Saturday, November 8, 2014

Fractious Children

One of the Left's greatest handicaps is our inability to work together. For reasons that escape me, liberal groups seem to look at the world as a zero-sum game in which Group A's particular cause must be front-and-center in whatever is going on at the moment. You can see this at work in almost any large and well-publicized demonstration. If there's a march for climate-change awareness, you'll find groups of people with giant puppets protesting against abortion restrictions. If there's a march against Wall Street's depredations, you'll find people pushing to get the U.S. out of Burkina Faso. Worse, at far too many such events, you'll find violent anarchists and simple vandals who just want to smash something, whether it's the state or somebody's store-front windows.
This inability to make common cause results in liberal events being ignored by the media, or else what media attention does accrue ends up being focused on the smallest, most colorful and vocal groups. Whatever the message could have been becomes watered down, mockable, ignorable. Or, if the anarchists show up, it becomes "Look at those violent anti-social liberals!"
The inestimable TBogg <a href="">nailed a part of this phenomenon</a> back in 2008. Here we are, six years later, and I still run into people who won't vote because they're not getting everything they wanted delivered in one candidate or campaign, or because they personal pet cause is not being showcased and promoted.
If there's one thing the Right understands, it's that all of their causes are ultimately tied together. The Bible bangers may not care at all about eliminating the Estate Tax, but they understand that their agenda of imposing Christian Sharia on America depends on getting sympathetic candidates into office. So they'll campaign for, raise money for, and ultimately vote for a candidate who is at least making sympathetic noises in their direction. And if that candidate doesn't deliver once in office, they'll still back him or her until someone more inclined (read "extreme") makes an appearance.
So the question becomes, how do we get all the disparate groups on the Left to understand that their individual causes actually align? And then, how do we get them to unite behind candidates who represent something close to that unified view?


  1. It might be that conservatives are more inclined to follow orders than liberals.

    It seems the left also supports candidates that are at least somewhat sympathetic until someone better comes along.

    Which is the problem--the potential voters are not supporting candidates enough, or the candidates are not responding to the voters' wants?

  2. Could it be both? Voter turnout in midterms is notoriously poor, and this year's elections were no different. Much of what constitutes the Democratic base doesn't come out in off-year elections. I suspect this is because our candidates don't energize the base (versus conservatives who do nothing but whip their base into a froth 24-7). Indeed, far too many of our candidates spend waaay too much time and effort telling the base to STFU.

    Which brings us to the candidates not responding to the voters' wants. For reasons that escape me, we seem to have decided that anything that's popular is definitionally bad. Financial reform, increased regulation of energy companies, reining in the banks--if it's popular, it's "bad." Indeed, in this past cycle we saw pundits and candidates alike deriding populism. Maybe they all figure on having their Sistah Souljah moment, but telling your base repeated to shut up and eat your spinach doesn't do much to get them to come out and vote for you.

    Having said all that, I still see all sorts of "Candidate X is not explicitly for my cause, so I'm not voting." Hell, the Republicans even take advantage of this by fielding false-flag candidates to run on the Green Party ticket just to strip votes away from the Democrat. The GOP, at least, learned the lessons that Ross Perot and Ralph Nader had to offer. Why can't we?

  3. I think you are right, the candidates do not say what the voters want to hear. This does not make the voters fractious children, it makes them people who do not want to vote for someone who does not say what they want to hear. According to what I'm reading now the Blue Dogs tend to lose, the enthusiastic progressives tend to win. Also, progressive policies win when "liberal" is not attached to them; we saw this with polling on the bits and pieces of Obamacare as well.

    Why do our candidates think anything popular is bad? Because they are not there to advance progressive policies. The DNC is not here to advance progressive policies. Our president does not advance progressive policies. And all concerned are very well aware that campaign contributions come from the elite, not from the tiny number of genuine progressives. Progressives have no power. That is why everyone feels free to ignore them.

    The only power the base has is to choose to not vote. The candidates are not energizing the vote because people care most about their economic situation. Elite Democrats do not want to respond to the base's economic concerns because that's a good way to lose DNC and donor support.

    But they can't tell them that, can they? So they use abortion to rile up the women to vote, racism for minorities, whatever is available. *They* divide and conquer the electorate. They rile up the base about social issues to get them out to vote. When it isn't enough because hey, we're still poor, the elite flog the base for not voting.

    It's insulting and demeaning and worst of all unsuccessful.

  4. From Bonddad Blog:

    In 2008 most of the netroots backed Obama, who also suggested that he was anti-Iraq war (he never actually cast a vote) vs. the pro-Iraq war Hillary Clinton. But once Obama won and no longer needed progressives, he dumped Howard Dean as Democratic Party Chair, along with his "50 state strategy," and installed economic neoliberals as his most powerful appointments.

    The point Bowers(?) was making is that the party establishment learned in 2006 that it didn't have to worry about progressives. Progressives would lose most primaries where the primary determinant was money, and then they would fall meekly in line, backing a centrist Democrat in the general. This is where Kos's mantra "more and better" democrats led.

