Take Back America Video And Quick Thoughts

To build on Jerome's post below, after spending the last two days at the Take Back America conference in D.C., I wanted to pop in with some quick thoughts. First, a complete video archive of the conference can be found here. Perhaps the highlight of the conference, at least for me, was at the gala awards dinner last night. In a rare public appearance, Digby accepted the Paul Wellstone award in our honor with her typical class and insight (embarrassingly, the underdressed guy in the yellow shirt is me):

Also, here is the blogger ethics activism panel I was on with Matt, Jane Hamsher, Oliver Willis, and Jim Dean:

As for a certain distortion about Hillary Clinton and boos currently being spread around the media, Common Sense, Taylor Marsh, Seeing the Forest and, of course,Digby, have the real story.

I have two quick thoughts on the conference:
  • First, as one more in a growing number of regular gatherings and discussions that bring together a wide variety of organizations and activists within the progressive movement, at Take Back America we continued to witness the rise of a better coordinated, multi-issue, effective left-wing political movement in America. Just five years ago, the connective tissues between our various advocacy organizations, media outlets, activists, consultants, and candidates / elected officials were either frayed seemingly beyond repair or simply non-existent. Now, virtually everyone seems to be talking with each other, if not coordinating and organizing together. The increasingly frequent occurrence of progressive political successes is directly related to this development.

  • The 2008 Democratic field is talking in a far more openly progressive manner than at any other point in at least two decades. For example, watching Obama and Edwards speak back to back, I was struck at how much more progressive their messages were than really anything we saw in 2003. In fact, virtually all of them seem to be openly identifying themselves as progressives now, which is another step in the right direction. This is also connected to the rising effectiveness of the progressive movement, and to a cultural shift in America that also seems decidedly progressive to me. Further, I think the netroots have usefully engaged in a carrot and stick approach with most candidates, first by giving them a lot of support in terms of money, buzz and volunteers and second by still holding their feet to the fire when they do something we don't like.
While there is still a long way to go, I think the country is definitely shifting to the left, and there is potential for much more. This is a good time to be a progressive.

Update: Obama wins the conference straw poll (PDF, second choice numbers in parenthesis).

Obama: 29 (30)
Edwards: 26 (28)
Clinton: 17 (16)
Richardson: 9 (11)
Gore: 8 (2)
Kucinich: 5 (6)
Dodd: 1 (2)
Biden: 1 (2)
Gravel: 1 (1)
Other / None: 3 (2)

With all the bloggers at the event, these results are fairly unsurprising. :)

Expanding Beyond Just Partisanship

Over the past four years, starting with the rise to prominence of Howard Dean's presidential campaign / movement, many netroots leaders have consistently stated that the progressive netroots and blogosphere place more of an emphasis on Democratic partisanship than upon rigid coherence to progressive ideology. For example, this was one of the major claims in Markos and Jerome's seminal work, Crashing The Gate. Personally, I see no reason to disagree with this idea, as it was firmly demonstrated in the BlogPac Netroots survey last year. Further, my "Eight Rules for Progressive Realpolitik are non-ideological in emphasis. Yet Further, I consider myself an adherent of both Matt's "Bar Fight Primary" and James Powell's Hackett litmus test, which are also more or less non-ideological formulations.

Over the past five years, the "progressive netroots" and "progressive blogosphere" has not conducted itself in an ideologically rigid or uniform manner. In many ways, this has worked to its advantage. For example, our emphasis on partisanship has resulted in enormous amounts of activism conducted on behalf of a wide variety of Democratic candidates and causes, allowing the netroots to play a key role in the 2006 Democratic electoral victories. Further, it has allowed us to make alliances with a broad range of advocacy groups, resulting in a considerable amount of respectful attention from a wide variety of leaders within the Democratic Party and progressive ecosystem. Also, the emphasis on partisanship has helped the blogosphere and netroots focus on closing the massive infrastructure gap the conservative movement has long held over progressives in several areas: fundraising, volunteer activism, media influence, narrative development, rebuilding local parties, voter targeting and much more. These improvements in infrastructure have been to the advantage of all Democrats, no matter how they might self-identify ideologically. Even if we were to do nothing else as a political movement, continued infrastructure advances, coupled with increasing Democratic consensus on the Hackett litmus test, the rules of realpolitik, and the bar fight primary, would secure historic advances for the Democratic electoral cause over the next several decades.

