Shirts vs. skins

I wrote this back in May, when Sestak won the primary. For obvious reasons, I didn’t post it at the time. Maybe some of you agree with me now, and it might even make you feel better in some small way. Because I believe with all my heart that progressives should back policies, not party.

It’s not Joe Sestak beating Arlen Specter that depresses me. (I don’t like him, but I’ll certainly vote for him against Pat Toomey.)

It’s that he did it with the blessing and full support of the so-called progressive movement.

Progressive politics have to be about more than backing winning candidates. I don’t care about putting people in office who have a D after their name if they’re going to vote like Republicans, or corporatists, or oligarchs. It’s about progressive policies.

Unfortunately, at some point, the blogging powers-that-be became enamored with the idea of becoming kingmakers. (“Newer, better Democrats.”) We started selecting candidates, and raising money for them.

Yeah, I supported it, too. But ultimately, I think it was a mistake. Far too many of the people we backed disappointed us, because we couldn’t change the money-soaked corporate environment in which they have to swim.

Because the goals of progressives are usually always at odds with Democratic party politics. I don’t think we’re going to make any real progress until we’re willing to lose some elections to get our point across.

Instead, because we so desperately want to win, we enthusiastically embrace just about anyone who tells us he or she is a progressive. But if they don’t vote like progressives once they’re elected, what, exactly, have we accomplished?

Look at what Republican activists have achieved. By concentrating on core issues, they’ve made tax increases and abortion rights radioactive for the entire Republican party, not just a few candidates. Have we done anything comparable? Nope. Despite Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, and a Democrat in the White House, the Iraq war goes on and on, we’ve added a new war in Afghanistan, and we’re making war noises at Iran. We’re still spying on Americans, and we’re still using torture.

We can’t even manage to keep Democrats away from Social Security and Medicare! We could barely stitch together enough support to pass a crappy health care bill that will be a millstone around our necks in the mid-term elections.

Backing candidates is probably not the best strategy, because the political debate is still so far to the right.

But the liberal blogosphere is populated with many people who make a living via the Democratic establishment and its affiliated liberal institutions. They’re consultants, think tankers, Hill staffers, opinion writers, campaign operatives and other assorted people of relative privilege. An awful lot of them don’t especially care or think about ordinary people like us, except in a theoretical way, or as a voting bloc. They’re much more interested in winning the game – and not incidentally, advancing their careers. (Remember, these are the same people who decided we don’t need more unemployment benefits. That so-called liberals are so out of touch is astounding.)

I won’t criticize anyone for making a living. But please, let’s not pretend their career goals don’t influence our allegedly progressive goals, or the outcomes. Some of their Beltway ideas are cross-pollinated with Republican and Democratic corporatist interests.

If Sestak beats Pat Toomey (big “if”), I’ll probably get to say “I told you so”. By then, it won’t matter. We will have put someone in the Senate who is very likely to rubber stamp this war – and the next one, and the one after that. If he gets in, he’ll be there for a long time.

And when he votes against our interests, as he inevitably will, I don’t want to hear the pissing and moaning.

He’s not a progressive. Hell, he’s barely a Democrat — Arlen Specter was a Democrat longer than Joe Sestak was. (I can’t tell you what it did to my blood pressure, every time I’d see some professional Democratic booster exhort people to vote for the “real” Democrat.) Remember, this is the same guy who took $685,000 from the netroots, promising to vote against funding the war, and against wiretapping Americans without warrants.

And then he voted for both of them. He didn’t think he owed us anything then, and nothing’s really changed. We’re just the ATM. I don’t blame him – I blame the progressives for their selective amnesia.

The blogosphere used to stand against things like illegal wars, or bombing civilians, or torture. For a movement to be truly progressive, our goals must incorporate economic and social justice. (Remember that quaint phrase?) Instead, it’s become a game we fight only for these symbolic team victories.

We should be focused on helping people live through the worst economic crisis of our lifetime. Instead, the talk is of strategy, and branding, and positioning.

Why is our movement so easily distracted? We should talk about that.

5 thoughts on “Shirts vs. skins

  1. i think a lot of what you say here is accurate, but i do not regret my support for Sestak one little bit. Not an iota.

    fucking arlen specter is responsible for so much of what’s wrong right now, even if he does have more leadership sense than Harry Reid, as demonstrated in the health care fight. that asshole helped get us clarence thomas, sam alito, and john roberts. as a republican, he insisted on shrinking the stimulus. So as far as i’m concerned, fuck him.

    with me, i went into the sestak race knowing all of what you said above, but to my mind, he was still better than that asshat Specter. YMMV, I know. But that’s where I stand.

  2. It sure looks like progressive politics is headed for the rubbish bin and that with this “Republican hurricane” we’re likely to face real austerity, while the people at the top laugh all the way to their to-big-to-fail banks. It isn’t bad enough that our wages were frozen for decades, then our jobs were outsourced to the point that now we’re at about 22% unemployment by any honest estimate, no – now we gotta put up with their total decimation of democracy and fiscal responsibility (which they are masters at) while they deregulate every safety, environmental and financial regulation so that corporations can do whatever they want, Wall Street can continue to loot the treasury, our retirement plans and savings accounts while health “care” companies get the rest. Oh it’s gonna be some fun folks!

  3. This is one of those rare posts with which I find myself in agreement
    on every syllable. Once I was a Democrat and could be relied upon to hit the streets and send money. But no more. Too many Democrats have failed miserably at everything except having a ‘D’ next to their names. And that ain’t enough. Still, I would like to remain politically active in a meaningful way and will be on the lookout for a way to do that. As for the appeals for dough from the DLC & their minions, they can whistle for it. I’m done.

  4. Progressives need to work to build a movement, not win elections. Change doesn’t happen in the ballot box or in the legislature — it happens in the streets. American history is full of examples: none of the real sea changes in American society originated in the Congress or the White House. People say “make him do it” and think that means writing checks or sending emails. “Make him do it” means making visible protest and demand en masse over and over and over until it can’t be ignored. It means shutting things down. I’ve heard the claim: but the media just ignores our protests! Yes, they do. Because they aren’t often enough, big enough, they aren’t taking place in every town and city in the US. But it’s work to organize that and who will lead, is then the cry.

    Well. That’s what makes change hard. That’s why it took 100 years for women to fight for and finally win the right to vote. That’s why it took a decade to end the Vietnam War and two decades to win Civil Rights legislation.

    Power never yields without a fight, and yet the left seems to expect that the greatest concentration of wealth and power we’ve seen yet can be defeated by voting once every two years.

    I think the professionalization issue is one part of the problem. But the need for instant gratification is another.

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