Sunday, April 10, 2011


Over at the Huffington Post, in the wake of the horrible budget deal, RJ Eskow tries to explain "Why Progressives Keep On Losing and the Right Keeps On Winning." Once he gets past the obvious -- the corporate cash on the right side -- he talks about progressives' relationship with the Democratic Party. And while I think he's right about his analysis, I'm not sure how we're supposed to implement his solution:

...there's a world of difference between supporting the Democratic Party and supporting incumbents in the Democratic Party. The Tea Party did a very smart thing last year: They kicked out a few independents who didn't support them politically. Too many progressives followed the President's lead and pledged their fealty to Democratic incumbents who had devoted themselves to undermining causes supported both by progressives and the majority of Americans across the political spectrum.

Not everyone did that, of course. Progressive groups like Blue America did a brilliant job of targeting problem Democrats and promoting progressive challengers, and the union movement performed a valuable service for all Americans by supporting Sen. Blanche Lincoln's challenger in the Arkansas primary.

Challenging incumbents doesn't just help the progressive cause. Paradoxically, it helps the Democratic Party too, by forcing it to clarify its "brand" and espouse more popular positions than those it now holds.

Yeah, that challenge to Blanche Lincoln really put a scare into Democratic officeholders and stiffened their spines, didn't it? What a "valuable service." Democrats have really been sticking up for the "brand" ever since, haven't they?

Here's the problem: Where the hell can progressives possibly challenge sellout incumbents successfully? What part of America is blue enough? Massachusetts? You mean the state that elected Scott Brown, who's a shoo-in for reelection? New York City? You mean a city that hasn't elected a Democratic mayor since 1989?

Yeah, my congressional district on the Upper West Side is extremely blue -- but we already have a solidly progressive member of Congress, Jerrold Nadler. How many districts like mine are there? How many states? The number of states where an extremely right-wing Republican can challenge a very right-wing Republican and almost certainly win a general election for the Senate if the primary challenge is successful is probably in the double digits. The number of similar House districts may be close to the triple digits. What are our numbers like on the left?

We can't do this until there are more genuine progressives all over the country, to the point where we're a significant voting bloc in many districts and states. As I say all the time, we need to make more liberals.

And as I also say all the time, I have no idea how that can happen.


Eskow also writes about what he calls the longing for an "XFK" -- a new JFK (or at least a new version of what liberals of a certain age believe, or believed, JFK was):

A lot of progressives have been waiting, through decades of gloom and disappointment, for the next Kennedy-esque figure to lead them out of the gloom and rescue a suffering nation. This charismatic figure has no name, face, race, or gender. He or she is an "X" to be filled in with the dreams and yearning of a movement that longs for leadership.

A lot of people thought that Barack Obama might be that "XFK." I'll confess, I eventually came to think so myself. Other people thought it might be Hillary Clinton, or even (odd as the thought seems now) John Edwards.

Isn't it time to let go of that yearning? Activists succeed when they stop following leaders and start acting for themselves. The Tea Party is seen as a leaderless movement. By having no alliance to a party or a politician, it holds a credible veto threat over the Republicans and their leadership. There's something to learn from that.

Whatever your feelings about President Obama, he's not "XFK." XFK never existed, and like Clifford Odets' "Lefty," he ain't comin'.

First of all, it's ridiculous to argue that the teabaggers have "no alliance to a party." And it's ridiculous to suggest that they don't fall in love with individual politicians -- they do it all the time. Watch how fast they'll fall in love if Chris Christie announces tomorrow that he's changed his mind and is running for president.

But teabaggers, thanks to corporate cash, have the numbers to put pressure on their politicians. We don't. We can amass the numbers to join up with a traditional Democratic campaign, but we don't have the clout to work effectively in opposition to established Democrats. Or at least it doesn't seem as if we do.

Teabaggers have the wherewithal to work with the GOP establishment or work against it (but in the latter case they're working to create a new even more extreme GOP establishment). They engage in hero worship when it suits them (St. Ronnie!), but they can peel off from the GOP as it exists because there are enough of them to pressure the establishment.

On our side, without the Democratic Party, we feel we're nothing. So of course we hope that Democratic politicians will get us to the Promised Land -- we don't see any other way there.

There need to be more of us. We need to make our own clout. And I'll say it again: I don't know how.

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