Monday :: Jun 9, 2008

Progressivism and The Party


by eriposte

I want to begin this post by congratulating Sen. Obama on becoming the presumptive Presidential nominee of the Democratic party. This is a tremendous achievement and a historic one (the first African-American nominee) and something that he and his supporters can feel proud about. I have always said that I will support the eventual nominee - so, he has my full support as we head into the general election (more on this in a bit).

I have a lot of thoughts - and emotions - about what happened during the 2008 Democratic primary - unfortunately, I have little time to write about all of it in coherent fashion. So, what I'd like to do is just make a few observations in this post before I take a long-planned break from regular blogging (I will always be available to readers via email but my blogging, if any, will likely be sporadic at best for the foreseeable future). One of the main motivations of this post is to reach out to unhappy Clinton supporters, including those who are finding it difficult to support Sen. Obama because I have some favors I have to ask of you. Also, as I discuss here, the Democratic party needs you more than ever but not for the reasons you think.

I've been reading around the web this past week and here are just some of the posts I found interesting and thought provoking in different ways: Veepness States: Please no Webb, DINOs by Natasha at MyDD, For The Record by Melissa McEwan at Shakesville, Inside The Mindset of Our Corrupt Village Democrats by BDBlue at Correntewire, You're Damn Right I'm Bitter by Amy Quinn, What Would Alice Paul Do by Amy Quinn, Photo Finish by Digby, The Worst Offense is Intelligence by Molly Ivors, DRBB: Don't Reward Bad Behavior by Mary Beth at Wampum, and Visceral Reactions by Anglachel. I recommend you click through and read these posts.

Many Clinton supporters have come around to accepting that Sen. Obama is the Democratic nominee and they plan to support Sen. Obama in November. There are others who are angry and upset by what was done to Sen. Clinton in the preceding months and are therefore either planning to not vote on the Presidential ballot in November or are planning to vote for Sen. McCain. Some are, understandably, planning to leave the Democratic party. I'd like to ask for the indulgence of all Clinton supporters to read this post and share your thoughts with me (in the comments section, or, privately via email).


1. A Time To Be Proud

Let me start by saying that there is a lot that we Clinton supporters can justifiably be proud about. We backed a candidate who, at the end of the day:

  • Won the majority of voters in the Republican leaning swing states as well as the majority of swing voters in the swing districts in the majority of swing states (see Jay Cost: "A Review of Obama's Voting Coalition, Part III")
  • Won the majority of the popular vote (*see the APPENDIX at the bottom of this post)
  • Built the broadest voting coalition by significantly expanding the traditional liberal base of the Democratic party by adding hordes of working class voters, Hispanics, women and older voters (for example see here; of course, this doesn't take any credit away from Sen. Obama for the coalition that he built west of the Mississippi - see: Jay Cost: "A Review of Obama's Voting Coalition, Part II")
  • Piled up an impressive set of victories that defied the expectations of Sen. Obama's own campaign (especially in states like IN and SD) - even after her voters had been demoralized repeatedly by the media's repeated, premature declaration of Sen. Obama being the victor - and piled up hundreds of thousands more votes than Sen. Obama after her campaign had been declared as being over
  • Continued to lead Sen. McCain in the electoral college polls, over Sen. Obama, despite being repeatedly written off (example)
  • Became the epitome of a "Democrat with a spine" - one who refused to kowtow to the know-nothing bloviators in the traditional media and refused to accept their "conventional wisdom" time and again
  • Helped large swaths of Democratic voters become aware of the fundamentally corrupt and anti-Democratic nature of big chunks of the traditional media (especially cable TV and op-ed writers) - something that I consider a key ingredient in our attempt to build a progressive movement to counter the fraudulent or conservative propaganda in the media
  • Helped reveal the widespread sexism and misogyny in the media - and in parts of the "progressive" blogosphere and "liberal" media outlets - epitomizing some of the institutional disadvantages faced by women in the United States (in saying this, I don't in any way discount the issue of racism - which is also a serious problem in the country)
  • Accomplished all of the above while running on a largely and unabashedly progressive platform based on issues and on how she and the Democratic party are almost uniquely qualified to address those issues - often defending core progressive principles brilliantly on outlets like Fox News where she has long been caricatured as a Far-Left ideologue

Despite all the **** that was flung at her repeatedly, she demonstrated for the umpteenth time on Saturday, why she is a far better person than, say, 95% of her critics. As Big Tent Democrat said yesterday (bold text is my emphasis, throughout this post):

Let me tell you why I think it is a great speech. She talked about the issues she cared about. She acknowledged the great support she had. She explained in terms that were tied to her own campaign why Barack Obama deserved their support.

