Expanding Beyond Just Partisanship

Over the past four years, starting with the rise to prominence of Howard Dean's presidential campaign / movement, many netroots leaders have consistently stated that the progressive netroots and blogosphere place more of an emphasis on Democratic partisanship than upon rigid coherence to progressive ideology. For example, this was one of the major claims in Markos and Jerome's seminal work, Crashing The Gate. Personally, I see no reason to disagree with this idea, as it was firmly demonstrated in the BlogPac Netroots survey last year. Further, my "Eight Rules for Progressive Realpolitik are non-ideological in emphasis. Yet Further, I consider myself an adherent of both Matt's "Bar Fight Primary" and James Powell's Hackett litmus test, which are also more or less non-ideological formulations.

Over the past five years, the "progressive netroots" and "progressive blogosphere" has not conducted itself in an ideologically rigid or uniform manner. In many ways, this has worked to its advantage. For example, our emphasis on partisanship has resulted in enormous amounts of activism conducted on behalf of a wide variety of Democratic candidates and causes, allowing the netroots to play a key role in the 2006 Democratic electoral victories. Further, it has allowed us to make alliances with a broad range of advocacy groups, resulting in a considerable amount of respectful attention from a wide variety of leaders within the Democratic Party and progressive ecosystem. Also, the emphasis on partisanship has helped the blogosphere and netroots focus on closing the massive infrastructure gap the conservative movement has long held over progressives in several areas: fundraising, volunteer activism, media influence, narrative development, rebuilding local parties, voter targeting and much more. These improvements in infrastructure have been to the advantage of all Democrats, no matter how they might self-identify ideologically. Even if we were to do nothing else as a political movement, continued infrastructure advances, coupled with increasing Democratic consensus on the Hackett litmus test, the rules of realpolitik, and the bar fight primary, would secure historic advances for the Democratic electoral cause over the next several decades.

However, over the past six months, I believe it has become increasingly apparent that working to achieve partisan electoral and media goals is not enough, in and of itself, to achieve the sort of change in America that most members of the progressive movement desire. Obviously, as the radicalized, conservative movement-controlled Republican Party has shown, such goals are extremely important and must never be abandoned. Still, in a number of policy areas, such as Iraq, international trade, and ethics reform, the Democratic Party does not yet seem to be in the same ideological place as progressives. Or, to perhaps phrase that sentiment more accurately, not enough Democrats in Congress are in the same ideological place as progressives to form a progressive governing majority in a variety of policy areas. Thankfully, we have a Democratic governing majority, one that I fully intend to help expand in 2008. However, we do not yet have a progressive governing majority. That is something I seek to change.

Now that the Democratic Party has a share of governing power in Washington, D.C., and also in the vast majority of states around the country, the progressive movement has reached a point where ideological concerns need to play a larger role in our activism than they have over the past five years. This is especially the case now that it seems quite possible that there will be a sizable Democratic ttifecta in Washington in less than two years time. In the same way that Rahm Emanuel and Steny Hoyer helped stack the current Democratic House majority with New Dems and Blue Dogs, the progressive movement needs to stack future Democratic-controlled Congresses with progressives. As a party and as a movement, we need to grow more comfortable with expressing ideological disagreement, as Matt recently argued. We need to end the longstanding Democratic practice of trying to chase after the center, and instead engage in the war of ideas and persuade the center to move to our side. Even beyond electoral politics and ideological dialogue, we need to organize within the major national institutions that produce our ideology, and seek to build a progressive country not just in governance, but also in the way we live. If we are going to have a governing, and potentially long-lasting, progressive majority in America, we need not only a progressive Democratic Party, but also a progressive culture and a progressive nation.

It is impossible to build a progressive party, government, culture or nation if ideology is always de-emphasized. For the past five years, the progressive movement, netroots and blogosphere has worked to stem the radical conservative in American governance and media, and it was necessary to use largely non-ideological means to do so. However, with changing times should also come changing tactics. Now that Democrats are in power, and are poised to make even more gains, we don't have to just be partisans anymore. A moment has arrived where we can achieve more than just stopping Bush and the conservative movement, and where enacting progressive public policy at the federal level has become a real possibility in the not to distant future. As a recent Media Matters study shows, the notion of a conservative America is a myth. There is a progressive majority in this country, and the progressive movement can be the key instrument to unleash that majority from its cage.

