politics is to want something

tirsdag, november 28, 2006

the democratic party is possible

Don’t believe the hype. The Democrats did not win by moving to the center. Some socially conservative candidates won, particularly in states where strong majorities are anti-choice and against civil rights for gay and lesbian families. However, there were at least as many progressives elected, including eight new members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, now the House’s largest non-party group. Nancy Pelosi is a member. Many of them will inherit powerful committee chairships.
That’s not to say that the victory demonstrated any kind of fundamental realignment. In fact, “all” that happened was that Republican gains within the Democratic base were eroded. Key constituencies within the old Democratic majority coalition came back to the fold. This can be seen geographically, as the electoral map begins to look more and more like a map of Civil War America, only with the parties switched. We made almost no gains in the South, while Ohio, Missouri, Maryland and New Hampshire snapped back into the Union. The Republicans, for their part, held the South and are in danger of becoming a regional party. Blacks stuck with the Democrats to the tune of 90%, despite high-profile campaigns by black Republicans in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland. Latinos shifted to the Democrats by a margin of nearly 30%. Support rose among women, working people, the poor and people at both ends of the educational spectrum. In short, this election showed that a majoritarian Democratic party is possible. The key will be keeping this coalition together, and expanding it, even when the Republicans aren’t falling on their own bibles/swords.
One important factor in this election was the slight but noticeable move toward economic populism by our Party. Gains in Ohio demonstrate the importance of this move. Witness Sherrod Brown, the state’s new Senator. On November 6th, Ohio was Republican, from the State Assembly to the Governor’s mansion to the contested Senate seat. The pro-choice, pro-gay and fervently pro-worker Brown led a clean sweep of the state, as all levels of government went to Democrats. The hook was Brown’s strong stands on economic issues: a re-evaluation of “free trade”, a rise in the minimum wage, a crackdown on corporate malfeasance. He did so without trading away the Party’s commitment to so-called “social issues”.
If social conservatism is the glue that holds the Republican majority together, economic justice can serve the same role for Democrats. Even the much ballyhooed “moderates” who won senate seats in Montana and Virginia ran ads against free trade and attacked their opponents for scuttling a minimum wage increase. Jim Webb, the Reagan Republican turned Democrat who won in Virginia campaigned hard on jobs and income inequality. Ballot initiatives raising state minimums passed everywhere they appeared on the ballot- a move widely seen as beneficial to Democratic turnout. In a nice symbolic turn of events, the Kansas state house turned totally Democratic. We even picked up a Congressional seat there. The idea that what is the matter with Kansas is that Democrats haven’t given working class folks a reason to vote for them seems like a pretty unassailable hypothesis.
Not to the right wing of the Democratic Party. They have joined the mainstream media and Republican sour-grapes pundits in arguing that super Tuesday was the result of the party’s move to the vaunted “center.” Rahm Emmanuel, the clarion voice of the New Democrats, has been buoyed by his successful gambit to recruit Gulf War veterans to run as Democrats. That was clever politics, but it only worked because both Republicans and Democrats gave people a reason to vote our way.
Organizationally, Emmanuel has called for DNC chair Howard Dean’s head. As chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Emmanuel has been highly critical of Dean’s strategy of (re)-building party organizations in every State. The DCCC is beholden primarily to members of Congress and the party’s fundraising base, and is locked into the logic of the short-game. Their preference for one election at a time, slash and burn strategies has led to twelve years of Party defeats and a general erosion of progressive values and discourse. The deep victories by Democrats in state government (we now control more state legislatures and governorships than the bad guys for the first time since 94) demonstrates that long-term base building reaps benefits. The Dean path will help solidify the base, the way that Republicans have done for 30 years. We shouldn’t go back to the days of Clintonian shallow victories. The Democratic Left should continue to rally around Dean.

No doubt, Congressional Democratic leaders could very well overplay their hand. I’m glad that symbolic, oppositional red-meat like impeachment has been jettisoned from the table. We have to achieve a modest program of actual reform to lay the groundwork for winning back more of the Democratic coalition. We will have to tread carefully, even on issues surrounding Iraq, regardless of the clear mandate for withdrawal.
If it is hard to call it a decisive victory, we can safely conclude that it was a decisive defeat. The Karl Rove strategy of combining jingoistic paranoia with cultural reaction went down in flames. What, precisely, it will be replaced with remains to be seen. Nevertheless, whether by accident or by design, the Democratic Party has won a major election, one that will have huge positive effects for working families and for the cause of international peace and security.
The minimum wage will be raised. Anti-labor fine print will be removed from bills. Real health care reform will get a hearing, and even “single-payer” will see the light of day. Judicial nominations will be blocked. Investigations will be mounted, and from the dais rather than the basement. For this we should be happy.