    The GOP, when installed in power via Bush, or even with a stranglehold on a necessary artery, like the filibuster rule in the Senate, has relentlessly pursued a maximalist strategy, rallying round the most extreme policies and maybe compromising a little at the end. The democratic estabslishment, with no party discipline to the right, pursues milquetoast centrist policies and even then compromises with the GOP.

    The Progressive voice is never going to be heard, let alone come to power, under these circumstances.

    In order to do so, progressives need to take a page from the historical rise of the UK's Labour Party. One hundred years ago, the UK's two major parties were the Conservatives (a thoroughly reactionary party), and the Liberals, a center-left coalition much like today's Democrats. The Labour Party formed after the Liberals stabbed them in the back.

    And Labour did not win by defeating Conservatives. Labour won by driving the Liberal party to the brink of extinction.

    Similarly, progressives will not win because of GOP losses. Progressives will only win by driving corporatist democrats to the edge of extinction, just as movement conservatives took over the GOP by making Rockefeller Republicans as extinct as the dodo bird).

    As spelled out above, corporatists are throughly in charge of the democratic establishment, to the point, it is widely reported, that they would prefer GOP election wins over progressive democratic candidates. See, for example, here

    So, how to make corporatist democrats extinct? By showing them that they can never win. And how do you show them that they will never win? By borrowing a page from the career of Joe Lieberman.

    It isn't enough for progressives to primary corporatists. State level third parties, like New York's Green Party, give progressives the ability to stay in elections right through the general election, even if they lose a democratic primary to corporatists.

    Yes, this strategy will mean some general election losses over a few cycles. But when corporatist democrats learn that they cannot win, they will start to disappear. Progressives will win either as Democrats, or under another party banner.

    By the way, this happened before. One hundred years ago, there were active Populist and Progressive Parties in the states (remember Robert LaFollette?). Ultimately they became part of the winning New Deal coalition.

    Progressives shouldn't abandon the Democratic Party. But they should target the corporatists as mercilessly as Tea Party republicans targeted their less-extremist wing, and state level Third Parties are an indispensable part of that attack.

  5. Another important post.

  6. Avedon Carol:

    Progressives did badly? Oh? Remember what a nail-biter it was waiting for Franken to win Minnesota back in 2008? Well, that wasn't a problem this time around. The incumbent Democrats who got hammered in this election - lost, or came painfully close to losing - were Blue Dogs and DLC/Third Way/New Democrat types. No one really wanted to come out for them and so their "easy wins" never materialized. As Cliff Schecter pointed out on Friday's edition of The Majority Report, Third Way lost a bunch of its elite in this one. Not that it's stopped them from pretending the party needs to move to their "center", but that might just be a hard sell.

    And where the voters had the chance to vote on issues, the left won handily. Ballot initiatives for legalizing weed, raising the minimum wage, and curtailing corporations did very well, even in states where Democrats lost. The details on who and what lost or won tell you a great deal. The so-called "left" - which these days seems to mean anyone who is not in the centers of power in DC and on Wall Street - seems to have won where they ran; it was right-wingers with a D after their names who took a bath. Which could be great news for the rest of us if only some real liberals decide to capitalize on it and jump into the ring.

    No, it wasn't "the left" who lost the election, it was Obama's right-wing economic policies. Let Howie Klein and Ian Welsh tell you that story, with the help of a couple of pretty scary charts.

  7. This was discussed in the two previous posts, but again, I think the theme here is no overarching, consistent "What it means to be a Democrat" message that registers with people emotionally. The Rude Pundit provides an excellent alternative:

  8. Inspiration and narrative are poor substitutes for money. Inspiration helps--it helped with Obama and might help with Clinton--but nobody has any money.

    Unless you say that the meaning of being a democrat is economic equality and opportunity (which means a class war on the rich), you will not inspire people for as long as a midterm election.

    You can either say we lose because the leaders don't give the people what they want or you can say we lose because the people won't vote for their party's leader the way they are supposed to.

    One places the power in the hands of the people and is democratic. The other puts the power in the leader and is authoritarian.

  9. OK. So, this is a complaint I've been hearing about The Left (to make us sound scary) and leftie groups since forever. I'm sure it is news to no one that the civil rights movement, even within the various sub-groups, was full of in-fighting.

    It just is and there's no explaining it and there's no fixing it.

    So I guess my thinking is, these aren't questions that can be answered:

    "So the question becomes, how do we get all the disparate groups on the Left to understand that their individual causes actually align?"

    I don't think it is a matter of getting people who protest X during a rally for Y to understand that X really aligns with Y. They're protesting X during Y because X is really important to them. Or they think the rally should be about X instead of Y. Or they've concluded that the only way X is going to get any notice is if they mention it whenever cameras are present.
    Or they're jerks.

    I think a better question is how to stay on message when other people are trying to drag the conversation in directions you don't want it to go? How do you make your opinion known to the press before they show up at the rally/speech/bake sale?

    "And then, how do we get them to unite behind candidates who represent something close to that unified view?"

    In line with my previous comment - you don't, because you can't.


  10. I absolutely agree. I stopped going to meetings of liberal groups in the '80s, because people couldn't get off their hobby horses (as I saw it) and address the issue at hand. For the last 25 years, my contribution to the cause has just been writing checks, because I don't have to like people to do that.

    Fighting it won't work. We need to find some way to turn it into a strength.