Wednesday, November 08, 2006

34: Post-mortem the Fourth: We have work to do. So do we.


With victory, the Left is entering a very uncomfortable moment at present. Since Reagan, it hasn't been your daddy's Republican Party, and now it isn't your his Democratic party either. Simply, the Democratic leadership made a bittersweet decision this cycle. It was a Clintonian decision, and appropriately something like the conundrum of whether to go "all the way" with your date after the senior prom. Something is gained and something else is pretty much gone. That decision was to make the Democrats competitive again by running social conservatives against the war in strong Republican states.

Tester and Webb and Casey are not progressives. They oppose abortion rights, favor definition of marriage as between a man and woman, generally oppose firearms regulation, and fall down to the right of the center-line in a host of other issues. It might even be fair to call them "not Republicans" more than "Democrats" since they ran essentially against the corruption and incompetance of the Republican party. And this changes the internal tenor of the Democratic party... by infusing the party from the right and by putting contested votes in the hands of socially conservative Democrats. The very definition of a "moderate" Democrat moves to the right. The median is repositioned.

But just take a moment to appreciate the karmic aspect of all this. 2000 Nader voters argued that the Democrats were too conservative for their taste and voted Green, and there we were. Now, here we are, and we all confront a Democratic party that is even more conservative than they might have been if they didn't have to languish for six years before regaining some influence from an even more extreme Congress and presidential administration.

I am not expressing doubt but a qualified optimism. If there is one unifying characteristic to this phase of the Democratic party it is an emphasis on accountability and rigor in foreign policy. Troop withdrawal will be a part of the new approach to Iraq. Just as important, however, will be a shift to coalition-building and bringing Europe and the Middle East into Iraq to help stablize the nation. This is a very timely shift, because American policies have so compromised the Republicans and the Bush administration that they would not be able to gain international support now if they tried. In fact, I think rebuilding our ties with the international community may be the greatest gift of this new Congress to the nation and the world.

It is a badly needed shift. As pragmatic Democrats, we have work to do.

As idealistic Democrats, so do we.

We've just elected a party that, in many ways does not embody our ideas with the purity and passion that we might hope. I'm opposed to capital punishment. I want universal health care and affirmative action. Let's talk about gay marriage. What can I do, when I feel like dissent right now is fracturing a party that has been too fractured for too long, and maybe widening a crack for a Republican comeback?

I've given the same answer for years: START SMALL AND LOCAL.

Politicians will not realign themselves along issue lines until the public itself is realigned. The public supplies the government with its politicians, so this should not be a surprise. The fact is that there are many positions that run unopposed, and many others that result in half-hearted or incompetant hands (see most of Flint) simply through a lack of investment and involvement. The office devolves into either a power-trip or negligence. These positions and their following initiatives bring big issues to bear in locally important ways: school millages, public housing, ambulance service, demolition and park space, nonprofit certification, whether or not to accredit charter schools. These issues all operate along the same philosophical premeses as the big ones... if our best hope of informing a national debate that is too conservative for our tastes is to convince the public, and if there is a public venue available at local and municipal offices that is not avaiable nationally, then we must exploit that venue as our greatest opportunity.

In short, we will never elect progressives to the House and Senate until we can elect them to the City Council and the Board of Education, as Comptrollers and as Drain Commissioners.

Now that the internet has transformed grassroots organization for liberals it is time to apply that technological organization and expertise to local contests. This isn't only the best way to make our issues felt on a national level; it is only the only way. See the next post.



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