Expanding Beyond Just Partisanship
by Chris Bowers, Thu Jun 14, 2007 at 12:40:21 PM EDT
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.