I have some sad news. After nearly four years in operation, today will be the final day Open Left publishes new content.
The site will not disappear, and all published content will remain online, but after today we will cease producing new content.
As the people who founded the site, myself included, moved on to other projects, we have gradually run out of money to maintain operations. It is a difficult decision, but we kept going for as long as we could.
I am, and always will be proud of the work we did here. I am, and will always be grateful to everyone who supported, visited, and participated in the site.
No matter what, the inside-outside fight we engaged for progressive change at Open Left will continue in other venues, even though this blog is about to close. The movement is much bigger than one blog.
Farewell posts will run throughout the day. Thank you, so much, to everyone.
An Adam Bink Golden Oldie
From Feb 25, 2010. Original HERE.
Over the weekend at Rootscamp and generally over the past few weeks, I've been participating in a series of conversations concerning the relationship between traditional "legacy" LGBT organizations- such as the Human Rights Campaign and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD)- and online communities. Discussions have centered around how there has been a lot of "infighting" over the past few months. Two prominent examples are the blogswarm last week aimed at the Human Rights Campaign around its strategy on Don't Ask, Don't Tell, along with Bil Browning's criticism of GLAAD around The Cleveland Show episode, but criticisms in general- including in my writing, as you may have noticed- have been growing louder across the LGBT blogosphere for some time now.
What is interesting to me is where healthy dialogue turns into "infighting", and why it is deemed critical that progressive movement actors- such as President Obama and Democratic Congressional leaders- need a "left flank", but the same does not seem to apply to LGBT organizations.
More on this, along with an interview w/HRC President Joe Solmonese, in the extended entry.
The DC Mayoral primary here between Council Chairman Vincent Gray and incumbent Mayor Adrian Fenty rages on, and it has become what I thought it would- but with a twist. From the start, as I wrote here in late March, I thought this would be a primary based on style over substantive issues, which is what it has turned out to be. The Sunday WaPo poll showed Gray up 53-36 among likely voters and with all the momentum, without a lot of daylight between the two candidates on issues. This comes in the same poll in which 67% of registered Dems say Fenty has brought needed change to the District (including 58% of blacks, a demographic where Fenty is cratering). 66% of registered Dems and 64% of all voters say Fenty has accomplished "a great deal" or "a good amount". I even find I can name at least half a dozen things Fenty has worked on in Mayor that I like as a part of living here. Yet large numbers say the Mayor isn't willing to listen to other points of view, is arrogant/aloof, etc.
For my part- I'm still undecided, and it's hard to find an election in which I've ever been undecided this close to election day- it's Fenty's personality that leads to things being done that could have been even better. Lack of willingness to meet with LGBT activists over a number of important issues including a trend in hate crimes. His schools chancellor, Michelle Rhee, running roughshod over teachers and parents (40% of registered Dems find her tenure a reason to vote against Fenty). And so forth. On the other hand, there's something to be said for moving forward without consensus, or having long debate. I tend to agree with this sentiment (although I won't be moving):
"If Fenty doesn't get four more years, I have to move out to the suburbs and commute," said Amy Weiser, 43, who has a child in kindergarten at Key Elementary in Northwest Washington. Gray, she said, strikes her as someone who is "going to hold hearings and hem and haw and nothing's going to get done."
Actually, Gray reminds me a bit of Gov. Paterson during his indecisive process to choose a replacement for Sen. Clinton. On key issues of importance, like the public schools here, lengthened debate is needed- but I'm not sure to the extent that Gray's inclination shows he's likely to provide across the board.
I'm interested in all this because I think it's become a fascinating process debate, one you don't usually see in politics. Slow and consensus-making versus fast and roughshod, the debate has become, even among my most apolitical friends.
