The progressive movement is at a challenging but fascinating time in our country's history. Even when the Democrats had a newly elected President who ran on a platform of big change, 60 votes in the Senate, a big margin of control in the House and the most progressive Speaker in history, we still had trouble getting big changes passed. We accomplished some important things, but not nearly as much or as progressively as we had hoped. Now, with a Republican House, only 53 Democratic senators, and a President who has signaled he wants to move more to the center, progressives have even less power than before.
There's one other factor that even this old-school, lefty populist needs to acknowledge at this moment in our political history: While most voters remain very angry at Wall Street, health insurance companies, big businesses that keep outsourcing jobs, and other corporate special interests, they also are very angry with a government that seems pretty dysfunctional. Swing voters in particular are generally tired of traditional political arguments, and just want political leaders who are going to be very pragmatic about actually delivering jobs and other tangible economic benefits. In this environment, progressives should not shy away from making populist arguments, but need to temper that populism with a pragmatic message about helping small businesses and manufacturers create more jobs.
Things can change rapidly in politics (just ask Hosni Mubarak), but in the foreseeable future, if we want to make any progress in the legislative or regulatory arena, progressives will need to frame their ideas in new ways and look for alliances that go beyond the usual suspects. I have even given a name to this strategy: entrepreneurial populism. The idea is to continue to take on Wall Street and the other big corporate interests that have sweetheart deals with the government, but to do it on behalf of middle-class homeowners and entrepreneurial small businesses.
A Mike Lux Golden Oldie
From Feb 06, 2010. Original HERE.
Chris Hayes' piece on America's system failure in The Nation on February 3rd is one of the single best posts I've seen in a long time on the long term challenges facing progressive activists in this county. It captures for me that combination of intense discouragement at the problems we've been having getting anything good done in the Obama era so far, with that call for continuing the fight that I think is so important for all of us.
What Chris captured in his diagnosis of the American political system at present was that sense of how broken things are in really fundamental ways. It reminded me of my feelings when old friends from the Clinton administration era read my blog posts and asked if I've moved to the left in the years since I worked in the Clinton White House. My answer is no. I don't think I have, but I do feel that the country is at a much more precarious juncture, and that more fundamental change needs to be pushed right now.
So the marriage has been a little rocky here after the first couple of years. There's been some whining and screaming and throwing of plates; there's been some flirting with other suitors. But I still believe there is plenty of time to patch things up. Where does the relationship between Obama and the progressive community go now?
The answer will come down to the following things:
1. The response to hostage taking. The president set himself up with progressives, and the media in general, by using the hostage language. Because the president seemed to concede the fight early, and because of the terms of the deal, the perception among my fellow progressives has been that the Republicans got most of what they wanted on the tax cut fight, that the terms of the deal were set by them rather than the President. In other words, by his very own language, he gave into the hostage takers. Now every time the Republicans threaten a showdown -- on the debt ceiling, on the budget fights, etc -- he is going to look weak if he doesn't stand up to them at least in part.
Compromises will have to made in divided government, but who gets the best of the compromises matters enormously. In 1995, President Clinton managed the compromise dance by having protracted showdowns with the Republicans at multiple key moments -- threatening vetoes, delivering vetoes even when they shut down the government. Even on welfare reform, which he eventually signed, he vetoed the first two versions of the bill the GOP passed, forcing real concessions before he agreed to sign it, which made it look like he was in charge.
Obama has to manage fights with Congress so that it looks like they are making compromises on his terms not the Republicans, which is what Clinton did on the budget fight and welfare reform. If Obama looks weak, if he looks like he is folding to the Republicans' main demands, progressives will rebel in a way that makes the tax cut reaction look like it was a big endorsement. The concession to Republicans on the tax cuts will smart for a while, but it will be forgiven if Obama shows strength and guts and resolve in future showdowns. And maybe he should just get started early: announce now that he will not allow the credit and financial standing of the United States to be held hostage, that he will only accept a clean, no amendment extension of the debt ceiling next year.
2. The response to the deficit commission. If the President decides to embrace all of what the deficit commission chairs proposed, including Social Security and Medicare cuts and an increase in the retirement age, all hell will break loose. Based on the conversations I have had with folks in the progressive community, this will be nothing like the tax cut deal, where progressives were actually quite divided because of the urgency of getting unemployment comp extended.
There is nothing in the deficit commission report progressives like well enough to be able to stomach cuts in Social Security and Medicare, the most core components of progressive movement identity. If Obama does this, it will truly be crossing the Rubicon, going on a bridge too far (and every other cliché imaginable). It would virtually guarantee a well-funded primary; it would provoke attack ads by Democratic base groups; it would generate millions in online contributions to groups and blogs to fight Obama. It would be civil war within the Democratic Party, the big one.
Along with the civil rights legislation of the mid 1960s, Social Security and Medicare are the ultimate achievements of the modern progressive movement, providing senior citizens (and the children who take care of them) a modest safety net as they grow older. Progressives will never sign off on cutting benefits for elderly Americans, most of whom make less than $20,000 a year with their Social Security, or raising the retirement age for working class folks who work long hours at demanding jobs if they are lucky enough to get full time employment at all. There are plenty of policy compromises and rhetorical moves to the center progressives could live with: this ain't one of them.
3. The response to the loss of immigration reform. For the last two years, the Obama administration has cracked down on undocumented immigrants, driving up deportations to record numbers. They have argued to Hispanics and progressives that doing this was the only way to get the political cover needed to pass comprehensive immigration, or more recently the DREAM Act.
With the sad death of the Dream Act last week and a far more anti-immigrant Congress coming to town in January, any hope of legislative progress on immigration is dead. Obama making preemptive concessions without getting Republican support on this and several other issues has become a real sore spot for progressives in general, but doing it on this issue is inflaming arguably the most politically volatile part of Obama's base. Hispanic voters turned out in big enough numbers, and voted strongly enough for Democrats, to save a bunch of western Senate, Governor's, and House seats for the party this time around, and they are going to be badly needed to do the same in 2012 for Obama to have a chance in states like FL, CO, NV, NM, AZ, and OR.
