Historically in politics, when different factions within a given political party are fighting with each other, one of the following things happens:
-One faction scores an overwhelming victory, marginalizing the other for a long period of time. The best example of this was the conservative-moderate Republican fight of the 1960s. Although the two factions co-existed in earlier days, to a great extent in the Nixon/Ford era, and to a lesser extent during Reagan and the first Bush's 12 years, over time the "Rockefeller Republicans" lost the battle and never recovered, and have become more and more marginalized over the last 40 years.
-The factions cut a deal and agreed to uneasily co-exist for at least a while. Think here of Southern segregationists and northern liberals in the New Deal coalition, or labor/progressives and the DLC in the Clinton years.
Those of us in the progressive movement obviously all hope that over the long run, in both the Democratic Party and the country as a whole, we gain a clear, strong and long-term progressive majority to allow us to move forward on all major issues we care about. However, the direction of the Democratic Party will be driven, as it inevitably is, by the next Democratic President, and based on everything we know now, that person will be a mixed figure in terms of the progressive agenda. There is simply no major candidate running who isn't pretty good on many issues and moderately bad, or at least beholden to conventional wisdom, on others. (I'm guessing we will win the presidency in 2008, but if not, Party leadership will continue to be a mishmash of different leaders.)
In the Clinton years, Clinton handled the tension in the Party by siding with DLC types on two major issues, trade and welfare reform; siding more with progressives on some others- Family and Medical Leave, Motor Voter, minimum wage, abortion, children's health care, and some of the big budget fights; and trying to split the difference on a great many other issues. The progressive community waged losing fights against Clinton and his corporate and Republican allies on trade and on welfare reform, and occasionally railed against DLC-style politics in op-eds and speeches, but generally went along with the uncomfortable alliance for a couple of reasons. The first was that the groups representing progressive politics were at the table, were being listened to, and were getting some of what they wanted. The second was that with the 1994 elections, the specter of right-wingers in control of Congress made progressives distinctly aware of the dangers of not being allied with Clinton.
If we retain control of Congress (perhaps even expanding our margin, as currently seems likely), and elect a Democratic President, the political dynamics will be quite different. The combination of the Democrats being firmly in control of Congress, public opinion having moved generally in the progressive direction since the mid-1990s, and the progressive movement being revitalized and empowered all shift the nature of the playing field.
This raises a series of questions in my head that I'd like to get the OpenLeft.com community's collective wisdom to start chewing on:
1. Knowing that the new President will be more center than left, and that the Democratic leadership will likely be the same in the next Congress as it is now, it is likely that progressives will be asked to live with the same kind of co-existence deal with DLC types that we had in the 1990s. How do we respond to such a deal?
2. What would the nature of such a deal look like? What would we oppose no matter what, demand that we get no matter what, agree to negotiate on?
3. Given the dispersed and democratic nature of the online movement, where it is up to everybody to decide for themselves what they will and won't support, is this kind of traditional "deal"- the kind of deal that traditional groups and power brokers might agree to- even possible? Or desirable? Or is it better to think in terms of each blogger, each online activist, making their own decisions on what to support or oppose on each issues, and not even getting into the insider-y world of negotiations and deal-making.
4. What would "a deal" look like prior to the 2008 election? Once a nominee is picked, what role do online activists want to play in helping that nominee win? How important is it that online activists work to hold the Democratic nominee accountable, and push them to move the right way on issues, during the general election campaign?
5. Given the fundamentally different nature of the netroots vs. more traditional styled organizations, do you have ideas about how to make sure online activists' views are really heard?
I ask those questions because I hope they will start an interesting discussion about the nature of the Open Left (the movement, not the blog). Does this movement want to be "at the table" in the conventional way that organizations and power blocs have always gotten themselves invited to the table in the past? Or is there more value in continuing to stay firmly planted on the outside? I can see it both ways, and will be interested in the discussion.