A friend opined to me that the race has turned into another version of the 2000 Presidential election in terms of personality, e.g. guy you'd like to have a beer with (Bush) vs. guy with the personality of a dial tone (Gore). And her other complaint is that there hasn't been any discussion on the issues. Instead, I actually think it's become something more along the lines of the 2008 Democratic primary- Obama vs. Clinton- and a process debate on who would be best suited to bring change. I don't think that's such a bad thing.
Remember how your mom used to tell you to go outside and play so you could get some fresh air and sunshine? That's kind of how I feel today. This old insider, who has had one foot outside for a while now, is going to play with the kids outside for a while.
When Matt Stoller and Chris Bowers and I decided to start OpenLeft a little over 3 years ago, we thought it would be worthwhile to have a site where there was some dialogue and interplay between an old DC insider like me and some of the really smart and strategic voices from the blogosphere. We've had more than our share of fascinating discussions, entertaining debates, and innovative activist projects, and I am very proud of the role OpenLeft has played in the blogosphere.
When Markos approached Chris and I to work with DailyKos and help turn it into, in Markos' words, "an activist powerhouse", we were excited to sign up. The potential for working with the DailyKos community to build a platform for citizen activism is enormous, and we are both looking forward to being a part of helping it blossom and grow. In addition to that, I am excited to help Markos continue to build a truly dynamic media platform. The opportunity to work with him, Chris, and the entire DailyKos community is extraordinary.
As for OpenLeft, we are exploring what will happen next. Chris needs to dive full-time into working at DailyKos, and he was our editor and heart and soul, so him being gone causes us to re-evaluate everything. I will continue to write some for OpenLeft, as will Adam Bink and some of our other talented writers, but I have never been even close to a full-time presence, and since I will be increasingly working with DailyKos, I will have less time at OpenLeft than before.
One final note about my work going forward: I have also begun work this summer with MoveOn.org on their exciting project to clean up the corporate corruption in DC. While this project is currently focused on shaping the 2010 electoral dialogue, it will be a campaign we will need to keep on for years to come. To be working with both DailyKos and MoveOn.org, two of the leading institutions in the world of the progressive netroots, is an honor and a privilege.
No matter what happens, I will however remain an insider. Once they inject you with the insider virus, it does change your DNA a bit. I know some folks think that makes me intrinsically evil (one of my all time favorite comments on a blog post came the other day when someone said that because I knew Rahm Emanuel, that automatically made me a bad guy). But I hope I can work with the DailyKos community, as well as with OpenLeft and MoveOn, to use my insider knowledge to help the entire movement get better at shaking up what happens inside, and to be a bridge between the other progressive insiders that are involved in national politics and the progressive netroots community. For all my insider-y status, my roots are in the deep and wonderful tradition of progressive movement politics- Alinsky-style community organizing, the labor movement, the movements of the 1960s. Building on that history and tradition, I look forward to working with all of you to create a stronger progressive movement in the future.
First, let me be clear that Open Left will continue on in my absence. There will be other announcements about the future of the site in the coming weeks, but the site is not shutting down. We knew this was coming, and it is why I have had a reduced role in the front page for the past few weeks.
Second, while I am often a very dry writer, it is difficult to write this post without real emotion. Working with everyone here at Open Left--from the community members, to the other writers, to many people behind the scenes--has been a life changing experience for me in many ways. Leaving is not something that I do lightly, or without a huge amount of soul searching.
But, the time has come for me to do something new. Being able to continue the inside-outside work we have done here at Open Left on Daily Kos is incredibly exciting to me. I live in D.C., now, and I have been reading Daily Kos for eight years. Along with MyDD, it was actually the first blog I ever read. Both sites came to my attention as a result of a Google search for info on the 2002 midterms back in August of 2002.
It will be an honor to work at Daily Kos, just as it has been an honor to work with all of you for the past three years. I only hope that in making this transition I can help your desire for progressive change be more broadly manifested. This is about building an effective progressive movement that can deliver real change, and it is larger than any one person or any one blog.
Thank you to everyone who has joined me here at Open Left over the past three years. Please, continue to visit.
