Then You Win
by Jerome Armstrong, Wed Aug 09, 2006 at 11:22:15 AM EDT
I was up in New Hampshire yesterday with college age Sierra Club activists, doing a back and forth debate/discussion with the Sierra Club President, Lisa Renstrom, over the issue of their embracing partisan politics, and advancing the progressive movement ahead of their own single-issue advocacy. I laid out the argument that single-issue advocacy was something that seemed to work in a previous time, but not in today's partisan atmosphere, and that if a substantive, transformative change in environmental policy was to happen, it would occur because the millions of environmentalists decided to join the netroots/grassroots activists now taking over the Democratic Party. I quoted Krugman's channel of CTG tough love. Lisa countered that social movements do not make up political parties, but impact them, and she effectively made the case that environmentalists can drive the public debate at the state level in a non-partisan manner. I totally agreed, but believe that that impact can be overtly partisan, and that a distinction must be made between the state, more local level, and the federal races.
Having become just another lobbying group instead of a movement, the Sierra Club(to their credit, the locals stayed out of this one, but they are supporting Chaffee in RI, even worse) and the many single-issue groups like them, NARAL, League of Conservation Voters, Planned Parenthood, AFL-CIO, SEIU, CWA, NALC, NAGE, Food and Commercial Workers, Teamster's, Firefighters, Carpenters, Postal Workers, IBEW, Human Rights Campaign, etc., found themselves aligned in the minority alongside Joe Lieberman on Tuesday night. Lieberman's problem wasn't policy, it's that he's not been a part of the solution--the movement of change that forms its base with people of progressive values, not issues.
We are becoming strong enough in primary numbers to defeat the politics of old in the Democratic Party. But we cannot defeat the conservative ideological movement if they are united, and we are not; if they are modern and we are stuck in the methods of the past. In a nutshell, I argued that to win elections and transform the landscape enough to enact a broader environmental policy initiative that addresses issues such as global warming, every progressive individual, group, and organization must work together in the same vehicle. Sure the Democratic Party has been busted and broken in the past, but lets rebuild it and ride it to get there.
Then I drove down to Meriden, CT to watch Ned Lamont's victory speech (I arrived 10 seconds before Ned began speaking) and celebrate afterwards with everyone gathered (the highlight being the 5 gallon champagne bottle brought out by Bill Hillsman and watching Tom Mattzie try to pop the cork).
During Ned's speech, Matt Stoller started the "Bring Joe Home" chant that was an interlude between the chants of "Common Good" and "Swan-ee", and before "We Do To" wrapped it up. It was a chuckle-bringer to see Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson doing bookends behind either side of Ned Lamont up on the stage (Jesse threw confetti on Al, and whenever Ned would deliver a good one-liner, Al would give Jesse a `not bad' heads-up nod). Even though I don't imagine that their savvy getting-in-the-lens is what the Lamont team had in mind for showing the CT evening news crowd, Al & Jesse were three moves ahead of the Lamont stage advance, lol.
Seeing Jackson up on the stage backing Lamont, it's easy to imagine how this might be viewed this as a victory of some sort of a "New Left" contra the DLC (Jackson's old nemesis from the 1980's-90's). And sure, the DLC doesn't have a winning template for Democratic electoral victories at the national level--but neither does labor, the single-issue groups, our national Democratic organizations, or Jesse Jackson, for that matter. It makes just as little sense to single out one single-issue group as it does the DLC in describing the new intra-party machinations at work.
Some think it's all about the war. And certainly there is the issue of Iraq, and the stance there, of enabling Bush instead of promoting a substantive distinction. And notice how Leiberman almost won this election off of the strength of finally starting to distinguish himself from Bush in the last weekend--too late too little, perhaps. Still, the media swing that Lieberman pulled off at the end of the campaign made this race 10 points closer than it was a week ago. Their bringing those `low information' voters to the polls was impressive. Despite that, and because ~45% of those elibible voted in the primary, Lamont won because he was getting informed voters to the polls-- those among the 22% of Democrats that tune into the blogs (of whom 99% vote).
Other's think it's all about partisanship, and there's no denying that Bush-Rove has set the table on which politics happens today. Partisanship is enough to form the backbone of opposition, but being "counter-Bush" alone is not why Ned Lamont won.
Strong stances over Iraq and partisanship are both values that work politically today. To get to why Lamont won is going to take some digging. Maybe looking to the results from the Courage Campaign polling provides a template for understanding the results; where we see a lack of identity with single-issues for voting, and instead see a stronger identification of underlying values is at play. Being able to identify with something larger, which leads in a different direction, and involves a meta-identity for people to belong to with their vote, is probably near what is happening.
The message that voting for Ned Lamont meant a different direction got through, and he successfully (unlike what the Democratic Committees have done) framed that change within a broader set of values instead of a laundry list of issues.
I'm now heading over to the Makor lecture at 8 pm this evening in NYC (35 W 67th St) to be on a panel with Ari Wallach, Karen Finley, Matt Bai and Matt Taibbi, speaking about where the Democratic Party is heading.
I think we got a clear indication last night of where it's going in terms of the intra-party debate. Now if we are going to move further, beyond the base turn-out politics of the `06 mid-terms, and into an `08 governing majority, with an agenda of transformative policy changes, it means the progressive organizations and groups will have to join the people whom are already in the movement.