If Obama sticks with the tough-on-deportation political strategy while showing no progress on immigration overall over the next two years, it will irritate the entire progressive community, but it will enrage his Hispanic base most of all.
4. Which side is he on? On the most fundamental economic issues of our time -- jobs and the foreclosure crisis -- progressives along with middle and working class swing voters need to be convinced that the president is on their side. Because of TARP, the revelations about AIG's bonuses and paying back banks like Goldman in full, the administration not putting the big banks into receivership or demanding concessions from banks in return for saving them, because of opposing attempts to break up the banks during financial reform, and most recently, because of not supporting a freeze on foreclosures or other strong accountability measures on banks engaged in foreclosure fraud, progressives and middle class voters feel like the administration hasn't held the banks to account, hasn't been on their side when the banks are running roughshod over homeowners and regular folks.
It feels to a lot of progressives and working class folks like the president has fought hard to save the banks, but not for jobs or to help homeowners being victimized by bankers. Nothing would repair the breach between progressives and the White House more than taking actions on the foreclosure crisis that showed they were clearly, strongly, unequivocally on the side of the middle class instead of the banks on this foreclosure. As I have argued before, it is the great sleeper issue in American politics over the next two years. And in terms of the jobs issue, the president isn't going to have much success getting new jobs measures though Congress, but there is a great deal that the executive branch can do to promote a strong jobs agenda, and in every speech the president needs to be pushing everybody -- his own agencies of government, Congress, the private sector, even the non-profit sector -- to have a single-minded clarity about creating new jobs.
Corporations need to be pushed to spend some of last year's record profits on producing jobs. Banks need to be pushed to invest in and lend money to businesses that want to hire new workers. Non-profits need to be given incentives and grant money to help them hire more people. President Obama needs to be seen as fighting for jobs in every single thing he does, and he needs to be seen as taking a stand on behalf of workers and homeowners against banks that are taking advantage of them, and companies sitting on big profits but not hiring anyone.
Today, the president had a great signing ceremony of the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell". His speech was as strong and fired up as anything I have seen in a while. On that issue, it took a long time to get it done, with lots of frustrations along the way, and both the White House and the LGBT community had a lot of tense crabby times with each other. But through persistence and being aggressive, it got done. The president needs to carry that fire and that spirit forward in working with the broader progressive community. There aren't going to be a lot more clear progressive legislative victories over the next couple of years, but the President has plenty of time to rebuild the singed and broken bridge to the progressive community. He needs to show strength in dealing with the Republicans; he needs to not embrace things that progressives hold most dear; he needs to not move to the right on issues when there is no corresponding concession from the other side; and he needs to make crystal clear whose side he is on. That is not going to be easy with the Republicans running the House, and the David Broder's of DC constantly calling on him to move to some kind of mystical DC center with Republicans who keep moving the goalposts back. But this President still has plenty of opportunity, even in a divided government that will call for some compromise, to show progressives he is on their side in the things that matter the most, and they should be on his.
No president has ever won re-election with an estranged base, because it is a president's base that fights your battles for you, that stands with you and defends you when times get tough and the other side is on the attack, that gives you money and knocks on doors for you and talks neighbors and co-workers into voting for you. Mr. President, you can get your base back and you need to. If you show you are on our side, we will be on yours.
Life plays funny tricks on you. In families and among circles of friends it sometimes happens where you are mourning one person's death at the same time a new baby is about to be born, or a wedding is about to happen. Yesterday was like that for the progressive family, and it feels like the last couple of years have been that way all the time.
At the same time we mourn the loss of the commonsense, bi-partisan, utterly moderate idea DREAM Act for immigrant students, we celebrate the long delayed and absurdly painful passage of the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell". What one hand giveth, the other taketh away. Through the unfortunately standard combination of Democratic bad luck, dysfunctional Senate rules, and poor political decision making, we couldn't have even a moment or two to celebrate a big victory without a horribly painful defeat happening the very same day. This is the story of the last two years. In early 2009, we get the biggest investment in public jobs and infrastructure when every progressive economist was screaming at the top of their lungs that the amount of money in the stimulus bill is way too inadequate to deal with the economic crisis at hand, so we see the official unemployment rate rise to 10%, and voters think the stimulus didn't work. We finally get a version of comprehensive health care reform, but it doesn't include the one thing most progressives were most passionate about, the public option. We get a banking reform bill that does some great things to rebuild the regulatory structure, but it does nothing on the most important problem to deal with, breaking up the big banks. Democrats pass wonderful policy changes that would be highly popular if any actual voter living outside of DC knew about them- equal pay for women, tax cuts for the middle class embedded into the stimulus bill, a big improvement in the student loan system, a bill finally regulating the tobacco industry, a measure to help protect consumers from bank rip-offs- and then never again talk about them.
So this weekend is one of those classic bittersweet moments for me. Both of these issues are really personal to me. I was in a lot of those White House meetings in 1993 trying to figure out how to get out of the corner Sam Nunn and Colin Powell had painted us into on gays in the military, knowing that if we had a showdown on the floor of Congress, we would get our asses kicked and get a policy locked in that was terrible. The "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" compromise was a truly bitter pill to swallow, the best we thought we could do given the political dynamics in front of us at that time, and I have been hoping we could finally do the right thing for 17 years since, so this is a truly great day for me. But I have also done a lot of work on the immigration issue, and I have looked into the hopeful and earnest faces of the students who were fighting for the DREAM Act. These young people know the promise and ideals of America better than most of us that grew up here. they know the words on the statue of liberty. They know the words of the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address and the I Have A Dream speech. They know what America is supposed to be, and I know they are bitterly disappointed today, and I am disappointed with them and for them.
For the sake of the Democratic party and the broader progressive family, for the sake of our spirits and psychology, this should have been managed better than to put this great victory and this bitter pill together. When your troops are battered and their morale is beaten up, to finally have won a big victory on such an important issue should have been a moment of pure joy, but it got messed up. Democrats need to figure out how to take these victories and highlight them rather than pairing them with something awful.