...and one more quick note. If you want to keep following me on Twitter, please follow @ThisBowers
The Senate has finally passed a bill that will give aid to states to help them close budget gaps on Medicaid, as well as prevent layoffs of teachers, firefighters, police and other state workers. The bill achieved cloture this morning 61-38, with all Democrats and two Republicans (Snowe and Collins) voting in favor.
The final version of the bill totaled $26 billion. Combined with the $34 billion unemployment re-authorization two weeks ago, the final total on the "second stimulus" package comes out to a paltry $60 billion. Originally, the target had been $253 billion, for a much wider variety of programs and projects.
And they expanded the cuts to SNAP. A CBO score released last night shows the revised version more than pays for itself, reducing the deficit by $1.37 billion over the next ten years. SNAP benefits face a $11.9 billion rollback starting in April, 2014. A family of three can expect their benefits to drop about $50 a month.
Never before have congressional policies actually created a month-to-month cut in food stamps. Even in the 1996 rollback of numerous welfare programs, SNAP benefits just grew more slowly than food inflation.
The fight is on over the next 44 months to prevent these cuts from actually taking effect. It is difficult to imagine a way the cuts can be prevented in a 60-vote Senate, meaning that the fix will either have to happen in the budget process or after filibuster reform. The fight will be made even more difficult given that the White House suggested and supported these cuts.
The entire process behind the second stimulus saga seems to prove Stoller's theorem The theorem states that the most likely outcome is not the worst outcome, but rather the most annoying outcome. In this case, no unemployment extension and state aid bill would definitely have been the worst outcome, but a heavily watered down version that took up several months of Senate time, and cut foodstamps in the process, was definitely the most annoying outcome.
It's Friday! For me, that means the start of a long weekend of unpacking, which should finally result in having a single, functional place to live. It will be an exhausting end to an exhausting three months, but I can't wait.
Also, Brave New Films has started a series of video conversations in conjunction with a few other blogs, including Open Left. Here is the first one, featuring Henry Rollins, discussing whether got into punk rock because of his politics, or whether he was politicized because of punk rock. Check it out:
I have enjoyed reading the (mostly) thoughtful reactions to my post a couple of days back entitled "Time for a new conversation", and have to admit that I was convinced by some of the arguments people made. Debcoop, Paul Rosenberg, and several others made really cogent, compelling arguments about the need for building a progressive narrative separate from the Obama narrative, and the need for having a strategic foundation underpinned with an understanding of where Obama is coming from and trying to get to.
Here are some further thoughts about narrative and strategy for progressives in the Obama era:
1) I was intentionally trying to be provocative in "Time for a new conversation", and it clearly worked. I agree with debcoop that it would be helpful to know more about where Obama intends to end up on key issues in terms of plotting our own progressive strategy. But it is always hard to read Presidential tea leaves and motivations. What we can base our strategy on is what we know about the nature of modern Democratic coalitions.
Unfortunately, the Democratic coalition in the modern era has shifted more toward the corporate side. However, the progressive elements of that coalition still have enough collective strength that they ought to be using what juice they have to force more concessions than they generally get, wherever Obama personally may be on a given issue. Every single fight needs to be analyzed more in advance to see what we think we have the capacity to win.
2) We need to do better at keeping hope alive, as Jesse Jackson used to say. I know this may not seem like it is related very much to a discussion about how much we should be arguing about whether Obama is a progressive or not, but it seems to me that a lot of the Obama arguments are weighted with a sense of hopelessness and a level of cynicism that makes hope impossible. Now just to be clear before people start attacking me as being an apologist for Obama: I don't believe Obama is a strong progressive, I have been disappointed in a great many things he has done, and I think his political strategy so far has mostly sucked. But I also believe what I was taught in my first organizing workshop (by Saul Alinsky's Industrial Areas Foundation) 35 years ago: the only way you can organize people and win victories is if people have hope. Thinking that all is lost, that all Democrats suck, that Obama will each and every time screw us, that the forces of corporations and the right will win every single battle, or that none of the things we do win matter, is not conducive to winning anything important that matters in real people's lives, or getting people to take action.
