Machine vs. the grassroots - Clinton v. Obama the macrocosm?

This San Francisco Bay Guardian article elaborates on the perception and perhaps reality of the Obama/Clinton endorsement phenomenon.  The article, entitled Who wants change? Local endorsements of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama fall along familiar ideological lines chronicles the San Francisco pol endorsements.

The perception of course is that the machines are supporting Clinton while the grassroots movements are supporting Obama.  This is an oversimplification of course, and how you define "machine" and "grassroots" is often more subjective than objective.

More under the flap.

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Ah!!! A Lamont-Style Purge!!

I'll just follow up on my earlier post on Chuck Hagel's right-wing primary challenge by pointing you to a bunch of quotes assembled by Ned Lamont blogger tparty on how the establishment reacted to Lieberman.  Just Google 'Lieberman purge' and you'll find 201,000 entries.  Googling 'Lieberman purge Stalinist' alone brings up 33,400 entries.

I happen like this one, by Al From. titled 'The Return of Liberal Fundamentalism'.  Or this one, from the Bull Moose Blog.

It is not the goal of the left to prevail, but rather to purify. That is what the Lieberman Purge Attempt is all about. Actually, this is very much an ideological movement that is driven by a neo-isolationist, MoveOn.org, Pat Buchanan-lite imperative to rid the Democratic Party of the centrist hawks.

If you want a fun little research project, do some searching and reread some of the coverage of Lamont's challenge.  It's pretty easy to find quotes talking about the left's Stalinist purge of Lieberman.  

The point is simple - if the establishment went crazy over the use of a democratic primary campaign against Lieberman, with us being called 'Hezbocrats', then a genuinely centrist establishment would be equally panicky about a challenge from the right against a Republican like Hagel.

But right now, the establishment is silent.  Remember, it wasn't just the DLC speaking out over Lamont.  Dick Cheney, George Bush, and William F. Buckley were consistent advocates of Lieberman.  They helped keep the notion of liberal extremism into the pundit class.  

Liberals should do the same thing, and point out that the Republicans are split on Iraq between extremists and moderates like Chuck Hagel.  I mean, there's a primary going on for the soul of the Republican Party, just like there was last cycle in Connecticut in 2006.  

Chris Matthews, David Broder, Chuck Schumer, and Rahm Emanuel ought to be pointing this out.  That they aren't speaks volumes.

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A Reverse Lamont: Where's the Media?

Diarist ptmflbcs at Dailykos alerted me once again to important chapter in the story of the modern Republican Party: the current right-wing primary challenge to Senator Chuck Hagel by Attorney General Jon Bruning.  This is something of a Lieberman-Lamont story on the GOP, only in reverse.  But the parallels aren't perfect, and illustrate well the differences between the Republican Party and the Democratic Party, as well as how the media treats the two.

Order Taking Republicans

First of all, Chuck Hagel isn't particularly moderate.  His voting record was in virtual 'lockstep' with President Bush in 2004.  On domestic policy grounds, he is exceptionally loyal.  So what is the story here?  Obviously, partly it's Iraq.  Hagel has been a critic of Bush on Iraq, and even voted against Bush on the supplemental, providing an important margin of victory for the supplemental that Bush then had to veto.  While Democratic officials can vote against the party line and even lash out against the base without consequence (Mark Udall did it again today), Republican officials are not given the same latitude.  This quote, from Roll Call, on the difference between lobbying the two parties, is illustrative:

"Republican lobbyists are used to walking into an office and just saying, `I'd like you to do this,'" said one Republican operative who regularly lobbies across the aisle. "With Democrats, you really have to hone your arguments, and you really have to sell them on policy."

In other words, Republican officials are order-takers.  Hagel is not.  He isn't on Iraq, even going so far as to suggest that an impeachment of Bush might be on the table.

GOP Party Elites

The Republican Party establishment is much more receptive to primary challenges from the right than the Democratic Party is from the left.  Remember the immense carping about Ned Lamont?  The wailings of purges from insiders, the fear of the crazy liberal left?  None of that is happening on the right.  In fact, despite constant suggestions from the media that the GOP is about to abandon Bush on Iraq, there are four possible challenges against moderate Republicans on the issue of Iraq.  Iraq or no Iraq, the authoritarian conservative movement continues apace.