Having said all that, even with the bitter defeat of the DREAM Act, progressives do need to take a moment here at the end of this tough year and celebrate the end of DADT. It is an important victory for all of us, not just for gays and lesbians. Progress has been made, justice has finally been done, and we should glory in it. We should give credit where credit is due, to all those brave gay and lesbian soldiers who have served their country twice, in our wars and in the cause of justice. We should give credit to the LGBT movement that made this happen, to the insiders and outsiders whose combined efforts made it happen. And we should give credit to the politicians who finally pushed it through all the barriers and hoops and prejudice to make it happen. Change is never easy, even when it should be, and it never feels like you are winning when you are in the heat of battle. But as MLK liked to remind us, the arc of the moral universe is long, but it curves toward justice. It will curve someday toward justice on immigration, and on the other issues we are still fighting on. We just have to keep battling.
Rather than writing just another blog post today, I am feeling the need to write an open letter to the President.
Dear Mr. President,
I think I speak for a lot of folks in writing this letter, although I readily admit that some of my progressive friends have given up on you and are talking about a primary challenge, and others still support you strongly no matter what. But there are a lot of us who find ourselves genuinely conflicted about your Presidency and your relationship with the progressive community.
Like millions of other Democrats, I went all out for you in the campaign, giving money, knocking on doors, making phone calls, being involved in groups who were helping you, helping out in every other way I could think of to help. Like hundreds of thousands of other progressive activists, I have spent many hours and given much money over the last two years working on behalf of your stimulus package, your health care reform bill, and your financial reform bill. Having lived through the Jimmy Carter years, when Carter governed as a moderate and was challenged in many different ways by progressives yet was still successfully labeled a liberal by Republicans, I have written time and time and again that progressives' fate is inextricably linked to your fate whether either of us wants it to be, and that progressives should do whatever we can to make you a successful President. And I still believe that. No one wants you to succeed more than I do.
So here I am, along with so many others, out here fighting- really fighting- for everything you say you believe in. On health care, you said you were for a public option, for negotiating drug prices on Medicare, against taxing workers' health care benefits, and that is what I and so many others who are your supporters fought for. On taxes, you said you were against the wealthiest of Americans having their Bush tax cuts extended, and that is what your supporters fought against. On these and so many other issues, we have fought by your side for what you said you were for.
Let me switch from "we" to "I" for a minute, because I am an old Washington insider who knows that compromise on some issues is inevitable, and that even the best of Presidents have to make deals. FDR made compromises, so did his cousin Teddy, so did Lincoln on slavery and LBJ on civil rights and Medicare. I supported your stimulus plan even though I thought it was way too small. I supported health care reform even though it didn't have a public option. I supported financial reform even though it didn't break up the Too Big To Fail banks. But I was disappointed about all the compromises that had to made and I did fight against them- because that is the job of the progressive movement. As an old community organizer, I am saddened that you don't seem to understand that basic notion. Frederick Douglass and Charles Sumner supported the emancipation proclamation, but still demanded that slaves be freed in every state, not just the Confederate states. John L Lewis supported Social Security but immediately began fighting for it to be extended. Martin Luther King, Jr supported the 1964 Civil Rights Act, but complained bitterly that it didn't include voting rights and kept fighting for that to happen. It is our job as progressives to fight for more, and our job to complain when we didn't get it. That doesn't make us- or King or Lewis or Douglass- sanctimonious. They, and we, are just doing what we are supposed to do. And Mr. President, you of all people should understand that.
I will say again: no one wants you to succeed more than I. But I fear that you are on the verge of destroying your Presidency by not showing your supporters that you are fighting just as hard as they are for your principles, and in fact attacking us when we do. Washington establishment wisdom says that you can blow off your supporters, because where are they going to go after all? And this much is true: people like me will support you in the general election against Sarah Palin or whatever far right extremist the Republicans put up against you. But it is no accident that the last 4 Presidents to not get re-elected to a second term (George HW Bush, Jimmy Carter, Jerry Ford, LBJ) all had a bad relationship with their party's base. Because it is your base activists who fight your battles. It is your activists who defend you when the other side attacks. It is your activists who fight for your legislative agenda. It is your activists who fuel your field operation and grassroots enthusiasm. It is your activists who register voters and drag marginal voters to the polls so you win the close states.
Mr. President, there are plenty of us out here who understand the need to compromise sometimes. What we don't understand is this sense that you have thrown in the towel before the battle has begun. And we don't understand being attacked by you when what we are fighting for is your agenda. If you are dismissive of the need to rally your own troops, if you are disdainful of the very people who have fought the hardest on your behalf, you will destroy your Presidency. For your sake, for your party's sake, for your country's sake, we can't afford for that to happen. Mr. President, those of us who have been on your side need to know that you are on our side, too.
It is the week before Christmas- oh, wait, sorry, I'm getting punchy, wrong season. It is the week before election night, and the creatures are definitely stirring. And I'm not just talking about Republicans, either.
The President is doing what a President should do right before an election, and reaching to those of us in his base. The base is stirring in return, simultaneously challenging him and also getting more pumped up about this election. And the DC establishment version of Democratic moderates are stirring around too, not wanting to be left out of the conversation.
Let me address the last point first. Third Way has a new memo out arguing that us lefties need moderate Democrats to succeed, and I actually agree in part. The point they make about there not being enough progressives in the House, let alone in the Senate with their dysfunctional and thoroughly outdated filibuster rules, to get bills passed is true enough and probably will be for a while. And as I have been arguing for many years with my fellow progressives for many years, even though the demographics get steadily better for us progressives year after year, and even though voters actually agree with us progressives on most important issues, we still do need independent and swing voters to win elections.
There are multiple places where their argument breaks down, though. For one thing, their argument re data is always based on self-identified liberals vs self-identified moderates, but the liberal brand has become so poisoned that very few people use it to describe themselves. Most people associate the term "liberal" with east and west coast social issue liberals, and some of the most loyal Democratic and progressive issue voters- including a majority of African-Americans, Hispanics, unmarried working class women, union members, or young people- don't use the term about themselves. Secondly, the proposition that more ideological cohesion would make it easier to get things done in Congress is pretty hard to argue with, even though folks like the Third Way keep trying, and I think party leaders would be far better served to keep that in mind when recruiting and prioritizing which kinds of candidates to help: if it's a close call in terms of winning the election, the DCCC should help Mary Jo Kilroy before they help Bobby Bright, helping the loyalist who will vote with the Democratic caucus on almost all of the tough votes makes a lot of sense.