However, over the past six months, I believe it has become increasingly apparent that working to achieve partisan electoral and media goals is not enough, in and of itself, to achieve the sort of change in America that most members of the progressive movement desire. Obviously, as the radicalized, conservative movement-controlled Republican Party has shown, such goals are extremely important and must never be abandoned. Still, in a number of policy areas, such as Iraq, international trade, and ethics reform, the Democratic Party does not yet seem to be in the same ideological place as progressives. Or, to perhaps phrase that sentiment more accurately, not enough Democrats in Congress are in the same ideological place as progressives to form a progressive governing majority in a variety of policy areas. Thankfully, we have a Democratic governing majority, one that I fully intend to help expand in 2008. However, we do not yet have a progressive governing majority. That is something I seek to change.

Now that the Democratic Party has a share of governing power in Washington, D.C., and also in the vast majority of states around the country, the progressive movement has reached a point where ideological concerns need to play a larger role in our activism than they have over the past five years. This is especially the case now that it seems quite possible that there will be a sizable Democratic ttifecta in Washington in less than two years time. In the same way that Rahm Emanuel and Steny Hoyer helped stack the current Democratic House majority with New Dems and Blue Dogs, the progressive movement needs to stack future Democratic-controlled Congresses with progressives. As a party and as a movement, we need to grow more comfortable with expressing ideological disagreement, as Matt recently argued. We need to end the longstanding Democratic practice of trying to chase after the center, and instead engage in the war of ideas and persuade the center to move to our side. Even beyond electoral politics and ideological dialogue, we need to organize within the major national institutions that produce our ideology, and seek to build a progressive country not just in governance, but also in the way we live. If we are going to have a governing, and potentially long-lasting, progressive majority in America, we need not only a progressive Democratic Party, but also a progressive culture and a progressive nation.

It is impossible to build a progressive party, government, culture or nation if ideology is always de-emphasized. For the past five years, the progressive movement, netroots and blogosphere has worked to stem the radical conservative in American governance and media, and it was necessary to use largely non-ideological means to do so. However, with changing times should also come changing tactics. Now that Democrats are in power, and are poised to make even more gains, we don't have to just be partisans anymore. A moment has arrived where we can achieve more than just stopping Bush and the conservative movement, and where enacting progressive public policy at the federal level has become a real possibility in the not to distant future. As a recent Media Matters study shows, the notion of a conservative America is a myth. There is a progressive majority in this country, and the progressive movement can be the key instrument to unleash that majority from its cage.

Now, after saying all of this, I want to make it clear that I still plan to be a partisan Democrat, to build progressive infrastructure, and to follow both the realpolitik rules as well as the Hackett litmus test. However, ideas and ideology matter, and I believe we have reached a point of maturity as a movement where we can do more than just those things. As such, I intend to follow a more expansive, explicitly ideological direction myself.

Getting Comfortable with Disagreement

cross-posted on Dailykos

Simon Rosenberg at NDN and the New Politics Institute is a brilliant guy who introduced me into politics, and I'll always be grateful to him for that.  He framed a lot of my thinking about the party, and one point he made is that Democrats have traditionally been tremendously uncomfortable with disagreement whereas Republicans have traditionally loved to argue and debate.  He was of course right, and you can tell by watching the Republican primary and the Democratic primary.  

Here's Sam Brownback challenging Mitt Romney.

Have you seen anything remotely similar to this on the Democratic side?  The Obama campaign will send a memo highlighting subtle disagreements with Clinton, and candidates will present different plans.  But when push comes to shove, there's just this, I don't know, fear of seeming different.  Obama will not even broach a disagreement with Clinton, for some weird reason.  John Edwards is putting forward the most ambitious rhetorical campaign, by far.  He's attacking the frame of the war on terror, calling it a bumper sticker slogan and genuinely going after the whole intellectual edifice of the right.  Clinton and Obama are not doing that, though Obama occasionally makes stabs in that direction.

But why is he so uncomfortable with the fact that he believes different things than Clinton?  Here's what I mean, from the South Carolina debate:

Senator Edwards, you made a high-profile apology for your vote in favor of the Iraq war resolution. You have said, quote, "We need a leader who will be open and honest, who will tell the truth when they made a mistake." Was that not a direct shot at your opponent, Senator Clinton?

Former Sen. John Edwards: No, I think that's a question for the conscience of anybody who voted for this war. I mean, Senator Clinton and anyone else who voted for this war has to search themselves and decide whether they believe they've voted the right way. If so, they can support their vote.

Why couldn't he have just said yes?  I mean, it is a direct shot at Clinton.  It's not an 'attack', but it's a disagreement.  And that's FINE.  That's democracy.  Here's what he could have said.

Yes.  Senator Clinton is a good person, but she thinks the vote to authorize the war was correct.  I don't.  As President, she has said she will keep troops in Iraq.  I think that's a bad idea.  Senator Clinton and I have different ideas about America's place in the world, and it's good for the party to have this debate.

