Go Get Yourself Some Power, Progressives
by Matt Stoller, Sat May 13, 2006 at 02:03:17 PM EDT
Msfolsom has an interesting comment on my post on Hillary.
We keep coming back to the central fact - the power players in the Dem Party are only interested in power. They have no respect for Progressives and only want our votes, money and efforts. After that we can drop dead and die....
Unfortunately the religious right-wingers have shown us the way and we refuse to learn from their efforts. If the Publicans ignore them - they walk. Hence they are never ignored! The same could be true for us.
Do you remember the first two things that Kerry did after winning the Iowa primary? First, he gave a speech saying the lobbyists were going to be kicked out the door, and second, he offered a corporate tax cut. Does that seem strange to you? It did to me. Since then, I've learned a little something about politicians. What Kerry was doing was an example of dog whistle politics - Kerry signaled to Republican corporate elites that he wouldn't be bad for business, so they should not fund an attack against him. This did two terrible things to Kerry. One, it forced him to take both sides of every issue, including Iraq, and appear unprincipled. And two, the elites funded Bush anyway, and Kerry depressed his own base.
The problem is not that Kerry acted like a politician, because he is a politician. The problem is that Kerry calculated that constituencies would be with him - the business elite - were not. Had he gotten electd, he would have been an awful President (nowhere near as bad as Bush, of course), since business elites would be demanding their payday at the same time as progressives would be ripping him for 'selling out'. That was the calculation he made to get elected. It's easy to talk of charisma and personality, but the reality of politics is much steelier than that; it's about your base. Kerry bet on business, and business bet on Bush.
What we as progressives need are politicians that bet on people. I assume that politicians act in their own self-interest; assuming otherwise is foolish. What this means is that we have to make being progressive in politicians' self-interest, and acting as a right-winger against their self-interest.
You see, politicians care about getting elected, and that's pretty much all they can afford to care about. You can't blame them for this, just like you can't blame companies for seeking profitable arrangements. I'm sorry if this bursts anyone's bubble, but Paul Wellstone was just a politician seeking power. So is Howard Dean. That Dean has popular support from an organized group that will rip people to shreds who criticize him means that he can afford to be progressive. If he didn't have such support, he'd be out of politics or praising big business. The American political system is by necessity and design a system for distributing power. So someone like Rahm Emanuel isn't all about the money, he's all about power, and he believes that money is the route to power. So is Hillary Clinton. She has made a calculation that we are not relevant, and that Rupert Murdoch is. He can bring her money and media, and she thinks that outweights what we can bring.
And there's nothing wrong with this arrangement.
Or rather, there's nothing wrong with the fact that gravity exists. It just is. The key for progressives is to understand that elections matter, but how politicians get elected matters more. It's not about sitting out elections if you don't get your way, it's about making sure that when a seat opens up, or an idea is under debate, or someone needs a set of numbers, your team is there with the people and the information. Politicians get elected based broadly on organization and money in a continuum. What we as progressives should be doing is trying to pull the political system away from money being the determining factor in how someone gets elected to making it one determining factor of many. And if possible, we want to make it impossible for a Republican or Democrat to be elected without taking progressive positions. If someone is elected as a progressive, they will be forced to govern that way or face a backlash. That's what Wellstone's genius was, recognizing that he could be elected based on organizing rather than big money. That's why I'm watching Bernie Sanders in the Senate as the next great progressive hero; it has little to do with his voting record.
And that's why I'm taking Hillary Clinton's fundraiser with Murdoch and her lie that it's just because he's one of her constituents so seriously. She has made the calculation that progressives are not important in getting elected, and that corporate Republicans are. As a politician, that means that we are not important in her governing coalition, and that she will trash us in office with vindictive bad policies. It's a shame she's thrown her lot in with such bad people, but it's a rational calculation. We have consistently shown ourselves as willing to tolerate and write off such bad faith gestures in the name of supposed pragmatism (which isn't really pragmatic since we keep losing).
Hillary Clinton has in effect said that the first thing she will do is offer a corporate tax cut. She is going to run as John Kerry did in 2004. It's that simple. That's why she looks so ineffective and weakly ambitious, because he is running as a liberal backed by conservative interests. Her politics simply do not cohere anywhere but the Democratic primary.
So where does that leave us? Do we sit out as MSFolson suggests? No. There are 500,000 elected positions in this country, and any number of ways to effect change as unelected actors. There's also the possibility of working against someone like Hillary Clinton, beating her and letting her know that she is not welcome in our party. That would be my preferred solution, but I know that we do not have the power to make that happen yet. More to the point, there is a desperate need for progressive economists, progressive pundits, progressive historians, progressive fundraisers, progressive state candidates, progressive mayors, progressive journalists, progressive bloggers, progressive organizers, progressive funders, progressive campaign workers, and progressive intellectuals.
We need a new party, and building that party will take thousands of us. As the Clinton corporate wing leaves into lobbying, and newly emboldened progressives become more involved in funding the party and organizing it, the Democratic Party will become more progressive. That's already happening, and you can see it in Nancy Pelosi's agenda. Nowhere do you see a corporate tax cut in there. The 1980s Reagan-supporting Congressional Democrat is a dying species. As we build that progressive party, we will dominate more and more of the political apparatus until we will be able to force someone like Hillary Clinton to govern as a progressive. Why? Because in order to be elected, she won't have any other choice.
That's what we should want. Power. Politicians are just playing a role. Don't fight it anymore. Recognize it and embrace it. They will listen to us when they have to, and not a moment before.