Now, after saying all of this, I want to make it clear that I still plan to be a partisan Democrat, to build progressive infrastructure, and to follow both the realpolitik rules as well as the Hackett litmus test. However, ideas and ideology matter, and I believe we have reached a point of maturity as a movement where we can do more than just those things. As such, I intend to follow a more expansive, explicitly ideological direction myself.

Tags: Ideology, progressive movement (all tags)



about time

Winning seats for Democrats is only a means to an end and a good first step, but there are some real dipshits in our Party and they need to be dumped.

Especially in safe districts, but I'm willing to gamble elsewhere. In California, the best thing to happen to the Democratic Party since Phil Burton was the recall of Gray Davis. Now we are both getting more progressive legislation passed and the Party doesn't look cowardly (too often).

We have the Senate President Perata actually locking the dipshits out of their offices for raising money for CA's version of the DLC. We have reinvigorated grassroots activism all across the state. We have primary challenges about who is the best instead of treating primary challenges like recall campaigns. And this outlook needs to be spread across the country.

I think this post is long overdue, but yeah, let's get it on.

Thank you!

by Bob Brigham 2007-06-14 01:53PM | 0 recs
Re: Expanding Beyond Just Partisanship

Thanks, Chris.  This needed to be said.

Now, whether the other big bloggers will listen to you...

by Nonpartisan 2007-06-14 01:59PM | 0 recs
Re: Expanding Beyond Just Partisanship

Conservative America is a Myth.  Americans ARE Progressive!


The corporate media rarely acknowledges Progressives and plays all kinds of games to destroy Progressive candidates - ASAP!
That's why there's lots of talk about Edwards' haircuts - and no talk about Hillary's poison Penn or Obama omitting Israel as a key U.S. ally.

by annefrank 2007-06-14 02:02PM | 0 recs
Major definitional work needed

I think there's a tangled skein of definitional problems, polling methods and analysis, possibilities for action (and a bunch of other stuff I can't think of right now) that needs to be untangled.

What does progressive mean? How does one construct a definition? Is a definition necessary or possible? Should a definition (assuming one to be possible) be constructed with the aim of setting up a tent with the maximum possible coverage? And are there elements that a definition should be tailored to exclude?

At what level of abstraction is it possible to demarcate what is and what is not progressive? (Is a laundry list possible or desirable? If such a list is not produced, how is the charge met that the definition is mere sloganizing?)

Clearly, if the intention is to gradually cleanse the Congressional party of non-progressive Dems, presumably there will be a criterion or criteria by which the sheep will be separated from the goats.

Who makes the decision? Any eligible Democrat can run in a primary; will there be some kind of progressive seal of approval given to those found worthy? Who will decide? How will they be accountable, and who to?

Given that resources are limited, will there be a pecking order as between approved progressive candidates? On what basis? Who decides? Etc, etc.

Is it possible to increase the Dem majority without the marginal Dem MCs being less progressive than the average?

Loads more questions where those came from!

by skeptic06 2007-06-14 02:20PM | 0 recs
Re: Major definitional work needed

Would a Progressive candidate have a PNAC signer as counsel?  (Obama)
Would a Progressive candidate have a chief strategist that's a union buster??  (Hillary)

Would a Progressive candidate picket with union members?  (Edwards)

Which candidate do you think the corporate media and their corporate sponsors would likely disdain?

by annefrank 2007-06-14 06:39PM | 0 recs
What was striking

about Armstrong's piece this morning: not a word about ideology. Surely, Obama's failure to generate a lot of support here has something to do with his lack of progressive policy cred: his desire to expand the military by 100,000 troops, his support for CTL, his vote for the Oman trade deal, his vote for tort "reform," his wooing of Rubin's Hamilton Group, his embrace of K-Street: this stuff matters a lot more to netrootsers than people like Armstrong seem to think. Or it should, at least. This stuff matters to me a lot more than whether Obama courts the netroots in a direct way or does well in the "barfight."

