If there is one thing I have learned in my four years in the progressive netroots, it is that we are at our best when we eschew the practices and norms of the Washington, D.C. media and political establishment, and instead strive toward new ideas, new organizations, and new communities. The fifty-state strategy is a new idea for Democrats that does not merely replicate the narrow targeting of the soft, unreliable "swing" in a small number of districts. The silent revolution is a new strategy where the grassroots and netroots refuse to simply fall in line with the Democratic Party, and where we also refuse to adopt the old, self-defeating practices of splintering via either third parties or apathy. The small donor revolution works not just to support Democratic candidates, but as an aggressive approach to freeing the Democratic Party from corporate money. New progressive media is not around just to influence established media structures, but also to keep the base excited on a daily basis, and to build new media and activist communities of our own. When we support Democrats like Howard Dean and Russ Feingold, as Glenn Greenwald brilliantly notes
it is not just so that we can forward their political ambitions and make them more "electable." It is, instead, because we seek the most radical transformation of all in American politics: an America where our leaders take actions because of strong conviction and belief, not simply to get another leg up in the great beltway game that seeks to scam the American people into voting for them.
A smart political scientist friend of mine, Matthew Kerbel
, once told me that every revolution in American media has been followed by a realignment in American politics. In this tradition, I firmly believe that a long-term, progressive transformational realignment of American politics is the promise of the progressive netroots. As a movement, I have always believed that we should shoot for nothing less than a full-scale realignment of the media, the pundit-ocracy, the Democratic establishment, and indeed of American politics as a whole. I believe that looking at what we have achieved in just the last four or five years, we should expect nothing less of ourselves. We clearly can make this transformation happen.
Nothing saddens me more then when I see people in the netroots trying to play Washington insider. When I see netroots activists talking about which vice-presidential candidate someone should choose in order to better scam certain national demographic groups into voting for the Democratic ticket, it really bums me out. Whenever I see netroots activists declaring their support for a candidate based on his or her "electability," it really bums me out. Whenever I see netroots activists deeming candidate X or candidate Y "un-electable" for one of the many clichéd and utterly discredited reasons that the established has always used to deem candidates unelectable ("doesn't play in the heartland,""too liberal,""can't swing the South or the border states,""not enough military credentials") I almost start shaking with rage. Since when did we become the same losers we are trying to replace via the silent revolution?
What Democrats need in 2008 is a candidate who can truly inspire people. That is the only way we are going to achieve the transformation that the progressive movement promises. It is not going to be done through narrow targeting. It is not going to be done through resume boasting. It is not going to be done through risk aversion and "electability." In fact, in all likelihood, it will be done in spite
of all the old rationales. The transformati0on will probably only happen when we have a winning candidate who wins despite supposedly not appealing the swing, despite supposedly not having the right credentials, despite supposedly being too "liberal," and despite supposedly being "unelectable." When a candidate like that wins, then the transformation will truly have taken place. Since World War Two, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan were two candidates who defied all conventional wisdom in their runs to the Presidency. However, they shared a key trait: they inspired large numbers of people who otherwise would simply have fallen in line behind their party's candidate or stayed in the mushy middle. And there have also been transformation candidates who lost, but still had a profound impact on our national political culture. In that category, Barry Goldwater and Howard Dean come to mind.
I am writing this essay now that one candidate who I believed could enact the transformation promised by the progressive movement, Russ Feingold, has decided not to enter the campaign. I write this essay both to urge my fellow Feingold supporters to not quickly throw your support to someone else, unless you truly believe that someone else could also enact the sort of transformation Feingold promised. I also write to all netroots and movement activists, and urge them to do the same thing. In the primaries, don't fall for narrow targeting. Don't fall for resumes. Don't fall for electability arguments. Look for inspiration. Demand inspiration
. I don't know who among the remaining pool of candidates is most likely to deliver that inspiration. Off-hand, Obama, Edwards and Gore seem like the best bets, but nothing is guaranteed at all. It might be none of those three. It might be someone else who has yet to find his or her true voice. Change can happen. Edwards himself was transformed during the 2004 primary process, when late in 2003 he began to find a way to articulate a powerful and progressive vision based on an utterly inspiring story of America. He didn't start the campaign that way. Actually, I think it could be argued that just like Howard Dean, John Edwards was transformed by his most earnest and fervent supporters. Both candidates were able to take the inspiration they drew from their supporters and use it to inspire wide swaths of America in return.
Stay on the lookout for transformation and inspiration. Shoot for the moon and reach for the stars. When beltway pundits tell you what you are doing is either wrong or hopeless, that means there is a very good chance you are on the right track. Ignore the people who don't believe in anything
. Go with your hopes and your inspiration, because without our hopes and without our inspiration, the progressive movement has absolutely nothing.