Progressive Strategy Notes
by Chris Bowers, Sun Apr 23, 2006 at 02:11:09 PM EDT
Back on Thursday, commenter fwiffo asked an important question:Yeah, of course Casey will win
So Casey can beat the most wingnutty senator in the nation. Big whoop. Santorum is about as popular as ketchup flavored ice cream. A trained poodle could beat him at this point.
We're running a primary challenge against Lieberman, but we're supposed to line up in support of somebody even more conservative in PA for a seat that should be an easy pick-up. Why? This isn't Nebraska. I understand he's a popular politician, but isn't there anyone else credible? Are there really no progressives in the whole state that could beat Senator Man-on-dog?
The "he'll be a vote for majority leader Reid" argument is bullshit, because a) so would any other Democrat we run, and b) so is Joe Lieberman.
We've got a Democratic leaning state with a massively unpopular incumbent, yet it's unreasonable to want to fill that seat with a progressive. I guess I just don't understand. This is a very good question, and it deserves an answer. Here is mine:
Yes, I am supporting Ned Lamont in the Democratic primary in Connecticut, as I also supported Ciro Rodriguez in the primary in TX-28, as I support Jon Tester in the Senate primary in Montana, as I have called for progressives to run against incumbents in IL-12 and CA-20, and as I have called for progressives to be supported in primaries such as IL-06, TN-09, and HI-02. In this vein, neither I, nor any other blogosphere leader I know of, is arguing that we should fall behind Casey in the primary. In fact, at my ward committee endorsement meeting this Thursday, I will be pushing for Chuck Pennacchio. As a progressive Democrat, it is entirely within my rights to support progressive alternatives to conservative Democratic incumbents / favorites. I think we should run these primary challenges in order to push the party to the left. However, I also think that these challenges should be restricted to party primaries, and not extended into general elections. If progressive split with the Democratic Party, they actually push the party to the right, just as a theocon split with Republicans would push Republicans to the left (if the left wing leaves, then there is no left wing at all). Further, it is a lot more difficult to wield influence over an organization in which you are not an active member than an organization where you are an active member. Still further, splitting the progressive vote will only result in more conservative victories in general elections. Run progressive challenges in primaries, not in general elections.
2. Voting versus Activism
The next distinction I would like to make is between voting for someone and working for someone. Since I cannot imagine a situation in a federal election where the Republican nominee is more progressive than the Democratic nominee, or a situation where a third party can ever wield significant influence in DC, I believe that voting Democratic in the general is always required. However, beyond voting, no progressive activist should ever be expected to donate money, canvass, GOTV, or otherwise engage in activism for a candidate in whom the activist does not believe. Your time and your resources are precious to you, and you should distribute them as you see fit. If, for example, you do not want to be an activist for Casey in the general election, that is your business. Personally, as a Democratic committeeperson, I believe I have an obligation to GOTV for the entire Democratic slate. However, that is my business, not yours. If you don't want to work for Casey in the general because you can't support some of his positions, I bear you no ill will.
3. Political Parties and Political Advocacy Organizations.
The third distinction I would like to make is between political parties and political advocacy organizations. Even if you cannot bring yourself to work for a given Democratic candidate, you should always be able to bring yourself to work toward building vessels of progressive power not directly associated with any political party. I believe that one of the most short sighted maneuvers many progressive activists often make when they grow too disgusted with the Democratic Party for words is to turn to a non-major political party, as though political parties are the only vessels of political power in this country. The Green Party, no matter how progressive it may be, will never be a major source of political influence in America due to our first-past the post electoral system. However, many progressive organizations not directly affiliated with the Democratic Party already do wield a significant amount of political power: PIRG, the netroots, People for the American Way, Democracy for America, the ACLU, the NAACP, many unions, many environmental organizations, etc. My suggestion to any progressive activist too disgusted with the Democratic Party for words would be to work with local and national progressive organizations, or even help build new ones. I just can't stomach it when so-called progressive "activists" in Philadelphia claim they will sit on their hands in 2006 because of Casey and Rendell, when there are so many emerging local progressive organizations they can work with: Neighborhood Networks, Philadelphians Against Santorum, the local netroots scene, Philly for Change, and others. I can understand not working for someone like Casey, but how is staying home and doing nothing will do nothing to build progressive power. Support and work with progressive organizations that are neither political parties nor something you find too conservative. That will build political power for progressives, not sitting home.
So, that is the strategy I propose. Keep progressive electoral challenges restricted to Democratic primaries. Always vote Democrat in the general election, but only offer your activism to candidates in whom you truly believe. Perhaps most importantly, always work to build progressive infrastructure that is separate from electoral politics altogether. It is in keeping with these principles that I can urge you to vote for Bob Casey in the general election, and donate to Ned Lamont in the primary election.
As a final note, I would like to say that obviously, barring something truly spectacular, Bob Casey Jr. will win the Pennsylvania Democratic Senatorial primary in a landslide. That neither Pennacchio nor Sandals ever emerged as a serious threat to Casey in the primary is demonstrative of the sorry state of progressives in the state of Pennsylvania. If anything, this should serve (and I think it has) as a wake up call to progressives in my home state that we have a lot of work to do and a lot of progressive infrastructure to build to make sure that this never happens again. If Lamont does better in Connecticut, then that is because the situation for progressives in Connecticut is better than it is in Pennsylvania. There are a variety of reasons why that is the case, and I know that situation will never change as long as you decide to stay home and do nothing. If you live in Philly, the first line of action I suggest would be to help out Anne Dicker in her run for State Representative. A victory for Anne will really shake up the local powers-that-be. Also, no matter where you live, you can donate and volunteer for Jon Tester and Ned Lamont over at the combined netroots page, as both candidates are progressives running in important primaries against conservative Democrats. Further, you can participate in the fifty-state canvass next Saturday. Whatever you do, do not just stay at home. An activist's work is never done.