She discussed the historic nature of her race and celebrated what she has done.

Wonderful, wonderful speech.

For those who have read for the past 2 years, you will know that I liked Senator Clinton, but did not support her and wished she was not running. But Senator Clinton's performance, particularly in the last 5 months has totally changed my view. She is perhaps the finest working politician today. that does not mean I agree with everything she has done or will do, I am speaking of her skills as a politician.

If the Democratic Party plans to sideline this political skill, along with Bill Clinton, then we deserve to lose.

Of course, the Sen. Clinton I know has been giving great speeches throughout this campaign. She's not just one of the most brilliant minds in the party today (which of course doesn't mean one has to agree with everything she says or does), I fully expect she will continue to be one of the leaders of the party in the foreseeable future - but in order for that to be true she will need our help more than ever. This is a key point that Clinton supporters must keep in mind and this is part of my appeal to you to reconsider any inclinations you might have to either register as an Independent, or vote for John McCain.


2. The Party

I know that a number of Clinton supporters are upset. I see that in emails, blog posts, comment threads and what not. There's nothing wrong with being upset or emotional. Heck, I admit that even setting aside a lot of the other stuff (let's just call it politics), I am upset that the Clintons were attacked as racists or race-baiters, at the sexist and misogynistic crap spewed against Sen. Clinton especially by some people claiming to be "progressives" and at the character assassination of Sen. Clinton on the "RFK" incident. More than anything else, this trifecta led me to consider - for the first time in a long time - whether the Democratic party is really worth my time and whether I should seriously consider becoming an Independent. However, I have never been one to let my actions be dominated by emotions. I am strategic and I want to win - and one can rarely be a winner if we let emotions dominate our senses. So, as I calmed myself down, I realized that the party needs people like us more than ever. I don't mean the party leadership - those who sadly displayed their utter lack of leadership when all this was going on. I mean the party itself.

Why? Not for the reasons you think (i.e., it has nothing to do with Sen. Obama.)

The fact is, we are stuck in a two-party system for a long time to come.

There is only one party that has the remotest chance of accomplishing the progressive goals for the country that keep many of us going. There is only one party that has a large number of dedicated activists and supporters of Sen. Clinton. That party is the Democratic party and will continue to be the Democratic party for a long time to come. So, it is in our interest to ensure that this party is not hijacked by its anti-Clinton Character Assassin Wing that has been ably led in the blogosphere over past few months by a bunch of former Republicans (NOTE: As much as I have disagreed with Sen. Obama on issues and rhetoric, what has angered me primarily is the behavior of some of his supporters, not Sen. Obama himself - because I've always cut some slack to politicians). We cannot let the party be hijacked by the activists who would trash the far-more-positive-than-negative legacy of its only two-term Democratic President in modern history (Bill Clinton), just because he proved himself to be an imperfect person like most of us (compare and contrast with how Republicans carefully build the hagiographic legacies of their leaders). If we desert the party, there will be fewer people who can fight back against the travesty of the last few months and maintain the balance of power and sanity within the party.

Let's look at this in another way. If we really do support Sen. Clinton and want to see her continue to play a major role in the future of the Democratic party and this country, we need to work within the confines of the party that she has chosen to make her home, help reform it and change it for the better. Not because there is no other option, but because this is the most efficient and effective way to do so while harnessing the power of the large number of Clinton supporters in the party for our cause. By staying with the party, we can also more effectively support Democratic leaders and candidates who stood with her till the very end and help support new ones. Leaving the party is an easy solution to register our disgust with what happened, but I really believe that it will have more negative consequences not just for the party but for the accomplishment of the ideals we stand for.

Let me clear that staying with the party has nothing whatsoever to do with the concept of "party unity". Parties are just vehicles to drive the change you seek. For example, I seek to build a truly progressive movement that is independent of the Democratic party that will help keep the party honest and on the right track - movement goals are therefore, generally, more important than party goals. The Republicans have long had a coalition of people with very different goals and agendas who strongly disagreed with each other on a few important issues but cooperated in a strategic way in a movement to accomplish more of each group's goals than they would have if they had been on their own. This is a model that worked well for them and is a model that can work well for us. The Democratic party is not monolithic. It is truly a "big tent" party unlike the GOP. There is room inside for dissent and disagreement and no amount of "party unity" requires you to shut up and keep quiet when you have something important to say to keep the party on the right track. So, what I'm saying is - be a vocal participant, provide constructive criticism, and don't intentionally enable Republicans, but do not leave the party - at least not now, not without giving it a shot. It's easy enough to leave but it's a lot more fun being part of the party and forcing it to change from within. The power of threatening to leave the party is seductive, but the reality is that, more often than not, you will lose more power by leaving than by staying because you lose a lot of the synergistic leverage that you can exert within the party by harnessing the strength and numbers of like-minded people.