Next week: Progressives and the Party

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onsdag, november 15, 2006

party like it's 1967

As if things weren't feeling Vietnamy enough, this from The Guardian:

President George Bush has told senior advisers that the US and its allies must make "a last big push" to win the war in Iraq and that instead of beginning a troop withdrawal next year, he may increase US forces by up to 20,000 soldiers, according to sources familiar with the administration's internal deliberations.

I am very much afraid that this logic will be echoed from some of the new Democratic members of congress, particular in the Senate. Phased withdrawal must remain the mantra from our side of the aisle. The repetitious promise of “One last big push” is how the political class locked the country into escalation in the war in Vietnam.
If progressives can achieve one thing over the next two years, it will be to put enough pressure on Democrats to hold the line against escalation. This will take willingness to be vocal and critical. It will also take the ability to mobilize on the ground with enough success that there is a majority of votes behind staying the course…to get out of Iraq. We have to do both. One without the other will fail.

now that's party discipline

I'm still working on an analysis of last tuesday. Suffice it to say, I am elated but cautious.

Other news is pressing however, and provides food for thought on our own predicament. South Africa's parliament, thanks to a party-line vote by the ruling African National Congress, has legalized gay marriage. The move was prompted by a high court decision stating that the constitution, perhaps the world's most progressive, demanded equal rights for gay couples.

The majority of South Africans, black, white and "colored" oppose gay marriage. In fact, it is likely that had the ANC allowed its members to vote independently, the vote would have gone quite differently. Most of the opposition parties voted against the new law, including the Pan African Congress and the Inkhata Freedom Party, two of the ANC's rivals among black South Africans.

Traditionalists in the ANC and elsewhere in South African civil society are furious, claiming, as one would expect, that the move would usher in a moral downfall for the continent. Others claimed that the move toward gay rights follows from "foriegn" or "eurocentric" political doctrine.

In fact, the ANC's action was further testament to the notion that, however shaky or imperfect, South African political leadership is deeply committed to the principles of equality. The ANC has strong enough support among its base that it can make risky moves in devense of those principles.

Here's Vytjie Mentor, the ANC leader in Parliament, as quoted in the NYT:

There is “no such thing as a free vote or a vote of conscience,” he said. “How do you give someone permission to discriminate in the name of the A.N.C.? How do you allow for someone to vote against the constitution and the policies of the A.N.C., which is antidiscrimination?”

We have seen this dynamic in South Africa before, with the ANC pushing a line of truth and reconcilliation over revenge after coming to power, as well as their insistance on including women's rights in the new constitution. That document, along with the ANC's own statement of principels includes a radical commitment to social, gender and economic equality, as well as environmental sustainability and protection.

So, can a party win and govern when part of its base is not on board with an ambitious progressive agenda? The ANC demonstrates that it can.

In the US election last week, Democrats pulled significant support from constuencies which are fairly socially conservative. Blacks, latinos and white, male union members all turned further toward the Democratic coalition. Latinos swung a full 30% toward Democrats in comparison to the last election, and blacks remained at their current level: 90% support for Dems. Blacks held firm even as Republicans courted black clergy, offered up socially conservative black candidates, engaged in vote supression and bombarded black neighborhoods with radio ads calling Democrats "the party of slavery". None of it worked, and that's good.

While running socially conservative candidates may have helped in courting white evangelicals and some white males, conservative pundits are grossly overemphasizing this factor. Less reported is the fact that economic populism, minimum wage campaigns and a more critical pose toward trade all helped us win back the parts of our base that Republicans have been chipping away at for decades.

The Democrats are not the ANC. We don't have a parliamentary system or a political culture that even allows the sort of party discipline on display in South Africa. However, what we can learn is that standing up for minorities' rights doesn't have to cost you a majority if you really give people a reason to vote for you.