Watch the Brownback video, where he challenges Romney on a whole range of issues.  What's wrong with disagreeing and arguing based on that disagreement?  Nothing.  And yet, I'm convinced that a fair number of base Democratic voters do not believe that disagreement within the party is ok.  Take, for instance, the notion that Democrats need courage.  Do you think that Steny Hoyer or Rahm Emanuel are cowards for voting to fund the occupation?  Perhaps they are, and perhaps their decision was cravenly political.  But what if they genuinely disagree with us on the vote.  Maybe they have different ideas about national security and executive authority, ones we don't agree with.  Or let's take the notion that the problem with Democrats has something to do with a lack of messaging capacity.  We can't say one thing clearly and simply.  Maybe that's true.  Or maybe Democrats have different ideas about stuff, and it's not actually a messaging problem so much as it is that we disagree.

I'm a partisan Democrat, and will be for the foreseeable future.  But I believe in the power of ideas more than the power of political parties, which is why I never hesitate to make criticisms of anyone based on their arguments.  It's really quite silly to pretend that we all agree on stuff, and also that it's necessary to all agree on stuff to win elections or wield power.  The way you govern is you work through your disagreements by acknowledging them openly and submitting them to scrutiny.  That's called pluralism, and it's the basis of the scientific method and political liberalism.  

It's ok to disagree.  It's ok to run primaries against people based on good faith disagreements.  When I talk about Hillary Clinton being principled about her hawkishness, I am not any less inclined to want to see her defeated in a primary.  But that's because I don't agree with her ideas, not because she's this or that as a person.  It's really remarkable how many supporters of hers read into her ideas their own liberal instincts instead of trusting what she says.  And when John Edwards refuses to acknowledge that he disagrees with Hillary Clinton, while obviously dancing in the media with a high profile apology that implies a whole lot of disagreement with a whole lot of people, he's avoiding the argument the party needs to have.  Edwards is putting forward real and different ideas about America's place in the world.  He disagrees with Clinton and Obama about a bunch of stuff.  That's fine.  There's no reason to hide it.

Seriously, watch Sam Brownback's video clip.  What he does in that Youtube clip suggests a healthy party structure.  Republican Presidential candidates are willing to fight with each other to see who comes out on top, to see who's more persuasive.  In lower and mid-tiers of the party, the GOP isn't having a debate, just as there is a real debate on the left in some areas of the party (though not really on the Presidential level).  But it's instructive to see what a party that's comfortable with disagreement looks like, and to compare that to what we have.

There's more...

Sexualized Conservatism

Via Pam Spaulding at Pandagon, we can find this sharp, pointy, paragraph-like object wedged near the tail-end of a 1991 article from Bush's new Surgeon General nominee:
At our Boston meeting, we spent some time discussing the complementarity of the human sexes. Although one could gather from the discussion of the consultants in scripture, theology, and Christian ethics that there may be some lack of assurance that the human sexes complement each other, I believe that it is possible to argue succinctly from an anatomical (structure) and physiological (function) point of view that the human sexes are indeed complementary.
According to Dr. Creep Me The Hell Out, I can see that what the Wife of Bath argued over 600 years ago is still under debate in some circles which he happens to frequent. Further, as Digby notes, Roger Simon's manlust over Mitt Romney's physique, while not equally creepy, is certainly both quite odd and also widespread among many conservative pundits:
This is on top of his earlier embarrassment from a few months back:

But Romney is so polished and looks so much like a president would look if television picked our presidents (and it does) that sometimes you have to ask yourself if you are watching the real deal or a careful construction.

Romney has chiseled-out-of-granite features, a full, dark head of hair going a distinguished gray at the temples, and a barrel chest. On the morning that he announced for president, I bumped into him in the lounge of the Marriott and up close he is almost overpowering. He radiates vigor.

