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Commentary :: Politics
Progressives! Let's Stop Whining and Start Fighting Back
10 Dec 2004
Forget Red and Blue states. There are only voters, and most of them, in every state, are worried about war, want a world for their grandchildren, and are beset by economic woes that call for progressive, anti-corporate solutions. A Democratic Party that forgets trying to play to the middle and that addresses those issues will be a winner.
All the whining and moaning coming from the progressive camp in America stands in remarkably stark contrast to the massive 24-7 rally in Kiev that resulted in the invalidation of a corrupt election in the Ukraine.

While I suspect that our own national election was stolen, whether by massive centrally directed fraud or by the piled-up misconduct of many zealous Republican election officials, the inability, and unwillingness, of our legal system and our media to root out the real abuses--the ones that actually kept or discouraged people from exercising or registering their vote as opposed to the ones that miscounted their votes--makes it more or less academic. The results are not about to be overturned.

What does bother me, though, is the widespread acceptance even among progressives, of this "Red State/Blue State" bilge.

As someone who has friends and relatives living all over the country, and who lives in a state, Pennsylvania, that is as conservative, in parts, as any county in the nation, I can state with certainty that there are nearly as many progressives in a state like North Carolina or Arizona as there are in a state like New York or Massachusetts, on a percentage basis. In fact, progressives in the so-called Red states (or in so-called Red counties of states like Pennsylvania), who have to confront much more blatant and outspoken conservatives in their daily lives, are often more outspoken and radical in their politics than their brie-and-cheese counterparts in California or the Northeast.

This makes the whole notion of "targeting" the Blue states, or writing off the Red states, as Kerry’s inept and misbegotten campaign did, absurd. (It makes Kerry's decision to hang on to $15 million in campaign funds downright treacherous.) It also shows how ridiculous is the conservative Democratic Leadership Council’s brilliant idea --already demonstrably a loser--of trying to win over Republican voters and religious conservatives by talking "moral values," faith and strong national defense and by downplaying traditional Democratic positions as national healthcare, labor and women’s rights and civil liberties.

Howard Dean may be no card-carrying progressive, but he had it exactly right, back in the primary debates, when he said (to the tut-tutting of the DLC crowd and candidate Kerry), that Democrats need to go after the guys with the confederate flags on their pickup trucks. Those "guys"--and not a few women too--are for the most part not Democratic or Republican. They are frustrated and desperate working people who are finding it increasingly difficult to keep a job, buy a home and support a family, and they aren't hearing any answers from either major party about their personal crisis.

The Republicans, unabashed pimps for corporations and the rich, cannot appeal to these people’s real concerns, so they have cleverly manufactured alternative issues to win their votes--gay marriage, abortion, terrorism, etc. But the only reason they can get away with this Three-Card Monte switch is that the Democrats are offering nothing substantively different on the key economic front, which is what these people, like most Americans everywhere, are really anxious and concerned about.

If progressives were to wrest back control of the Democratic Party--the way the conservatives took control of the Republican Party in the years since Richard Nixon--the next election would look a whole lot different.

A genuine populist can win in a traditionally conservative state. Look at Russ Feingold, who won re-election handily last month in Wisconsin, the home of Sen. Joe McCarthy, and who not only proudly campaigned on the fact that he was the only U.S. senator to have voted against the Iraq War authorization and the U.S. PATRIOT Act, but who also has consistently opposed the North American Free Trade Act.

Gutsy and forthright homegrown Democrats like Sen. Feingold could be winning election to Congress across the country in 2006, and not just in states like California and New York, but in Alabama, Oklahoma and Tennessee. A Democrat running openly and proudly on such consistently progressive issues could also take the White House in 2008—and could have taken it this year. But to get there, the Democratic Party would have to first drive a stake through the heart of the corporatists who are in control, and who have over the last 28 years or so sucked the lifeblood out of the party of Roosevelt, Johnson and McGovern.

Underneath the desiccated corpse of the Democratic National Committee, there is a vibrant Democratic Party still. I see it in my local community, and in my county here just north of Philadelphia. Progressive Democrats here recently took over our town board, long the exclusive preserve of Republicans, and for the fourth time in a row sent a Democrat to Congress, despite a majority Republican registration. There are similar stories all over the country.

This is why I disagree with those on the left who call for a third party.

While the idea of an ideologically driven, consistently progressive third party may be intellectually or emotionally appealing, the reality is that it has never happened, at least in modern American history. Worse yet, the history of the American left is replete with tales of rampant sectarianism, which will surely arise again to destroy any remotely successful effort to establish such a party before it could ever make any electoral headway (just look at the Greens).

So why go through such a pointless and doomed exercise when the vehicle for change is right before our eyes: the Democratic Party? Messy and ideologically unsatisfying it surely is, but it's there for the taking.

All we have to do is focus our energies and our minds on taking it back, fighting for election of progressives to local and state office, fighting in party caucuses, and gradually winning back the top levers of power in the party machine.

It can be done, and in fact it has been done before, but it can only happen if we decide we want it, and if we are willing to stay with it until we win, the way conservatives did in winning the GOP and ousting or marginalizing that party's so-called moderate or liberal wing.

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