Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Lack of investment can't continue: The need to develop progressive organizations

The feeling of disappointment stemming from Election Night week that we feel is no doubt shared by most of NPI's readers. Democrats and progressives suffered loss after loss and made minimal gains, and the best news we’re hearing is that Patty Murray and Harry Reid kept their Senate seats.

While this isn’t a complete opposite a feeling as the hope and elation we felt during the 2008 election, it’s getting pretty close. The political implications of this new landscape still need to be discussed and determined, but there are concrete lessons, in the here and now, that we can learn for the future.

Tuesday's results plainly demonstrate that we need to invest in progressive infrastructure immediately. It took forty years for Republicans to fully develop their leading institutions, their Heritage Foundations and Cato Institutes, and we have only recently tried to play catch-up.

Considering that nothing less than the quality of life we enjoy in our communities is at stake in a national election, starting out hundreds of yards behind the other side is not acceptable. The progressive movement can't afford to be at such a disadvantage every two years, and American families can't afford for America's progressive movement not to be in fighting form.

We need to demonstrate to the electorate that progressives hold the public interest at heart. To do that, we need to do many things.

First and foremost, we need to create strong institutions with the ability to measure America's pulse and shape public sentiment through effective storytelling. Our movement has manpower, but it is transient and reflexive, because it is mainly comprised of volunteers who have jobs and families and school to worry about. An unpaid activist works for change in his or her free time and can only commit so much energy to progressive politics.

Our movement needs to be able to support activists with real income, not just psychic income. We also need resources to communicate more effectively through different media (print, broadcast, and online). And when Democrats and progressives communicate, we need to have a cogent message.

This election, especially in Washington state, Democratic campaigns were based on why the other option or the other opponent was bad, rather than why progressive policy directions are beneficial to the American people.

Democratic operatives played the same game as their Republican counterparts, spending huge sums of money on negative attack ads.

Let's face it: Voters don’t like negative attack ads. They lead to greater apathy and cynicism in our society. Democrats need to find more creative ways to defend their candidates, and progressives need to find more effective ways to show how progressive policy directions raise our quality of life.

I-1098 was rejected because opponents scared voters into believing that the Legislature would extend the income tax to everybody in to years without reducing other taxes. 1098 proponents didn't adequately refute these charges.

Progressives used words like “political suicide” to explain of the impossibility of widening the tax, which works for us, but was a phrase which fed into the right wing narrative that our politicians are inherently cynical and politically ruthless, which doesn’t fit with the values and motives of our movement.

As a consequence, our state's common wealth will be lacking critical funds to improve our universities, public schools, and social safety net.

To avoid losing future battles like the I-1098 debate, we need to invest in infrastructure. We need to build our own idea factories, communication channels, leadership pipeline, and civic engagement initiatives to turn our values and principles into policy directions and policies.

And when we tell our story, we have to tell it together. Consistency is key. Activists and elected leaders need to reinforce each other.

The movement needs to establish a link between the people and those in the government working for the people.

The movement also needs to upend the Democratic establishment and crash the gate. We are in uncharted waters, and the Democratic establishment bears the blame for shunning, rather than embracing, progressive populism.

By failing to take a populist stance and articulating their beliefs, Democrats allowed “tea party” Republicans — funded and orchestrated by wealthy corporations — to claim the populist mantle for themselves.

Voters can smell inauthenticity, and it's not surprising that they punished the faction of the Democratic Party that is the least progressive and least populist in the midterms: the Blue Dogs. Members of the Progressive Caucus, campaigning as for the people and perceived in that light, lost only five seats, while Blue Dogs lost about half of their membership. (Admittedly, most Blue Dogs represent suburban and rural districts that aren't liberal, but then, neither are they!)

The Republican pollster Rasmussen has a poll out showing that most voters expect to be disappointed by Republicans by 2012. They're ahead of the curve. It's now up to both congressional Democrats and activists across the country to make the case that Democrats should be returned to power in 2012.

In a way, Congress played into their game, by compromising for the past two years with Wall Street and in the process surrendered valuable political capital, by using a foundational tool of our democracy against an intractable opposition.

The Republicans fought from a position of strength, despite being the minority, while Democrats fought from a position of weakness, despite holding the majority. Republicans succeeded in obstructing progress, but convinced voters to take out their anger on the folks trying to govern responsibly instead.

The Republicans will try to reap the political benefits of this strategy for as long as they can. They will try to demoralize the progressive base and depress Democratic turnout, just as they did this cycle. If Democrats don’t speak up and tell their story, Republicans will continue to succeed.

All of the problems that manifested themselves in this election are connected. It is imperative that we communicate effectively, get our public leaders to do the same, and strengthen our advocacy of progressive policy directions, so that the public interest can prevail more often. For organizations like NPI to make these objectives a reality year-round, investment is required.

It takes time to build a movement, and it takes time to build institutions, but the investment needs to occur now. The dream can’t be deferred for any longer.


Blogger Twylla said...

Agreed. When do we start?

November 7, 2010 12:17 PM  

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