3. Standing Up Without Falling Down

There's another aspect I cannot emphasize enough right now. I strongly believe that the best way to support Sen. Clinton is with grace and strength and not by resorting to the sleazy tactics that some of her critics have used repeatedly and shamed themselves as a result. In other words, there is no reason or excuse for us to be like the people we have criticized these past few months. As Sricki said at MyDD said before the MT/SD races:

...Don't give them the satisfaction of watching you lash out. Stand up for Hillary, defend her the way we always have, but do it in an admirable way. If they taunt you, don't take the bait. Don't scream, don't type in all caps, don't rail against Obama, the Party, the supers, or the Fates. If they come to mock us, brush their insults aside. Just remind them that they're not helping their candidate - they harm only themselves. If you see other Clinton supporters behaving poorly, call them out. Either sternly tell them to get their acts together, or gently attempt to calm them down. We must police our own, because we want to ensure that Hillary receives the best representation possible. She deserves no less.

Remember, we believe we support the superior candidate. We are more than the faceless statistics the pundits cite from the exit polls. We are every shade of white, black, and brown. We are young and old, men and women, educated and uneducated. We are heterosexual, we are members of the GLBT community. We hail from different states and different countries, we come from different faiths or no faith at all. We are wealthy, we are impoverished, we are the middle class. We are conservative Democrats, moderate Democrats, Independents, liberals, and progressives. We frequently agree, yet often disagree. We are of many stripes. But we all have one thing in common:

We are Clintonistas.

And we aren't ashamed. We have always been proud, and we have never regretted our decision to support our chosen candidate. We know we chose wisely. Hillary has made us proud of her, and it's high time we return the favor -- it's time to make her proud of us.

In my experience, we will have only ourselves to blame if we let anger take over our emotions because we might lose perspective. We tend to loose control of our emotions and act in ways that are counter to our core values. If we go too far, we will risk letting ourselves be consumed by the very emotion that we criticized in some rabid Clinton critics - hate. As Anglachel said:

Let that be a warning to anyone who believes they can use a weapon crafted from hatred to achieve anything lasting or good.

Life isn't fair but it is the manner in which we react to unfairness that will determine our success and effectiveness in eventually bringing about the kind of positive change we seek. I'm certainly not claiming to be an expert on this but I know that big victories are achieved over time - they require relentless determination and hard work, the willingness to learn from the past to change the future, but also a focus strategically on the future rather than what has been. So, take your time thinking about it, but please consider the points I raise here.


4. The Past and The Future

We have suffered for over 7 years from the most destructive and corrupt President quite possibly in all of American history. He was enabled by a party (the GOP) that plumbed the depths of corruption and set new records of just-plain-meanness against the American public. One of his biggest enablers during this era was Sen. John McCain. McCain preened before the Tim Russerts of the world to carefully cultivate the image of a "maverick" who "spoke out" against Bush's bungling while repeatedly voting in support of Bush's law breaking, corruption and just-plain-meanness when the American public was not paying attention. We need a 180-degree change from that past as soon as possible so that we can provide the American public a new era of peace and prosperity that they deserve. John McCain is NOT that change. The "pleasing" package of John McCain presented by the same media that lied to us repeatedly about the Clintons is intended to preserve the status quo of Republican corruption and misrule. Until and unless the Republican party sheds itself of its corrupt core, I can never see myself ever supporting a Republican because it violates the basic values that I stand for and it violates the values of leaders like Sen. Clinton. While I respect those of you who may disagree with me and I can even understand someone who might choose to sit out the election in November (even though I discourage that), I strongly urge you to not support John McCain because you will be faced with regret in the future - a regret that you voted contrary to your core values. Instead, let us put the American people foremost in our minds and think about how we can reverse the criminality of the last 7+ years as soon as possible.

