The Importance Of Swing Activists

Matt already posted on this on the front-page, but I would like to chime in and expand on those thoughts. Moved from breaking blue--Chris

So, as Matt already noted, in true DLC-nexus fashion, anto-democracy Stuart Rothenberg predictably thinks that Democrats are smart for ignoring their progressive activist base, and instead catering to "swing voters." As Matt points out, this doesn't make much sense, since the only polling on the subject shows that Iraq capitulation actually hurt Democrats.

However, leaving aside actual polling numbers for a moment, there are other reasons why catering to mythical, center-right swing voters and other 1990's chimeras should not always be the number one priority of the Democratic leadership. For one thing, swing voters don't contribute money, they don't volunteer for campaigns, they don't challenge right-wing media narratives, they don't keep Democrats active and energized to vote, and they don't expand the electoral playing field. Rather, these are tasks all carried out by the progressive activist base that Rothenberg thinks has "nowhere else to go" and which the Democratic Party "risks very little, at least at this point, in disappointing." The fact is that the resources and political machinery Democrats need in order to win elections are derived, in large part, from its progressive, activist base. Further, for all of the reasons mentioned above, which I outlined in more detail for an article for the Democratic Strategist), the rise of the progressive movement is the main reason that the Democratic Party has closed the resource and political machinery gap on Republicans since 2002. Thus, alienating that movement is extremely high-risk for Democrats, since participants in the progressive movement may not be swing voters, but they are certainly swing activists. Losing our support can be very dangerous.

Take the 2000 election as an example of this. Had that activist base not been alienated in 2000 as a result of 1990's DLC-nexus triangulation, Al Gore would have won the presidency without any Supreme Court cases or hanging chads. And I'm not just talking about Naderite voters when I make that claim, as virtually every progressive now understands that third parties do not lead to politically effective outcomes for progressives. Rather, I'm talking about the lack of activism progressives undertook on Gore's behalf, including the massive fundraising gap he faced, the anti-Gore media narratives that went virtually unchallenged, and the relative lack of boots on the ground for his campaign. The 2000 election showed that there are lots of places for progressive activism to go besides helping Democratic leaders we don't like all that much, including primary challenges for candidates like Donna Edwards and social justice movement work. Apathy doesn't work for progressives, but in the 1990's most progressive activism went to the social justice movement rather than electoral politics. Channeling some of that activism to electoral politics would have swung the 2000 election no problem, and as such we wouldn't even be in Iraq now.

Finally, that the progressive activist base was right on Iraq from the get-go actually points to another area where ignoring the progressive, activist base poses a risk for Democrats. We have a tendency to be correct on things like the Iraq war turning into a disaster, and ignoring us can not only lead to gaps in electoral resources and machinery, but also to horrendous, destructive public policy. As such, it would be wise for Democrats to take actions to ensure not only that progressive activism and resources keep flowing in their direction, but that progressive policy ideas do as well.

Rothenberg: Democrats Played Iraq "like a Stradivarius"

If you want to know the decrepit and immoral state of conventional wisdom in DC, check out Stuart Rothernberg's piece on the supplemental vote.  Rothenberg is part of the forecaster-consultant complex, bumping up races or downgrading them, thereby helping the party committees determine which seats are in play.  He has a well-known beef with Chris Bowers specifically and liberals in general, mocking Howard Dean and the idea of a 50 state strategy until the 2006 wave election occurred.  Rothenberg is not a Republican and he isn't particularly an ideologue right-winger, but he does believe in conservative ideas.  In that, he's a lot like Rahm Emanuel, Steny Hoyer, and Ken Salazar.  He's center-right, the ultimate Beltway pundit, bad at his job but good for the money centers.  So it shouldn't be a surprise to read his latest column on how terrifically Democratic centrists played the war vote, and how they will benefit tremendously from giving Bush another blank check.

Now that the dust has settled on the Congressional vote on the supplemental appropriations bill and on the ruckus that anti-war opponents of the bill kicked up, it's time to assess the political implications.

First, Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill played the issue like a Stradivarius. They forced a vote on a deadline for withdrawal from Iraq, putting Republicans on record supporting the status quo and President Bush, but allowed a subsequent vote to "fund the troops." That gave their own Members from swing districts the opportunity to demonstrate their support for the military.

From a purely political point of view, Democrats had their cake and ate it too. Yes, the war is unpopular, and opposing it is a no-brainer. But the one thing Democrats need to avoid is looking like themselves during the 1970s and 1980s -- weak and unwilling to support America's men and women in uniform. Yes, they've spent the past few years speaking the right words on national security and the armed forces, but if they had refused to pass a spending bill, they would have at the very least opened themselves to attack from the GOP.

So, in ignoring the demands of the party's left, Congressional leaders have kept their party right where they want it -- against the war but also against terrorists and for the troops.

