There was an interesting discussion at the Open Left blog today in the wake of Barack Obama picking conservative evangelical pastor Rick Warren to say the convocation at his Presidential inauguration:
[T]here are clear benefits for Democrats who are able to generate public, left-wing outrage against their actions…This is a widely held view, and is openly shared by Democrats as high ranking as Rahm Emanuel. As long as the generation of public, left-wing outrage toward their actions is understood to be politically beneficial to Democrats, then many Democrats will continue to undertake actions that have the direct or indirect goal of generating public, left-wing outrage at their actions. This is pretty straightforward. As long as the cost of annoying progressives is not only zero, but actually a net positive, then Democrats will continue to annoy progressives ad infinitum.
For a solution, the article argues:
Progressives must make the political cost of such actions unacceptable to the Democrats who are willing to undertake such actions for political benefit. At the congressional level, I accept kos's premise that the only means of holding Democrats accountable for angering progressives are primary challenges (sitting on your hands or supporting third-party candidates just doesn't work). Or, to be a bit more accurate, the only way for outsiders like us to engage in progressive accountability for Democrats in Congress is to spend actual resources attacking a member of Congress in his or her district.
The commenter “leftvet” observes:
The only accountability that works for politicians are political consequences. The left is currently unable to exact political consequences on any politician, so we are, of course, ignored or vilified. Chris has summed it up very well. Progressives have no real choice but to continue to support mainstream Democrats, no matter how many times they f**k us over, because there is no other electoral option available to us. The Dems know it, and continue to exploit that situation.
This conversation is fascinating to me on so many levels. As someone who self-identifies as a Progressive, it is truly maddening to witness case after case after case of Democrats kicking Progressive values and politics to the curb once they get elected even after they ran on the promise and symbolism of Progressive idealism. It is as if once elected, the best way to gain political credibility is to take gratuitous potshots at liberals and left-wingers who supported them in elections.
The discussion at Open Left, although it hits upon many of the right points, completely misses a very big point -- not everyone agrees the best strategy to enact a Progressive agenda is to elect Democrats into office. Many people who are potential supporters of any Progressive movement are NOT Democrats, have absolutely no intention of being Democrats, and do not have any particular loyalty to the Democratic Party given the party’s record on many issues Progressives care deeply about.
No one seems to be seriously talking about appealing to and bringing Independents into the fold -- and this comes at a time when satisfaction with government is at an all-time low and the number of people who are self-identifying politically as anything other than Democrats and Republicans is at an all-time high. I don’t claim to be an all-knowing political guru but I am tired of Progressives getting their asses kicked by Democrats in the process of playing by the rules of the game of American electoral politics.
Is the only viable goal for Progressive activism to elect Democrats into office (even if they are better Democrats)?
II: The Fight for Open Primaries
Here’s an idea: how about Leftist Progressive activists join Independents in efforts for radical structural reform? One effort they can join very easily right now is the effort by Independents for Open Primaries. A petition is circulating right now to ask President Barack Obama to:
• Initiate and support federal legislation to create open primaries for election to federal office in all 50 states that guarantees full access for independent voters;
• Establish a Presidential Task Force on Political and Electoral Reform that includes representatives of the broad movement of independent voters to consider sweeping nonpartisan reform of the electoral process and its administration;
• Use the bully pulpit to speak out on the importance of open primaries and the inclusion of independents in all aspects of the electoral and political process.
They are trying to reach 1,000 signatures by Inauguration. This is one way Progressives can get themselves introduced to the burgeoning movement among Independents who, increasingly, are becoming aware of their political potential. It is one way Progressives can form a bridge with Independents to join in an effort they care about (and which stands to benefit voters and political parties who seek a viable alternative to the Democrats).