Read, if you can bear it, Eric Alterman's 17,000 word piece on why the Obama administration has been a disappointment (he's more on the "it's not Obama, it's the system" side of things). Page after page after page of unmitigated depression about how horrible things are for our side- and he likes Obama! If I believed it was as hopeless as all that, I would quit politics all together and just try to figure out how much money I could make. It is not a great way to inspire people to action. While I think we need to be realistic about the very big challenges we face as progressives, looking at what is possible and at the good trends is useful as well. Here's some examples:
Eric was dismissive of the blogosphere and the potential for new media, and he didn't even mention most of the exciting organizing going on in the field. When I came to DC with Clinton in 1992, progressives were a scattered bunch of mostly weak single issue or constituency groups, whose main membership was an aging and passive direct mail list. MoveOn, the Huffington Post, Media Matters, the Center for American Progress, the Daily Kos, and Campaign for America's future didn't exist. And there were no major media figures with platforms on the progressive side of things. Now we have Rachel Maddow, Keith Olbermann, Ed Shultz, the Young Turks, Dylan Ratigan, and the ever evolving, incredibly creative blogosphere.
In the 1990's, gays in the military and a tiny stimulus jobs program were crushed early, health care reform was a flaming disaster, and Democrats as well as Republicans were speeding down the track in the wrong direction on financial regulation. For all the flaws and compromises, in the last 18 months we have seen by far the biggest stimulus jobs package in history, a bill providing near universal coverage and some protections against the worst abuses of insurance companies, and a financial reform bill that audits the Fed, has an independent consumer protection agency, and wins some other solid regulatory victories.
Here's the other thing: as Chris has done such a good job of pointing out, the long term demographic trends play very much in our favor. People of color are rising dramatically as a percentage of the electorate, as are unmarried folks and non-Christian and/or less traditionally religious people. All of those demographic groups tend toward progressive politics, as does this generation of young people coming into the electorate right now.
I understand all the challenges, and I totally get the frustrations with Obama. But hope springs eternal, and history shows that progressive breakthroughs are possible even in tough times (sometimes especially in tough times).
3) The narrative thing on Obama is very tricky. I completely agree that we need to project a progressivism that is not Obamaism, an ideological center of gravity stronger, clearer, and more idealistic than Obama's. But the experience from my earliest days in politics with the Carter presidency is not especially positive on this scene. Carter had a bad relationship with most progressives, got a strong primary challenge from the left, and had a general election third party candidate (Barry Commoner) with some major progressive endorsements running on his left. But Republicans and their allies in the media still pegged Carter as the personification of liberalism for a generation. And Carter did not push through a major deficit spending jobs bill, a universal health care bill, and a big re-structuring of bank regulations as Obama has. Not that we don't have a great case, and not that we shouldn't try to create a progressive narrative separate from Obama, but it will be a serious challenge.
That's enough for one sitting. I have enjoyed the discussion on this topic, and have definitely moved as a result. I look forward to more dialogue on how to react to Obama, and- more importantly in my mind- how to win more progressive victories in the Obama era.
The argument over Obama and the left rages on unabated. It started in earnest the day after his election with the first leaks of who would be appointed to the transition team, and has kept going since. Peter Daou, along with Chris and Paul here at OpenLeft, along with many other good folks have weighed in recently in different ways (Eric Alterman at 17,000 words' worth) continuing a running commentary/debate over whether Obama is a progressive or not, is a success or a disappointment or something in between, is a good guy or not, has good values or not, whether his accomplishments and appointments so far have been good enough. The debates and various splits within the movement have been thoughtfully analyzed, re-analyzed, calibrated, and re-calibrated a whole bunch of times. There's a lot of thoughtful things being written, for sure.
