What is to be done?

I don't know if this book has ever been mentioned on MyDD.  Right now I am reading Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus by Rick Perlstein.

If you want to understand how the modern right wing came into being and took over the Republican party step by step, I give this book my highest recommendation.

The book blows big holes in any remaining like I had for Goldwater, for one.  He was the leading anti-union voice in the Senate and probably the father of today's "right to work" movement.  That's really beyond the scope of this post though.

Beyond Goldwater himself, the book holds lessons for us.  We are, as an organized liberal/progressive movement, about where the New Right was in 1961.  The Howard Dean campaign and the energized grassroots/netroots in 2004 can be compared to the movement to draft Goldwater in 1960.  He didn't win the nomination, of course.  He did win the nomination in 1964 only to lose by a wide margin in the general election.  But here's a quote from the book:

"It is hard, now, to grasp just how profoundly the tectonic plates of American politics have shifted between 1964 and today.  Think of a senator winning the Democratic nomination in the year 2000 whose positions included halving the military budget, socializing the medical system, regulating the communications and electrical industries, establishing a guaranteed minimum income for all Americans, and equalizing funding for all schools regardless of property valuations- and who promised to fire Alan Greenspan, counseled withdrawal from the World Trade Organization, and, for good measure, spoke warmly of adolescent sexual experimentation.  He would lose in a landslide.  He would be relegated to the ash heap of history.  But if the precedent of 1964 were repeated, two years later the country would begin electing dozens of men and women just like him.  And not many decades later, Republicans would have to proclaim softer versions of these positions just to get taken seriously for their party's nomination."

That's exactly what the Goldwater nomination in 1964 ushered in.  The Republicans today are to the right of Goldwater, who was considered too far right for the country in 1964.  As early as 1966, conservative Republicans were sweeping into Congress and into the governor's mansions, displacing moderate Republicans.  By 1978 they were putting successful tax revolt measures on the ballot, and by 1980 they got Reagan into the White House.

Right now we're building a movement to counter that.  We still have a long way to go.  What is clear to me is this movement is going to have to be in it for the long haul.  We have to figure out what the right wing did, how they built their movement and swept into power, and do it better than they did, more importantly we are going to have to do it our way, not theirs.  

Among other things we need to start working for candidates who will articulate the positions we want.  I'm talking total repeal of the Patriot Act, raising the minimum wage to $9 an hour, single payer health care type positions.  Even if those candidates lose badly - at first - if history is any indication just by getting those issues in the forefront of public debate those candidates will start winning lower offices two or four years later, and eventually we will prevail and get one of our own into the White House.

For starters, it's time to drop any more talk of Hillary Clinton or another moderate as the 2008 nominee.  I'm declaring my support for Russ Feingold to get the nomination and hope others will do the same.  Another lesson to be learned is that the Democratic Party is the place to work, and not to waste effort on third parties such as the Greens.  The New Right in its early years tried this, there was talk of starting a conservative third party in 1960, there was the American Independent Party in 1968 and 1972, but eventually the entire New Right found the most success by taking over the Republicans.  We can get ahead, and do what needs to be done faster, by going straight to work within the Democratic Party and not wasting effort on third parties. We don't have to repeat the New Right's early mistakes.

A stickier issue is the "big tent." I'm an advocate of the biggest tent possible for the Democratic Party.  I also hold that we can have this big tent and still advance progressive positions.  Does this mean capitulating to the DLC and allowing them to control the party?  No, it means a grassroots controlled party that has room for as many diverse constituencies as possible.  The New Right organized in part by identifying as many constituencies they could bring into their coalition; religious people, gun owners, defense hawks, fiscal libertarians, others.  We already have a lot of diverse constituencies in our camp.  We need more.  Most important to bring in is probably rural voters, apathetic non-voters, working class people who right now are crossing over and voting against their class interests because of one or two wedge issues, and the "radical center" reformer bloc.  Again, we won't win them over by continuing to articulate "Republican lite" positions, we will win them over by dropping a few losing issues and replacing them with the strongest possible progressive positions elsewhere, especially on economic bread and butter issues and individual rights/civil liberties issues.

Imagine this scenario:  "Today, newly sworn in President Russ Feingold as his first act signed legislation repealing the controversial, unpopular Patriot Act.  Despite repeated attempts in the past to repeal the act, the repeal was blocked by Republicans in the House, but after the landslide 2012 elections swept 175 Republicans out of office, the repeal passed easily, and with outspoken bipartisan support.  The new Senate Majority Leader, Dennis Kucinich, and the new House Minority Leader, Ron Paul, joined together in a press conference to hail the repeal as a new beginning for America.  Later in the day, the newly convened Congress easily passed a total repeal of the Taft-Hartley Act, first passed in 1947.  This repeal will mean that the right-to-work laws remaining on the books in three states will be null and void; most other states already repealed theirs following the sweeps of state legislatures and governorships by liberal Democrats in 2008 and 2010.  That legislation was also signed today by President Feingold.  As his third official act, President Feingold issued an executive order declaring a national moratorium on the death penalty..."

Is it possible?  Heck, yes.  We just need to find the will to bring it about.

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1 Comment

Agreed with an important caveat
Our tent is too big. For starters, every single member of the Faint Hearted Faction must be conquered in the primaries.

(Membership Total: 4)

Rep. Allen Boyd (D-Florida) (DEAN)

Rep. Robert "Bud" Cramer (D-Alabama) (OFO?)  
Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minnesota) (OFO?)
Rep. John Tanner (D-Tennessee) (OFO?)

(Membership Total: 3)

Sen. Kent "the Kernel" Conrad(D-N.Dakota)(OFO?)
Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Connecticut)
Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Nebraska) (OFO?)

Associate Members

Former Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-Nebraska/New York)

I don't care about the "One Foot Out" modifier, or anything else any of them have done or said. These politicians are a bigger threat to the Democratic party than Karl Rove. There is no excuse for anyone to still be included in the Fainthearted Faction at this late date.

by Gary Boatwright 2005-03-25 11:33AM | 0 recs


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