Wednesday, January 06, 2010


Republicans have a tea party movement that's endorsing very right-wing challengers to GOP candidates. The Democrats? Well, here's what we have in New York:

Encouraged by a group of influential New York Democrats, Harold Ford Jr., the former congressman from Tennessee, is weighing a bid to unseat Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand in this fall's Democratic primary, according to three people who have spoken with him.

Mr. Ford, 39, ... moved to New York three years ago....

Yeah, now there's the perfect candidate for one of the bluest states in the nation -- a guy who voted for a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage (um there are a few gay people in New York), said he would vote for torture under some circumstances, supported GOP congressional efforts to intervene in the Terri Schiavo case, not only backed the Iraq War but said "I love my president" during the Bush years, fragged John Kerry ... need I go on? That's the direction the Democratic Party should go -- in New York?

Ah, but I guess he's appealing for the only reasons that matter: the top-drawer Gotham movers and shakers like him and he's one of them.

... About a dozen high-profile Democrats have expressed interest in backing a candidacy by Mr. Ford, including the financier Steven Rattner, who, along with his wife, Maureen White, has been among the country’s most prolific Democratic fund-raisers.

Among those who have encouraged Mr. Ford to consider a run are Merryl H. Tisch, the chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents, whose husband, James, is the chief executive of the Loews Corporation, and Richard Plepler, the co-president of HBO, according to people who have spoken with them.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who has publicly tangled with Ms. Gillibrand, is open to the possibility of supporting a challenger of Mr. Ford's stature, according to those familiar with his thinking.

... "Harold can raise the money," said an executive who has pledged to back him if he runs.

... In New York, Mr. Ford took a job as vice chairman of Merrill Lynch, where he cultivated close ties to many of the Wall Street executives who are now encouraging him to run....

Yeah, what could be more appealing to, say, an unemployed pipefitter from Buffalo this year than a carpetbagger who's also a Wall Street fat cat? I won't even get into the question of race, except to say that if the Beck crowd can tap neo-racist notions of internationalist capitalist/communists deploying swarthy Obama as both scary Negro and fellow elitist, the same can be said about bankster Ford.

In a way, this is the antithesis of what's happening in the GOP -- but, looked at another way, it's the same phenomenon: rich people pulling both parties to the right.

But if the GOP is being pulled further to the right, where's the force that would help pull the Democratic Party in the opposite direction rather than the parallel direction? I agree with The Washington Post's Harold Meyerson about what's conspicuously absent:

...if there's a common feature to the political landscapes in which Carter, Clinton and now Obama were compelled to work, it's the absence of a vibrant left movement.

The America over which FDR presided was home to mass organizations of the unemployed; farmers' groups that blocked foreclosures, sometimes at gunpoint; general strikes that shut down entire cities, and militant new unions that seized factories. Both communists and democratic socialists were enough of a presence in America to help shape these movements, generating so much street heat in so many congressional districts that Democrats were compelled to look leftward as they crafted their response to the Depression. During Lyndon Johnson's presidency, the civil rights movement, among whose leaders were such avowed democratic socialists as Martin Luther King Jr. and James Farmer, provided a new generation of street heat that both compelled and abetted the president and Congress to enact fundamental reforms.

In America, major liberal reforms require not just liberal governments, but autonomous, vibrant mass movements, usually led by activists who stand at or beyond liberalism's left fringe. No such movements were around during Carter and Clinton's presidencies. For his part, Obama won election with something new under the political sun: a list of 13 million people who had supported his campaign. But he has consistently declined to activate his activists to help him win legislative battles by pressuring, for instance, those Democratic members of Congress who have weakened or blocked his major bills.... in the absence of both a free-standing movement and a legion of loyalists, Congress isn't feeling much pressure from the left to move Obama's agenda.

And the Democratic Party isn't feeling any popular pressure to move leftward.

The teabaggers and their fat-cat allies are in sync; we'd be at loggerheads with Democratic fat cats if we got organized and angry. But we could effect some pushback, at least. And we don't seem able to do that right now.


And yes, I know the woman Ford might challenge, Kirsten Gillibrand, is no progressive prize, but as a senator she seems to be telling us, "If you don't like these principles, I have others." Hell, she even backed ACORN in one vote. At this point, she seems less right-leaning than Ford.

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