The biggest problem with the Third Way argument, though, connects to the fascinating back and forth between Obama and progressive interviewers in recent weeks: the palpable frustration expressed by, say, Jon Stewart in his interview is far less about having to make compromises to get things done, and far more with the insider-y ways deals were cut and decisions were made re what to compromise on. This is what Third Way and other pundits who argue for moderation never seem to understand: their version of centrism and the rest of the country's are very different. As I wrote a while back:
In Washington, being a moderate means being for raising the retirement age and cutting benefits for Social Security. In the rest of America, fighting to preserve Social Security is a huge plus for voters. In Washington, being a moderate means being for "free trade" deals. In the rest of America, working class swing voters hate the trade deals that they know are shipping their jobs overseas. In Washington, being a moderate means being for extending all of the Bush tax cuts even those for millionaires. In the rest of America, it is those working class swing voters who don't like those kinds of tax cuts.
Most of all, being a moderate in Washington means getting along nicely with all those corporate lobbyists who keep coming to see you (and dropping off checks). In the rest of America, swing voters and base voters are completely united that Washington is too controlled by wealthy and powerful special interests, and that their power needs to be rolled back. The polling numbers on strict new lobby reforms, on rolling back the Citizens United decision, on public financing so that candidates aren't dependent on special interests for campaign cash are incredibly strong. Voters are disgusted by the kind of business as usual described in this article from Roll Call. If Democratic candidates spent their time attacking that kind of special interest funding and the attack ads being generated by corporate cash, they would have swing as well as Democratic base vote standing up and cheering.
Now I'm not going to pretend that part of progressive frustration hasn't been about Obama compromising on really important issues to us: clearly most of us have argued passionately in favor of things like a public option and breaking up the big banks, and against the choice language on the health care bill and the escalation of the war in Afghanistan. But a great deal of the frustration has been about the sense, fair or not, that the administration is accepting the standard way of doing business in Washington: cutting deals with corporate lobbyists early rather than boldly challenging them. My sense is that the essential argument between Obama and Stewart was that Obama was arguing that he is doing the best he can given the system he is dealing with, and Stewart is arguing that he should push harder to change the system itself.
The Obama-Stewart interview, the Rolling Stone interview, the session with bloggers yesterday are actually thrilling to me in that they represent a healthy, honest give and take between a Democratic President in the modern era and progressive media. While I wish Obama would answer some things differently, and wish certain questions or follow-ups would have been asked that weren't, both sides are doing their jobs in the thrust and parry. Obama is doing the interviews in the first place, encouraging people to ask him tough questions and not shying away when they do, defending himself and making his case that he cares about the same things the base cares about. The questioners are asking pointed questions about why is he isn't doing better, or why his policy decisions haven't been different. That honest give and take is exactly what needs to be happening, except there needs to be more of it. The President needs to directly engage his base, be willing to take more and tougher questions and criticism from those of us in progressive politics. And the base should push the President, and the entire administration, aggressively and specifically on the crucial issues of the day. I appreciated the President mentioning Martin Luther King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail", where King made his brilliant and timeless "why we can't wait" argument. Progressives should always push for more, we should always organize and agitate and complain. That is our job. Center-left Presidents need a left flank, and they should do what President Obama has been doing lately: engage that left flank directly and openly. That is the only way progress is made. So, Mr. President, I hope you will keep doing these interviews, and I hope the questions keep being tough and get even tougher. I hope you and your inner circle build and strengthen your relationships with those of us who keep pushing from your left, because you need us politically and you need us to actually make progress. The abolitionists in the 1860s kept challenging Lincoln, the populists and progressives around the turn of the 20th century kept challenging Teddy Roosevelt, the labor movement kept making FDR "do it", and the civil rights movement kept challenging Jack and Bobby Kennedy and LBJ. And in each era, both the Presidents and the progressive movements of the time worked constructively together to make big changes. If Obama wants to be a successful President, he needs to keep engaging with us, and progressives need to keep engaging with him.
For reference, Obama and the left, part 432 can be found here
The progressive community and the Obama administration are once again in a firefight, this one started by White House spokesman Robert Gibbs. There has been and will be a huge amount of commentary on this in the blogosphere and the media in general over the next few days, and Gibbs' quote will go right up there with the infamous "left of the left" quote during health care, Rahm's infamous "f'ing retarded" quote (he apologized afterwards to advocates for those with mental disabilities, but of course not to progressives), the locker room gloating "organized labor just flushed $10 million down the toilet" quote, and a variety of other random insults that progressives have to chew over.
Thankfully, Gibbs has released a statement pulling back from that interview, and I am assured by friends at the White House that this is just "Robert being in a bad mood", etc. Happy to hear it, and I am willing to give the White House the benefit of the doubt (which I know may not be very popular among many folks in progressiveland). I also am happy to give this Administration credit where credit is due, and they do actually deserve some.
Given the economic straits we are in, the stimulus was too small, and had too many tax cuts in it, but it is still the biggest jobs bill in American history, and the biggest investment in public goods (schools, teachers, roads, bridges, clean energy, firefighters, cops, broadband, etc.). The health care bill had big flaws, including the lack of a public option, but Obama succeeded at extending coverage to virtually everyone and reining in major insurance abuses (on pre-existing conditions, lifetime caps, etc.) when every other President before for a hundred years had failed. The financial reform bill didn't break up the banks, but we won very significant victories in reining in the financial sector, and went the right direction on financial regulation instead of the wrong direction as we did in the last four Presidents' tenures. The federal budgets Obama submitted have been the most progressive in many way s at least since 1993, and maybe since the 1960s. We won a major victory on, and expansion of, the student loan program for college students. Tobacco is regulated by the FDA for the first time. The equal pay law got passed, S-CHIP got expanded, the hate crimes bill got signed, unneeded weapons systems got eliminated. And Obama has at least pushed for other big legislation on climate change, immigration reform, and more jobs programs, even if he didn't succeed at everything.
