It's Gotta Be Dean
An exciting election is upon us. The media, an army of bloggers, scores of pundits and thousands of grassroots activists across the country are following the race closely. No, it’s not the Iraqi “election”. It’s not the upcoming Labor landslide in the
More important than all of these factors, however, is the rock-star candidacy of Howard Dean. “Give ‘em hell Howard” has launched a deeply reformist bid for the party’s top spot, and I believe that it is a singularly perfect move. Dean was somewhat handicapped as a candidate (not quite charismatic enough, too lightweighty, etc), but his crusade to return the Democratic party to the fighting faith that allowed it to dominate politics from the 30’s to the 60’s rang powerfully true. Any good Democrat interested in building a strong party from the ground up, a party with deep principles and broad strategy, rather than simple election-to-election tactics, ought to rally to Dean’s side.
We need a party that exists in people’s everyday. We need a party that treats activists as assets and not embarrassments. We need a party willing to invest in long-term efforts to move public opinion and not just chase polls, triangulating ourselves into pyrrhic victories.
Dean alone represents that kind of sea change. That’s why I join the armchair politicos in wondering, sometimes aloud, what the frickin’ hell Joe Trippi is up to endorsing Simon Rosenberg. I had thought, I guess incorrectly, that Trippi was interested in creating a Democratic Party that stood for something. Now, it seems he has succumbed to the fetish of tactics. Check out this excerpt from his endorsement:
If our party is to win in the 21st century, we have to have a strategist who knows how to practice 21st century politics. That means expanding participation, embracing technology, and building an apparatus that can counter the Republican machine.
Simon Rosenberg was among the first in politics to acknowledge the power of the movement we built with Dean for
and he wasn't afraid to speak up about how we were fundamentally changing politics. He knows that in the age of the Internet, our politics must be interactive and participatory to engage citizens. America
He knows the Internet is not just an ATM for candidates and parties, but a tool for bringing in millions of Americans who want to be a part of the political process. For Simon, building a new progressive politics for our time is not just lip service, it is a passion backed up by his record. I'm backing Simon for chair because I know I can work with him to help build a modern, winning Democratic party.
What, exactly, is this “new progressive politics”, beyond a great appreciation for the Internet? What about issues? Positions? Or, dare I use the dread word ideology?
Contrast that with Dean’s advocacy of a total ban on corporate contributions for the Party. Before you Clintonistas spazz out into a fit of offended “realism”, consider the following line of reasoning:
The only way to unpack white working-class cultural affinity with the Republican Jihadists is to ratchet up the progressive economics. Corporations and banks play as well in the prairies as gay actors do. The Republicans use intolerance as wedge, and wedge issues work. We need to use an all-out attack on the new corporate mandarins. How can we do this while we accept millions in filthy lucre from pharmaceuticals, tobacco, biotech (small farmers, hello?) and telecom. Dean’s suggestion, which sounds scary, is the first step in rebuilding an economic populist base that many sociological indicators suggest could dwarf the libertarian/authoritarian house of cards constructed by the Post-Reagan Republican Party.
This is where Tom Frank is important, but flawed. He’s right that people are voting against their economic interests and even forgetting their concerns about the war in order to reassure their moral uneasiness. The response, however, is not only to reach out to the red states with a coherent, anti-corporate message. We also must find ways of advancing a socially progressive message in the heartland. Workers don’t vote Republican only because they are lured by authoritarian appeals. Years of Reaganite propaganda has also popularized the idea that small government is somehow beneficial to working people. The anti-government Right hasn’t made as much progress as it would like us to think. Social Security, expanded health care access and decent wages are still broadly popular. However, it doesn’t help that every time the Left proposes something it is killed dead by labeling it a “government program”. The task for the next decades is to make the same sort of progress in reframing the Right’s assault on equality and freedom represented by their “values” agenda. Such an effort is not going to turn the country around overnight. However, it will help to expand our durable but slim majority on choice and racial justice into a lasting one. These are the kinds of ideas Dean raised in his campaign by touting his ability and willingness to speak to white people about race, and his reframing of abortion as a question of public health.
Simply put, I don’t believe in Deanism without Dean. The tactics of internet organizing and consumer politics are just that, tactics. Without a real commitment to burning down the DLC (which Trippi used to say he was up to), our party will continue to languish. It won’t be a cakewalk for Howard. Very soon, he’s gotta get smarter about shoring up the party’s black and brown base. He's gotta work to revitalize the link between labor and the party (talk about not thinking of something as an ATM). He's gotta recruit and train brighter, stronger candidates. He's gotta lot to do.
But it's just gotta be him.