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Friday, August 12, 2011

Democratic Dolchstoßlegende
by David Atkins ("thereisnospoon")

One of the weakest arguments made against progressives who chastise Obama is that we harm the cause and weaken the effort to undermine conservative politics and create a better future. I've already countered that argument from my own personal story of dedicated Democratic Party activism while being an occasionally forceful critic of the President's policies. It's true that simply ranting against President Obama and the entire Democratic Party is not terribly useful, particularly without a compelling alternative theory of change. And it's clear that advocating for third parties is also far less useful than taking the Democratic Party over the inside, given the structure of our government and the history of third parties in America. But these sorts of accusations against progressives are straw man arguments made by defenders of neoliberal politics and the tactic of compromising at all costs even at the expense of any and all core principles.

Ultimately, the argument made by the Administration's most active defenders against progressives is a version of the Dolchstoßlegende: progressives are stabbing Dems in the back by not being supportive enough of the President, and would be much more useful if they got in line and clapped louder.

Nothing could better illustrate the folly of that argument than what happened to Mitt Romney yesterday. Under pressure from an angry crowd, Mitt Romney made an enormous but telling gaffe declaring that corporations are people, too. It's very early, of course, but it's exactly the sort of "voted for it before I voted against it" blunder that could seriously sink Romney's campaign, particularly since it reinforces the perception of a man who seems more of a corporate spokesperson than a real human being as it is.

Well, as it turns out, Dave Dayen reports that the group that pressured Romney into the gaffe is also vocally upset with President Obama:

It turns out that the hecklers were a group of about a dozen members of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (CCI). They are a grassroots community organization that is part of a broader coalition called The New Bottom Line, which seeks to challenge big bank interests on behalf of everyday communities. And they have a message for members of both parties who visit Iowa during caucus season. I spoke with Dave Goodner, an Iowa CCI organizer who was part of the exchange yesterday.

Iowa CCI has about 3,300 members all over Iowa. Three-quarters of them are over the age of 65, and about 60% live in rural Iowa. “One of our biggest issues is Social Security and Medicare and making Wall Street pay for the financial crisis,” said Goodner. “We know where the money is. Not in the back pocket of a senior on Social Security. The money’s on Wall Street. It was their crisis and they should have to pay for it...”

Goodner and his group were not pleased with Romney’s full answer, where he touted so-called “progressive price indexing” (which would have to cut benefits well into the middle class to generate any savings) and raising the retirement age. “He’s talking about benefit cuts that are going to hurt seniors, the elderly, the poor and the disabled,” said Goodner. “And ask for nothing from the wealthiest Americans, and the companies on Wall Street.”

This sounds similar to what President Obama has been saying recently in support of a balanced deficit solution. But Iowa CCI isn’t exactly enthralled with his performance of late either. “Our members are very upset and angry at Obama,” Goodner said. “He was the one who put Social Security and Medicare on the table. We delivered a letter to his campaign office in Des Moines, telling him to back off, to take this off the table.” As it turns out, Obama will be in Peosta, Iowa next week, as part of a Rural Economic Forum. Iowa CCI has members there, but it’s not a public town hall meeting, so they are still strategizing about how to reach the President with their message. In the meantime, they are speaking to their representatives in Iowa (all of whom, Democratic or Republican, voted against the debt limit bill), or any other Democratic representatives, telling them to deliver their message to the President. It turns out that DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz is at the Iowa State Fair today, so we’ll see if anything transpires.

And they are adamant on this point. “Anytime a candidate or the President comes to Iowa, we’re going to bird-dog them,” Goodner said. “We put principles above party. They’re all going to hear from us.”

These are the sorts of activists who are persistent and get things done. They're the sorts of activists who will be there on behalf of Democratic principles come rain or shine, come Republican or Democratic Administrations. All the Democratic Party needs to do is have their back, and they can make magic happen. Iowa CCI just did more for the Obama re-election campaign than $50 million of advertising dollars could ever hope to do, against the candidate whom all the polls show would likely be Obama's most formidable opponent in the general election.

The truth is that Iowa CCI isn't stabbing the President or the Democratic Party in the back through their criticism of the Grand Bargain. If anything, the President and the Party are stabbing them in the back, even as they continue to do the sort of work that helps get Democrats elected--even if that work doesn't necessarily come in the form of phonebanking or door-to-door canvassing. The Democratic Party needs both the ideological progressives and the careful team player shock troops, and it forgets that lesson at its peril.