However, I'm writing this post not to join the debate, but to say that at the end of the day, I find myself confused as to why it matters. Clearly people are very passionate about it, but I don't get why. What matters in my view is not how we judge Obama, but what we do to shape his actions, and what we do in response to his actions. Everything else is just metaphysics and your particular perspective on life.
Some people are optimists, some are pessimists. Some have a lot of faith, some are more cynical. There are a lot of different theories of change going on, and different views about what are positive platforms upon which to build, and what compromises move us in the wrong direction. This is not about facts, it is about your perspective in politics. For every big piece of legislation Obama has pushed for, I could write a big post about the good things it does, or a big post about all the disappointments and bad things about the bill, or all the things left out of it. I can list off scores of good and progressive things Obama has done, and scores of bad things. I can list scores of really good people appointed, and scores of pro-corporate ones I have been disappointed with. Increasingly, though, I feel like rehashing these arguments is like debating whether God exists or not, or how many angels can sit on the head of a pin: you can believe whatever you want because there is no right answer. I think it's interesting to hear the debate (I like theological conversations as much as anyone), but I don't know where it gets us as a movement. And every time I say something nice about Obama I get blasted by some folks as an apologist, while every time I criticize him, I get slammed by pro-Obama folks as a negative attack dog (I have done a fair amount of both, so I have both sides plenty).
What matters, though, isn't Obama's essential goodness, or whether he's really a progressive or not. We can't control that. What matters is what we do to shape and build the progressive response to Obama. Our job, as citizens and activists, isn't to bitch about or praise Obama, but to fight him when he is doing wrong, help him when he does the right thing, and work to shape the choices he makes.
At some point next year, we all may need to make a decision about whether to help a primary opponent to Obama if someone decides to take him on. It may happen, it may not. If it does, progressives will have to make a decision, and I imagine in such a case, there will be a split as to what to do. But for now, I am weary of all the angst over him. I would rather spend my time and energy figuring out how to stop the war in Afghanistan, pass an energy bill that actually gets something real done, pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill, win improvements to the health care and banking policies that have been put into place this year, create a unified progressive strategy on the budget that doesn't involve screwing over senior citizens or poor and middle-class working families, and work on all the other key issue fights coming up. On some of those issues, we will be fighting with Obama; on some, we will be on the same side; on some (like the budget), we will probably be with him part of the time and against him part of the time. But I'm not getting how the meta-Obama discussions really help us win anything important- and isn't that the point of political action?
A slow news day has me thinking meta. Specifically, it has me thinking about how far I have drifted in my politics over the past decade, becoming disillusioned with the radical, agitating left, and growing much more willing to engage politics from the mainstream and institutional inside.
A 20-hour marathon by members of a House-Senate conference committee to complete work on toughened financial rules culminated at 5:39 a.m. Friday in agreements on the two most contentious parts of the financial regulatory overhaul and a host of other provisions. Along party lines, the House conferees voted 20 to 11 to approve the bill; the Senate conferees voted 7 to 5 to approve.
The specifics are currently unavailable. What reports are available is that Blanche Lincoln's "Section 716" on derivatives was significantly weakened, but not removed entirely. Also the Merkley-Levin "Volcker rule" was stronger than both the versions that passed the House and Senate, but it still contained a significant exemption to win Scott Brown's (R-MA) vote. Tim Fernholtz and David Dayen have these details. And yeah, we won the swipe fee bit.
The bill is murky, because this entire policy area is murky, and its consequences will be difficult to predict. The main test of whether or not it succeeds will be a negative one--we will know it failed if another financial meltdown occurs. In terms of reducing the concentrated power and wealth of larger financial institutions, the bill is relatively weak. Even so, bigger banks and credit card companies will lose billions and billions in profits every year because of this legislation. Consumers will receive more protection, too.