But, hey, at least Romney actually is a handsome, chiseled fellow. When they start going on and on about the babe magnet Fred Thompson or the hunky Giuliani I have to shake my head in wonder. There's something wrong with them and it has nothing to do with being gay or straight. This is way deeper than that --- so deep, in fact, that someone should do their psychology thesis on the subject. Why do so many male Washington courtiers have giggling mancrushes on phony Republican politicians? A question for the ages if there ever was one.
Conservatism is heavily sexualized, and these two examples are just the tip of the, um, uh, iceberg. From impeaching Clinton over sex, to making gay marriage the centerpiece of the 2004 campaign, to protecting child predator Mark Foley in order to try and hold onto FL-16, conservative politics has a tendency to be extremely sexualized. As I wrote two years ago:
If you hadn't already noticed, the modern conservative movement wants to control every aspect of sexual activity and intimate relationships. They want to control marriage, they want to control women's fertility, they want to keep teens from knowing about sex, they want to stop gay people from doing it, they want to ban contraceptives, they don't want anyone to talk about masturbation, and they certainly don't want to see boobs on television.
The conservative obsession with sex and the body is directly connected to their identity politics and cultural supremacist ideology. The identity they seek to force upon the rest of the country (and, indeed, the world) is not merely white and Christian, but also in line with "traditional" views of sexuality (which are often contradictory and nebulous). This presents progressives with a huge wedge opportunity, not unlike the immigration wedge (which is also identity-based) that is currently wrecking havoc on the Republican Party. Simply put, most people who vote Republican are not in line with theocon movementarian views on sexual identity, and if these theocon were somehow foregrounded in our national political discourse, it could create a long-standing, nearly permanent wedge within that party. Apart from the occasional Mark Foley type scandal, I don't necessarily know how this can best be accomplished, but it is worth thinking about. Many theo-conservatives want to find your porn, show it to your mother, and then tell her which positions she and her husband are allowed to engage in during sexual intercourse. It may sound creepy, and it isn't the sort of subject people enjoy discussing in public, but that many social conservatives hold such creepy beliefs would cause them a lot of problems if this sort of thing was discussed in public. I have to wonder if the conservative movement has long benefited from relative progressive silence of sexuality.

Fred Thompson: Old, Male White Knight

Last week, Bill O'Reilly laid the identity politics of the conservative base bare to a degree we rarely see from the public face of conservativism:
Bill O'Reilly: But do you understand what the New York Times wants, and the far-left want? They want to break down the white, Christian, male power structure, which you're a part, and so am I, and they want to bring in millions of foreign nationals to basically break down the structure that we have. In that regard, Pat Buchanan is right. So I say you've got to cap with a number.
This quote neatly supports a point I have argued extensively over the past two and a half years (see here, here and here). Conservatism is, at its core, a defense of powerful, status-quo or backward leaning institutions. The primary driving force of contemporary American conservatism is a defense of a type of white Christian identity that is an institution unto itself. Still, it is one thing for me to make that argument, and it is quite another thing for one of the most prominent conservative pundits in America to make the point plain.

With less than 40% of Americans age 40 and under self-identifying as both white and Christian, many of those who support this institutional identity perceive it to be under attack, or at least in imminent danger or losing its dominance. (Then again, supporters of the institutionally dominant identity have always viewed that identity, whatever it may be, as under attack. See modern era, backlash against, 1775-current, worldwide.) Looking at the most recent poll data from Pew on the 2008 Presidential election, this demographic shift also holds the potential for groundbreaking ideological shifts within American government. Here are the percentages of Americans, ages 18-49, who indicated there is a "good chance" they will vote for any of the current and potentially leading Presidential candidates, whether Democratic or Republican:

Clinton: 24%
Obama: 22%
Gore: 19%
Giuliani: 15%
Edwards: 11%
McCain: 9%
Thompson: 7%
Gingrich: 7%
Romney: 6%

These are not just teenagers and young kids fresh out of college. These are the standings among all Americans under the age of fifty. Combined, the four Democrats hold a 28% lead over the five Republicans (76%-44%). Further, the five Republicans combined could not even manage 50%, despite the fact that poll respondents could choose more than one candidate. Further, the two Republicans who perform best among Americans under the age of 50 are Giuliani and McCain, who are often lambasted by conservatives for not being conservative enough. There isn't a conservative champion in the double digits in this poll, and neither of the two leaders are white men. In another twenty-five years, the people who were included in this crosstab will make up virtually the entire American electorate.

Consider Fred Thompson entry into the race as the supposed "conservative savior" in the context of contemporary conservative identity politics and the voting predilections of Americans born after 1964. Now, consider that the same Pew poll shows that 70% of his potential supporters are male, and 65% are over the age of 50. In this context, it seems quite reasonable to draw the conclusion that those people urging Fred Thompson into the campaign view him as the savior of what Bill O'Reilly calls "the white, Christian, male power structure." His strongest potential supporters are by far the oldest and most male of any other currently major candidate, even when compared to other Republican candidates. Fred Thompson is the old, male white knight for conservatives in 2008. Among major candidates, he is the ultimate identity politics throwback in this campaign. I'm sure it helps that he is currently best known for portraying a district attorney, and that he recently served as an extended substitute host on Paul Harvey's radio program.

Fortunately, I think it also means he has virtually no chance to become president. If he can't even excite Republican women, then we could be talking about a candidacy that serves as a nice coda on the 44-year electoral run of the conservative movement that started with Barry Goldwater in 1964. I doubt he has any chance to exceed 45% in a general election, no matter who we match up against him.


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