But, yes, the netroots can embrace moderates who use the right frames and right rhetoric--or sometimes, even if they don't--and I have mixed feelings about ideological flexibility. It shows a savviness and pragmatism not present in most political movements. On the other hand, this movement can feel hollow and flimsy, and it could collapse if it doesn't fortify itself with more ideology and more--sorry to use this word--seriousness.

The sphere has to look outward, not inward, and the best bloggers, like Stoller, should ignore Mudcat-like stories, which are the blogospheric equivalent of Paris Hilton. Sometimes the sphere is too gossipy, small, and interested in itself. (Wow, this comment is getting more and more pompous and earnest) but there's often a huge disconnect between the stuff my non-web political friends and my web political friends are talking about--never more so than today, when I had a long chat with an activist-friend of mine who's consumed by anger and sadness about what's happening in Palestine. Is it too much to expect the blogosphere to be talking about that--or at least to be talking about the role of Bush and the United States in causing it--rather than..than what the hell what we talking about right now? The sphere. The netroots. Whether Bush is going to pardon Libby. Whether Obama is starting a movement or not. Sometimes it all feels very superficial and ephemeral.

Say this for the conservative movement that was born in the 60s and rose to power in the 80s: they were serious about ideas.

End of whine.

Good post, Chris.

by david mizner 2007-06-14 02:20PM | 0 recs
Re: What was striking

You're such a good writer and express it so well. Thank you.

by annefrank 2007-06-14 08:33PM | 0 recs
Re: What was striking

I don't think those details about Obama are independent of the 'barfight'--they are indicators that Obama might not be the 'barfight' guy that you trust.

by Valatan 2007-06-15 06:12AM | 0 recs

Good post, Chris.

--Donna Darko

by nonwhiteperson 2007-06-15 01:06PM | 0 recs
Re: Expanding Beyond Just Partisanship

 So where do I go if I want to find out what someone's Progressive Voting record is?  
  Who is the exemplar--the pure progressive I can always look up to?  
  If two "progressives" have a policy disagreement, do I always side with the one whose POV is more "progressive"?
  What's the best progressive think-tank?
  Who was more Progressive, Teddy Rooseveldt, or Harry S. Truman?

 I think I have a general sense about what it means to be "progressive"--in contrast to what it means to be "conservative".  But then, "Conservative" seems now to be defined as "Not Liberal".  Could we get a little more clarity?

by whomever1 2007-06-14 02:38PM | 0 recs
Re: Expanding Beyond Just Partisanship

I always thought it had a lot to do with semantics. Liberal, as a word, is damaged goods. Progressive is not. Progressive also contrasts more clearly with Conservative.

I think the values of progressivism and liberalism are essentially identical. I would be interested to know if others think differently about this.

by LandStander 2007-06-14 03:38PM | 0 recs
Re: Expanding Beyond Just Partisanship

I think the best way to think of progressivism as a focus on economic issues with an attempt at social moderation to appeal to social conservatives.

The term originally meant something like that.

by sterra 2007-06-14 04:22PM | 0 recs
Use ProgressivePunch.org


by bob fertik 2007-06-14 08:03PM | 0 recs
Re: Expanding Beyond Just Partisanship

I re-read many of the posts that you linked to and I must say it is an impressive set of policy papers.  You all should write a book.

The Dean campaign nudged the democratic party forward quickly--we all felt a burst of change--giving hope to great potential.  

But there is an adolescent quality to the posts as well.  As if you really believe that change will continue at that same pace and if you position yourself just so then you will reap the rewards.

I, however, am older and bitter. Change comes slowly-with sudden bursts on occasion.  Unfortunately, the pendulum sometimes get stuck before swinging back to the other side.

The only opporutnity you have is what is in front of your face today.  Beware, tomorrow may be very different than you imagine.

by aiko 2007-06-14 05:41PM | 0 recs
Re: Expanding Beyond Just Partisanship

Good post.

My definition of a progressive is someone who actually believes "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." The Golden Rule advocates for empathy, tolerance, acceptance, fairness, and equity, especially towards those who are hurt the most by society. This is what progressives advocate.

