"No more triangulating" and Other Gems from Take Back America 2007

[Cross-posted at my blog, Madison For Edwards]

The biggest regret that I have of a year just about halfway done is that I was not able to figure out a way to go to Take Back America, a conference put on by the Campaign for America's Future along with sponsors making up who's who of progressive organizations and outlets.  TBA2007 has an impressive lineup of both speakers and breakout sessions.  One session I definitely would have hit today (among many) would be the panel with freshman Democratic senators, which included one of my political heroes, Sherrod Brown.  But really, you couldn't go wrong at TBA2007.  Everything was good.  I can imagine that the only bad thing about it was that you might miss a session.  At least I'll have Yearly Kos.

[More after the jump on CAF, TBA2007, and John Edwards rocking the house]

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Taking Back America: a report, some signs of life, and some ground to cover

Warning: No candidate-fluffing here

With some fanfare, but certainly not enough, the Campaign For America's Future (which also makes happen TomPaine.com), released a report the other day, entitled "The Progressive Majority: Why a conservative America is a myth." (Also note, the report was a joint project of CAF and Media Matters)  I read it cover to cover in about 25 minutes, and it's a wonderful little compilation.  Besides some mention on a few blogs and on various websites (including the aforementioned TomPaine.com), I have heard scant little about it.  Although my local AirAmerica affiliate broadcasts "Ring of Fire" and they discussed it along with an interview with CAF president Robert Borosage, a favorite of mine, there has been really no larger-scale media coverage.  This week, CAF is leading the effort to put on this year's version of the Take Back America conference.

More on this, and other things (including a link to the aforementioned report), after the jump.

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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.

The Importance Of Swing Activists

Matt already posted on this on the front-page, but I would like to chime in and expand on those thoughts. Moved from breaking blue--Chris

So, as Matt already noted, in true DLC-nexus fashion, anto-democracy Stuart Rothenberg predictably thinks that Democrats are smart for ignoring their progressive activist base, and instead catering to "swing voters." As Matt points out, this doesn't make much sense, since the only polling on the subject shows that Iraq capitulation actually hurt Democrats.

However, leaving aside actual polling numbers for a moment, there are other reasons why catering to mythical, center-right swing voters and other 1990's chimeras should not always be the number one priority of the Democratic leadership. For one thing, swing voters don't contribute money, they don't volunteer for campaigns, they don't challenge right-wing media narratives, they don't keep Democrats active and energized to vote, and they don't expand the electoral playing field. Rather, these are tasks all carried out by the progressive activist base that Rothenberg thinks has "nowhere else to go" and which the Democratic Party "risks very little, at least at this point, in disappointing." The fact is that the resources and political machinery Democrats need in order to win elections are derived, in large part, from its progressive, activist base. Further, for all of the reasons mentioned above, which I outlined in more detail for an article for the Democratic Strategist), the rise of the progressive movement is the main reason that the Democratic Party has closed the resource and political machinery gap on Republicans since 2002. Thus, alienating that movement is extremely high-risk for Democrats, since participants in the progressive movement may not be swing voters, but they are certainly swing activists. Losing our support can be very dangerous.

Take the 2000 election as an example of this. Had that activist base not been alienated in 2000 as a result of 1990's DLC-nexus triangulation, Al Gore would have won the presidency without any Supreme Court cases or hanging chads. And I'm not just talking about Naderite voters when I make that claim, as virtually every progressive now understands that third parties do not lead to politically effective outcomes for progressives. Rather, I'm talking about the lack of activism progressives undertook on Gore's behalf, including the massive fundraising gap he faced, the anti-Gore media narratives that went virtually unchallenged, and the relative lack of boots on the ground for his campaign. The 2000 election showed that there are lots of places for progressive activism to go besides helping Democratic leaders we don't like all that much, including primary challenges for candidates like Donna Edwards and social justice movement work. Apathy doesn't work for progressives, but in the 1990's most progressive activism went to the social justice movement rather than electoral politics. Channeling some of that activism to electoral politics would have swung the 2000 election no problem, and as such we wouldn't even be in Iraq now.

Finally, that the progressive activist base was right on Iraq from the get-go actually points to another area where ignoring the progressive, activist base poses a risk for Democrats. We have a tendency to be correct on things like the Iraq war turning into a disaster, and ignoring us can not only lead to gaps in electoral resources and machinery, but also to horrendous, destructive public policy. As such, it would be wise for Democrats to take actions to ensure not only that progressive activism and resources keep flowing in their direction, but that progressive policy ideas do as well.

FL: Building Local Progressive Blogospheres

I've heard many times on Kos and MyDD, that the trend in blogging is towards the local level. This is absolutely correct. While there is still some frontier left at the state level (not in Florida though) in some portions of the country, the real possibilities lay in counties, towns, and neighborhoods. Local issues, local politicians, and local institutions need to be given the same critical analysis and research that the blogosphere has brought to the state, national, and international levels.

DECs can play a small role here. Read On At Reform Florida's DECs...

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