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Hullabaloo


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

 
Putting The Dogs Outside

by digby

I was doing an interview the other day about groups like Blue America PAC supporting progressive primary challengers and was asked whether this wasn't a useless tilting at windmills kind of activity and couldn't resources couldn't be deployed more effectively to people who have a real shot at winning? It's a good question. I'll try to explain, (for myself only) why I support such things and you can draw your own conclusions.

First, elections are the legitimate, institutional means by which citizens make their voices heard. If you don't like your representative and what he or she stands for, then you should run against him or her yourself or support someone closer to your beliefs. That's not to say that there aren't good strategic reasons for voting for someone who doesn't hew as closely to your beliefs as you would like, particularly when his or her opposition is far worse (like voting third party when the result is to elect a far right reactionary.) But on the whole, the system is designed so that people vote in primaries for those who best represent their views and vote in the general between the lesser of two evils between the parties. It's a small, but important distinction, even if strategic considerations come into play at different points in the process.

The fact is that while it would be great if we could find willing progressive challengers in every Blue Dog district and support them with enough cash and enthusiasm that they will all win and we will live in liberal nirvana, that's not likely to happen. Conservatism, incumbency and institutional support are extremely powerful forces. We will be able to replace a bad Democrat with a better one only once in a great while.

But what we can do effectively is keep hope alive and spread the good word so that when the possibility arises, we will have prepared the ground for victory. We can ask you, our committed liberal activist readers, to help progressives in conservative districts have enough money to run some ads or take some polls or hire some staff so they can get the progressive message out in places where it isn't heard very often. People are far more open to hearing things from their neighbors than from some smart ass from out of town (and certainly the vapid, sophomoric gasbags who pass for progressives on television.) You need people in the communities who are willing to step up and make the case for what we believe in, if you want to change people's minds over time.

I wrote this after the 2006 election:

Howie Klein of Down With Tyranny has posted this letter from the campaign manager of an Oregon candidate named Carol Voisin that really does my heart good and shows how valuable these kinds of projects are to the grassroots of the Democratic party:


I'm Carol Voisin's campaign manager, and as we get to the end of the campaign I wanted to thank you again for all that you and the Hadenough/BlueAmerica team have done for us and the other candidates. As you and Rick Brown wrote in the Voisin DownWithTyranny writeup, this is one of those campaigns that has such structural disadvantages (Dems lose by 45%+), that it typically never gets off the ground, with a downward spiral of no belief and no money. This year has been different because Carol is a great candidate and she came together with some highly motivated volunteers, several of us from the netroots. Our weakness was also a strength, as the lack of professionals and insiders has allowed us all to keep the campaign in line with our ideals-- we've made things up as we went along while running an honest and positive campaign that has shined a big spotlight on Greg Walden's record.

Without Hadenough we wouldn't be running any commercials. As soon as we saw it on fdl we put it on Carol’s website (with Walden's numbers next to an explanation about how Coleen Rowley was running against rubberstamper John Kline). Just asking you all if it could get adapted for us seemed like a big deal, yet the answer was always yes, all the interactions were always easy and fast, and soon we were running our own 60 second spot in our only two "metro" areas of Medford and Bend. Since we didn't have much money the ads, played sparsely, were sort of symbolic, but most everything about this campaign has been sort of symbolic, and it felt good.

And then a couple of days ago the Democratic Party of Oregon sprung $10,000 for us to run the ad the last week of the campaign. This is enough so that it will really get seen, and really will bring in some votes. The fact that the DPO wanted to spend money on these ads when the Oregon House is in play signifies that they know that it is helping both Carol and all the down ballot races. People see it and they immediately understand and remember the song and the images, and it pushes them across the action-inaction line. I know I'll never get it out of my head. Our grateful thanks to everyone who gave their time and talent to make this happen, and all the FDL and C&L and other people who make Blue America possible...[there's more.]


This is how you create a majority party, my friends. You make people believe in the party and support them even when they are not immediately "winners" by creating a feeling of solidarity. You make it feel good to be a Democrat.

It's true that this was a general election race, but the same holds true for progressives who would like to run against a Blue Dog in a primary race. They may not win, but it builds progressive solidarity and helps educate the public about progressive ideas. Demographics change, people and communities evolve and someday what seems like a ridiculous impossibility today will be a realistic chance --- and we will have helped nurture that along over time.

And contrary to what all the naysayers insist, having a liberal run against a Blue Dog in a primary doesn't hurt the Blue Dog electorally. If it is to be believed that the district really prefers conservatism then having a more liberal challenger makes it more possible for him or her to run as one. But it does make the Blue Dog have to think just a little bit about the people who voted against him in the primary and recognize that he has concerns beyond how far right he can go. It's a tough position to be in, but then a Democrat running in a conservative district should always be weighing his or alleged principles against electoral concerns or there's no reason to be a Democrat. A primary challenge is a good reminder when these people get too comfortable in their conservative enabling role.

Nobody's asking the Village elders to step up. This is a challenge to their authority in picking which candidates to support and we understand that. (Not that we also don't support many candidates who are also sanctioned by the Party --- we do, enthusiastically.) But the Party as an institution isn't interested in putting its focus on electing progressives. They want to win, however they can. We do too, but we want to win in the long term by making the party and the country more progressive. Our goals are not mutually exclusive but they aren't exactly the same.

There is nothing nefarious about what we are doing. We are using legitimate, democratic means to try to affect our politics. It's possible that from time to time a challenger will get the nomination and will lose to a Republican. But it's unlikely. If an incumbent (with all that institutional money and support) is that weak then there are structural problems that made him weak against the Republicans too. And anyway, you have to risk the status quo for hope and change and all that good stuff.

As that great American Don Rumsfeld said about democracy: "it's untidy." If people want to go around mucking up the nice orderly incumbent protection racket, there's really not much anyone can do about it. The internet is not just a cash machine for institutional politics where people blindly order up the latest boy band's new CD. We can raise money for all kinds of things. The party's just going to have to get used to the idea that their power is being dispersed a little bit and learn to deal with it.

And by the way, we are going to make mistakes in picking candidates and our approach to influencing politics and we will learn some harsh lessons along the way. We already are. But at least we're trying...


Update: And then, as Stoller points out, there's this.


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