In the year 2000, some supporters of Sen. Bill Bradley turned against Vice President Al Gore after the primary under the completely fictitious pretext that he was barely different from George W. Bush. I saw a more fraudulent version of that in the rantings of Naderites - such as Clinton character assassin and Naderite Barbara Ehrenreich of the "Bush, Gore? Gush, Bore?" fame. What appalled me is not that people might choose not to vote for Gore or choose to support Ralph Nader but the fact that they predicated their actions on transparently false theories of who Al Gore was and what he stood for. I told myself that I would never ever go down that path. (Funnily enough, earlier on in this campaign, it was some Obama supporters who had pre-emptively declared that they could never see themselves supporting Sen. Clinton if she became the nominee. How the world turns!)

There's a lesson for us here. We need to constantly force ourselves to maintain perspective. You may disagree with Sen. Obama's campaign tactics and rhetoric - and feel that you don't want to enable what his campaign did - but real life is rarely filled with the ideals we seek. No candidate in this election has been perfect and the chances of finding a candidate who makes all Democrats happy are remote. My support for Sen. Obama is not in any way an endorsement of what I didn't like about his campaign, but rather an endorsement of what I do like. (You can rest assured that had Sen. Clinton been the nominee, some of the Obama supporters who would have supported her would have done so from the same perspective).

The reality is that despite his rhetoric, Sen. Obama does have a far more progressive voting record and platform than his opponent - John McCain - and for everything he might have upset you about, there are far worse things that McCain and his party stand for. As an example, let me show you an updated version of what I published months ago ("Is Hillary Clinton a "Corporate Democrat"? - Part 3) - the Progressive Punch progressive voting scorecards for Sen. Obama, Sen. Clinton and Sen. McCain - with higher numbers representing more progressive positions. (In each row of the table, the highest score is colored green, the lowest score is colored red and intermediate scores are colored yellow.)

Table I. Progressive Punch Progressive Score Comparison Table

Category/Issue
Overall Progressive Score
91%
88%
14%
Aid to Less Advantaged People at Home and Abroad
99%
96%
14%
Corporate Subsidies
100%
78%
50%
Education, Humanities and the Arts
91%
86%
5%
Environment
92%
94%
28%
Fair Taxation
97%
93%
17%
Family Planning
88%
80%
0%
Government Checks on Corporate Power
97%
91%
19%
Healthcare
99%
93%
10%
Housing
100%
100%
0%
Human Rights & Civil Liberties
88%
75%
6%
Justice for All: Civil and Criminal
94%
88%
10%
Labor Rights
92%
92%
9%
Making Government Work for Everyone,
Not Just the Rich or Powerful
94%
87%
13%
War and Peace
85%
89%
9%

The message in the above table is simple and stark. If your gripe with Sen. Obama is that he violated the principles you hold dear, then, the solution to that gripe is not supporting someone else who is so far distant from those principles that it's no joke. Sen. Obama's voting record is fairly close to Sen. Clinton's on a variety of issues (especially if you account for votes missed during campaigns) and his record is light years ahead of Sen. McCain's God-awful voting record.

Let me be emphasize something here. I'm not asking you to fall in line - as some arrogant supporters of Sen. Obama demand. Don't "fall in line". Rather, I'm asking you to support Sen. Obama because of his voting record and his policy proposals that, while imperfect, are far more progressive than that of Sen. McCain. I'm asking you to support him but only by making it clear what the grounds of your support include. Don't feel that you have to shut up and "fall in line". You don't. You never have to do that. All I'm asking is that you just be a constructive critic and help drive positive change and don't promote or help Republicans.

Let me say this again because it is important. Being a supporter of the Democratic party or any particular candidate (whether that be Sen. Obama or Sen. Clinton or anyone else) does not require you or anyone else to shut up if you believe the leaders are acting in ways that you disagree. The last time a party and its base believed that "falling in line" and shutting up is the desired way for party supporters to act, we got the last 7+ years of Republican corruption and criminality. This is exactly why it is critical that there be a progressive movement that is independent of the party and no one, not a single person in the Dem party, should be forced to shut their mouth to "fall in line" because that is the very behavior that we saw in the GOP of the last seven years. What we should seek at all times is to use the progressive movement to force or cajole the party and its leadership to represent progressive principles and hold them accountable to those principles. If you stay within the confines of the party in a constructive but persistent manner, you can help build a more credible and powerful movement than the one manifested by the Character Assassin Wing of the Dem party - and that credibility is key to fixing the dysfunctions within the party and empowering leaders like Sen. Clinton whom you might support.

