Democratic Revolution

William Grieder - Bring On the Rebels:
...With persistence and strong convictions, insurgents can change a political party. Witness the right's slow-motion crusade to conquer and transform the Republican Party. Thirty years ago right-wing activists regularly mounted hopeless challenges to the GOP establishment -- including Richard Nixon -- and usually lost. They were called “ankle biters” in those days. Today, they are running the party. The right continues to use this tactic to threaten and punish wayward incumbents. The Wall Street-financed Club for Growth ran a right-wing primary opponent against Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania in 2004, and it is doing the same thing to Senator Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island in 2006. New York Times columnist David Brooks astutely observed: “When conservatism was a movement of ideas, it attracted oddballs; now that it's a movement with power, it attracts sleazeballs.

”The Democratic Party is never going to change substantively and again become a reform party with a serious agenda until some of its blood is spilled in the same fashion. For years, incumbent Dems have distanced themselves from fundamental convictions, confident the party's “base” wouldn't do anything about it beyond whimpering. Until now, the cynicism was well founded. Galvanized by the war, disgusted with weak-spined party leaders, the rank-and-file may at last be ready to bite back.The fuse was lit for Lieberman a few weeks ago, when let it be known that the web-savvy organization will support a challenger if that's what its Connecticut members decide to do. “Our first allegiance is to our members,” explains Tom Matzzie, MoveOn's Washington director, “and they are just as frustrated with the Democrats as anybody else. So they've given us the charge to change the Dems, and we're taking that very seriously.” Politicians and media learned to respect MoveOn in 2004, when it proved its ability to organize people and money.
Democratic leaders in Washington naturally discourage the talk of insurgency, warning it could endanger the party's chance of regaining a majority in the House or Senate. Some progressives doubtless agree. But this is the same logic -- follow the leaders and keep your mouth shut -- that has produced a long string of lame candidates with empty agendas, most recently John Kerry in 2004. The strategy of unity and weak substance led Democrats further to the right, further from their most loyal constituents. And they lost power across the board.

If progressives have the nerve and stamina: recall after the 2000 election, every Nader voter was excoriated for even considering this same strategy.

Obviously, this is political work for the long run. It requires patience and self-discipline and, since no one can claim proven results, it requires a generous respect for others trying to achieve the same thing in very different ways. It will need many more rump groups and freelance guerrillas, asserting convictions and educating citizens, disturbing the peace in moribund politics.

The antiwar fervor is likely to exert real impact in the electoral arena, but that would only be a beginning for an insurgency. To sustain the transformation, people will have to broaden the agenda to include the bedrock economic and social issues -- issues like deindustrialization, corporate power, decayed democracy and poverty -- that reluctant Democrats are unwilling to confront with a serious determination for change. Re-educating comfortable incumbents is difficult; sometimes it's easier to replace them. Long-term organizing is good. So is kamikaze assault. Let a thousand flowers bloom.

I really would like to say that the Democrats care about progressives, but after years of being willfully ignored (except when it is fundraising time), I'm a bit skeptical.

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William Greider is the author of, most recently,

The Soul of Capitalism

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This page contains a single entry by swanksalot published on December 28, 2005 9:54 AM.

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