Later today, I will produce a list of the good things in the bill. This will not be done either to stick my head in the sand and deny that a lot of strong reforms were left on the table, or to give the people who engaged in the fight more credit than they deserve. Instead, I simply want to let people know that good comes with the bad, and there efforts were not for nothing. Not recognizing the achievements of the bill is to live in the same amount of denial as not recognizing its failures. We need to know what we achieved, and what we did not achieve, and keep fighting.
The bill could unquestionably have been stronger. However, what political steps were necessary to make it stronger are entirely unclear. If different activists had a viable path to stronger reforms, either they did not articulate that path, or they did not execute that path.
If the bill proves not to be strong enough, then everyone who wanted stronger reforms failed. Everyone. No one gets an exemption, whether you engaged in the fight or not. If our efforts and our complaints were not enough to achieve stronger reforms, we don't get bonus points when the next crash occurs. The crash still happens. The difference in culpability between those who attempted to stop it, and those who egged it one, is a difference of degree, not of type.
While everyone must decide who to act for her or himself, I personally feel a lot better when I engage these fights, then by sitting on the sideline saying how the fight itself sucked. If we are going to fail, I feel a lot more pure if I tried, then if I just washed my hands of the entire matter. For what it is worth, getting a chance to be close to the health care reform, Pennsylvania Senate primary, and wall Street reform these past 13 months has at least convinced me that politics really is run by actual, fallible people, rather than by vague, impersonal, irresistible forces. We can make change, both for good and for bad. Also, failure is an option--we absolutely can just screw everything up. Perhaps most importantly, success is an option, but it only becomes one if we engage in the fight, and figure out a way to marshal enough people and resources behind the causes we believe in, and do so in effective ways.
Ruy Teixeira, of The Emerging Democratic Majority fame, has a new, lengthy paper (large PDF) up on the coming impact of demographic changes on American electoral politics.. The basic thesis as one you have heard before: over the next two or three decades, demographic changes strongly favor the Democratic Party, since population growth is concentrated within groups that vote heavily Democratic (non-whites, non-Christians, Creative Class, Millennials etc).
In the face of these trends, Teixiera lays out two possible paths forward for continued Republican electoral competitiveness:
Increased appeal to Democratic base groups through ideological moderation;
Ineffectiveness of Democratic governance
The second path is the only realistic one. This is because there is simply no conceivable institutional force that could push Republicans to the center.
There is simply no engine that can apply enough pressure to move Republicans to the center in the face of the combined force of right-wing media (Limbaugh, Fox News and more), the Christian Right (even though they have faded a bit lately), the Club for Growth, and the Tea Party (whether or not that is actually a definable institution). None. Zip. Zero. Nada. The resources simply do not exist for any group that would be interested in moving Republicans to the center. Further, there isn't even really a group interested in acquiring those non-existent resources. With over 70% of Republicans self-identifying as conservative, there is no base for it.
What funding did exist was largely produced by progressive, single issue advocacy infrastructure that, kin the interest of retaining influence on both sides of the aisle, used a double-standard and lot of its money to prop up moderate Republicans such as Lincoln Chaffee, Arlen Specter, and the Maine Senators. However, that infrastructure was not producing any new moderate Republicans, just protecting the old ones. Further, it faces a new left-wing critique, was based on a double standard of choosing slightly-less than horrible candidates on their issues, and has generally proven to be no match for the right-wing forces outlined above.
So, the path forward for Republicans is to rely on ineffective Democratic governance. On that front, they are doing pretty well. The current manifestation of the Democratic Party is designed primarily govern in a fashion that protects center-right members of its own party. Unfortunately, governing in a fashion that improves the lives of most Americans is only its secondary purpose. The irony of this structure is that the only way to protect center-right members of the Democratic Party over the long-term is to cement a governing majority by improving the lives of the majority of Americans. But hey, I'm just a frakking stupid, pajama wearing, Cheetos munching blogger, so what do I really know anyway.