Republicans.

It was also a very Republican year, with only a scandal-prone GOP Senator losing in AR to a conservative Democrat whose daddy was beloved.

I doubt she will vote as conservative in the US Senate now that she campaigned in 2002.  She would probabbly vote with the Dems the vast majority of the time. 

Truth over balance, progress over ideology

Build The Bench (0.00 / 0)
I'm much more in favor of doing this than trying to continually fight losing battles with the insiders.  The lieberman election was really heartbreaking and painful.  I'm all in favor of fighting back, but I'd also like to see more focus on openleft of state-level candidates that we can really get excited about.  If Buckley doesn't win the primary (and 99% chance he won't), lets encourage him to run again, maybe against Gregg in 2010.  Fundraise early for that and then all of a sudden he's got some momentum and can beat back the insider candidate before they are annoited by the beltway elite.  Or if Buckley wants to run for something else, lets support him in that as well.  I think part of political strength and success comes from having a long list of names and even a longer memory.  The netroots have a very short memory and even though I read the blogs a lot, I have a very hard time figuring out who's hot and who's not.  That's no way to build a movement and its no way to build political clout.  I'm all for taking names and hitting back at the Bush Dogs, but lets also clearly identify our allies and support them when they need us. 

Buckey, not Buckley (0.00 / 0)
Buckey is the guy running for senate. Buckley is the state party chair.
This happens all the time!

[ Parent ]
Sorry (0.00 / 0)
Very confusing, that. 

[ Parent ]
Come on. (0.00 / 0)
There is a big difference between supporting Bush in 2002 on national security (one year after 9/11, before FISA, before the fucking war) in your election year and actually supporting him now.  I'll bet she doesn't, and it is unfair for you and Stoller to act like she does.

It's not just 2002. (0.00 / 0)
The 2002 stuff is just the symptom. The problem with Shaheen isn't that she will back Bush or that she will note vote with the rest of the Dems the majority of the time. The problem is that she meets the more Dems half of the equation but not the better Dems half. I did not live here in NH for her entire term as Governor, but during the time I was here you could count on Shaheen backing any Democratic proposal that had overwhelming support. However, to my knowledge on every issue that split the more Liberal/Progressives Dems from the safe/establishment Dems she chose the safer/establishment course: School funding, income tax, death penalty....

If she wins the primary as seems likely, and wins the in the general, also likely, then we will get another safe Dem - someone we will have to prod every step of the way to move the Progressive agenda, and watch like a hawk to prevent backsliding. The "compromise" Iraq bills are the kind of thing she would enthusiastically back; an aggressive withdrawl bill? Not so much. I want another Feingold/Wellstone not another Biden or worse Pryor.

[ Parent ]
Bless your heart! (4.00 / 1)
As a Buckey supporter and a grassroots activist, I so want the NHDP to move forward, not always look back for candidates.  Carol Shea Porter proved an outsider could win, and If we want to build a party which is now still a minority in the state into something that can continue to bring progressive values to NH, we have to groom new people.  Primaries are great for this, and they also push establishment candidates to listen to the people, instead of the establishment of the party, which in NH is very hide bound, in my opinion, and all too willing to lose.  KInda like our own little DLC.

Hide bound? (0.00 / 0)
Swept the table in 2006.
Kicked out a first time Republican governor in 2004. Only state to flip from red to blue.
Democratic registration has gone up by 45,000 in HH; Republican registration by 1000.
Most independent voters now lean Demcoratic.
Carol Shea Porter was the city chair in Rochester, and the party rallied behind her when she won her primary.
You think this is a state party that is willing too lose? Give me a break.

[ Parent ]
too harsh (0.00 / 0)
Willing to lose may be too harsh. I would prefer overly cautious. Didn't most of the party establishment back Jim Craig over CSP before the primary? Rallying behind the nominee after they win a primary is a pretty low bar to set, and even then the NHDP didn't always do that in the past. I seem to remember a lot of the establishment sitting on the sidelines in 2002 talking up Shaheen and Swett and rather than backing Fernald ignoring him at best or effectively working against him by saying he wouldn't drag down the rest of the ticket.

[ Parent ]
Yes, no, yes, no (0.00 / 0)
The Manchester state committe people pretty much supported Craig, since he was from Manchester, as did a number of state reps, since he was the Democratic leader in the house.  Outside of Manchester and the house caucus, a lot of the state committee was with Carol Shea Porter.  Once the primary was over, the Craig people got behind CSP with enthusiasm, they didn't just give her lip service.  Fernald?  You are right, he did not have the same level of support, but that had to do with his support of an income tax, not caution.  Too many people had been there, done that with Arneson and Wayne King, and had no interest in going there again with Fernald. He did end up dragging down the ticket. 

[ Parent ]
Well, if so many bloggers feel this way (0.00 / 0)
Then why are they perfectly content to sit back and let Hillary Clinton be nominated?

Because she has a "D" in front of her name?

The netroots need to do more to stop Hillary Clinton.

Believe me, you aren't any more pissed than I am.

I would love to see John Edwards, who can actually win large in November 2008, deliver an even more pointed statement than the one he gave in New Hampshire a month ago.

I want to see him or Obama, who I think would lose large in November 2008, saying it's time for the Democratic Party to move on beyond the Clinton years when the Democratic Party lost its soul along with Congress.  Move on beyond the Clinton years when the Clintons led the Democratic Party down the road to become Republican-lite on economic issues, and to give up their principles and begin to talk like Republicans, that culminated in Hillary Clinton's foolish statements about wedge issues like flag burning.

Sure, the Clintons did some good things, but they ruined the Democratic Party ideologically and politically, or even worse, they conceded both ideology and politics.

Can we get a Democrat, supported by the netroots, to start now, talking about what the Democratic Party "lost" during the Clinton years, and how it's time to move beyond that crap?

If some of you bloggers like "Chris Bowers" can actually help him craft that speech, and wage that campaign, that would be even greater, and help that he should welcome.


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