Monday, September 05, 2011


Look, I'm frustrated with President Obama, but I have no patience for tactical proposals like this, from Salon's Matt Stoller:

... The groups that fund and organize the [Democratic] party -- an uneasy alliance of financiers, conservative technology interests, the telecommunications industry, healthcare industries, labor unions, feminists, elite foundations, African-American church networks, academic elites, liberals at groups like MoveOn, the ACLU and the blogosphere -- are frustrated, but not one of them has broken from the pack. In remaining silent, they give their assent to the right-wing policy framework that first George W. Bush, and now Barack Obama, cemented in place. It will be nearly impossible to dislodge such a framework without starting within the Democratic Party itself....

Today, it's clear that certain Democratic constituency groups -- unions especially -- are on their deathbed. A reinvigoration of debate over the nature of the American workplace is desperately needed, yet labor leaders seem to prefer supplicating quietly to politicians who betray them. This is not inevitable. People can show dignity.

... If a few of the key constituency groups in the Democratic Party publicly wondered whether Obama should run for reelection, rumblings would start. Some organized constituency groups -- say some components of the AFL-CIO -- would need to announce that their support is up for grabs, based on a clear set of criteria. Given the Obama administration's rampant anti-labor policies, this wouldn't be an unreasonable posture. And then a senior politician, like, say, a Tom Harkin, would need to decide that he would want to encourage robust intra-party debate about the party's future.

Harkin could run as a "favorite son" of Iowa, and encourage people in the caucuses to send a message to the party and to Obama by choosing him. Other candidates could then emerge in early primary and caucus states, as a way of repudiating Obama's leadership....

May I offer an ironclad rule of punditry? Any time you read an opinion column that hinges on the notion of running a "favorite son" candidacy, what you're reading is utterly worthless. The tactic hasn't worked even once in my lifetime, and I was born at the tail end of the Eisenhower administration. You may as well recommend bringing down America's power grid by seizing shipments of whale oil for lamps. (Is it surprising that last February David Broder was talking about this antediluvian tactic as potentially useful the GOP?)

But more to the point, what's the end result Stoller seeks? To get people talking seriously again about issues like labor? Why not try to accomplish that by ... talking seriously again about issues like labor? Why build a movement to support candidates who'll focus on issues -- why not just cut out the candidate part and try building a movement directly focused on those issues?

I know I say this all the time, but here I go again: movements don't have to be focused on who wins elections and who doesn't. The civil rights movement wasn't. In recent years, the gay rights movement wasn't. The tea party wasn't about elections in its early days in 2009. There were no candidates; there was just anger.

Elsewhere in the piece, Stoller complains that the financial realities of our electoral system mean that anti-liberal insiders dominate the process of nominating Democrats. So why look to that corrupt process as liberalism's salvation? The fat cats control the parties. They still don't (fully) the streets.