Read a Pacific Northwest, liberal perspective on world, national, and local politics. From majestic Redmond, Washington - the Northwest Progressive Institute Official Blog.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Progressive movement must stand up the D.C. political establishment

A fair amount of bobble-head babble last night and this morning focused on how a Democratic landslide represents a victory for groups like the DLC (Democratic Leadership Council) or the conservative Blue Dog Coalition because "so many centrist Democrats won."

Such conjecture ignores the significant influence of the progressive netroots and grassroots, not to mention other factors.

As Ezra Klein notes, the Republican-generated idea that a smashing Democratic victory is not validation for progressives is nuts .
The ideological spectrum is a tricky thing. Take Heath Schuler, exhibit A in the right wing Democrats meme. He's a cultural conservative, no doubt. But however far right he drifts on those issues -- which, under a Democratic Congress, he won't be voting on because they won't be brought to floor -- he's notably left on economic issues. Today, for instance, he's giving a press conference under the auspices of the United Steelworkers with Great Liberal Hope Sherrod Brown, where they'll discuss the need for new trade policies and their success in making active opposition to NAFTA a winning issue. That's not centrist Democrat. It's not moderate liberal. That's populism, kids, and it's leftier than polite company has allowed for quite some time.

So is Shuler right-wing? Seems like a tough case to me. Sherrod Brown? Liberal as they come. Defeating South Dakota's abortion ban initiative? Passing Missouri's stem cell initiative? All those progressives who toppled liberal Republicans in the Northeast? Somebody think they won in the blue bastions with roaring conservatism? Meanwhile, the most conservative of the serious Democratic challengers this cycle, Harold Ford, went down to defeat.

Bravely fought race, tough environs, etc. But with an out-and-out liberal winning Ohio and a right-of-center Democrat losing Tennessee, we're really going to call this election for conservatism?
We knew before the election that the mindless centrists who brought us twelve years of hell would immediately try to throw progressives under the bus. And sure enough Rahm Emanuel has already started that attempt..

Of course, Emanuel has his strengths. He’s a decent strategist. He deserves some credit for backing candidates like Darcy Burner and not trying to micromanage their campaigns. But he also his weaknesses. And one of those weaknesses is that he does not have faith in a populist, progressive agenda. Another is that he tried to interfere in some districts by leveraging the DCCC’s influence behind handpicked candidates while ignoring the district’s grassroots base.

If we are to have, "the most open and ethical Congress in history," as Nancy Pelosi just said in some televised comments, then Democrats are going to have to crack down on K-Street. And some establishment Democrats don't really want that to happen.

The newly enlarged Democratic caucus is unique and diverse, and it’s difficult to easily apply ideological labels to all of its members. For example, as Klein noted, it’s hard to argue Heath Shuler is a conservative.

We will not be able to maintain our majority in Congress for long if we worry about “moving to the center” or just doing whatever has the most bipartisan consensus. In the face of the most extreme administration in American history, meeting the Republicans halfway is not moderation, it's capitulation. Democrats’ fortunes have improved because Democrats have started putting up a tougher fight. Less rolling over, more standing up for what we believe in.

Pundits and reporters in the traditional media are already putting out misleading narratives that lend credence to the claim that the country is still somehow conservative or right of center. It’s not. The key thing for progressives to do is to respond and reframe quickly to such claims.

Democrats campaigned on a promise to lessen and end the culture of corruption in Washington, D.C. Now Democrats need to follow through. It can’t happen unless the whole caucus commits to cleaning out the House. Progressives who were elected to the chamber thanks to the netroots and grassroots know they don’t need to be beholden to K Street. They know what people powered politics is all about.

But others in our party – those who call themselves “New Democrats” or “Blue Dogs” have long been part of the establishment and are used to Republican one-party rule where corporations and special interests get what they want. It’s that culture we have to change.

And furthermore, we can’t go back to the “triangulation” strategy of the last decade. We need to stand on our own values and ideas – not the Republicans’. Not doing so would be a recipe for disaster.

Conservative Democrats and Democrats who like to style themselves as “centrists” should not be taking credit for this week’s electoral victories. Cooperation is what’s needed in the Democratic caucus. Newly elected progressives must be accepted as full partners.

It’s their call. If DLC members and Blue Dogs push for the caucus to abandon progressive values in the name of “centrism” or “triangulation”, we’ll keep fighting. They can cut that crap and work for unity… or they can do damage to the party and our majority by not doing so.

Republicans will, as usual, try to treat progressive policy prescriptions as "extremist," but that is hardly the case. Working toward a sensible end to the war in Iraq, health care coverage for all Americans and improved environmental protections is not radical at all --it's mainstream.

To be clear, this isn't so much about policy as it is attitude. Sure, there are policy issues to be worked on. But let’s be clear here: the progressive movement is a hugely important part of the Democratic Party. Many in the Democratic establishment in our nation’s capitol want nothing to do with the movement. People powered politics, how quaint!

But we are crashing the gate of the Democratic establishment. The head of the Democratic National Committee (Howard Dean) was swept in by the same movement that has just made Democratic victories across the nation possible. We are on our way towards a populist, progressive majority in Congress. That’s the future of Democratic politics.

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