On a local level, you can see this in action.  Ned Lamont was a total outsider, a businessman with virtually no history in politics.  In 2006, John DeStefano and Dan Malloy, two popular mayors from the two large cities in Connecticut, both declined to run against Lieberman, choosing instead a ridiculous and futile race against the immensely popular Governor, Jodi Rell.   They didn't just choose to run against Rell, they entered a primary in order to figure out who would lose to Rell.  Only a non-political type would dare challenge Lieberman, even though he is more right-wing on Iraq than all but the most extreme neoconservative Republican.  In Nebraska, the situation is reversed.  Hagel may in fact have two challengers, a sitting Attorney General named Jon Bruning and former Rep. Hal Daub.  Both Nebraska insiders and DC insiders like Dick Cheney don't like Hagel, and are no doubt smiling at the primary challenge.

GOP Base

Here are polling numbers from Jon Bruning, one of Hagel's possible challengers.  Bruning is leading Hagel by 47-38, though to be fair these are Bruning's numbers (The Nebraska Dem party has numbers on the race as well).  Compare them to Lamont's challenge to Lieberman at a later date in the cycle, where Lamont trailed by 65-19.   Certainly much of this is name recognition, but it's very difficult to see all of it as such.  Lieberman was simply very popular among Democrats, and Lamont had to make his case forcefully and repeatedly to win.  And he was certainly helped by a lot of missteps by Lieberman during the primary campaign.

These are also base voters, which suggests that it's not just the party elites who are receptive to primary challenges.  Note also that Lieberman has to be challenged, there had to be a debate before his numbers moved.  With Hagel, the base voter in the Republican Party has already decided that he is not loyal to Bush and thus must be removed from office.  The reason we can't crack Republican unity is because the elites and the base voter in that party are both convinced that loyalty to Bush are absolutely bedrock values, maybe even part of their identity.  Without even having a real argument, GOP voters are willing to ditch a Senator that is with them on 98% of the issues.

Where Is the Media?

With thousands of stories on the Lamont-Lieberman circus in 2006, it's worth noting that there has been basically no reporting on Hagel's precarious position.  I did a Google search for 'Chuck Hagel poll' to see if there's any more data on the Bruning challenge, and there are more results on Hagel's possible Presidential run.  In fact, Hagel's extreme jeopardy in his home state is more likely to lead to his retirement or Presidential run than a reelection bid in 2008.  It's something of a travesty that the GOP rejection of Hagel in Nebraska, both from base voters and party leaders, isn't widely reported.  This is a really big deal.  The Republican Party isn't going to move away from Bush in 2008 during the primaries at all, because base voters have invested their identity in the President to the exclusion of anything else.  How else can you explain an exceptionally loyal voting Senator in Nebraska immediately losing out of the gate to a primary challenger with relatively low name recognition?  

There is a narrative that the country is increasingly unhappy with the Iraq War and George W. Bush, and that the GOP is going to move away from both.  This narrative started meekly in 2003, but has stepped up in frequency over the years until it's become routine for press reports to say that GOP candidates are 'bashing Bush' on a regular basis, even as anyone watching the GOP debate would note that the level of extremism is the same as it has been for twenty five years.

The rubber hits the road in primary contests and elections.  Chuck Hagel is in trouble because he doesn't take orders like a good GOP shill.

Beyond Red and Blue States

These kinds of primary challenges have been around since 1978, when a whole bunch of liberal Republicans were knocked out of power by the New Right direct mail groups.  And the power these groups generated, the total takeover of the Republican Party by an extremist and authoritarian movement, is extraordinary.  In 2008, we will have seen 30 years of conservative primary challenges.  Thirty years. This kind of authoritarian politics is so accepted that the media doesn't even remark on it anymore.  Think about it.  Chuck Hagel and Dick Cheney are in a bloody brawl, there's a right-wing primary on Iraq where the person in step with the country but out of step with Bush is getting thrashed, and the GOP establishment takes the other side.  And there's not really any media discussion about what this means for the country.