One last point on this topic. There is no denying the fact that Sen. Obama ran an aggressive campaign like Sen. Clinton did and smartly used the caucuses to his advantage to build his pledged delegate margin (also see Chris Bowers) - which in turn helped him get more superdelegate endorsements. Sen. Clinton's campaign agreed to the caucuses up front - so, Sen. Obama's victory in caucuses is legitimate. That his pledged delegate count would have dropped by an estimated 120+ if caucuses had been replaced by primaries and that his popular vote count would have likewise dropped is not a reason to punish his campaign for bringing his supporters to the caucuses and fighting to win the caucuses. Additionally, the fact that it was more challenging for Sen. Clinton's base to show up at caucuses does not mean that Sen. Obama's victory should be deemed illegitimate after the fact (see the reports by John Norris and Peniel Cronin on the issue of caucuses v. primaries for more on this). That said, there is every reason to fight to get rid of caucuses in the future and I hope to voice my strong opinions on this when the time is right.


5. Final Thoughts

a) Clinton supporters - I need your help to build a credible progressive movement. It's a lot easier to do that if you stay engaged with the Democratic party and its activist base. There is strength in numbers and when like-minded people are the source of that strength it helps. In particular, I would be particularly interested in hearing from Clinton supporters, donors and fundraisers about their interest in funding think tanks like, say, a Media Matters for Women or other groups that would help build progressive infrastructure that is much more friendly to women's causes (Click here to email me).

b) I know that some of you disliked my campaign coverage - and pretty strongly - but I feel very comfortable with the body of my work during this primary - all of which is chronicled here. It wasn't perfect and it isn't even remotely complete (given time constraints), but I'll hold it up against anyone else's. 

c) I would also urge everyone to consider contributing to Sen. Clinton to help her retire her campaign debt.


APPENDIX: POPULAR VOTE

A few comments on the popular vote.

a) As you can see from the RCP Vote Count page, if you included FL and MI, assigned all of MI's uncommitted to Sen. Obama and added the vote estimates from caucus states, Sen. Obama is ahead by roughly 61000 votes. First of all, there are simply no grounds to award votes to a candidate in an election that he chose not to contest by removing his name from the ballot. However, even if we did that, not all of the uncommitted voters in MI were voting for Sen. Obama. So, if you include the roughly 73% of the uncommitted voters who evidently intended to vote for Sen. Obama in MI, that would reduce his popular vote margin by roughly 64,000 votes. Additionally, the RCP count uses the vote margins in caucuses from WA, NE, ID - states that also held non-binding primaries. As RCP points out, if we used the WA primary for the popular vote count as a truer reflection of the intent of the voters, Sen. Obama's vote margin against Sen. Clinton drops by another 50,000 votes. All in all, Sen. Clinton can rightfully argue that she was ahead in the popular vote at the end (ASIDE: Certainly makes this somewhat amusing, doesn't it?)

b) At worst, the contest was a tie in the popular vote - something that would never have been the case if Sen. Clinton had dropped out prematurely months ago at the urging of her most vehement critics. As Jay Cost observed: "Obama has won the Democratic nomination not because his voting coalition is larger than Clinton's. As best we can tell, they are of equal size. Instead, Obama has won because his coalition is more efficient at producing delegates than Clinton's coalition. Obama's relatively narrow vote lead has produced a relatively wide pledged delegate lead, which has in turn produced an even wider lead in superdelegates [...] If the "votes per pledged delegate" metric were equal for Clinton and Obama - Obama's pledged delegate lead would drop from 106 to 12 [...] So, Obama has scored what amounts to a win on points. He did not score a knockout. Clinton's invocation of "18 million votes" last night reminded me of Jake LaMotta's taunt of Sugar Ray Robinson in Raging Bull, "You didn't get me down, Ray!" Indeed, Obama won the nomination on a night that Clinton still managed to win another contest." So, it is important for Sen. Obama to show humility in his victory and the signs so far indicate that he is showing just that.

c) Regarding FL and MI, I've already discussed the turnout there in comparison to other primaries and caucuses -  so, the fact that more people would have voted in those states if they were told the votes would count is no different from saying far more people would have voted in several states if their caucuses had been replaced by primaries. Additionally, I have also seen it argued repeatedly that Sen. Clinton had a "name recognition" advantage in MI/FL - if that was indeed true, there's no reason to think a larger vote in those states wouldn't have preserved or increased her victory margin there. These are hypotheticals that could be argued to death.

d) I have already discussed previously why non-binding pledged delegate totals and superdelegate endorsements are not a more accurate measure of the will of the people than the popular vote count. Scan illustrates this further by comparing the electoral margins in some states with how the pledged delegates were assigned eventually from those states.

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