It hasn't all been perfect, far from it, but Obama deserves enormous credit for wading into these big fights, and with persevering on some of the toughest, like health care (where his chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel wanted him to back down and give up.) If I were in the Obama White House, I might be feeling a little irritable myself at the lack of credit I was getting.
Were you waiting for the "but"? Well, you can find it in the extended entry.
The ongoing economic downturn has made the politics of being in power very tough for Democrats and the White House. While the talking heads argue incessantly about the root cause of the recession, high unemployment numbers, stagnant wages, disappearing pensions and a growing deficit continue to drive poll numbers down for those with their hands on the levers of the economy.
However, one thing that gets talked about less is that it's also making life difficult for the myriad of non-profit and advocacy organizations that are trying to push a progressive agenda.
Foundation money, large individual contributions and small donor donations have all dropped off significantly since the recession began. Small, mid-size and large progressive groups are struggling to keep their staff and maintain their level of work...the exact moment when their advocacy and voices might be able to make the biggest difference in a generation.
I've spent a lot of my career helping build a progressive infrastructure that can move ideas, develop leaders, and push an agenda from the grassroots level...including founding and consulting with a lot of the organizations that are struggling right now. These are organizations that often times work behind the scenes but can be credited with helping lay the foundation for a wide range of progressive successes over the years.
But, the truth is that as hard as it is, sustainable organizations have to find ways to raise resources even when it's tough.
One example is an effort being led by a small set of progressive groups (including a couple that I helped start) that are taking a creative approache to funding their work this year. Led by the Center for Progressive Leadership, there is a group of 11 progressive non-profits who are joining together to compete for over $750,000 in funding in an online giving contest called Pepsi Refresh Everything.
While I ordinarily don't recommend contests like this to organizations I work with, Pepsi is giving away some serious money and the groups involved have a great shot at winning. Moreover, if it works, CPL is going to put together slates for every month throughout the rest of the contest (which could mean raising over $8 million for progressive organizations).
The groups on the slate include organizations that are working to mobilize young voters, coordinate progressive efforts at the state level, improve access to college, promote healthy eating, provide legal and advocacy support for low-income communities, and fight homelessness.
It's important work that needs to happen, now more than ever. We need to focus on short-term policy successes but we also need to remember that this is a long-term game and we need the infrastructure in place to win it.
Daily voters receive a short email each morning in the month of August with a link where you can go and cast 10 votes each day for all the organizations on the Progressive Slate (that's what they're calling all of our groups working together).
It's a simple, easy way to get some corporate money into progressive hands.
After the best Netroots Nation conference yet, my wife and I hit the road out west, going to 4 national parks - Sequoia, King's Canyon, Yosemite, and the John Muir woods - and ending the trip in San Francisco, my favorite city to visit. Spending time in the majesty of the trees, mountains, canyons, and valleys of Western America fills up your soul with goodness like nothing else I know of. But being with the good folks of Netroots Nation does pretty well at that too.
The progressive netroots is a fascinating movement. Having been around progressive politics for 30 plus years now gives one perspective, and the netroots movement has a lot of the same characteristics as some of the other social movements and constituencies I have seen, but is also very different in some ways. Whether you think of it as starting from MoveOn's dramatic beginning in 1998, or from the time Jerome Armstrong and Markos began blogging around 2002, the netroots is still a very young movement, and they have a lot of the characteristics of young movements: the excitement of previously ignored people getting a taste of political power for the first time; the passion of people organizing for the first time; the creativity of people not constricted by old ways of thinking about politics; the impatience and anger at how messed up and slow to change things are; the aggressiveness of a movement seeing the potential of power but not yet part of the power structure.
A lot of times what happens in politics is that movements become strong enough to get a seat at the table, but once they have that seat, their leadership becomes satisfied, complacent, and stale. Once you have your seat, you don't want to lose it by pushing too hard, and you start to accept the conventional wisdom of everyone else already seated there alongside you.
The question for the netroots is what happens now. A seat at the Democratic Party table is a good thing in many ways, and it is within range. This is a movement, though, that will die faster then most if it becomes stale, complacent, or captive to conventional wisdom. What makes this movement a movement is the early-adapter edge, the creativity, the ability to say what is not being said by the establishment. If that is lost, people will get bored and communities build on websites will erode.
On the other hand, without the knowledge of what works on the inside or the capacity to build longer term institutions, without the kinds of relationships with insiders that can turn activism into legislative accomplishments, all the good work being done by this movement will run into a brick wall and people will get frustrated and start drifting away. Striking the balance right is challenging for any young movement, especially one as diverse, bottom-up, and (small d) democratic as the netroots.
During Netroots Nation, we are running Golden Oldies plus a few surprises. Regularly Scheduled programming will resume on July 26.
A Matt Stoller Golden Oldie
Tue Dec 25, 2007. Original HERE.
Here's Ezra Klein expressing a fairly common sentiment among both Democratic base voters and Democratic elites.
As a result of my post defending Obama this morning, I'm getting a bunch of links along the lines of "Ezra Klein, no fan of Obama..."
This is, to be sure, my failure as a writer, so just to be clear: I'm impressed with all three of the major Democrats, and, for that matters, most of the other Democrats not named "Bill Richardson."
Ezra is happy with the Democratic candidates; most Democratic voters share Ezra's views. I don't (and neither do a few others). The issues we are dealing with today - health care, jobs, even a war in Iraq - are literally the same issues we dealt with in 1992. How can that possibly be considered progress? A real progressive candidate would take an apolitical problem and turn it into a mainstream political subject. None of our candidates have done that. Here are five easily mainstreamable problems ripe for the picking. There are more of these, I'm just picking at five that touch on the national security state, secrecy, economic injustice, and attacks on our civil liberties.
Subject: End the War on Drugs
Factoid: There are 1 million people put in jail for doing what Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, and George Bush have done.
Marijuana is America's largest cash crop, and it is responsible for around 225,000 arrests a year. Overall, the war on drugs incarcerates around 1 million people a year. Direct spending on the war on drugs this year is $50 billion dollars, about $600 a second. Around half of high school seniors have consumed marijuana (pdf). Simply put, why do some people go to jail for marijuana and cocaine, and others run for President?
Subject: End corporate media ownership:
Factoid: General Electric, a major defense contractor and conglomerate, owns NBC, MSNBC, and CNBC.