But in the most important respect, there is a real debate in Nebraska itself.  While it's painful to deal with the immense party discipline this kind of lockstep authoritarian base and establishment engenders, we can assure ourselves that the conservative movement is no longer going to work for the GOP.   Though Nebraska is a red state, 57 percent of Nebraskans want a timetable for withdrawal, and only 37% want to give Bush's surge a chance to work. That means that Democrats can make inroads in unusual places like Nebraska, much as they did in Kansas in 2006.  This is a map that is being rewritten, because independents are moving into the Democratic column on the war, even in red states.

The country is getting tired of order taking psychotic Republicans that work only for the interests of big business.  And while in a normal environment, we'd see the Republican Party respond and shift towards a more moderate stance, the opposite is actually occurring.  The party is running primary challenges against those who are in step with the mainstream precisely because they are in step with mainstream dislike of Bush's policies.  That's not a winning formula, but it's also an important piece of the public debate that we need to hash out.  Just what does it mean that the Republican Party is as extreme as it was in 2006?  It's time that an iota of media coverage be devoted to the right-wing primary purges.

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Why Some Democrats Are More Scared Of Bush Than Their Base

By now, I'm sure most people have seen this:
Democrats said they did not relish the prospect of leaving Washington for a Memorial Day break -- the second recess since the financing fight began -- and leaving themselves vulnerable to White House attacks that they were again on vacation while the troops were wanting. That criticism seemed more politically threatening to them than the anger Democrats knew they would draw from the left by bowing to Mr. Bush.
This isn't just a reporter putting words in Democratic mouths. As Matt showed earlier today, several specific Democrats are actually scared of Bush on this. Now, if you think it seems more than a little inane to be scared of a guy whose approval rating just hit an all-time low today, especially when it comes to a war which just reached its all-time low in terms of support today, and when, on Tuesday, centrist beltway firm GQR released a report showing that Republicans were being significantly damaged by the Iraq War debate, then you are probably right. I mean, given all of that, there is an outside chance you are right. Maybe.

But there is something else going on here besides a bizarre fear of continuing to oppose the least popular president in thirty years on the least popular war in fifty-five years, and a fear of prolonging a debate that was causing Democrats to win over voters in frontline House districts. Keep in mind that while a demoralized progressive activist base has negative repercussions for Democratic electoral fortunes in general elections, in terms of intra-party power struggles, a demoralized, progressive, grassroots activist base actually strengthens the position of neoliberals, LieberDems, and the DLC-nexus within the Democratic Party power structure. If progressive grassroots activists are too demoralized to make small donations, the party becomes more reliant on large donors. If we are too demoralized to run for party office or challenge sitting Democrats in primaries, the establishment Democratic power structure are never held accountable for running ineffective campaigns or selling out the base. If we don't use the strength of the progressive movement in the 2008 presidential primaries, then the influence the DLC-nexus, neoliberals, and LieberDems have in determining the direction of the Democratic Party increases. And on and on. In other words, there are those who benefit internally from a demoralized, inactive, progressive grassroots base, even if the party as a whole is damaged. We all saw this from 1994-2002, when the Democratic Party was regularly defeated in general elections on a scale not seen since the 1920s, and while the DLC-nexus simultaneously solidified a unprecedented level of control over the Democratic Party establishment.

For example, the idea that Hillary Clinton would be facing any serious challenge to the Democratic nomination without the expansion and maturation of the contemporary progressive movement and open left in the last four years is preposterous. That isn't to say that she has no support within the new movement, but just to state the obvious: she has less support within the movement than do other candidates, and far less support within the movement relative to the rest of the Democratic rank and file. Further, that isn't to imply that the only support candidates like Obama and Edwards have comes from the progressive movement, but once against to state the obvious: each candidate is greatly buoyed by the support he is receiving from the movement. Yet further, I do not mean to imply that there is an active "demoralize the grassroots base" strategy being undertaken by the Clinton campaign. I just wish to point out that one of the reasons some Democrats might be less scared of the activist base than they are of Bush is because a demoralized grassroots base actually has positive, intra-party side effects for some Democrats. See Lieberman, Joe for more information on that subject.