To truly understand how ignorant this is, just take a look at this pretty graph put together by the Washington Post last week.

wapost poll.jpg

The Democrats lost twelve points among independents and eighteen points among liberal Democrats, leading to an overall slide of ten points.  From a twenty four point lead in leadership over Bush in April, the Democrats now sit at parity with him.  If you are politically craven, this was a terrible move.  I don't actually think the Democrats who voted to fund the occupation are that craven; Mark Udall genuinely believes that people who opposed a blank check for Bush want to deny medical care to our troops.  And Steny Hoyer and Rahm Emanuel genuinely want to defer to Bush on leadership and initiative in Washington.  They voted for what they wanted, and got it.  But as a political matter, and whether it was 'good' for Democrats as a whole, well, that's hardly a Stradivarius.

Rothenberg continues.

Why take a chance alienating swing voters when the party already made its point by sending the president a deadline bill that he vetoed?

Anti-war critics of the Democratic Congressional leadership have nowhere else to go, both now and in November 2008.

Liberal bloggers apparently are angry with Democratic Rep. Mark Udall's vote for the supplemental, but they'll support him in next year's open-seat Senate race in Colorado. Similarly, the 2008 Democratic nominee for president will be more appealing to anti-war liberals than the Republican nominee will be, so the Democratic Party risks very little, at least at this point, in disappointing its most ideological, confrontational element.

Why take a chance alienating swing voters, Rothenberg asks, completely oblivious to the fact that this vote cost Democrats ten points among independents.  We're already seeing rural voters turn against the occupation, and towards the Democrats.  It's bizarre that this guy is a forecaster, a nonpartisan political analyst, but it's also important to know that this is where the conventional wisdom comes from.  

Note also the contempt for the left, for people who want to end the occupation in Iraq.  Where are we going to go, if it's not for Mark Udall in Colorado or Hillary Clinton in 2008?  Well, I can say that this energy is going to translate either into primary challenges or into apathy, but it won't go into helping this party leadership much longer.  I'm going to encourage primaries as much as possible, because what they want is for us to go away.

I have to say that Udall's probably going to regret attacking progressives at a certain point.  I hear he's mad at us, which prompted his angry, irrational, and vicious response to our criticisms in the Denver Post.  That bipartisanship isn't going to work so well for his race for the Senate, as Zappatero helpfully points out.  Udall's going to have to run hard against Iraq, and essentially disavow this vote.  He's going to be questioned with 'well if you were against the war why did you vote to fund it?'  And his explanation, that he supports the troops by giving money to Bush, will sound a lot like John Kerry's 'I voted for the $87B before I voted against it'.  In fact, expect to see that clip used in GOP commercials.  Whatever Udall gives as an explanation won't work for anyone's vote except Stuart Rothenberg.

Democrats who are not named Udall, Emanuel, or Hoyer would do well to ignore people like Rothenberg in the future.  'Forecasters' like him are quite terrible at their job, give useless and counterproductive information that cherry-picks data to confirm a preconceived hypothesis, and generally encourage bad faith politics within the Democratic Party.  Oh, and let's leave aside the fact that occupying a foreign country like Iraq and killing thousands of people is against the ten commandments or something.  I mean, Stuart Rothenberg, Rahm Emanuel, Steny Hoyer, George Bush, and Mark Udall did.

There's more...

Edwards Running Too Far Left?

Top tier pundit Stuart Rothenberg ponders whether
or not John Edwards is running too far to the left to make him appealing
to mainstream Democrats and mainstream Americans in today's Roll Call.

I'll admit I'm scratching my head more often at Edwards'
seemingly insatiable desire to run to the left -- far to the left -- of
everyone in the Democratic race with the possible exception of Rep. Dennis
Kucinich (Ohio).

Increasingly, political observers are whispering that Edwards seems to be
running much as former Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) Did in 2004, wooing
organized labor and recycling a class warfare message...While almost
everyone has nice things to say about the former Missouri lawmaker
personally, and Gephardt has his share of loyalists, he finished a
disappointing fourth in Iowa last time, something Edwards presumably hopes
to avoid.

There's more...

Kissell, Reps. Davis & Miller, Bowers & Rothenberg = Big News

You might have wondered what happened to Larry Kissell after November's election.  We haven't been bringing much news out from North Carolina about him, so wanted to update you on all that has happened.    

Larry Kissell immediately declared his intent to run again in 2008.  He might have slowed down over winter holidays, but he hasn't missed a beat.  He is already running like an old pro and is doing what he can to help other prospective congressional candidates in North Carolina.

This past weekend Larry and his staff attended the annual convention of the Young Democrats of North Carolina.  A reception was held for him with DCCC recruitment chair, Rep. Artur Davis, Rep. Brad Miller, NCDP Chair Jerry Meek and Chris Bowers attending.  A full post about the event is at BlueNC.

There's more...

Stuart Rothenberg: The Internet Doesn't Matter

I noticed this little gem from Stu Rothenberg in Political Wire this morning:

Technology obviously changes campaigns, and one day YouTube, Facebook and the Internet overall may determine who wins and who doesn't. But for the 2008 cycle, it's still those dreary "old media" that matter, no matter how many people want to get ahead of the curve and how creative and interesting the new technologies of the day. (Politcal Wire 3/20/07)

So, nope, it doesn't matter. Try all you want, but nothing on the net will matter. Why? Because Rothenberg says so! Follow me over the flip...

There's more...


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