Our media is owned and controlled by a few major companies. One of them, GE, has major defense contracts, and strong incentives for war. It also has huge interests in the financial industry. Why is this company controlling our news content again, while we are in two wars? And why did the FCC just relax ownership requirements in local areas, again?
Subject: End American empire
Factoid: As of 1998, America had troops stationed in 144 countries around the world.
There are any number of ways to talk about this issue, from disparities of foreign aid to complaints about the IMF to the war in Iraq to the CIA and blowback. The bottom line is that America has troops everywhere in the world, it's expensive, the way it is done now is a bad idea, and we need to bring them home and return to being a republic. That or we need to figure out how to be a responsible international power again and get rid of the Blackwater-style military we are building and the gunrunning vigilante CIA-style Cold War and post-Cold War nonsense.
Subject: End the war economy:
Factoid: Money for Iraq keeps passing in 'emergency' legislation to avoid being subject to budget rules.
For some reason, Blue Dog Democrats and Republicans argue that they are fiscally responsible while ignoring their votes to spend 700-800B a year on war. Libertarian charlatans like energy expert Amory Lovins think that the corporate sector and the military sector are legitimate parts of the state, but that other spending is wasteful. The whole notion of the military not being a part of the overall government is crazy, and reflective of a huge, corrupt, and Soviet-style misallocation of capital through secret budgets and fear.
Subject: End the cradle-to-prison superhighway
Factoid: 2 million people are in prison in America, by far the highest total of any other country in the world.
Think slavery has ended? Think torture is 'new'? Think again. With two million people in prison, and tens of thousands of sexual assaults every year, prison is a huge industry and a horrendous abridgment of the idea that is America.
Touching on any of these massive injustices in our economic infrastructure is something no candidate has systematically done. Only John Edwards has remotely addressed the concept of the war on terror, in a somewhat half-hearted way, and he has made 'poverty' a somewhat commonly repeated theme, though not in any meaningful sense. Clinton and Obama are disgracefully absent on these topics. Ironically, Bill Richardson, aside from his great work on residual forces, has also said that the 'war on drugs is not working', which reflects perhaps a more executive oriented and confident worldview. Chris Dodd has also advocated for marijuana decriminalization, which is a less aggressive but still laudable sentiment, especially in light of his work on core constitutional issues.
So anyway, while the insider wonk community is happy that their issues seem to be taken care of, and Democratic base voters like the different candidates we have, I find that actual progressive reframing of our political system is appearing only at the margins of our secondary candidates like Bill Richardson and Chris Dodd, and among crazy white supremacist types like Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul. Each of the five hinges I've discussed starts with the verb 'end', and that was not planned when I started this post. I think it means that we must end a chapter in American history, and begin a new one.
Restoring healthy communities, healthy citizens, a healthy global order, healthy local media, and a healthy sustainable economy are the key drivers of where need to go as a country. The cancerous symptoms are all around us, and leading Democratic Presidential candidates are too corrupt and morally crippled to even begin talking about them. But we'll get there.
I don't always have the time to compile these, but it's been quite some time since the last one. Past can be found here and here.
We are all on lots of organizational e-mail lists and sometimes it's difficult to have time to sort through them all. I unfortunately have to let a lot pile up in my inbox during busy days, and then try to take some time to clear them all out (if you want to know part of my secret, it's typing "in: inbox in: unread" in the Gmail search bar). I decided today was another day for that, and came across some actions I think are really worthwhile/creative, along with some I'm working on with colleagues, so here's a quick round-up for your perusal and action if you so choose. Special recognition and thanks to those who bought blog advertising on OpenLeft to help keep our lights on.
OpenLeft advertiser VoteVets has a new ad up, accompanied by a petition to get certain Senators to stop taking money from oil companies. This one is on Sen. Burr, and who the other targets and coalition partners are, along with more details, can be found here.
I wrote about this yesterday, but it's worth repeating- NBC is excluding same-sex couples from its Today Show wedding contest for no good reason. The pressure is working, as NBC has requested a meeting today with GLAAD to discuss the matter, after over 3,500 people have sent e-mails via change.org to the network, along with tweets at @todayshow. Please sign to e-mail yours.
Justin Krebs, a co-founder of Drinking/Living Liberally and a friend of OpenLeft who used to write in this space, has a new book out- 538 Ways to Live, Work, and Play Like a Liberal. I went to a book party here in DC to chat about the book, and it's fantastic. PBC has copies on sale so you can chip in proceeds to your favorite lefty cause. Get yours here.
Equal Rights Washington, whose ED is a smart and strategic colleague of mine, is mailing out free "I DO... support marriage equality" bumper stickers. You can get yours here.
OpenLeft advertiser As Mike wrote about this morning, MoveOn.org has launched a Fight Washington Corporate Corruption pledge to both demonstrate a groundswell of support for cleaning up the system, as well as to identify candidates who stand with progressives in support of clean elections, lobbying reform, and a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United (Disclosure: Mike and I are working with them on this project). 130,000 people have signed. You can do so here.
I've long been a student and advocate for campaign finance reform and general reform of our electoral system, from voting to lobbying to contributions, but have increasingly come to believe that we really won't achieve non-watered down reform of major institutions like health care and Wall Street until we reform the system in which reforms are attempted. And if you want evidence, think about how the past six months has felt on those issues.
Related, Common Cause and Public Campaign have launched a campaign that will spend between $8 and $15 million in support of the Fair Elections Now Act, which has 157 co-sponsors in the House and 21 in the Senate. The ads, which you can see here, will air in Seattle, Tallahassee, Denver, and DC, and are aimed at getting Democratic members like Washington-area Reps. Dicks, Baird, Larsen, and Inslee onboard. The groups are hoping to achieve a House vote this year.
In a factoid that may win you $200 on Jeopardy one day, it's also the first ad ever to make use of an iPad in delivery.
Also related, New York State legislature is considering a bill that would require corporations to get shareholder approval- including anyone who owns stock- before making political expenditures. It's a common-sense response to Citizens United, and has the support of Sampson and Silver in both houses. Working Families Party in New York State has an action alert that makes it easy to contact your legislators if you're in New York State.