Specifically, progressives support equality in opportunity (at least) and perhaps in outcome since no one wants to be poor when others are wealthy, disrespected while others are idolized. Generally, progressives oppose the efforts of the power elite and support the efforts of those who are exploited, oppressed, or disrespected. Progressives oppose the whole system of hierarchy in which some people are above others economically, socially, or culturally.

Progressives oppose corruption, dishonesty, bullying, and idolizing of cult figures who manipulate people since no one wants to be lied to, manipulated, or lose out to corrupt practices. They support honest dealing, honest and nonviolent resolution of conflict, and rules of law that apply to everyone since no one wants to be bullied, threatened, or have others get away with things we can't get away with.

Progressives support educating, encouraging, nurturing, and verbally challenging people to get them to behave responsibly, reserving  coercion and punishment as last resorts (and never bullying) since no one wants to be coerced or punished and we all learn best when taught well, encouraged, nurtured, and gently challenged.

Progressives support the scientific method for discovering truth since there is no other way to check people's assertions about the world.

Progressives support making decisions by consensus if possible and by a majority (with minority rights respected)  because no one wants to have decisions forced on them by a dictator (or oligarchy, or ignorant/prejudiced masses).

Progressives want people to be responsible because no one wants to be forced to be responsible while others are irresponsible.

Progressives want to be left alone because no one wants to be spied on, judged, or have their privacy intruded into.

I think this makes a pretty good list of what progressives support.

In the real world, it is sometimes tricky to figure out who the more progressive candidate is. But over time, I think it usually becomes clear.

Right now, there are not many true progressives in government, partly because our system of selecting officials (all the posturing, fundraising, etc.) weeds out true progressives and forces everyone else to pander, lie, etc. But as we are more successful in changing the election system (clean money elections, education instead of advertising/propaganda, etc.), then more true progressives will take leadership.

by RandomNonviolence 2007-06-14 07:27PM | 0 recs
"Ideology" sounds like

such a "loaded" term to me. It suggests we all have to believe the same things.

I'd prefer to say we want the same things - what amounts to a "progressive agenda":

  • Out of Iraq
  • Single-payer health care
  • Alternative energy revolution
  • Real democracy
  • Economic and social justice

by bob fertik 2007-06-14 08:08PM | 0 recs
Re: Expanding Beyond Just Partisanship
Here, here...good post. It is exactly my hope that MYDD and the blogosphere will give the American polity a hard push to the left.
And I like the previous two comments--fertik and randomnonviolence. They are two halves of the whole progressive vision: Random articulated the values, and fertik articulated the real-world goals (though I would have added science-based environmental policy to capture the issue of global warming and environmental degradation).
The American people will respect us more for explaining our political goals in terms of our values, ala the Rockridge Institute.
by johnalive 2007-06-15 04:40AM | 0 recs
Re: Expanding Beyond Just Partisanship

    Becoming ideological in the Democratic Party is not the same as in the Republican Party. The GOP has always been for the rich, since its inception. There was nothing to change but the base. What ever the sympathies of the Democratic Party for the common man, it is full of decamillionaires, who stand to lose huge from the country becoming even marginally more progressive. You would have to either form a whole new party (why do it though since we have the Greens), or you would have to do primary challanges on everyone outside the progressive caucus, meaning 60-70% of all Democrats. And win all those primaries as well. Given the incumbency rule, and the fact that Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel, the only liberals in this race, have garnered less than 2% of the vote even here, at this "liberal" blog, how the hell do you expect there to be a discussion of ideology.

by liberal2012 2007-06-15 06:45AM | 0 recs
Re: Expanding Beyond Just Partisanship

Good luck on your new venture, Chris.

I was so excited to read your essay here. I was so glad to see someone else has follow the same path as I to head off in the same direction:
http://www.opednews.com/articles/1/opedn e_by_kathl_070609_funding_the__28r_29evo lu.htm

by sassykathy46 2007-06-15 12:05PM | 0 recs
Re: Expanding Beyond Just Partisanship

Chris:  I love reading you peices.   I appreciate your work and insights.    I will check you out on the new place.    

by phthalo 2007-06-16 07:48AM | 0 recs


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