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Friday, January 06, 2017


You say you want a revolution

by Tom Sullivan

Something Robert Reich wrote soon after November 8 is still plenty relevant:

I have been a Democrat for 50 years – I have even served in two Democratic administrations in Washington, including a stint in the cabinet and have run for the Democratic nomination for governor in one state – yet I have never voted for the chair or vice-chair of my state Democratic party. That means I, too, have had absolutely no say over who the chair of the Democratic National Committee will be. To tell you the truth, I haven’t cared. And that’s part of the problem.
It's something to which few activists paid attention until last year's Democratic primary fight. I don't recall it being as big an issue during the 2008 primary as the fight itself. That was then. This is now.

There is a growing collection of 2016 election postmortems filling my in-box these days. Many reflect Reich's opinion that turning the Democratic Party from a fundraising machine that lines the pockets of "political consultants, pollsters, strategists, lawyers, advertising consultants and advertisers themselves" into "the voice of the dispossessed" should be the main focus.

This one yesterday from Vox is one of the best. Please give it a read. Theda Skocpol, professor of government and sociology at Harvard University, warns Democrats of "traps" and "detours" on the way back. Endless blame games and focus on micro-targeting groups Democrats lost in November avoids addressing the "electoral geography" that matters in how we elect the president and the congress:
From that perspective, one 2016 pattern stands out. Compared with previous presidential contests, the partisan gap between big-city and non-big-city voting patterns widened. Trump won because he rang up unusually high margins (although not unusually high turnouts) among voters across all social strata in suburban, small-city, and semi-rural counties, especially in the Midwest. In many of those places, Democrats are not an organized presence at all.
Now where have I heard that before?

Skocpol continues:
Anti-institutional tendencies in today’s culture make the idea of dismantling the existing order attractive to many people. But social science research has long shown that majorities need strong organizations to prevail against wealthy conservative interests in democracies. The real problem in US politics today is hardly too much unified organizational heft on the center left; it is too little. Unless the Democratic Party becomes stronger and more effective, a radicalized Republican-conservative juggernaut is likely to take over for decades.
Dismantling the existing order was the attractive notion that gave us Donald Trump. We are all about to be lab rats in an over 300 million-subject experiment in how well that works. Reich believes instead the order of the day for progressives is to transform the Democratic Party from "a fund-raising machine into a movement."

That seems to be the goal of all those Our Revolution emails from Bernie Sanders. Let's hope the newly activated are as serious about "taking back the Democratic Party" as the rhetoric suggests. Heads up: It's work.

One of the potential rewards is closing the rift between electeds and party regulars. One of the more pernicious effects of the money chase is that activists who are not big donors are to be seen and not heard until election time. Want to know why elected officials seem unresponsive? It's because the rank-and-file aren't even the JV squad and the varsity players are too busy shaking down sponsors for new uniforms. We're playing for the same school, but not on the same team.

Paul Curtis (Alien & Sedition) wrote a decade ago about the point of creating a movement. It's not about electing the right (meaning the left) people:
The lesson of the 2004 election was that the fortunes of a political movement cannot ride upon the fate of a presidential campaign; if anything, it should be the other way around.

Likewise, the fortunes of a political movement cannot be made dependant upon the courage of politicians. The point of a political movement is to make the courage of politicians irrelevant.