Maybe a better way to understand the situation is to state that some Democrats are more afraid of Bush than they are of a demoralized, progressive, grassroots base. After all, there are probably some Democrats who wish, for example, that the progressive blogosphere never came into existence, because then no one in the base would be calling them out on a regular basis. We are a direct threat to the long-accrued power of many members of the Democratic establishment, but only when we are active and energized. Given this, why should any of our favorite punching bags be afraid of doing something that would demoralize us? In fact, there are probably many who are eager to demoralize us. This is worth remembering whenever Democrats do something--secret trade deals, Iraq funding capitulation, lobbying reform collapses--that gives you the urge to thrown in the towel on intra-party activism. A demoralized grassroots base removes one of the main checks against Democrats who run amuck. Personally, after a short period of dejection, I now feel that the ways some Democrats have screwed up in the last couple weeks-- secret trade deals, Iraq funding capitulation, lobbying reform collapses--is a useful splash of cold water to remind me of how much work is left to be done in our intra-party struggles. I hope, as time goes on, more and more of us feel the same way. We will only lose over the long-term if we give up because of the short-term.

Public Opinion and Political Power On Iraq

Now that it appears we have at least temporarily suffered a setback in the fight on Iraq, one of the things I expect many progressive bloggers will point out is that public opinion is overwhelmingly behind the idea of a timetable. Thus, it will be argued, because public opinion is on our side, Democrats should not have backed down to a series of veto threats from Bush. In the extended entry, as one means of exploring this idea, I include some numbers on public opinion and Iraq showing how the public is actually of two minds on how extensively Democrats should challenge Bush. Yes, the public wants the war to end, but it is unclear how far the public wants Democrats to go in opposing Bush in order to actually make it end.

Also, it is unclear how much public opinion really has to do with any of this anyway. A few weeks ago, only two Republicans in the House voted to override Bush's veto, just as only two Republicans in the Senate voted for the timeline. In the end, the Democratic leadership has neither the short-term ability to override Bush's veto, nor the somewhat less short-term ability to prevent enough Democrats from joining with Republicans to pass a total blank check. That is an issue of political power, not one of ethics or public opinion. Speaking in terms of power, the situation could have been handled much better politically, especially by not creating a self-imposed Friday deadline before funds were released unconditionally. That self-imposed Friday deadline was only time a "date for surrender" was actually floated in this entire fight. There was no need to do that, and it heavily undermined our negotiating position.

Then again, even if that mistake had it not been made it seems doubtful the outcome would have changed all that much. The self-imposed Friday deadline was only a small blip in the overall balance of power in this fight. In contemporary American politics, neither public opinion nor an occasional slip-up in the media does not directly equal political power. In Washington, D.C., for those who run the government, the public is quite distant and faceless, and long-term images and narratives matter more than occasional soundbites. By way of contrast, large donors, consultants, lobbyists, center-right opinion journalists and policy presentations from "think tanks" like Third Way are quite real. While we certainly seem to have public opinion behind us in terms of Iraq policy, and even though we now have a majority on Congress, we seem to lack the political power in those other areas to turn that public opinion into actual, legally binding policy. In fact, this is an important deficit we face not just in terms of the Iraq supplemental fight, but in terms of basically every policy issue, and every framing of every policy issue, that comes down the pipe. Public opinion just isn't enough anymore, especially when the next election is eighteen months down the road. If public opinion was the decisive factor, Bush's veto of the Iraq Accountability Act would have been easily overridden, and any benchmarks, timelines and troop readiness standards in the act would have been legally binding.

Given this, the biggest meta-issue for progressives after this phase of the fight should not be how we stiffen the resolve of the Democratic leadership, or how we get more Republicans to defect. Those are important issues, but they are somewhat narrowly focused. The overall issue is how we move from a solid base of about 160-175 progressive votes in the House, and 25-30 solid progressive votes in the Senate, to number far closer to a majority. Where can we make improvements in solid blue open seats, in primary challenges, and in seats currently held by Republicans? Further, where we are unable to replace members of Congress with new members who would vote better, how do we improve the voting behavior of current members of Congress, both Democratic and Republican? What campaign and messaging opportunities present themselves in the short term, and what infrastructure changes do we need in the long term? Only when we develop comprehensive answers to all of those questions can we develop a roadmap to building the political power necessary to win fights like the one over the Iraq supplemental.

Clearly, securing a majority of public opinion and a Democratic majority in Congress simply are not enough. It should be enough, but it isn't. Even if we have the trifecta, it might not be enough on a whole range of issues. Beyond public opinion, and beyond elective office, we need a majority in terms of political power as well. Right now, we just don't have that.

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