OpenLeft advertiser If you haven't yet checked out Courage Campaign's Equality on Trial project, which focuses on the Perry v. Schwarzenegger case, they have an excellent Facebook page set up with all the up-to-the-day updates on the case, related issues, and the project.
Rep. Chellie Pingree has more updates on her legislation to force BP to pay royalties on all the oil it spilled. The widget below calculates a running total how much BP owes the American people based on $13 per barrel.
Click here to share on Facebook and here on Twitter. It's a great way to both draw attention to BP's handling as well as light a fire under them by the day.
Over at the Huffington Post, Peter Daou has a good article up about the ongoing intra-progressive argument about supporting the Obama administration vs. taking an oppositional stance to the administration. Here is the intro:
There is a civil war on the left over Barack Obama. The fault lines are jagged, and depending on the issue, porous, but broadly, the split is along two fronts:
Those who believe that critiquing -- and occasionally opposing -- the president on issues such as gay rights, civil liberties and national security is healthy and necessary and those who believe that Obama's progressive critics are going too far, reinforcing rightwing attacks and undermining his presidency.
Those who argue that an incremental approach is the best we can hope for and that Obama's list of accomplishments is impressive and those who say that in the long run, watered-down legislation, half measures and empty 'bipartisanship' are worse for America (and the Democratic Party).
I agree with Peter's premise that this is largely a false choice. There is no reason why you can't work toward an ideal aim while, in the face of powerful entrenched opposition, accepting whatever victories you can manage along the way. In fact, as Peter notes, selling the core values that undergird your completed vision for the country is necessary in order to make your incremental victories as large as possible:
Strikingly, this civil war is premised on a false choice: that an incremental legislative approach and a well-articulated grand ideological vision are mutually exclusive. They're not. Rapid, sweeping changes may not be feasible in the face of entrenched interests and steely GOP obstructionism, and credit should be given to the president for seeking and achieving solid wins. But neither is the White House prohibited from standing up for core Democratic ideals and presenting them powerfully and unflinchingly, explaining to the public in clear terms why Democrats have the better plan for America. Nor does the glacial pace of progress in Washington obviate the need to reverse George Bush's radical excesses, something the Obama administration has failed (so far) to do.
Perhaps this civil war keeps raging not because people fail to understand that this is a false choice, but instead because there is a third dimension to the argument. Specifically, the third front would be between
Those who believe that the Obama administration achieved as much incremental progress as was possible over the last 18 months, or very close to it;
Those who think significantly more could have been achieved had the Obama administration been more progressive and / or aggressive.
For my part, I am definitely in the second camp. More could have been achieved with a more aggressive and / or progressive administration. A public option was possible. A bigger stimulus was possible. Stupak was not invulnerable. A whole lot could have changed in our homeland security policies. We could definitely have passed a stronger Wall Street reform bill. As someone who was closely involved in a couple of these fights--health care and financial reform-I will simply never accept that we could not have done better (and I was, and still am, in favor of passing both bills).
However, to throw in a wrinkle, I also don't trust progressives who place no blame on themselves for what was not achieved. This is not meant to draw equivalence between individual grassroots activists and members of the Democratic leadership, as the latter obviously shoulder more responsibility due to their relatively greater influence. What I do mean is that there are ways we all could have acted more effectively, even if sometimes those ways were only visible in hindsight. For example, a Medicare buy-in was probably always a more viable (and perhaps better) idea than a public option, financial reform probably should have been tackled right after the budget fight finished up in April of 2009, and the netroots still have a very limited Capitol Hill presence.
To put it as plainly as I can, I think that the Obama administration could have done better, and that both sides of the intra-progressive debate Peter Daou describes could have been more effective, too. Further, since I am not in the Obama administration, I am actually more interested in the ways that progressive online organizations can be more effective, since those are the groups and the people who I actually work with. From my vantage point, that is also a lot more empowering than just sitting around arguing over whether or not President Obama is actually a progressive at heart.
There were some other primary challenges to less-than progressive Democrats, such as IN-09, OH-06, WV-01, WV-03, and multiple challenges in predominantly African-American districts, but they were not made explicitly to the ideological or partisan left of the incumbent. I don't think Colorado Senate qualifies in that category, either, but I could end up being proven wrong.
The median incumbent result from the twelve campaigns that have already occurred is 60% for the incumbent.
The similarity of results in Blue Dog districts across the nation--Iowa, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Utah and California--is striking. With the exceptions of GA-12, where an Obama radio ad skewed a predominantly African-American district, and IL-03, where multiple challengers made the incumbent's numbers look lower than they really were, there is a narrow range of 32%-41% for explicitly left-wing challenge to the incumbent Blue Dogs. So, for the first time, we have an estimate of the anti-Blue Dog, progressive base in Democratic primaries.
If this progressive base were to increase its share of the Democratic party by 15%, then all of these primary challenges would either have won, or at least been serious enough to make the incumbent fundamentally change his or her behavior in Congress. In other words, we need another 15% to take over the party and put the Blue Dogs out of business.
All of this is extremely useful in letting us know where we stand in our efforts to reform the Democratic Party. It certainly will not be easy to get the last 15% we need, but at least it feels like an achievable goal. It's a helluva a lot more doable than left-wing third parties ever making any headway.
However, as time as has gone on, I have gradually come to believe that this argument is missing the point. Ostensibly, the stakes of the debate are as follows:
Those who think Obama is doing the best he can for progressive causes will seek to defend him in public at all turns, and to work with / within Democratic Party structures like Organizing for America.
Those who think Obama is not doing enough for progressives will engage in public, left-wing pressure against the administation, and work to build coalitions independent of Democratic Party structures like Organizing for America.
Now, this choice seems like it is about President Obama and the Obama administration, thus justifying the ongoing argument about whether Obama is sufficiently progressive.
However, if you look closer, you can see that this debate actually isn't about Obama at all. Instead, this debate is actually about choices over what sort of public messaging and coalition building will best achieve your desired advocacy ends. To put it a different way, unless your goal is actually to prove that Obama is teh awesome or teh suck--which is a very generalized discussion withdrawn from direct advocacy--then this is an argument over which means will best achieve progressive political ends.
Given that this argument is about tactics involved in political advocacy,, and given the the variable nature of useful tactics involved in political advocacy, the utility of determining whether Obama is progressive enough, in some generalized sense, falls apart. Across several campaigns, the goals of the Obama administration will have a variable relationship to your goals as a political advocate. Also, across several campaigns, the coalitions you work with will have variable responses to public, left-wing pressure on Obama. There are going to be times when supporting the administration, and working inn concert with it, is the best play. There are going to be times when working independently of the administration, or even taking an oppositional stance to it, is your best play.
The 2010 elections provide good examples of both circumstances. Supporting primary campaigns by Joe Sestak and Bill Halter, in direct opposition to the administration, have led to positive progressive outcomes in terms of Senate votes 9see Arlen specter's voting record over the past ten months) and legislation (see Blanche Lincoln's derivatives language). However, in the general election, maintaining a decent Democratic majority in the Senate, and reforming Senate procedural rules, will be shared goals that virtually all progressive organizations will hold in common with the Obama administration. There is no hard and fast rule, because this is about achieving certain political ends, not about a debate over the proper normative evaluation of the Obama administration's ideological outlook.
Perhaps this actually means I am just coming down the second camp in the great debate--organizing independently of the Democratic Party leadership and Obama administration--just without a necessarily oppositional stance in that organizing. Either way, it is a debate that will continue for as long as the Obama administration is around, no matter what I say about it. Further, that I would even write this article shows that I am still fascinated by these discussions, even if I ostensibly claim to have moved beyond them.
The Campaign for America's Future has held an annual conference every year, and typically the attendees would discuss how conservatism has failed and how their leaders can be brought out of power. The next iteration of the CAF conference, titled America's Future Now and scheduled for June 7-9 in Washington, will have a much different focus - an open discussion among the progressive community about how to best position itself in an age of governing.
"The progressive community is somewhat divided, between the folks who think Obama is doing everything he can against a broken political system, and the folks that think he's not doing enough, and that we need an independent force to push him," said Bill Scher, the Online Campaign Manager for CAF. "We're going to have that debate at this conference."
Scher highlighted a session called "The Great Debate: Progressives in the Obama Era," where Executive Director of the Progressive Congress Action Fund Darcy Burner and Executive Director of the Center for Community Change Deepak Bhargava, who sit on opposite sides of the aforementioned divide, will argue how best to achieve progressive goals in the Obama age. This will be followed by community discussions and opportunities to engage on the question, which overhangs virtually the entire conference. "No matter where you line up in that debate, we need to come together and engage" on it, said Scher. "Are we the wingman of the Obama Administration or an outside pressure force?"
Darcy Burner is a real role model of mine, so I will be very excited to see her engage this debate.
And yeah, I threw an ad in at the end of this article. Sue me. After arguing about it for 18 months on the blog, I want to go see people argue about this stuff in person. You can check it out too, by registering for the conference here.
I need help understanding how OpenLeft's Paul Rosenberg can credibly argue that Barack Obama has manically embraced "discredited conservative ideas" and "helped enormously in extended the hegemonic continuity of [the] Nixon-Reagan Eara. [Emphasis his]" More specifically, I need help understanding this strange impulse among liberals of Rosenberg's ilk to understate or dismiss most of the work Congress and President Obama have done over the past sixteen months, especially when - as David Leonhardt noted in yesterday's New York Times - it's been a burst of activity that "rivals any other since the New Deal in scope or ambition."
To help provide that understanding, back in February Matthew Yglesias himself offered a pretty good list of the mainstream progressive / liberal goals for the 111th Congress. This list is invariably incomplete (in particular, reproductive rights, DC representation and many civil liberties issues come to mind), but still serves as a useful touchstone
It's worth reviewing the mainstream liberal policy agenda for the 111th Senate:
A $1.2 trillion stimulus.
The forcible breakup of large banks.
Universal health care with a public option linked to Medicare rates.
An economy-wide cap on carbon emissions, with the permits auctioned.
Repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell.
A path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
An exit strategy from Afghanistan.
An end to special exemption of military spending from fiscal discipline.
An independent Consumer Financial Protection Agency.
The Employee Free Choice Act.
None of these things have happened. And it's worth emphasizing that the White House hasn't even seriously attempted to do the vast majority of these things.
Three months later, none of these things have still happened. Further, it seems quite possible that none of them will happen. As such, hopefully this list helps provides Bouie with the necessary help in understanding the progressive / liberal arguments that their public policy goals for the 111th Congress have gone largely unfulfilled.
Personally, I differ a bit from Paul in that I lean toward the Ed Kilgore analysis that the Obama administration is governing largely from a Third Way ideological perspective distinct from either contemporary progressivism or Nixon / Reagan conservatism. However, that perspective still renders the approach of the Obama administration distinct from the laundry list of progressive / liberal goals articulated by Matt Yglesias back in February.
Moving on, Bouie also levels a more personal charge that requires response (emphasis mine):
This isn't to say that there haven't been disappointments - Obama's adoption of Bush-era detainee policy has been particularly galling - but on the whole, Obama's presidency has been a success for the idea of liberal, activist government. Right now, liberals (again, of Rosenberg's ilk) ought to spend less time lamenting Obama's aversion to ideological orthodoxy and more time working to defend and improve progressive governance.
Excuse me? The Open Left community ("Rosenberg's ilk") has collectively engaged in a significant amount of direct action attempting to improve progressive governance over the past sixteen months. Both in the form of consulting with major established groups and in the form of multiple, direct action campaigns of our own, we have worked on health reform, Wall Street reform, LGBT rights, prominent Democratic primaries, and filibuster reform. And those links by no means encompass all of our activism campaigns over the past year.
There is no justification to the implication that we are whining without doing anything about it. Leveling such a charge against Open Left requires lumping us into some pre-set stereotype of do-nothing, left-wing whiners that belies an almost total lack of familiarity with Open Left. If anything, since early June of 2009, Open Left has been far more skewed toward direct action than toward the analysis-based lamentations that Jamelle Bouie finds annoying. We are neck deep in these fights, and to imply otherwise is simply inaccurate.